2020 MBAs To Watch: JT Fairley, Penn State (Smeal)

JT Fairley

Penn State University, Smeal College of Business

“I am a happy and enthusiastic individual who loves to help others.”

Hometown: Southport, North Carolina

Fun fact about yourself: I grew up in a small fishing town, but seafood makes me sick.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Elon University, BA in Economics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I worked at Angell Echo, Inc. as a Branch Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? I interned at Amazon in Charlotte, NC

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be joining Amazon as a Pathway Operations Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I am President of the MBA Association for the Class of 2020, I am also an active member in the Women in MBA (WMBA), Net Impact, Supply Chain Management Association, and Diversity MBA. I am also a recipient of a Fellowship.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am proud of the way I managed my board as the MBAA president and how we handled conflicts within the community as they arose. We set up new channels of reporting for teams that were struggling with students who refused to contribute to team projects. After a series of complaints from the student body, my board and I worked with administration and faculty representatives to create a framework that students can follow to prevent such incidents from occurring again in the future. My board also did an effective job of preserving our program’s corporate-sponsored tailgates that are vital for networking with recruiters. We worked with Smeal’s MBA administration and Penn State’s Risk Management department to ensure that we can continue to host tailgates, while simultaneously reducing the liability exposure the university has. Overall, when I took on the mantle of president of the MBAA, I knew that I could serve my community best by being a servant leader. I knew each member of my board was extremely capable in their own right, and that we would be able to come together to work as a team. By giving them the freedom to do things in their own way while providing support when needed, our board was able to provide services and events that other classmates have said, “When I think back about my MBA, it will be this event I remember.” To me, there is no greater accomplishment than creating events for the program that others will remember years from now.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I led a team in developing a new business model for a robotics lab that teaches kids how to code. The framework my team developed has been replicated throughout the company and the concept has now been expanded to over 20 locations globally. While doing this, I was also able to negotiate a $1 Million contract with Khan Academy, where we would be responsible for localizing their content to the Chinese market. These accomplishments were particularly satisfying for me because it enabled me to develop a plethora of skills, including supplier management, sales and marketing, negotiations, and management. As a manager, I started to come into my own, where I focused on being a servant leader that pushed my employees to grow their skills and try new things.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor was Professor Zietsma. She really shone while teaching Complex Negotiations and did a phenomenal job of forcing us into new roles and scenarios that pushed us outside our comfort zone to grow. Every class was a scenario-based negotiation where she would not just have our peers rate our performance, but we would be forced to rate our own performance as well. After receiving this feedback from our peers, she would go over different strategies on how to improve our various weaknesses and address what negotiation strategies would best suit us. She provided an analysis of our overall negotiation technique at the end of the course, describing how we grew and at what we excelled at. Overall, she did a marvelous job at engaging the class, and her passion for the subject really came to light as she provided insight into our personal negotiation experiences.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite MBA events are the MBAA Townhalls. These are events that, as the MBAA President, I got the chance to host and moderate once a mod. These were invaluable to the program because it allowed 1st years, 2nd years, administration, and faculty to come together and talk about updates happening within the program. More importantly, it was an open forum for any issues, ideas, or concerns surrounding the program and suggestions for how I (and my board) could make improvements. This open forum discussion where students can share concerns is vital because sometimes issues that not everyone was aware of will surface. This open and healthy discussion ranges from engagement within organizations, career development, school curriculum, and recruitment for the program. The Townhall is a great way to get a feel for how the program is doing and is also essential for ensuring the community is healthy.

Why did you choose this business school? When I was looking for business schools, I was really focusing on finding schools that had a very close community and a strong sense of ethics. Coming from a startup company prior to my MBA, I gained an appreciation for close-knit communities. I wanted to help ease my transition into a larger company, such as Amazon, by attending a school that has many elements I came to value while in the startup world. In my professional career, I have encountered unfortunate scenarios that could have been avoided if the individuals involved had a strong sense of ethics. These experiences pushed me to find a school that not only touts a strong sense of morality but actually adheres to its code of ethics. What sold me on Penn State was my visit for the interview. I don’t think I can attribute the feeling I had to just one thing, but I couldn’t shake this undeniable sensation that I felt like I had found a home for me, even if that home ended up being much colder than I had initially planned.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? The best piece of advice I always give prospective students is just to be yourself. Our program places heavy emphasis on making sure candidates are the right cultural fit for our community. This same logic holds true for any school. Cultural fit is vital to making sure you are getting the most out of your MBA program. Pursuing an MBA is a substantial commitment, and you would be doing a disservice to yourself if you don’t choose a school whose culture is going to support and help you thrive as you undergo this transformation. Our program isn’t cutthroat or overly competitive; instead, we try to foster a strong teamwork mentality that everyone in the community has come to value. So again, be yourself and show how you are willing to not only learn from others but help others learn in turn.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The most significant myth about my school is that it is only a supply chain school. I couldn’t disagree with this statement more. Some of my favorite and most enlightening classes have been outside the concentration of supply chain. However, I should say the number of supply chain-related career opportunities was staggering, and the quality of the faculty is just as amazing.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? The one thing I would strive to do differently would be to push harder for organizational restructuring within the student organizations. I see this as an effective means to combine resources for clubs and allow them to efficiently utilize our small student body of 120 students to maximize engagement.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Having lived and worked in both China and Spain, I have a great appreciation for my classmates who have come from abroad to develop themselves professionally. Not only do my international classmates have to contend with often long and technical readings in a foreign language, but they must also adjust to a new social and professional culture in a high-pressure environment. Their perseverance and capability to adapt so quickly is something that I admire greatly, and I wish to emulate. It is because of this that I am glad 30% of Smeal’s student body is international to foster learning within our tight community.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My father has been the biggest influence in my goal of pursuing business. As a stockbroker, he would consistently ask me to read a specific company’s letter to the shareholder He would also ask me what I think of their business model and what potential problems I saw for them. Having done this since I was little, I have learned to love looking at companies strategically to try and determine what will and won’t work for them.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I want to expand my newly-developed skills in optimization by executing my own optimization model; I also want to manage a cultural or structural change within an organization.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As a fun and reliable individual that would go out of their way to help anyone.

Hobbies? I thoroughly enjoy reading, cooking, spending time with friends, and struggling to learn the banjo. A lifelong passion of mine has been playing soccer, and more recently, dancing.

What made JT such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“JT brought with him a familiarity to the Smeal MBA community, even so being new to Penn State. This, I believe, is in part what happens when you find the ‘right fit’ in joining your new MBA community. A community where you can be comfortable with who you are and transformed by who you aspire to be. In his role as the MBA Association President for the Class of 2020, JT’s leadership style brought out the very best in his board members, which in turn brought out the very best in our community. From working collaboratively with colleagues, faculty, and administration in advancing the mission of the program, JT has been instrumental in setting up the next board for their success. In addition to his role as President of the Smeal MBA Association, JT was a contributing member of the Women’s MBA (WMBA), Net Impact, Supply Chain Management Association, and Diversity MBA. As JT and the Class of 2020 moves on, they will be truly missed. I have no doubt that JT will pay this time forward through his willingness to help mentor future students along their pathway in the MBA program and in their careers beyond.”

Denise Rill
Director of Student Services


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