Fast, first, fair, and factual.
That’s the name of the game in the news business. You race around to break stories before anyone else. Chase down rumors. Tap sources. Sniff out agendas. Break complex and shifting dynamics into compelling bits. High profile…heavy pressure…harsh hours – a world as exhilarating as it is exhausting.
That was Elizabeth McLaughlin’s life at ABC News. At just 24, she was assigned the Pentagon beat. Here, McLaughlin competed with peers she had long admired – ones who boasted far more experience in military and foreign affairs. Initially intimidated, McLaughlin embraced the grind, covering stories ranging from the defeat of ISIS to the launch of Space Force. In the process, she earned the respect of the most powerful people in the media and public service.
TRAVELING WITH THE SECRETARY OF STATE
It was quite the ride, McLaughlin tells Poets&Quants. “I never thought I’d fly in a Black Hawk over Baghdad, seek shelter from the cold in a yurt in Nur-Sultan, visit an airfield in Ho Chi Minh City, or produce an exclusive interview in Kyiv. But my role as a Pentagon reporter took me to 18 countries, flying with secretaries of defense and state as one of a handful of journalists invited to travel with these senior leaders. These trips became the defining moments of my career as I was pushed mentally and physically.”
Now, McLaughlin is taking on a new stretch assignment. This fall, she is joining the Class of 2022 at the University of Michigan’s Ross School. The Ann Arbor digs certainly beat Afghan airbases and Arabian deserts. Still, like all first-years, McLaughlin will face a jam-packed schedule at a ‘drinking from a fire hose’ intensity. That’s fine with her. After all, she has already shouldered heavy loads and thrived in high stakes environments as a journalist.
“I am hopeful that this kind of fast-paced, complex news coverage prepared me for business school by strengthening my ability to make decisions quickly, produce accurate reports under pressure, and act professionally in any number of difficult circumstances,” she adds.
THE NEW NORMAL BRINGS STUDENTS CLOSER TOGETHER…FROM AFAR
In business school, McLaughlin will encounter a popular acronym: VUCA. It stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. That’s exactly the environment that the Class of 2022 is entering this fall. After the 2008 economic collapse, many high potentials streamed into business schools. On-campus, they were safe from the carnage, watching a live-action case unfold from the commons. This is different. In the VUCA milieu of COVID-19, disruption can hit from any corner. The virus itself has forced many students, faculty, employers, and alumni to distance themselves behind their screens. Forget coffee chats, pub crawls, recruiter spreads, and weekend trips. In many cases, the Class of 2022 is now huddled together on Zoom.
Still, this class is making the most of their opportunities despite fewer students and resources. Harvard Business School, for example, is anticipating 200 fewer students, as some recruits deferred their admission. However, choosing to remain ended up binding the “COVID class” more closely together, says Charlotte Lawson – an ER doctor who once delivered a baby in a car. It was a signal, Lawson says, that students believed in each other. The class took it upon themselves to organize their own social events. These included poker games, board game nights, and movie and book clubs – not to mention industry-specific meetings and startup brainstorming sessions. While the platform may have changed, MBA camaraderie – a product of diversity as much as ability – remained as strong as ever.
Just ask Cecilia Rios Murrieta from the University of Virginia’s Darden School. “Despite being thousands of miles away from each other,” she writes, “we have held each other through the ups-and-downs of uncertainty and anxiety that the pandemic has caused in each of our home countries. Together, we have come out of this stronger and I can honestly say I feel like I now have best friends in India, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, China and the US, and I love it! I cannot wait to see everyone in person very soon.”
Thanks to their hardships, you won’t find the Class of 2022 taking each other for granted, either. “In some ways, starting virtually has made us have to be more intentional about getting to know our classmates,” explains Georgetown University’s Adam Kuebler. “Everyone is passionate, engaged, and willing to help and support one another.”
FIGHTING COVID-19 FROM THE FRONT LINES
No, VUCA didn’t drive the MBA Class of 2022 into retreat. Instead, the next two years are a strategic reassessment, a time to marshal expertise, resources, and allies. Reality is, many class members have been on the front lines of the rapidly-changing world. Exhibit A: Harvard Business School’s Peter Kiernan. The youngest Marine Raider in Marine Special Operations Command history, Kiernan served as the Deputy Director of Response Operations for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 Task Force. Translation?
“I [have] been coordinating and managing the COVID-19 response efforts for New York State. I was responsible for testing, supply distribution, and enforcement operations throughout the height of the pandemic.”
Morgan Bedan held a similar role at the Federal level. The Indiana University first-year previously served as the Associate Director at the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. For the past six months, she says, she has been operating in crisis management mode, “working with state and local governments to triage the challenges and uncertainty of the impacts of the Coronavirus.” That’s exactly what Amanda Pearson faced down every day as a charge nurse in a DC trauma center. The Washington Foster MBA candidate oversaw the transition of her ICU, which doubled in size and was then revamped to take on a surge in COVID-19 patients.
“The unprecedented overflow of patients at all-time high acuity levels strained our resources and forced clinicians to stretch like never before,” she explains. “As a nurse, I had to navigate constantly changing research, protocols, and PPE supply to care for patients hovering on the brink of death…I am amazed at how quickly my team successfully implemented new technology to overcome communication and other logistical barriers presented by the isolation requirements for these patients. This pandemic has exposed serious deficiencies in our health care system. This has…renewed my focus on leading change and innovation in the health services space.”
FROM A NUCLEAR ENGINEER TO A BROADWAY ACTRESS
Want big responsibilities? Just step into the shoes of Emory University’s Benjamin Holladay. In the U.S. Navy, he was accepted into the highly-selective Naval Reactors team, where he worked as a Nuclear Engineer. It was an intense environment, he notes, as the stakes don’t get any higher than military use of nuclear power. At the same time, Holladay adds, the role prepared him for much of what he’d face as a Goizueta MBA – and beyond.
“I learned the importance of clearly and concisely articulating a position as well as the immense value that dissenting opinions provide; I learned to anticipate questions (several levels deep) but also that some questions do not need to be answered to arrive at the right solution; and most importantly I learned that the value of building strong working relationships by truly listening to someone cannot be overstated.”
Of course, Holladay can expect a little merriment and mischief in business school. After all, one of his classmates is Frank Thomas, former Director of Investing Intelligence at The Motley Fool. Alas, Thomas – a journalist by training – devised the investment strategy behind The Motley Fool’s first index, The Fool 100. Over the past two years, Thomas’s fool tool has beaten the S&P 500 by nearly 31%. Duke University’s Abby Larus also helped others have fun. She headed up event operations for pop culture fan conventions, where she managed a team of 20 that ran nine annual events that attracted nearly 200,000 people. How would you like to be Rachel Garforth? She once played Glinda (The Good Witch) in the Broadway National Tour of the Wizard of Oz, where she’d fly in from the rafters eight days a week! Oh – and she just finished off a movie for the Hallmark Channel before starting MBA classes at Rice University.
BRINGING WOMEN TO THE TABLE
Indeed, entertainment was a popular outlet for the Class of 2022. Yale SOM’s Brett Davidson – “Southern charm crossed with SoCal swagger” – worked in strategy and development for the Walt Disney Company. In this role, he has worked on productions like John Wick, La La Land, Good Trouble, and Grown-ish. Alexia Sabogal earned the perfect send-off to business school at Michigan Ross. She was recently named to Front Office Sports’ Rising 25 list – and was the only member of Major League Soccer to earn the accolade. Still, Sabogal wasn’t the only woman making a big name for herself in sports. MIT Sloan’s Riley Foreman, a PR manager for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, has been fighting a quiet battle on behalf of female athletes.
“I’ve sought to increase media attention for women’s sports by building out numerous databases in order to add historical context surrounding one of the most exciting eras of women’s basketball,” Foreman explains. “I view my “biggest accomplishment” more as a series of smaller wins: providing quality data and information often leads to more stories, more beat writers, more highlights on SportsCenter, and higher TV ratings.”
Speaking of data, Foreman will find plenty in common with classmate Valerie Kutsch. Growing up, Kutsch lived the peaceful farm life, raising cattle and horses and competing in rodeo pageants. In the U.S. Army, she became an Intelligence Officer who oversaw its biometrics program for Afghanistan.
“My team did everything related to biometric collection- from enrollment and training to quality control. I led the initiative to use information from our biometric database to glean relevant data and organize a reporting tool to inform base commanders on current security levels. We turned raw data into actionable information that increased protection for American soldiers. This tool provided information that was critical in informing security decisions that affected hundreds of lives.”
Our Meet the Class of 2022 Series
To read in-depth profiles from MBA candidates from 30 top business schools, go to page 4.