“You have a lot of potential. You just don’t have enough experience.”
That’s what employers would tell you…if they could. To them, you are undefined and unproven – a cost and a risk. Sure, you’re motivated. In the interview, you delivered shining examples of how you’re a flexible, team-oriented problem-solver. Decision-makers have seen career changers like you get exposed by industry wrinkles. These talents could frame issues, but not anticipate complications. They could ask thought-provoking questions…just never the right ones.
CAN TAKE AN MBA+ PROJECT EVERY SEMESTER
Employers want candidates who are battle-tested, who don’t slow things down. That’s one reason why MBAs are streaming into programs like the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas. The school’s project-rich programming enables students to bridge the gap between the potential and the proven. These experiences – which extend beyond everyone else’s volunteer activities and summer internships – place McCombs CVs at the top of the stack.
It starts with MBA+ projects – where 4-6 member teams partner with companies like Dell, ExxonMobil, SXSW, and Whole Foods on projects like data analysis, market strategy, talent development, and financial forecasting. Here’s the real differentiator: MBAs can complete a different project each semester – even in the first semester. In other words, they can gain experience in a variety of industries and functions – or build their expertise and networks in their target careers. By gaining first-hand experience in leading projects and solving problems, McCombs MBAs build confidence and reinforce classroom learning. In the process, they become fully prepared to tackle their all-important summer internship.
This approach was appealing to high potentials like Nathaniel Physioc, a first-year who was previously a professional poker player. “Given my nontraditional background, I recognize that I will need to bridge the gap between my career aspirations and current skillset. I expect that the MBA+ Program will allow me to do just this, especially through its micro-consulting projects, one-on-one coaching sessions, and distinguished speaker series. The bonus? The program partners with industry-leading companies such as Deloitte, ESPN, and Hershey.”
GAIN ADDITIONAL EXPERIENCE THROUGH FELLOWS PROGRAMS
MBA+ is only part of the package. McCombs also operates a robust Fellows program. For example, MBA students can help make high-level decisions with local non-profits through its Board Fellows program. At the same time, local companies partner with McCombs students as part of fellowships in the areas of Cleantech, Corporate Finance, Health, Marketing, Operations, and Venture Capital. MBAs can even manage an investment fund and a real estate trust fund.
Not surprisingly, Daniel Sousa-Lennox, who most recently worked in strategy and finance for Panama’s largest private bank, hopes to be part of Venture Fellows. “It will allow me to experience Austin’s vibrant and fast-growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, collaborate with and assist a VC firm and its portfolio companies to achieve success,” he explains.
His 2022 classmate, Sarah Davison is applying to the Marketing Fellows after spending her career in strategy and planning at IMAX. “The Marketing Fellows program is actually what first drew me to McCombs,” she admits. “The program affords students with even more hands-on experience working on live cases with brands across a variety of industries and gives students experience making quick decisions and presenting to a variety of stakeholders.”
A SECOND CHANCE MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE
Alas, the Class of 2022 boasted a wealth of enviable professional experience before they moved to Austin. Take Sousa-Lennox and Davison. The former led a cross-functional team – one that involved engaging with over 400 sales reps, site manager, and senior executives – to rejuvenate Banco General’s retail banking division. The result? The team boosted year-over-year sales by 20%. On the other hand, Davison’s efforts, which involved conducting over 100 studies, produced The IMAX Idea Lab to better connect with consumers. As an associate scientist, Alyssa V. Buchanan helped to create a waste management technology that will save the Chips Ahoy! Brand over $6 million dollars.
While Buchanan enjoyed success in the innovation space, she recognized that her work would soon pigeonhole her. “As a chemist, I was siloed from the commercialization of a product once innovated. I also yearned to be closer to the consumer. However, with only my technical background, there was an obvious skill-gap between the innovation and overall management of a brand. That is what led me to pursue an MBA.”
A decade ago, Jhovany Duperval wouldn’t have paid business school much thought. A first generation immigrant, he equated athletic success to personal success – a mentality, he says, led him to “hit rock bottom” in his early twenties. That doesn’t mean he left sports altogether. Most recently, Duperval worked in sponsorship sales for Major League Baseball after clawing his way back into school.
“After realizing that my “athlete-first, student-second” mentality wouldn’t work, I stepped away from school, reassessed my goals, and created a plan to finish school and carve out a career in sports,” he explains. “After four years of working multiple jobs, I re-enrolled in school, driven to succeed in the classroom. Soon thereafter, I secured a dream internship with Major League Baseball (MLB). While in school, I was essentially working a full-time position with MLB during my senior year and graduated from my undergraduate program with honors. A promotion at MLB to full-time quickly followed.”
POKER PLAYERS MAKE BUSINESS SUCCESSES
Angela Masciale also experienced what she called a “wake-up call” and a “low.” After a long string of successes in consulting, she earned a coveted promotion. Two weeks later, “without warning or an opportunity to improve,” she was removed from a project. However, Masciale turned this setback into a “catalyst” to change her career track and apply to business school. The event ultimately turned into a blessing, she adds.
“I bounced back on another project and mentored a new hire who ended up becoming one of my dear friends. I understand that business school will also have its share of ups-and-downs, but I’m ready to embrace all that is yet to come with the same tenacity and yearning to constantly improve.”
Gambling also brings its share of highs-and-lows. Just ask Nathaniel Physioc. Over nine years, he has wagered over $20 million dollars in tournaments. The best part of poker, he says, is that he could be his own boss and travel wherever and whenever he wanted. After all, he waited out COVID-19 on the shores of the Atlantic in Portugal. For a man who is “willing to try anything once,” standing still was the biggest risk he could possibly take.
“Poker is a zero-sum game,” he admits. “The point is to take as much as you can. You must find fulfillment outside of work. For me, the career was not sustainable. Knowing that I was not in it for the long-haul, I started researching other professional poker players who made the switch to the business world. There are a ton of success stories out there, including Vanessa Selbst and Galen Hall of Bridgewater Capital and Robin Gainer of Solid State AI. I was able to connect with two consultants at BCG, both of whom had previous stints as professional poker players. Not only had they made the switch to consulting, but they were thriving. They persuaded me to go for an MBA and to not think twice. I started writing my admissions essays that day and here I am now.”
LEARNING THE LESSONS FROM WEWORK
At one time, wagering $20 million dollars would be two weeks of work for Chaitanya Pawan. He led a team that produced the largest renewable energy refinancing deal in India’s history — $400 million dollars! Pawan also joined WeWork’s India team in 2018, watching the firm’s operations and assets grow by 15 times while he worked in corporate strategy, finance, and real estate. Then, he watched it all crumble under the weight of a failed IPO and the dubious ethics of its CEO.
“The experience was humbling and opened my eyes to the fact that in the pursuit of growth one should be mindful of business fundamentals, obligations to all stakeholders, and responsible leadership,” Pawan writes. “The leadership crisis that the company faced drives home the point that there is more to business than just the exit multiple, top line and bottom line. I am invested in leveraging the resources at business school to discover and enhance my capabilities as a leader.”
The Class of 2022 certainly features its share of leaders. Siobhan Hulslander was once a cheerleader and now aspires to be a yoga teacher. In between, she studied at the U.S. Air Force Academy before becoming an intelligence officer. Along the same lines, Robert Pedrigi served in the National Guard in college before earning his way in the U.S. Army Special Forces as an officer. Here, he led a team engaged in clearing ISIS out of Northeast Syria. His defining moment, he says, came when he completed the Special Forces qualification course.
“Of all the training I’ve received, I believe resiliency has been the most important,” he explains. “Nothing will ever be perfect, but how fast and the internal process with which you recover from setbacks will set you apart from others and lead to success if it is efficient and effective.”
WHITE BOARD WIZARD
Before business school, Tian Yang helped an arts foundation put on the first LGBTQ-themed art exhibit in Asia. He has also branched out into entrepreneurship, co-founding a brunch restaurant in Hong Kong. Both were risks – and both were inspired his defining moment in life: being exposed to The Beatles when he was 14.
“It opened a door to the outside world for the infinite curiosity of a small-town boy who barely spoke any English,” Yang explains. “So far, everything I have known about the world, everything I have believed in and fought for, and everything I have achieved so far all originate from my passion and love to The Beatles many years ago. If I am anything of a person who has an international view and an inclusive mind, and ready to take on business school, it all began from The Beatles.”
Now, Yang speaks three languages. One way he gained mastery over English was writing Lord of the Rings fan faction in high school – including a 400,000 word story. Before she was saving her company $3 million dollars in annual operational costs, Caroline Peterson was paying her way through Stanford by teaching horseback riding lessons. Angela Masciale is already a board member and educational director with the National Hispanic Institute. When class members are looking for teammates on projects, they may want to reach out to Robert Pedrigi.
“I can solve any problem with some markers and a white board,” he jokes.
Our Meet the Class of 2022 Series
The COVID Cohorts: Meet The Newest MBA Students in the Class of 2022
UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business
Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business
Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management
University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business
University of Washington Foster School of Business
Indiana University Kelley School of Business
Emory University Goizueta Business School
Arizona State University W. P. Carey School of Business
* To read profiles of 12 first-years, go to Page 3.
* To read an interview with the MBA director, go to Page 2.
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