Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Ryan Fleer, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Ryan Fleer

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

“An indoor cycling groupie who doesn’t know how to ride an outdoor bike.”

Hometown: East Brunswick, New Jersey

Fun Fact About Yourself: I’m a proud “aviation geek.” I’ll never fly an airplane (I have poor hand-eye coordination) but I absolutely love learning about airplanes, airlines, and airports. My enthusiasm comes from traveling extensively throughout my life. Whenever I encounter another aviation geek (there are many out there), we immediately ask each other our three favorite As: airplane, airline, airport.

Undergraduate School and Major: Tufts University, economics and international relations

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Emigrant Partners, Associate, M&A and Business Development

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? Famously known as “habitual learning,” learning-by-doing is one of my needs for the classroom. UNC Kenan-Flagler’s STAR (Student Teams Achieving Results) Program offers the unique opportunity to get my hands dirty with consulting (the industry I plan to pursue). When I was applying to schools, I didn’t see any experiential learning platform of such scale and power, so I knew UNC Kenan-Flagler was the ultimate right choice for me. Through STAR, I can gain the multidisciplinary skills needed for consulting as well as receive early exposure to companies as a practicum.

STAR also offers access to a magnitude of reputable companies – past companies have included Delta Airlines, my favorite company (as mentioned). I would love to work on a project for the airline on ways to address ongoing coronavirus strategic initiatives or to incentivize ways to make flyers feel more comfortable flying again once a vaccine is in place.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Having lived in New York City the past four years, I have learned to contend with difficult personalities (being yelled at in a Whole Foods on a Saturday morning is what every person dreams of). I knew this wouldn’t be the norm at UNC Kenan-Flagler, a southern school known for its remarkable friendly atmosphere. And while yes, everyone I’ve met so far has been beyond friendly, I would stretch it further to describe my classmates as authentic. I haven’t met a single person so far who has not shown their true colors within five minutes of meeting them. Recently, I grabbed socially distanced vegan cinnamon rolls with one of my classmates and within five minutes, I knew more about him than I felt that I ever knew about some of my friends in New York. UNC Kenan-Flagler students like to skip the shallow part and dive straight into the juicy details of each other.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? Out of all the opportunities available at UNC Kenan-Flagler, I’m excited to apply for the Kenan Institute’s MBA Kenan Scholars Program to combine my background in active citizenship with my business acumen.  While I do not know the projects offered for the 2020-21 year yet, I found the 2019-20 project “Successful Strategies for Growing a Diverse and Inclusive Organization From a Startup” interesting as well as relevant given the current discussion of race in the workplace. I am curious to delve into the finer details of such a matter. In addition, I did not get to pursue research while at Tufts and I want to harvest those skills at a renowned research institution.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Last year, I decided to enter the innovation competition at my first employer, Societe Genrale (SG). From among the possible topics, I chose diversity and inclusion (D&I) and was assigned to a team with three others. During our early conversations, it was clear we had one thing in common – a belief that SG needed to improve its scant external-facing D&I resources. I proposed the concept of “THE HUB,” an interactive site for prospective employees to learn about SG’s D&I offerings.

Despite being the youngest member by 20 years, I led the charge on creating the site’s key feature. I saw an opportunity to make video testimonials of employees from various backgrounds telling their story. By way of the videos, prospective employees would feel compelled to join SG and embrace themselves.

Advancing to the finals, I envisioned that “THE HUB” could be extended beyond D&I to capture all the firm’s core values. The firm’s existing values statement was difficult to find and often a source of confusion as the company struggled to shed its image as that “French bank.” To solve this, I proposed linking all the external value pages into “THE HUB.” In doing so, we could form a centralized values vault where prospective employees could better grasp the SG identity and culture ahead of interviewing.

We ended up winning first place. By thinking creatively and looking for ways to challenge the status quo, I was excited to implement change within our firm. The site was developed and launched shortly thereafter.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? My decision to pursue an MBA was both rooted in the past, yet also was the result of an unexpected situation. Back in 2018 (wow that seems like forever ago), I made the bold decision to attend ROMBA in Minneapolis as a Pre-MBA attendee. I went to the conference with no set agenda, only hoping to see whether business school was the right fit for me at the time. Frankly, it was not. I didn’t feel mature enough both personally and professionally and I wasn’t ready to leave New York City.

Originally, after commencing my employment at Emigrant Partners, I set the goal of pursuing my MBA for fall 2021 entry. Nevertheless, coronavirus reared its head during my time at Emigrant and my team was dissolved at the end of May. Faced with this news, I decided to accelerate my timeline and apply to business school for this upcoming fall. Life has a funny way of making choices for you and I realized right now is the optimal time to go to business school. Over the next two years, the workplace is going to change and the classroom will be the best place to discuss these changes, as well as create solutions.  When I re-enter the workforce in two years, I will be able implement the solutions formulated at UNC Kenan-Flagler and put them to action.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Marshall School of Business, Kellogg School of Management, McCombs School of Business, London Business School, Darden School of Business, Sloan School of Management

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? During the interview portion for another school, I was asked to “tell my story.” The school is well known for this very open interview style and it is ultimately up to the candidate to make best use of their time allocated to convince admissions why they are a good fit for the program.

Surprisingly, this was the most challenging question I was asked during my condensed admissions’ process. The reason being: I love to talk. I used to be an actor and once played a role that spoke for 10 minutes straight to the audience. Therefore, if you give me the floor, I will talk for hours (my friends can quote you on this). Despite feeling prepared, I didn’t know where to start as I had so much to say. However, the next thing I knew was that the interview was over and I had indeed spent a full hour talking without taking a moment to have a sip of water. Not my finest performance.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Applying late in the application cycle, I knew I wouldn’t be able to ultimately control every aspect when it came to fit at a school at the outset. In fact, there was a limited pool of schools to apply to, so my evaluation to apply was based on those schools that were still open for applications! Fortunately, as the process went on and I was accepted into multiple programs, I was able regain control and launch my investigation into which school would best fit my needs. I prioritized three things: career “tools,” community, and online capabilities.

When it came to career “tools,” I wanted to make sure the school had both the academic and career program resources to launch me into a position in management consulting. It was of upmost importance to determine whether the school supported consulting majors or concentration, as well as provide dedicated resources to consult with local small business (a side passion of mine). Community-wise, it was vital for me to make sure I could fit without sacrificing my identity and be forced to code-switch on a daily basis. As someone who identifies as LGBTQIA+, my first stop at every school was their pride clubs.  Once I spoke with club members, I was able to sense whether I would feel welcomed into the community. If I couldn’t vibe with a school’s LGBTQIA+ club, I would probably not be able to vibe with the rest of the population. Thankfully this never happened. Finally – and this is unfortunately thanks to coronavirus – online capabilities were a critical factor when choosing schools. I questioned every school’s ability to transfer online and surveyed current students on their experience with it in the spring. This factor played a huge role in choosing UNC Kenan-Flagler. Already known for its premier online MBA program, I knew UNC Kenan-Flagler would be able to provide online content at a larger bandwidth than other programs might be able do so.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? It would be a shame to not acknowledge how being laid off in May was the defining moment in my preparation for business school. I had always intended to go to business school, but that was “next year.”  However, my layoff is the reason I am going to UNC Kenan-Flagler and why I am writing this profile today. My layoff taught me multiple things, such as living with uncertainty and sudden constant financial discomfort. Most importantly, it taught me how to be resilient. I could have sat back the next couple of months and let life happen to me. However, that is not me. I must push forward and I did. In school, I am going to have to constantly overcome barriers whether it be in the classroom, during recruiting, or even in social settings. Nevertheless, if I can remain resilient, I will be able to move the needle to the next best thing and be on my way to success. My layoff, quite simply, lit a fire in me and I can’t wait to let the fire burn at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? Keeping in the vain of my aviation obsession, my favorite company is Delta Airlines. Domestic airline routes get a bad rep for the inflight experience, although I beg to differ with Delta’s superior experience.  Delta has put the flyer experience at the forefront of their business model, as readily apparent from their current handling of the coronavirus pandemic. If we were to think back to pre-coronavirus (seems like ages ago), Delta was outperforming American and United, all while maintaining a model where the flyer came first. American and United have faced harsh criticism over the past few years for their treatment of the inflight experience and their profits have shown it. On the flip side, Delta’s flyer first model has allowed them to excel and put them on track for substantial growth. When companies think of the customer first, profit second, financial success is more attainable.

DON’T MISS: Meet UNC Kenan-Flagler’s MBA Class Of 2022

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