Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Drew McKnight, University of Michigan (Ross)

Drew McKnight

University of Michigan,  Ross School of Business

“Family-first sports fan dabbling as an amateur chef and professional taste tester.”

Hometown: Birmingham, AL

Fun Fact About Yourself: When I was an undergraduate, I was part of a small team that put on a private clinic to teach Prince Harry the basics of American Football. It went well… but not well enough to get invited to the big wedding. 

Undergraduate School and Major: U.S. Air Force Academy – Management

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: U.S. Air Force – Program Manager, Future Satellite Communication Capabilities

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? Action-based learning and learning-by-doing. My first military job was as an Aircraft Maintenance Officer, leading 243 personnel in the maintenance of 13 military aircraft. Far from a maintenance expert, I didn’t know how to change the oil in a car. I had to learn fast and I had to learn A LOT. Technical manuals and instructional videos helped, but I did not truly learn what I needed to until I was covered in jet-grease up to my elbows.

Recognizing that these experiences were how I learned best, I looked for the MBA program best suited to replicate this type of environment where I could really be stretched outside my comfort zone and learn through practice and repetition in real-world scenarios. Ross’ commitment to action-based learning and the plethora of opportunities available made Ross an ideal fit for me.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? I’m most looking forward to joining the Armed Forces Association (AFA). I connected early on with a few fellow Air Force Academy graduates who thrived at Ross. It was incredibly helpful to be able to draw upon similar experiences and really see myself in their shoes. The mentorship I received from these relationships, and the larger AFA, is what ultimately convinced my wife that Michigan is the place for us… at that point, I was sold. We’re excited to pay forward this mentorship and help future veterans and their families navigate their own path forward.

What makes you most excited about getting your MBA at Ross? The community and people of Ross excite me the most. Growing up through sports and the military, my life has been shaped substantially by the collaborative inspiration of the teams I’ve been a part. At this point in my career, it was critical for me to find a community that was not only proud of the things they accomplish, but also really proud of the school’s brand and fully invested in the success of their fellow students.

At a random Christmas party in Los Angeles, I met a Ross grad and was quickly impressed by his genuineness and pride in the institution. A few weeks later, he was working on a huge project for his firm but took time to make a late-night call and help me through my application questions. I’m grateful to say that I’ve continued to build more and more relationships within the greater Ross community that exude this genuineness and willingness to help. This is a real testament to the strength of the Ross network and the type of person that Ross recruits. I’m thrilled to join this family and excited to play my part in helping others in this community down the road.

What makes you most nervous about starting business school? I’m far more excited than nervous, but I think there are absolutely some nerves involved anytime you walk into a new situation. One thing that is top of mind for me is getting into a daily rhythm and routine. I’ve been in a very structured military schedule and tempo since I was 18 years old, so I’m striving to settle into my new routine quickly and be able to continue to build bonds with my classmates at Ross.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I was selected to lead the financial and technical analysis team for a $3.5B satellite program at a time when one of our national security satellites was projected to be eight months late for its scheduled launch. After months of analysis and countless failed ideas, our team eventually isolated the core supplier issues and generated an innovative recovery strategy to expedite the production schedule and allow an on-time satellite launch.

It’s truly a thrilling experience to be a part of a team to launch something into orbit. However, the biggest reward was seeing our team of individuals rally together and refuse to accept the status quo or defeat, and instead continue to collaborate and innovate to find a solution.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I loved my military experience, but my wife and I decided to separate from the military and start our family following our wedding in March. In planning my transition, I spoke with many veterans in business and identified three key objectives that were crucial for my transition:

1) Find the place I could most rapidly learn and understand the landscape of business.

2) Find the community where I could most diversify my viewpoints and thinking.

3) Find the network that I want to build around for life.

With these in mind, an MBA was the optimal place for me to develop and achieve my future goals.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Fuqua, Kellogg, Darden, and Vanderbilt

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “What’s your favorite TV show?” I don’t watch much TV, and when I do it’s typically live sports. I had to cross my fingers and hope my interviewer was a fan of SportsCenter. Thankfully, quarantine has provided me some time to get hooked on TV shows like SEAL Team, The Office, and Designated Survivor, and I’ll be much better prepared for this question next year if it comes up in recruiting!

What have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school? Coming from a non-business background, I’ve really been trying to develop my foundational business skills before I get to Ann Arbor. I’ve been reading the Wall Street Journal, listening to podcasts, and reading business books as much as possible so I can get comfortable with business language and current events.

With more people working remotely I think we’ve had greater access to companies and firms in a virtual environment. I’ve been trying to take advantage of this by participating in summer programs and building relationships to better understand where I could see myself not only working, but also contributing in a way that I can give back and make a positive impact on the people around me.

Beyond that, I’ve taken some vacation time to spend with my wife and I’ve been working on my golf swing when she gets tired of me.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? In 2012, I was the commander of a 40-person unit and faced my first ‘grey area’ leadership decision which carried true impact on the people of my team. I chose to put the needs of a service member in front of the rules that were in place and allowed a student to go home to tend to their family. I faced significant potential repercussions, but regardless of any decision from my superior, I felt strongly that I made the right decision for the individuals within my team.

Our unit ultimately grew closer because of this moment, and I’m thankful that my supervisor was later proud of the decision I made. In preparation for business school, this continues to ground me and serves as a constant reminder that leadership is not solely a strategic position, but even more so an entrustment to make tough decisions and care for the people of your organization.