2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Presney Blackman, University of Texas (McCombs)

Presney Blackman

The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business

I am a pensive person of many passions and interests. Outside of work I love to read, exercise, and explore my surroundings.”

Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio

Fun fact about yourself: I have been living as a digital nomad splitting my time between Austin and various locations around the U.S. as I explore the possibility of making this lifestyle permanent.

Undergraduate School and Degree: The Ohio State University, Business Marketing

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Dow Chemical Company, Key Account Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Amazon, Seattle

Where will you be working after graduation? Microsoft, Remote

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • President, Graduate Business Council
  • Officer, Black Graduate Business Association
  • Interviewer and Volunteer, McCombs Ambassador Committee
  • Peer Career Advisor
  • Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Fellow and Member
  • Marketing Fellow

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of an effort that I helped lead that did not include any of my formal leadership titles at McCombs. Over the summer 2020, amid racial unrest and crises, a few of my classmates (Alexis Murray, Diana Lainez, and Tyrone Smith, and others) and I came together to host an in-depth discussion about race in the United States, how it is applicable to us as MBA students, and how we are all benefiting from racism as citizens of Austin and students at the university. My classmates and I were in the trenches of our internships. Even under the stress of working as interns, we created a very impactful 1.5-hour event that included small group discussions about the pre-reading we assigned, personal storytelling, a moment of silence for those killed unjustly, an anonymous Q&A session, and a focused book club series to help ensure the conversation would be ongoing. It moved me to tears to see over 200 of my classmates at the event ready to learn, empathize, and do the work it takes to be an anti-racist. The McCombs community really came together in that moment and I am grateful we were able to impact our classmates during a summer of confusion and uncertainty.    

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of successfully navigating the DowDuPont merger and spin-off as an employee of Dow Chemical Company. I learned very late in the process of the “merger of equals” that my business unit would be spun off from Dow and would soon become a part of the new DuPont. For most of my colleagues, a company merger and spin-off were terrifying and even upsetting for those who had worked at Dow Chemical for 20+ years. I took it as an opportunity to reinvent myself professionally and make a meaningful impact at my new company. Although the experience left me feeling a bit out of control of my own career, the lessons I learned were immense. I am proud that I not only retained my role as a Key Account Manager at my new company, but I was able to thrive while gaining more responsibility and more strategic accounts to grow. I am grateful to had recently read Who Moved My Cheese?, which helped me to develop a growth mindset about this seismic shift in my life and give me an early taste of change management.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose to attend McCombs because of the class size and reputation as a synergistic environment where students find comfort in working together. I knew McCombs would not be a place that would allow me to hide, but instead would force me out of my comfort zone to find opportunities to hone my leadership style and expand my network while I sought to begin a career in technology. McCombs has more than delivered on that reputation. I would not have had a successful career as a business school student without the help and support of my incredibly kind and bright classmates.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor David Harrison is certainly my favorite professor at McCombs. Professor Harrison teaches Leading People and Organizations, which has greatly impacted my leadership style and thinking. I am grateful to have developed a friendship with Professor Harrison through my tenure as President of our class and he has helped me immensely when navigating through the tremendous issues we faced at McCombs in 2020. Professor Harrison is also a D&I scholar, and his ability to empathize with my plight as a Black business school student has been incredibly helpful as I navigate the business school world.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? I have thoroughly enjoyed our recently enacted “Storytelling Series” that the Graduate Business Council has created with the help of our Consortium leaders. Each month, we select four students to share their story related to the theme of the month. We’ve heard from our military veterans, our Latin American & Hispanic MBA members, partners (shout-out to Cohort 5!), and more. Our brave storytellers have given us the gift of a new perspective on each topic they spoke of and I am proud of everyone who has bravely shared their stories for the benefit of our community.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Looking back at my MBA experience, I would have taken more advantage of the opportunities we have for experiential learning at McCombs. As someone with a business background I chose not to focus on case competitions and mini consulting projects.  but if I could do it all over again, I would have used that opportunity to work under pressure and develop my strengths as a team member while getting to know the classmates I have not worked with. I encourage everyone entering business school to take advantage of your school’s experiential learning opportunities.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about Texas McCombs is that we are a “regional” school. It’s true that McCombs has a dominant presence in Texas, one of the most formidable and still growing states in the country, but I have had the opportunity to connect with McCombs alumni who have situated themselves all over the world and have grown incredibly successful careers outside of Texas. The Longhorn network is infinitely far-reaching and I am excited to be a part of that group of McCombs alums as I (sadly) move from Austin post-MBA.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I really took the time to get to know the program, its students, and the administration before attending McCombs. The takeaways from the many admissions events McCombs makes available to its prospective students helped me to envision myself at McCombs. It enabled me to write essays and connect with my interviewer in a way that I would not have been able to if I had not taken advantage of the opportunity to really get to know the program before applying.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I cannot understate my admiration for my classmate Diana Lainez. Diana is the absolute best example of an ally there is. I am so grateful for Diana’s friendship and allyship during my time at McCombs. Diana has been fiercely committed to assisting our program with blind spots we face in creating leaders who are diverse, forward-thinking, and collaborative. The events of 2020 forced many business schools to rethink their strategies around diversity, equity, and inclusion and McCombs is no exception. Diana has been at the forefront of helping to enact those strategic changes and has worked to help take some of the burden off Black students during this time as we are forced to constantly speak on these issues and help incite change. It is not lost on me that Diana is from an underrepresented community herself. Seeing her by my side advocating for Black students in business and helping to make McCombs a more welcoming place for Black students and a more empathetic community has been one of the best parts of my McCombs experience.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? The shift to an online environment after COVID-19 hit turned our world upside down. Coming to business school to expand my network, work on real business problems with my classmates, and of course travel was all in jeopardy in a matter of weeks. The extension of Spring Break that turned into a completely virtual MBA experience left my classmates and I anxious and uncertain. I had the pleasure of helping to lead our students through this endeavor as the Graduate Business Council President and it has been the challenge of a lifetime. I am so proud of my classmates who navigated this time with grace and a growth mindset, and I strongly admire our MBA administrators for quickly switching to a virtual environment and opening the doors to Rowling Hall for a hybrid course delivery model for Fall semester. It took the community coming together to act safely to ensure we can attend classes in-person and we rose to the challenge.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? As a first-generation college student, education was strongly emphasized in my family. As the first in my family to enter into the corporate world, I noticed right away that many of the leaders at the companies I worked for were MBA graduates. I felt that if I wanted to be in the C-suite, an MBA was a must. I am grateful for my very first mentors at Ford Motor Company (Erica Bigley and Thomais Zaremba), who gave me my first experiences and lessons as a woman working in a corporate environment and have helped me navigate my career and decision to pursue my MBA.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I am so excited to take a global role with Microsoft when I graduate from McCombs in May. and I think this will put me one step closer to my dream of living and working abroad as an expat at Microsoft.

After being in business school, I have definitely earned a greater appreciation for entrepreneurship and a greater confidence in myself that I can be a business owner. I hope to one day use the skills I have learned from my MBA experience to start my own business.

What made Presney such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Presney Blackman was chosen by her peers to lead the Class of 2021 as Graduate Business Council President. This cemented her place in Texas McCombs history as the first Black woman to serve as class president of the Full-Time MBA program. In our first meeting, she told me that she did not have a background in student government but wanted to try something she hadn’t done before.  If that was the goal, this self-designated leadership exercise did not disappoint, as the past year delivered plenty of opportunity to navigate uncharted waters.

By her formal student leadership positions alone, you can tell Presney dedicated herself to her peers and the program: President for the Graduate Business Council, Officer for Black Graduate Business Association, Interviewer and Volunteer on the McCombs Ambassador Committee and a Peer Career Advisor.  Yet, some of the most impactful moments in her journey came in her informal leadership opportunities.

Presney is a thoughtful, high-achieving and authentic leader.  Her peers describe her as: “a force of nature”, “an inspiration”, “a strong leader”, and “a constant embodiment of Texas McCombs values”. “She is constantly lending a helping hand, breaking down barriers, or asking questions to provoke next level classroom discussions.” “Even in one-on-one situations, Presney is not afraid to stand up for what is right and ethical.”

No one could have scripted the leadership exercise writ large that 2020 offered us. At every turn and every trial, Presney stepped forward and stepped up.  She represented her peers through our change management as a program due to Covid. She worked with key Black student leaders and allies to put together an in-depth program to examine racial injustice over the summer, while juggling an internship and her own processing of traumatic events. She held our program, school and university to a higher standard because she believed we could be better.

Management Professor David Harrison best highlighted her lasting impact: “Presney Blackman has truly *led* the 2021 MBA class and full-time program through unprecedented challenges — with passion, strength, and unwavering grace.  As a student, she’s made me a better professor.  And, as GBC President, the changes she has personally championed will make us better program at McCombs for many years to come.”

It has been a joy and an honor to witness Presney Blackman’s leadership journey. The best part is that it has only just begun!  Stay tuned…”

Tina Mabley
Assistant Dean and Program Director, Full-time MBA Program
The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business




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