Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Ryan Rash, Washington University (Olin)

Ryan Rash

Washington University in St Louis, Olin Business School

“Well-dressed, customer service obsessed, resilient to the core.”

Hometown: Tacoma, Washington

Fun Fact About Yourself: I’m an “iron man” in two ways: I have a metal rod in my leg from a broken tibia and I completed my first IronMan triathlon last December.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Puget Sound, Bachelor of Arts in Business

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Nordstrom, Department Manager of Men’s Shoes

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? There are many developments going on for the WashU Olin program, and they all demonstrate the same theme that led me to choose to attend: ambition. From reinventing the core curriculum around the Global Immersion (more on that in what excites me about WashU) to investing in the Weston Career Center and its career coaches, Olin is striving to advance its standing and reputation on a global level. This was an important distinction for me to see a program that wasn’t satisfied taking in adequate candidates and spitting out MBAs, but instead is actively trying to improve itself as well as its students.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Tenacious. Everyone knows this has been a challenging year. The gravity of these challenges has become more apparent to me as I’ve met and worked with members of my cohort. The online sessions, lack of social events, and travel difficulties are obvious inconveniences for local students, but the issues are amplified for our international classmates. Some people are even joining us from abroad with one of my core teammates taking part 14 time zones away in South Korea. Yet with all this, the tenacious nature of everyone I’ve met in this cohort makes me feel like it’s not a question of if we will succeed, but how.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? The Global Immersion was one of the deciding factors when I chose to attend WashU. We start in St Louis before traveling to Washington, DC before moving onto Barcelona, Spain; Paris, France; and Lima, Peru, all while taking part in experiential opportunities assisting local businesses. This entails six weeks, four cities and three continents, while taking part in real-world business consulting projects, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While this normally would occur in the summer (which is about the most immersive business school orientation you can get) due to safety precautions, our trip is now planned for the spring.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far. Though not an individual accomplishment, I’m extremely proud of how I helped develop my last sales teams at Nordstrom. Coming from a retail sales background, I’ve been involved in an evolving and struggling industry even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of my job as a department manager was finding ways to combat the decrease of in-store traffic to help my commission-based sales associates. By integrating modern technology and selling tools to a sales team with members who had worked at Nordstrom longer than I’ve been alive, we were able to increase sales year over year for 8 of 10 sales associates even as the industry continued to struggle.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I never expected to work at Nordstrom for longer than three months. I was a temporary employee for the winter holidays, and my competitive soccer background probably convinced me to accept a full-time position in commission sales. I grew to love the emphasis on customer service at Nordstrom, and this fueled my push for three promotions in four years. Eventually I felt like I’d reached a roadblock for how far I could go with brick and mortar retail experience and needed to pursue my MBA. With my background in relationship-based sales and service, I plan to transition to the client-focused problem solving of the consulting industry.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? I don’t remember the exact wording, but we were essentially asked to describe a moral dilemma we had faced. It was surprising and challenging in a good way. I was ready to talk about my perceived weaknesses, but the idea of reaffirming ethics in myself and by proxy all my classmates who were also interviewed allowed me to gain a ton of respect for WashU. Thankfully, I had many experiences at Nordstrom of customers asking for discounts and deals that I had to politely reject, even though I would have benefited from the sales commission.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Well, I certainly used Poets & Quants! The website was absolutely necessary for me to give some direction to my school search amidst a sea of business school options. From that starting point, it really became a priority to speak to as many students involved in the program as I could so I could understand the school culture. Admissions teams are great people, but a big part of their job is convincing people to apply for their program. Students give a candid and upfront representation of the school’s benefits and shortcomings with no other motivation than informing someone they would want to be a future classmate.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? I had a very challenging senior year of undergrad after I lost a close mentor to breast cancer. She had been my soccer team’s athletic trainer who motivated me to rehabilitate after torn knee ligaments, a broken leg and countless sprained ankles, even when giving up felt like the better option. With her passing, I suffered severe depression and nearly failed out of school after another injury ended my senior soccer season. But I rehabbed once again, eventually finished school, and even started doing endurance races like triathlons and marathons (her favorite pastime). Her fight with cancer was the definition of resilience, and she has imparted in me a will to overcome the challenges and obstacles that certainly await me in business school.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? Nordstrom is going to be my slightly biased answer here. The company goes out of its way to exemplify its corporate values at a consumer level. The emphasis on service and being customer obsessed transforms a trip to the mall that many might dread into an experience. For a job that involved sales, I never felt like I was being invasive or a burden on my customers, instead creating a unique retail environment for such a large company.


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