2021 MBAs To Watch: Jeffrey Merkel, University of Minnesota (Carlson)

Jeffrey Merkel

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

“I am a passionate and empathetic leader. I am an ally and a problem solver.”

Hometown: Marshfield, Wisconsin

Fun fact about yourself: During one of his concerts, Michael Bublé invited me to sing with him on stage.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Minnesota – B. S. Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I was working two jobs before my MBA: Fairview Health Services as an Emergency Department Physician Scribe; Team Dynamics LLC., as an Intercultural Development Coach

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? OptumCare

Where will you be working after graduation? OptumCare

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • MBA Association President [2Y]
  • MBA Association First Year Rep [1Y]
  • Member of the Dean’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Work Group [2Y]
  • Member of the Dean’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Committee (DEIAC) [2Y]
  • Member of the DEIAC Subcommittee for Student Experience [2Y]
  • Member of the DEIAC Subcommittee for Cultural Competence [2Y]
  • MBA & MS Programs, Graduate Assistant [2Y]
  • LGBTQIA Student Club Co-President [2Y]
  • LGBTQIA Student Club Board Member [1Y]
  • Health & Wellness Club Board member [1Y & 2Y]

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am beyond proud of my work on the Dean’s DEI Action Work Group and Advisory Boards. There is no shortage of organizations that speak to the importance of Diversity—it is of paramount importance, no question. Working on these two boards, I was able to drive energy and action towards Inclusion and find solutions to questions such as how the Carlson School can work to change the environment of the school to retain Diversity. Shifting the paradigm of “count the people”’ to “the people count’” is hard work, and I am proud of the progress we’ve made.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of my development as a leader and manager. Over 11 years of working, you experience a lot: wonderful and awful toolsets; helpful and hard feedback; the managers you swear you will never become; and the mentors you hope you can emulate. Reflecting back on my first days as a manager, I can see that it’s been a difficult journey, with as many mistakes as there were successes. However, I wouldn’t trade the journey for the world. It became clear it was all worth it when a direct report told me I had set the bar for all their future employers.

Why did you choose this business school? The Carlson School’s professional and business network is legendary. I have a passion for healthcare, and I was looking to “career switch” into that industry space where Carlson has no shortage of contacts. Additionally, I wanted to stay close to my biological and chosen family. Carlson gave me the opportunity to have both.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Myles Shaver. Myles is a professor of Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship at the Carlson School and is a very gifted teacher. He pushed us beyond the usual frameworks, tapping into the power and danger of our instincts. He invested time into our group and individual developments and always encouraged us to tackle the bigger, harder problems. I always felt that he was by our side to support us and cheer us on.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I wish I would have done more company Interviews. I was clear about my goals from the outset. I knew which industry I wanted and the knowledge and skills that an MBA program could help me gather and build in order to best equip me for that industry. That said, there are a lot of places one can work in the healthcare field. I targeted about five companies and I wish that I would have had more bandwidth to vet more companies. As a nod to my amazing career coach, I’ll also say I would have spent more time on mock interviews and STAR stories.

What is the biggest myth about your school? There is the myth that students and professors at Carlson only care about maximizing shareholder value. The classes of 2021 and 2022 have been LOUD about our passion for maximizing value for the stakeholder over the shareholder. Our classes are passionate about philanthropy, social justice, the ethical leader, and the role and purpose of an ethical corporation/company. “Business as a Force for Good” isn’t just a tagline for us, we mean it — and we’re fighting for it.

What surprised you the most about business school? The speed and intensity of the coursework. I heard folks say to expect long nights in grad school — I was naïve to what this truly meant. I had finally established a rhythm of school, eat, gym, homework, maybe sleep. I thought that if “I got this”, the rest of the A Term should be manageable. Come to find out it was already the second week of B Term. I had been running so hard I had completely lost track of time.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? For Full-Time MBAs the question, “Are you a career switcher or accelerator?” comes up constantly. As a career switcher from medical device into the healthcare provider space, I knew it would behoove my application to have some experience in that arena on my resume. The two years prior to my MBA, I was a volunteer and then worked as a medical scribe in an Emergency Department. It was the fastest way to get a crash course in care delivery and build my empathy for the working environment of doctors, nurses, techs, and support staff. After I received my acceptance letter, a member of the admissions team told me that my Fairview experience, as brief and unorthodox as it was, was the difference that made the difference.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Abby Solom. Abby is an MD/MBA dual degree student with whom I have had the privilege and honor to be a colleague and a friend. Abby and I met at a reception dinner at the Bell Museum and very quickly recognized our shared passion for the future of healthcare. I admire her strength, intelligence, and compassion. Healthcare can be an unforgiving and emotionally-costly industry. Seeing Abby’s unwavering conviction and demand for a metamorphosis in healthcare gives me hope that we can reach our vision, together.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? The administration did a phenomenal job transitioning us to an online learning environment! For me and a number of my classmates, there was little to no disruption. The hardest part for all of us—students, staff, and faculty—was the fatigue that came with full days on Zoom. Our class often says how much we miss the “hallway” moments.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My dad. He has been cheering me on and encouraging me to get a professional degree for as long as I can remember. He told me, “I see big things for your future—a chance to use your talents and change the world.” He also said, “To those who are given much, much is expected.” He’s helped me remember that I’ve been given an incredible opportunity to build and nurture my talents. Now it’s time to help change the world.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Become a C-level executive, and educate/develop my teams into some of the most emotionally intelligent, culturally competent, and engaged leaders we’ve ever seen.

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

I can think of no better student to represent the best and brightest in our graduating class. I see a great future for Jeffrey and those he will lead in the many years to come.

Jeffrey joined the program and immediately put his many talents to use with his new classmates. As a trained IDI (Intercultural Development Inventory) specialist, Jeffrey invited his classmates to take an assessment and receive private, 1:1 coaching to shed greater light on their workstyles within diverse and intercultural groups. Jeffrey’s thoughtful leadership generated important conversations about how they work together, recognize their shared values, and create a space for their difference. He set the course for many conversations to come within the next year. Jeffrey made Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion topics a regular part of his agenda when meeting with the administration as a first-year representative.

Jeffrey was elected president of the MBA student government toward the end of his first year. He ran uncontested in fact as a sign of his class’s support and set forth to build a stronger student community in partnership with MBA administration. Collaborative, respectful, and forward-thinking are hallmarks of Jeffrey’s leadership style. He welcomed many voices as president of the student body, and we knew we had a strong partner in Jeffrey when the COVID-19 pandemic began. As our program considered its options, Jeffrey was an invaluable resource for communicating with students, discussing concerns, and preserving the student community. While the pandemic has lasted longer than assumed, his mature leadership style and sense of humor have kept the business of running a successful student community moving forward.

During the summer, Jeffrey was asked by the Dean to participate in a school-wide committee focused on DEI in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. The committee was formed with representation from students, faculty, and staff and turned around updated recommendations for the members of our school community. Jeffrey’s credibility and poise earned him a role in this school-wide initiative. The murder of George Floyd, in our home city, continues to shake our community, and I am thankful Jeffrey was a core contributor to the ongoing conversation so vitally important to our school.”

Patrick McCarthy
Director of Student Affairs


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