2021 MBAs To Watch: Marshall Pollack, Washington University (Olin)

Marshall Pollack

Washington University in St. Louis, Olin Business School

Concurrently earning a Full-Time MBA and MS in Customer Analytics at Washington University Olin Business School.

“Motivated to use analytics to build bridges, teams and impact. Avid runner, coffee enthusiast.”

Hometown: Bedford, New York

Fun fact about yourself: I make my own ice cream. I have experimented with a few different flavors, and so far, my favorite batch was a chocolate-honeycomb combination.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Maryland; B.A. in Communication, Minor in Art History

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Discovery, Inc., Account Service Representative

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Boston Consulting Group, Miami

Where will you be working after graduation? Boston Consulting Group, Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Recipient, Dean’s Scholarship Award
  • President, Olin Strategy and Consulting Club
  • Peer Coach, Weston Career Center
  • Olin Student Ambassador, Olin Admissions
  • Fellow, Boeing Center for Supply Chain Innovation

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  The extracurricular achievement that I am most proud of is my work with the Boeing Center for Supply Chain Innovation. The Boeing Center is one of the experiential learning hubs at Olin. It connects companies in St. Louis with student consulting teams at WashU Olin and allows students to apply their skills to real business problems.

At WashU Olin, I had the opportunity to lead four teams as we worked with some of the biggest companies in St. Louis. I worked with more than 20 peers with a range of talents, backgrounds, and goals. This last semester, I led a team of six MBA and Master of Science in Business Analytics students. We helped a local company by developing a machine learning model to predict the price changes of their suppliers more accurately. Each teammate championed an initiative that was important to their development, and over the semester we designed a new model that improved our client’s ability to forecast future price changes, saving our client north of $1M annually.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Professional careers are full of inflection points, and I was fortunate to have many during my time at Discovery Channel—one of which was during my time serving on the sales team that helped reposition Discovery Family Channel in the market. Family was launched so that children and parents had a cable channel that they could enjoy together. As a sales team member, I shared our vision for this channel with our advertising partners and helped build lasting relationships. Family pushed me out of my comfort zone early in my career, and I was able to take advantage of countless growth opportunities.

Why did you choose this business school? I picked WashU Olin because it’s boldly experimental. WashU Olin launched a new, global curriculum that was pioneered by my cohort. I wanted an MBA program that takes big bets and trys new things in the spirit of advancing its students’ education. Moreover, I wanted to surround myself with like-minded peers who sought innovative learning environments and were excited by change. After connecting with alumni and other prospective students leading up to my decision on which school to attend, I was confident that WashU Olin would provide the unique and fulfilling MBA experience that I sought.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is Peter Boumgarden, PhD. Peter wears many hats at WashU Olin. He is the Koch Family Professor of Practice in Family Enterprise and the Director of the Koch Family Center for Family Enterprise. Until recently, he was also the Academic Director of the Center for Experiential Learning.

As he balances these obligations with his teaching obligations, he manages to drive impact for students outside of the class. Starting day one of our curriculum, Peter helped organize a group run during which professors and students had the chance to mingle while exploring Forest Park. During my first semester, Peter helped me white-board and articulate my professional objectives as I was going through the recruitment process. Over the summer, as COVID-19 altered the format of most internships, Peter mobilized St. Louis companies and the university to offer student consulting projects.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite WashU Olin event is the Global Immersion program. The Global Immersion takes brand new MBA students, who have never met, and sends us around the world to work on international business problems. This program grounds the entire MBA program through a global lens. Moreover, it creates strong bonds between the entire cohort. By the time we returned to St. Louis, we had spent all summer working together, exploring new cities and getting to know each other.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Looking back, I wish that I had attended the platform sessions from more industry verticals offered by the school. The platform sessions are weekly Q&A sessions hosted by different companies. At WashU Olin, I primarily attended the strategy and consulting platform sessions, but I wish I had attended more of the sessions from marketing, finance, supply chain and operations, and entrepreneurship. Often, these sessions are hosted by alumni who are open to sharing fascinating stories about their careers, successes and failures. If I could go back, I definitely would have made a greater effort to attend as many of these sessions as possible.

What is the biggest myth about your school? One myth that I heard is that “Olin is great for job placement in the Midwest.” In reality, WashU Olin is excellent for placement wherever you want to take your career. The school has the resources, training and network for placement wherever students are interested. My cohort has graduates that will cover both coasts and everywhere in between.

What surprised you the most about business school? The thing that surprised me most about business school is how many experiential learning opportunities I would have. Hands-on learning was an essential criterion in my school selection process, but my experience exceeded my expectations. I have worked on student projects spanning a range of business problems, including an international wine distribution expansion, a financial services company’s company-wide automation roadmap, a pharmaceutical benefits management organization’s brand launch and a streaming service’s customer retention plan. The skills that I cultivated at WashU Olin helped me confidently approach problems in all of these settings and ensured that I was able to drive meaningful impact for our client partners.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I spent a lot of time and energy on my essays. The essays are applicants’ best opportunity to capture their unique voices and explain their goals. I wanted to make sure that I clearly articulated why I wanted my MBA from Olin and what I could offer the Washington University community. WashU Olin is a small program with just under 200 full-time students, and I knew that every admitted student would need to bring their unique value-add to the cohort. I wrote my essays in a way so that every time that someone in the admit-committee picked up my application, they knew exactly what I brought to the table.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire my classmate Tyler Edwards. Tyler is a true community builder. He has the unique ability to build and maintain genuine connections with every single person he encounters. Within minutes of meeting him, he enlisted me in his weekly motivational text blast, which he writes and sends individually to each participant. Over the last two years, I have had the opportunity to see Tyler apply his irreplaceable skill set as he effortlessly solved case prompts, led teams and advanced the WashU Olin experience. Tyler’s curiosity, energy and determination left a meaningful impact on me and WashU Olin. I know that his talents will drive him towards success in all of his future endeavors, and I cannot wait to see where he takes his career.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? In a word? Very. It was hard for students and professors to acclimate to the new learning environment. COVID accelerated the need for digital teaching modalities while exposing students to entirely unexpected new stressors. Despite the challenges that we all experienced, WashU Olin worked diligently to ensure that students had the support we needed to succeed in the (virtual) classroom—and all the moments in between. Olin had already developed a robust Center for Digital Education that was experimenting with dynamic new digital teaching methods. On the community side, our student government tested innovative video-conferencing technology that enabled our classmates to catch up and engage with each other.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Hannah Pollack, my wife, most influenced my decision to pursue my MBA. Ever since we first met, we have encouraged each other to follow our passions. Several years ago, she pivoted from a career in communications and completed a pre-health post-baccalaureate to become a physical therapist. As I watched Hannah reshape her career, I was inspired to critically evaluate my path and how I could further advance my professional goals. Her example was my driving force towards pursuing my MBA.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • Lead a customer-facing product launch.
  • Empower those around me.

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

“I had the pleasure of spending a significant amount of time with Marshall over the last two years. Our conversations began even before he got to WashU Olin. Marshall called me two months before the program started to discuss the career transition he was looking to make.  After he enrolled, we traveled together to Shanghai, and Marshall was in my section for the Business Models course in the Global Immersion. Later, Marshall was a stalwart in my Consulting Industry Seminar. From an instructor’s perspective, Marshall is an ideal student. He’s always well-prepared; he takes an analytical approach, and—contrary to a common criticism of MBA students—he doesn’t need the spotlight. He will provide the case-cracking comment but doesn’t need to take a victory lap. When giving group presentations, he’ll make sure that his teammates shine as brightly as he does.

This past year, Marshall served as president of the Olin Strategy and Consulting Association, and in this role I was able to work with Marshall again. He led the group well, but where he stood out was in the one-on-one attention he gave his classmates and the first-year students. I don’t think that he ever said “no” to a request for help. And because of his success in getting an offer from BCG, there were lots of requests! He is dependable with a capital “D,” and that’s even reflected in his summer work. Given the opportunity to choose among many projects, Marshall decided to focus on helping a Midwestern hospital system figure out how to reallocate resources in response to the COVID crisis. I can’t think of any better way to apply the skills developed in an MBA program than that.

That is all above the surface stuff that is visible to everyone. What makes Marshall genuinely unique—and distinguishes him in my mind from the 2,500+ other students that I have taught over the past 15 years—is his attitude toward personal growth. If there is a defensive bone in Marshall’s body, I couldn’t find it. He never took critical feedback personally. He came to WashU Olin on day one ready to make a personal transformation, and he executed. I’ve only seen one other person keep as detailed a set of self-reflections about every aspect of business school as Marshall did in his many notebooks. Marshall was a Communications major and Art History minor as an undergraduate, but he will leave WashU Olin with an MBA and an MS in Analytics, which means he mastered R, Python and a host of analytical tools. He was never afraid to stretch himself, and he recognized that the only failure in a place like WashU Olin is the failure to try. This attitude rubbed off on many of his classmates. Throughout this process, Marshall was steady as a rock. So, on the one hand, Marshall is the same person who walked through our doors 20 months ago. On the other hand, he completely upgraded his skillset, built a strong reputation for himself as a leader and launched a new career path. As a faculty member, there is no greater pleasure than seeing students transform in this way.”

Daniel W. Elfenbein
Professor of Organization and Strategy

DON’T MISS: THE FULL LIST OF MBAS TO WATCH IN 2021