2021 MBAs To Watch: Jake Frego, Indiana University (Kelley)

Jake Frego

Kelley School of Business at Indiana University

“Man of faith committed to direct service of my community and the world.”

Hometown: Hudson, Ohio

Fun fact about yourself: I enjoy working on my family’s farm, comprised primarily of vineyards, in southwest Michigan.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Notre Dame, Finance

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Eli Lilly and Company, Senior Financial Analyst

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? DuPont, Management Leadership Development Program (MLDP) Intern

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Dean’s Fellow (full tuition scholarship provided based upon work experience, test scores, undergraduate performance, leadership potential and admissions interview);
  • Board Fellow, Bloomington Community Orchard;
  • MBA Admissions Counselor

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of a successful client engagement delivered through the Global Business and Social Enterprise (GLOBASE) program. Through GLOBASE, Kelleys help small organizations across Africa, Asia, and Latin America to solve challenges, grow, and prosper. My team of three classmates and I engaged with Flying Squirrel Outfitters (FSO), based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Flying Squirrel Outfitters produces sustainably handmade hammocks and custom tote bags. FSO provides professional and economic empowerment to women in rural Thailand, which inspired and motivated the efforts of my team. During our partnership with FSO, we built trust with the entrepreneur (Brian), dove into the details, pieced together incomplete pieces of data (which is common to these projects), and crystallized the problem.

We ultimately discovered that Brian needed a stronger understanding of his costs and margins, and thus built a flexible framework that allows him to negotiate effectively.  We are confident that higher realized prices will improve livelihoods for both Brian and the women whom he employs.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?  My impact upon people has been, and always will be, the yardstick with which I measure the success of my career. I am most proud of an experience during which I supervised and mentored a summer intern at Eli Lilly.  The intern, Ashley, arrived at Lilly with basic Excel skills. This was an unforeseen challenge, as her project involved some complicated spreadsheet modelling, and even VBA.  The situation could have been debilitating if not for a powerful tool: my professional network. With my guidance, Ashley navigated the complex Lilly structure, built relationships with IT and technical experts, and got the help she needed.  Her project yielded 160 hours of savings across the finance organization, and was lauded by the vice president as an exceptional outcome. Most satisfying to me, Ashley left this note on my desk: “Thanks for being the best boss.”

Why did you choose this business school? I was looking for a business school at which I felt a high level of ‘personal touch.’  I reasoned, “If a personal touch is evident while I am only a candidate, the school must devote that much more individualized attention and resources to its actual students!” A conversation that I had with Dean Idie Kesner sealed the deal. The call was scheduled for a Tuesday evening, around 7pm. Little did I know, however, that Dean Kesner had just flown around the world after a trip to China, and she was fighting jetlag and a busy schedule to speak with me. Dean Kesner graciously answered my questions and discussed her vision for the program. However, my decision had already been cemented.  Her personal sacrifice made her the type of leader I wanted to follow, and I checked ‘Accept’ for Kelley.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The “Kelley Clap” is lived every day, perhaps every hour, at Kelley.  At the end of every class session, my classmates and I break into applause. This is not to convey some fleeting enthusiasm or to signal our relief that the class session is over. Rather, the Kelley Clap is a recognition of the learning that has taken place within the classroom.  The tradition is linked to beloved professor Walt Blacconiere, who passed away in 2007 from pancreatic cancer.  Professor Blacconiere ended each class with the Clap, and it now persists across Kelley as a nod to our status as a community of learners.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why?  I would retain stronger confidence that it is possible to find a post-MBA role that simultaneously has a direct impact upon the community, leverages one’s MBA, and pays a competitive MBA salary. It is easy to view post-MBA career paths as ones of compromise.  One might think, “I’d like to have a mission- or service-based job, but then I won’t make any money.”  Alternatively, “The corporate job sounds great, but I’m not that close to the community.”  I was tempted to think in those ways, but ultimately found a full-time role — through Kelley recruiting — with the Department of Justice. As a special advisor, I will engage on high-impact projects and will rotate through a leadership development program.  I am thrilled about this role. However, had I been more confident from the start in the availability of mission-based employment, I could have networked in a more focused manner and developed deeper connections.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Given that Kelley is nestled in southern Indiana, it is easy to view us as a regional, “Midwestern school.” Nothing could be further from the truth.  The largest proportion of domestic first-year students (24%) actually hail from the West Coast and Southwest; the proportion of first years from the Midwest is 22%. Furthermore, one of Kelley’s top hiring companies, in terms of absolute number of students, is Amazon.

What surprised you the most about business school? The relationship between professors and students is highly collegial.  I suppose that I had been expecting a continuation of the ‘undergraduate’ model, in which students appear for a lecture and then file out at its conclusion.  Instead, it is extremely rare for a Kelley class to end without the professor and an MBA interacting afterward, whether to relate a professional experience, clarify a point, or show a card trick (yes, this has happened). Furthermore, Kelley professors have met us out for dinner, participated in charity auctions, and even attended morning workouts at 6am.  They respect us as colleagues, and we respect them for their expertise, humility, and commitment to our success.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I am fastidious about my preparation, so I maintained a document of potential questions and answers that was 20 pages long.  Many of the prep questions were derived from interviews I had had with other schools.  I do not recommend memorizing stories or answers, but my preparation gave me confidence in my recall and in my ability to shape a particular anecdote to fit the question at hand.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire Turner Wadington. Turner is a smart guy. Before Kelley, he spent 4-plus years at a communications firm in Chicago. Following graduation, he will be pivoting to healthcare. What is most impressive about Turner, however, is the way in which he treats others. My classmates would agree that Turner is the “nicest guy in the program” and the epitome of a Kelley. He is always patient in his listening, never quick to judge, and consistently supportive in his outlook. Turner is someone to whom you gravitate and who reliably puts a smile on your face.  He has the full package of hard and soft skills and I am certain will achieve great success.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? The shift has been minimally disruptive. Though Kelley has pursued the hybrid modality, the level of collaboration expected for each class has not diminished, nor has the quality or quantity of work. In fact, because Kelley has a smaller class size, the first-year students were able to complete the Integrated Core effectively in-person, and all of my elective classes this quarter are also in-person. Kelley benefits from the strength of its Kelley Direct program, which is a top-rated online MBA. Because there are crossovers among the faculty who teach in the Kelley Full Time and Kelley Direct programs, there was a pre-existing level of comfortability with the online environment. In addition, I would be remiss if I did not mention the grace and humor with which my professors have handled COVID-related challenges. They navigate technological snafus with patience, keep an eye on the Zoom chat box, and sometimes give us a hard time when we forget to un-mute our microphone.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My father was my primary motivation.  He has worked in sports marketing for most of his career, and his personal triple bottom line is: “What do I get to do, who do I get to do it for, and who do I get to do it with?”  Restated, this reads, “Do I enjoy my specific role, do the values of the organization align with my own, and do I work with great colleagues?” These questions rang true to me in college, and still do, because they capture the key components of a job: the mission, the values, and the people.  Perhaps they aren’t unique to business, but my father’s experience taught me that I could pursue, and fulfill, them all with a business degree.

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

* The first is to be an executive who continues to reset expectations and norms for what an executive “should be like.” I plan to drive my current car until it dies, regardless of my income; to sit with different colleagues, of all levels, at lunch; and to keep an open door, as much as possible, throughout the day. I strive to be the person who knows everyone by his or her first name, from the janitor to the CEO.  Servant leadership is something deeply engrained within me.

* Second, I would like to help a person to advance in his or her career who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity.  Professor Scott Laughner encouraged us to do this in the closing remarks of his class, and I found it to be profound. It takes special attention to see the overlooked potential in someone, and courage to put one’s reputation on the line as a strong advocate.  I hope to have that opportunity.

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

“We saw Jake’s potential from the start and awarded him our prestigious Dean’s Fellowship, an award that recognizes exceptional candidates with demonstrated academic and leadership accomplishments who also exhibit the potential for continued success. Through his tenure as an MBA student, Jake has strived for excellence while truly demonstrating the qualities we value at Kelley: the talent to succeed, the humility to grow, and the tenacity to persevere.

Jake has always been passionate about helping others. From the start, he shared with us his desire to be a business leader who gives back and develops the people around him. He has certainly made an impact at Kelley, becoming a student ambassador (a “Hoosier Host”) while also proving to be an outstanding student—an academic leader in the classroom. As he completed his first year, Jake was selected as a student member of the admissions team. Rarely have I met a student willing to give so much time and energy towards supporting prospective students and helping us recruit the next entering class. Jake counsels prospective MBA students, conducts admission interviews, and reads applications as a full member of the Admissions Committee. His candidate evaluations are insightful and on target. He continues to perform above and beyond expectations. Jake is playing a major role in shaping the next entering class.

I’m proud that Jake’s desire to give back to the community and make an impact will continue when he begins his post-MBA career in internal consulting and leadership development. In whatever he does, I’m confident that Jake will continue to make a positive difference, just as he has at Kelley.”

Jim Holmen
Director of Admissions and Financial Aid
Kelley School of Business MBA Program
Indiana University, Bloomington


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