Meet the MBA Class of 2023: Tommy Ott, Cornell University (Johnson)

Tommy Ott

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

“Proud father and husband, avid outdoorsman, fair-weather Harley Davidson rider, eager to build genuine relationships.”

Hometown: Coopersburg, PA

Fun Fact About Yourself: As an Army pilot, I flew UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, but my first flight in a helicopter occurred many years before I joined the military as an emergency air medevac patient. In my senior year of high school, my carotid artery was severely torn during an ice hockey game and had to be flown to a regional hospital for immediate attention in a specialized neurological trauma center.

Undergraduate School and Major: United States Military Academy – Engineering Management

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: U.S. Army – Aviation Maintenance Company Commander

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of Cornell’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? Johnson’s emphasis on servant leadership and the formal leadership curriculum offered through the program’s academic courses and student organizations were critical to my decision. As a transitioning military servicemember, the Johnson 4Cs Leadership Framework really resonated with me in my early business school research. I did not find another MBA program that focused on individual leadership growth and reflection as clearly and directly as Johnson. Formal coursework like the Core Team Practicum and Critical and Strategic Thinking, combined with other formal leadership opportunities like the Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows Program, Leadership Expeditions, and Leading Teams Case Competition, clearly set Johnson apart from other top MBA programs.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Cornell? I am excited about becoming an active member of Johnson’s Association of Veterans. Members of the AoV were extremely welcoming and helpful in the early stages of my application process. A large part of my decision to attend Johnson centered around the strong sense of community among the current students and alumni. Even prior to my acceptance, I felt like I already had a strong connection to our community, and the AoV was a large reason why. In the spirit of servant leadership, I look forward to assisting future MBA candidates in the coming years as they make their transition out of the military and pursue the fantastic educational and professional networking opportunities at Johnson.

What excites you the most about living in Ithaca and the Finger Lakes region? As a child, some of my fondest memories were camping and fishing during summer vacation with my family in the Finger Lakes region. Now that I have a small family of my own, I am beyond thrilled to have finally returned to the Northeast after eight years of regularly relocating around the world. I look forward to passing on some of my most cherished childhood experiences with my wife and daughter. Ithaca and the surrounding Finger Lakes region offer a myriad of outdoor activities for us to enjoy throughout the four seasons.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: The best part of being an Army officer is taking care of soldiers and their families. I am extremely proud of my most recent work as an aviation maintenance company commander, where I was responsible for the training, performance, and overall welfare of nearly 200 helicopter maintenance technicians and their families. Beyond our organization’s exceptional daily operations and tangible accomplishments, I am most proud of our unit’s collective dedication to supporting each other, especially during an arduous global pandemic. The level of selflessness and dedication displayed by our soldiers and their families was astonishing. For that reason, I will be forever connected to that unit and the individuals I was privileged to have served alongside.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? The pandemic confirmed a realization that I had made prior to COVID-19. The realization was that I needed to make significant changes to my work-life balance. My wife and I are both ambitious professionals. After a few weeks of remote work from home in the height of COVID-19 with a newborn child, I quickly realized how much more my wife was doing to raise our daughter. I’m grateful to have been able to work from home during my daughter’s early childhood because I got to share more time with her than I would have otherwise. More importantly, I gained a new and greater appreciation for the effort it takes to care for a newborn child. COVID-19 only strengthened my resolve to improve my work-life balance and increase my efforts as a father with a growing family.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? After eight years of active military service, transitioning to the private sector was the right choice for me personally and for my family. As I reflected on my professional experience in preparation for my transition, I felt an MBA would assist me in refining various analytical and technical business skills like finance, marketing, economics, and accounting, which were not prevalent in my military career. Additionally, I felt MBA instructors and fellow classmates would provide a diverse classroom experience, sharing professional expertise, leadership experience, and business acumen about the civilian sector.

Upon graduation, I hope to hire into a leadership development program (LDP) in the manufacturing or industrial sectors. I believe an LDP, or similar rotational program, will provide me the perfect opportunity to further refine the business area that I will most enjoy and best contribute to a hiring employer. Most important to me in my career transition, is feeling a genuine connection to the values, goals, and workforce of the company that hires me.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? MIT’s Leaders for Global Operations (LGO), Tepper

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Cornell’s MBA program? Johnson really values teamwork and cooperation. It’s important to capture individual and organizational achievements on your resume and throughout the application process; however, I believe Johnson places even greater value on a candidate with a displayed history of positive influence among peers and adjacent organizations. Make sure you capture and communicate the positive influence you’ve had on others in the workplace, customers, or the general public and society. Don’t be afraid to highlight service projects or other efforts you’ve made to have a positive impact on those around you, even if those efforts are outside of your professional experience. Having a positive impact and bettering society are core values of Johnson and Cornell University as a whole, so sharing a history of public service and enhancing the lives of others will strengthen your odds of acceptance.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.