I entered the Kellogg School of Management from a non-traditional path and with a non-traditional future. In 2019, when I applied to business school as an active-duty Army officer, I had already accepted a position to return to my alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Once there, I will teach cadets in the Behavioral Sciences and Leadership (BS&L) department. I will be charged with not only teaching business management, but providing mentorship and guidance to individuals who will become the next generation of Army Officers.
With a post-MBA position already secured, my admissions visits took on a different feel. While other candidates were rightfully asking questions about recruitment and job placement, I was hyper-focused on finding the right culture and program fit – both with the faculty and fellow students. I needed to become a better businessperson, of course, but I also wanted more out of my two-year “Army sabbatical.” I longed to find a program where my wife and I would feel part of a close-knit community, where I could broaden my perspective and challenge myself to become a more holistic leader.
In truth, those qualities can be hard to quantify when deciding on an MBA program. However, nearly two years after my initial visit to the Northwestern campus, I am certain Kellogg was the perfect choice for me.
OVERCOMING IMPOSTER SYNDROME
Before I could find my footing at Kellogg, however, I had to overcome the feeling shared by so many veterans entering MBA programs – the feeling that I did not belong. After all, my classmates had spent time at the best consulting firms; they had launched million-dollar brands; they had even run their own companies. While I was (and am!) extremely proud of my accomplishments as an Army Officer and Blackhawk helicopter pilot, how could I possibly compare my business resume to theirs?
Fortunately, Kellogg has created an atmosphere where previous accomplishments are appreciated but not revered, and where everyone is expected to contribute. From the outset, Kellogg’s collaborative structure put me in a position to interact with and get to know classmates with whom I may have never otherwise crossed paths. Whether it was working through a nuanced strategy case or attending socially- distanced section gatherings, I soon realized that there is no one single path to a top-tier MBA. More than that, I learned that everyone has a perspective worth hearing.
As the imposter syndrome withdrew, I became more comfortable sharing my own experiences as a veteran and (when they applied) the lessons I had learned over my then eight-year Army career. Just as I appreciated hearing from people with different perspectives, it seemed the feelings from my classmates and the faculty were always reciprocated. My wife and I volunteered to host one of Kellogg’s famous small group dinners, where we welcomed a group of Kellogg students to our home with little agenda beyond good food and great company. Despite having just met and coming from different pre-Kellogg situations, everyone was comfortable sharing who they were. Equally as important, they were asking questions of each other to learn as much as we could. That acceptance and mutual respect present at Kellogg fosters a strong culture of inclusivity and helped set a foundation for my intellectual growth.
BROADENING MY PERSPECTIVE AT KELLOGG
Being an Officer in the United States Army is the only job I have ever held. I grew up in a military family (my father attended West Point and so did three of my five siblings before me) and went to a military college. Prior to Kellogg, this background and framework were how I attacked problems. Through my training as a helicopter pilot, I was taught to quickly diagnose a problem in the cockpit and then follow a meticulously laid out set of steps of exactly what to do until the problem is solved and the desired end state is achieved.
The classes at Kellogg have taught me a different way to think. It is true that I’ve gained valuable, quantifiable skills but often the Kellogg curriculum has shown me how to think instead of what to think.
In one of my favorite classes at Kellogg, Advanced Negotiations (taught by Dr. Cynthia Wang), I expected to be taught a playbook of sorts: if your negotiation partner does this, then you immediately respond with that. Instead, the class began with an in-depth personality assessment to help identify in what areas we may be strongest or weakest in a negotiation. My report showed me that I have higher than average emotional stability and agreeableness, but I rank much lower when it comes to openness. This means I prefer traditional, concrete solutions and can sometimes ignore more creative answers. Then, every session we prepared for and then took part in a negotiation with one, two, or up to six of our classmates. Dr. Wang challenged us to devise a plan for every negotiation that challenged our own weaknesses in a (relatively) low-stress situation. The outcome of the negotiation was important, yes, but every repetition was valuable in building good habits and working to improve how we interacted with one another. I learned that there is not one verified solution to win a negotiation and how I must leverage my personal strengths and weaknesses to reach my preferred solution.
This subtle yet powerful shift in learning has made me more business savvy. At the same time, it has also provided me the skills to be a more effective problem solver as an Army Officer. As the U.S. Army transitions to becoming a true peacetime fighting force for the first time in 20+ years, the problems to tackle will become less externally-based and more focused on improving and optimizing our ranks from the inside. These problems will be complex and nuanced – but I am confident the Kellogg curriculum and way of thinking have prepared me to find and implement efficient solutions.
CHALLENGING MYSELF OUTSIDE OF THE CLASSROOM
Kellogg has also provided me a multitude of ways to test my managerial and leadership skills. As a member of the nine-student Kellogg Worldwide Experiential and Service Trip (KWEST) Executive Team, we worked for more than eight months to plan KWEST 2021 – a portfolio of 40 unique and incredible trips that welcomed the incoming class of 2023 and introduced them to Kellogg community. It was an outstanding foray into peer leadership, and I learned a tremendous amount about my effectiveness as a teammate and leader – all outside of any Kellogg curriculum.
As part of the Kellogg Veterans Association (KVA), I proudly serve as the Vice President of Perspective Students, sharing my Kellogg experiences with hundreds of interested veterans and listening to see if the program might be right for them. This is one way that I can simultaneously give back to the military and Kellogg community (looking for great candidates who will thrive in and beyond Kellogg’s atmosphere) – both of which mean so much to me personally.
As I enter the closing stretch of my Kellogg MBA experience, I can’t help but be thankful for everyone that I have met and all that I have learned during my time in Evanston. I know when I graduate next June with my Kellogg MBA, I will be a more effective Army leader in the short-term, and a more understanding and empathetic person in the long-term.
Bio: Adam Scott is in his second year in the 2Y MBA program at Kellogg School of Management. Originally from Lorton, Virginia, Adam is an Army Aviation Officer and Blackhawk helicopter pilot who has remained on active duty while studying at Kellogg. After graduation, Adam will be returning to his alma mater, West Point, to teach management in the Behavioral Sciences and Leadership (BS&L) Department for the next 3 years. He and his joint venture, Katie, live in Chicago.