Every business school gives their students a certain home field advantage. The area companies employ their alumni. They divvy out projects to students. Chances are, faculty has sought their input on programming. Yes, these companies know the nearby MBA programs intimately. They understand what their students learn and value — and how they’ll perform right out of the gate. That track record keeps them coming back for more.
As the top MBA program in Seattle, the University of Washington’s Foster School enjoys a certain home field advantage. In fact, it is sometimes described as a “Tech School.” After all, 45% of 2021 graduates entered the field — pulling in $137,518 in base alone. However, the “tech hub” tag only tells part of the story — for Seattle as much as Foster. In reality, Seattle caters to a diverse range of companies. It is the home of the Big 3: Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks not to mention the headquarters for Costco, Paccar, Nordstrom, and Expedia. And that doesn’t count up-and-comers like Zillow, REI, Electric Mirror, and Orca Beverage. Every MBB Firm maintains an operation in Seattle, not to mention big name firms like Boeing, Google, Goldman Sachs, and Salesforce. And Nike’s campus is just 3 hours down I-5. On top of that, Seattle’s startup scene is sizzling, with 5 companies attracting $733 million dollars in investment in April alone.
PARTNERING WTH THE TOP COMPANIES
Yes, the best companies head to where they can find the best talent. And the Foster School has long been tapped first as a supplier. José Mario Peña, a first-year who previously studied in El Salvador and Germany, describes the Foster program as being “completely immersed in the city.” As a result, he observes, MBAs can develop a network of teachers and mentors among the elite practitioners and experts at the top firms. In other words, Foster MBAs enjoy home field advantage in both “recruiting and real-time projects” in the words of Joe Castro, a first-year Foster MBA who is a U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant.
And that’s not all…
“This advantage is further amplified by the fact that Foster competes with no other top-20 MBA program in Seattle, which is unusual for most major cities,” Castro adds. “Second, we enjoy a door-to-trailhead time under 1 hour, have the best coffee shops on earth, and are home to a panoply of craft breweries and wineries. Third, the UW campus is objectively stunning, creating an excellent learning environment. Combined, this offers the perfect blend of experiential, lifestyle, and academic experiences that make an MBA so transformative.”
There is another part to this equation: experiential learning. Looking for opportunities in real-world situations? The Foster MBA won’t disappoint. In fact, Sam Plotkin considers “Learning by doing” to be the “driving philosophy” behind the curriculum. “I’m particularly excited about the Applied Strategy Project, which is available to first-year MBA’s during the winter quarter,” Plotkin wrote last fall. “Students collaborate with their colleagues on a given project and apply coursework directly to real business problems for renowned companies like Boeing, REI, and Microsoft among others. I’m looking forward to the opportunity and challenge.”
THE OUTDOOR LIFE
Ask the Class of 2023 what brought them to Foster and “Seattle” is bound to rank among the Top 3. Ishani Singal, an engineer by trade, lauds the “cosmopolitan outlook” of the city. That outlook aligns closely with the sensibilities of modern MBAs, adds Nick Mager, a production analyst from California.
“[Seattle is] on the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurship, but some of the city’s most renowned companies are also leaders in corporate social responsibility and sustainable business practices. Seattle understands business and value-creation – if you don’t believe me, look at the list of companies headquartered here – but recognizes that success requires so much more than dollars and cents. That is the future of business, and Seattle is taking the lead.”
And let’s not forget the Puget Sound’s natural beauty. Sure, it rains…at lot. That also means lots of green wilderness, along with mountains, coastline, and water galore. And that leaves plenty of space for kayaking, hiking, and even whale watching.
“For me, it comes down to the outdoor recreation and food, indulgences that MBA students can enjoy when we’re not making slide decks and spreadsheets,” explains Sam Plotkin. “The geography out here is fantastically dynamic. We live in the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area. On the same day, you can ski exceptional terrain at Snoqualmie Pass and then nosh on some Hood Canal oysters. You can enjoy world class beer at Reuben’s Brews and take a day hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Or maybe you’d prefer to paddle some mellow rapids on the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River and then chow down at the Crawfish House. Seattle can’t be beat.”
AN IMPULSE TO BUILD
For Angela Yang, who studied neuroscience before becoming a Booz Allen Hamilton consultant,” the Foster-Seattle appeal comes down to three dimensions: “The sheer number of opportunities, the passion of the community, and the closeness to nature. I think that both Foster and Seattle attract people that are very driven by strong values (e.g., community/compassion, balance, innovation, and appreciation for nature).”
Ishani Singal has certainly made a contribution to Seattle. Before Foster, she helped to design a 53-story residential building in the city. “This building had its unique challenges as it falls in the high seismic zone. What makes it so remarkable is the fact that I was tasked with designing the foundation for this building during the COVID pandemic while I had no previous foundation design experience. I took this opportunity to conduct various Zoom calls with foundation specialists at my company and learn from them. Using the knowledge I gained from them, I was not only able to design the building, but also set up automation tools within the company for future engineers looking to design foundations.”
Joe Castro established a different kind of foundation. In U.S. Coast Guard, he created a professional development club and global internship program — one that forged 88 “servant leaders” ready to pick up the slack after Castro left for business school. “Throughout my career, I had the privilege of leading outstanding team-oriented successes during external operations like Hurricane Sandy in NYC. However, nothing compared to the impact and satisfaction I felt by molding, mentoring, and passing the baton to the capable hands of America’s next generation of leaders. Seeing them succeed means everything to me.”
MAKING THINGS HAPPEN
From sea to air, Anthony Wnuk served as an American Naval Aviator, where he earned the distinction of Helicopter Aircraft Commander after years of training of training and missions. Staying in aerospace, Danielle Pyrak, a Lockheed Martin engineer before business school, spearheaded a hardware upgrade that enabled her firm to cut two years of development time — not to mention generate a $10 million dollar savings. At Qumulo, a Seattle data storage venture valued at $1.2 billion dollars, Lily Bowdler was responsible for rolling out the firm’s remote video editing product.
“I worked as a program manager with teams from nearly every organization within Qumulo, from legal to customer success to, of course, product, marketing, and sales. In addition, I managed three strategic technology partners, including AWS, with varying levels of involvement from internal alliance managers, to launch a remote studio branded by 4 companies. Studio Q led to significant new Cloud business for Qumulo within a couple of weeks of launch – an important goal for the company overall.”
Like Bowdler, Sam Plotkin made his mark in the Seattle area. Four years ago, he ran the purchase of 46 acres of forestland for public use at a national park in Issaquah. Not only did this require the usual financing and legal work, but Plotkin also “navigated” politics in building consensus with disparate players ranging from activists to city council members.
“I’ll never forget the night when the City of Issaquah voted to approve the property’s acquisition. Council chambers were packed with supporters. When the vote to purchase the property was approved, the community went wild. That was a powerful moment and I’ll remember the feeling of accomplishment that washed over me for the rest of my career. Not only did the project later make the front page of the Seattle Times, but The Trust for Public Land and City of Issaquah were awarded a prestigious King County Green Globe Award for environmental excellence in recognition of our accomplishment.”
Plotkin’s conservation work — protecting the land while balancing competing interests — epitomizes Foster’s We>Me philosophy. Here, students are encouraged to listen and reflect. In the process, they seek out the win-win compromise that serves the common good over the narrowly-tailored, quick fix where only the select few enjoy the fruits. This We>Me approach isn’t just a tagline at Foster. It is one of the main criteria for admission, where ledgers measuring gains and losses are eschewed in favor of stories of adding value and reducing barriers.
Take Lily Bowdler. She didn’t just take maternity leave at her last company. Rather, she worked with management to produce a company-wide family leave policy. We>Me. Angela Yang didn’t just sit back and accept the status quo when her company’s team leads consisted of eight men and zero women. Instead, she sought out mentorship and training for herself — and the women around her. We>Me. As a student at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Joe Castro enjoyed the benefit of a men’s soccer scholarship. Years later, he decided to follow the “Lift others as we climb” mantra when he returned to the academy as faculty.
“There was no women’s NCAA soccer program, despite being the #1 popular sport for women in America,” he tells P&Q. “So, in my spare time, I convinced others to help me build a program out of thin air. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Transportation rewarded our efforts with an official NCAA designation, creating over $3M in annual scholarships. In other words, we recreated the very opportunity that spawned my own career. For those young women who blazed that trail with me, they now have operational experience with we>me, which can help them with future initiatives. They also learned that by taking this approach in the workplace, high-growth and high-impact opportunities will magically reveal themselves more often. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Next Page: An interview with Wendy Guild, Assistant Dean
Page 3: Profiles of Washington Foster First-Year MBA Students