2022 MBA To Watch: Joe Payne, Vanderbilt University (Owen)

Joe Payne

Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management

“Engaged, passionate, and authentic leader striving to inspire growth and self-confidence in others.”

Hometown: Rochester Hills, Michigan

Fun fact about yourself: I am the proud father of an awesome 5-year-old daughter who has been an absolute champion throughout my business school experience (I am pretty sure my friends think she’s cooler than me).

Undergraduate School and Degree: Villanova University, Bachelor of Business Administration

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I was an Infantry Officer in the United States Army. In my final role before leaving the military, I served as the commander of an armored tank company.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Summer Associate at McKinsey & Company, based out of the St. Louis office.

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be returning to McKinsey & Company as an Associate in St. Louis.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Bass Military Scholar
  • Vice President – Learning & Development of the Owen Strategy & Consulting Club
  • Vice President – Veteran Integration of the Armed Forces Club
  • Career Peer Coach
  • Teaching Assistant for “Introduction to Financial Accounting”
  • Tutor for “Managerial Finance”

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am extremely proud of the work I have done as a member of the Bass Military Scholars Program on Vanderbilt’s campus. For many students across the graduate and undergraduate community, military service is largely a black box. The Bass Scholars aim to foster military-civilian exchanges and expose the greater student body to military values and character in order to highlight the impact veterans bring to the classroom and professional workforce alike.

Aligned to this effort, I was fortunate to serve as a recurring guest speaker for an undergraduate course on the United States Military. Through these discussions, I was able to use my experience to shed light on the black box of military service and expose the students to the unique qualities that veterans offer as well as the challenges we face and how those challenges contribute to the military-civilian divide. While the formal in-class experience was impactful, informal conversations with students continued for months following the class. The curiosity that my speaking events elicited in the students enabled continued engagement and built new civilian-veteran relationships, and I am extremely proud to have provided the catalyst for this to occur.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My proudest achievements were a result of outstanding team efforts with the soldiers I served alongside. As an individual, my proudest accomplishment to date was earning my Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB) “True Blue” while in the Army. The EIB is awarded to infantrymen who successfully demonstrate mastery of their profession. Testing opportunities are rare (about once every 2 years) and the pass rate is between 10-14% across the Army. While 2 mistakes are allowed before a candidate fails, “True Blue” denotes passing without making a single error (1-2% of all candidates). Going through that intense process and coming out the other side with that achievement gave me the confidence to know that there is no task I cannot accomplish when I put my full effort into it.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Vanderbilt because of its location and unrivaled support to military veterans. My wife and I met and were married in Nashville. Ever since the Army required us to move away, we have been searching for a reason to find our way back. Additionally, Owen’s participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program provides veterans with a level of financial support that no other school currently matches. Leaving behind a salary to attend graduate school for 2 years while supporting a family of 3 is not an easy choice to make, but Owen’s dedication to supporting veterans made the option possible.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Erick Olson teaches Owen’s core financial accounting class. He is the first professor I’ve had who has been able to get me to understand accounting while also making the subject fun to learn. He is an incredibly dynamic and engaging professor who genuinely cares about the success of his students long after they leave the classroom.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? While many business schools opted for virtual classes throughout the pandemic, Owen remained committed to the personal scale and community it is known for. A highlight of this community focus is Owen’s weekly “Closing Bell” social event. Closing Bell occurs every Thursday and is a chance for the whole school to come together and celebrate the unique elements of the student body through various themes (Veteran’s Day, Diwali, International Food Festival, etc.). While Owen is a smaller school, our size allows us to hold these events in a safe and responsible manner and enables this incredible tradition to continue.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I genuinely believe there is nothing I would have done differently. While I have made many mistakes and have more than my fair share of regrets, the lessons they have taught me helped shape the person I am today. Mistakes are critical to personal growth, and I treasure every one of my missteps for that reason.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Because Owen is small, the assumption is that means a smaller alumni network. While that is true to an extent, the smaller community is more than made up for by the passion and willingness to help that our alumni bring. Owen alumni never fail to answer an email or accept a request for a call. More often than not, they are willing to go the extra mile to introduce you to their personal network. So while we are in fact a smaller school, the quality of our people produces an impact that rivals any program.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised how easily business concepts and frameworks could be applied in hindsight to my military experience. One of the reasons I had for pursuing my MBA was to “de-program” myself after 8 years of military service before entering the civilian workforce. I was pleasantly surprised that many things the Army does are equivalent to the academic frameworks for successful businesses. Still, the jargon and acronyms used could not be further apart, which justified my decision to pursue business school as my vehicle to transition from military service.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I tried to be as authentic as possible. I wanted to go to a program where the authentic me was a good fit for the program’s culture. Still, my personality or responses to what I thought the program wanted would not have achieved those ends. By remaining authentic to myself throughout the application process, I all but guaranteed I would be a good cultural fit for any programs to which I was accepted. That has definitely been the case with Owen.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Of all my peers, the one I admire most is Allison Taylor. Allison is not only a brilliant student and an amazing human, but she’s also a full-time mother of 2 incredible kids. She successfully grew and sold her own business prior to coming to Owen and is highly involved in the Owen community on multiple projects. I am still trying to figure out how she accomplishes all that she does as well as she does. Through her actions, Allison pushes me to be a better version of myself in order to keep up with her.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My dad was the largest influence on my decision to pursue a business degree. Prior to his retirement, he served a lengthy career as an automotive executive and has always been my internal benchmark of what professional success looks like. As he was also an MBA graduate, I learned at a very young age the impact the MBA can have on one’s career trajectory. I knew as early as middle school that I wanted to eventually pursue an MBA as my dad had done.

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

  • Serve as an advocate for veterans in the civilian workforce while highlighting the positive impact veterans can have on an organization through my actions.
  • Mentor veterans leaving military service as they pursue the next chapter of their career in business.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? I no longer view work/life balance as a perpetual sacrifice of either my personal or career ambition. The technology that has evolved out of the pandemic has enabled work and life to operate in concert with one another. I am hopeful for the future where the capabilities exist for me to achieve my professional ambitions while meeting my desires to be a good father and husband.

What made Joe such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“Joe has been an invaluable addition to the class of 2022 both inside and outside the classroom. Starting inside the classroom, I have first-hand experience seeing how his consistent, high-quality contributions improved the academic experience for those around him. Joe is one of those critical students in a case discussion whose insightful questions and comments help create and advance the conversation. His contributions demonstrated the important, but often rare, ability to bridge the gap between conceptual, academic knowledge and practical application. The other noteworthy aspect of Joe’s classroom approach was his intellectual openness and honesty. He can understand and integrate a variety of different perspectives without becoming overly wedded to any prior beliefs he brings to a discussion, an approach that serves as a real exemplar to his classmates.

Turning to outside the classroom, Joe’s time at Vanderbilt has been a continuation of the tradition of service reflected in his military background. The US Army recognized Joe with the Bronze Star Medal, awarded to those who distinguish themselves through heroic or meritorious achievement or service. His contributions at Vanderbilt continue to reflect this exceptional level of performance. I’ll mention just two examples.

First, Joe’s work as VP-Learning & Development for the Owen Strategy and Consulting Club was vital in helping first-year students prepare for case interviewing this past year. Case prep at Owen is an activity directed almost exclusively by second-year students, and Joe’s commitment to this undertaking has been exceptional. From Sunday night group training sessions to countless (at least 100 or more, I’d guess) one-on-one practice cases, his volunteer efforts delivered a tremendous amount of value to his fellow students. As one of the staff members in our Career Management Center commented, Joe has really turned into a fantastic mentor to our first-year consulting students.

Second, Joe has been a great ambassador for military veterans and a terrific example of the value veterans bring to the academic community and professional workforce. As a member of Vanderbilt’s Bass Military Scholars Program, Joe engaged in a variety of campus service activities designed to expose the Vanderbilt student body to military values, character, and mission focus. Whether discussing the civilian-military divide as a guest speaker in an undergraduate political science class or providing a veteran perspective as a member of a cross-campus task force discussing ways the Vanderbilt community can positively impact the larger Nashville area, Joe exemplifies the tremendous value that veterans add to Vanderbilt.

Overall, a comment from a colleague does a great job highlighting Joe’s approach – yes, he is a leader who asks a lot of those around him; but in return, he gives you his absolute best. I am proud to have gotten to know Joe over the last two years, and I look forward to watching his future successes.”

Brian McCann
David K. Wilson Professor of Management


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