Atlantalytics: Looking Back On An Unforgettable MBA Experience

Kegan (right) and some Deloitte colleagues at the Habitat for Humanity GALA

A few months month ago, my MBA journey came to an end. It began in the heat of the pandemic and ended far too quickly. While I have moved back into the corporate world at Deloitte, I wanted to reflect on my experience. You could call it closure to help process my MBA experiences and transfer them into lessons and new goals. I hope that this will prepare anyone who is considering an advanced degree to get the most out of their experience.

THE MOTIVATION

Since the start of my academic career, I knew that I wanted to pursue an advanced degree – at least that was my excuse for caring so much about grades in high school and undergrad. In reality, I am a life-long learner and challenge-seeker, always looking to better myself. In fact, Deloitte’s graduate school sponsorship program was a big driver for accepting their offer after college. I learned an incredible amount at Deloitte. After four years of working with incredibly talented people in a variety of roles, industries, and functions, the time felt right to pursue my MBA. While I knew this was the path I wanted, I could not exactly say why and struggled to articulate my story in essays and interviews, a crucial part of MBA admissions.

Kegan, directly following commencement

Personally, I believe that anyone who says they know exactly what they want to do is lying. That is why every applicant needs to have a succinct, compelling story to succeed during the admissions process. My story focused on widening my skillset while becoming an expert in marketing and analytics. I often joke that I practiced this story so much, that I started to believe it. I guess I did not practice enough because I received plenty of denials. After getting over the rejections (and myself in general), I was fortunate enough to receive an acceptance letter from Emory University’s Goizueta School.

Reflecting on that period, I recognize the true reason I wanted to pursue an MBA: not only did I want to gain more knowledge and learn new technical skills, but I also wanted to grow as a leader of people. I pictured myself starting or running a company in the future and encouraging people to be the best versions of themselves. While I had led a variety of teams and organizations before, I understand now that working with new teams using new styles in an academic environment of motivated students allowed me to truly gain the confidence required to take my career (as well as non-work activities) to the next level.

HOW IT STARTED

COVID, Zoom, Unprecedented Times… you’ve heard it all. Obviously, we had a rough start in the fall of 2020. Yet, having CDC in Emory’s backyard was helpful as was the full support and resources of Emory as we tested continuously and gradually moved out of a hybrid environment and back to in person classes and activities. In the end, we were all incredibly fortunate to be able to move through the coursework without delay and remain healthy at the same time. During the virtual phase, Goizueta created opportunities for networking, while my classmates did an amazing job of making the most of the situation with Zoom happy hours, a lively GroupMe, and plenty of ad hoc gatherings outside.

Our first, and somehow only, “team picture” given our virtual circumstances

In the first semester, we started out with “core” courses, prerequisites for any baseline understanding of business. The fun part about core is that we were broken into teams of 5-6 individuals. These were our teammates for all the classes, so team dynamics could make or break one’s entire first semester. I was lucky enough to have an incredible core team that jelled right from the start and pushed each other to reach all our team and individual goals. After the “core,” we had the option to choose from more than 50 elective classes. In each of the Electives I collaborated with new team members and took a deep dive into many diverse topics such as Customer Lifetime Value, Data Visualization, and Investment Banking. The new skills I learned are immediately applicable to my current job for which I am incredibly grateful.

Even more useful are the myriad of leadership skills from the many leadership experiences intertwined throughout the MBA program. Understanding business situations and having appropriate tools to address challenges is a most important first step. However, I think to be truly successful, you must be comfortable building a team, communicating effectively, mentoring, and leading. It is one thing to read about effective leadership and quite another to practice the many skills solid leadership requires, which is one of the reasons I am so glad Goizueta’s leadership program is highly experiential.

HOW IT WENT

Growing up in Atlanta and going to college in Athens, most of my friends and connections were right around me. I went into graduate school planning to get a bit less involved than I had during my remarkably busy college years and I even promised my wife I would not over-commit (as I have been told is my tendency). However, the opportunities that greeted me at Goizueta were overwhelmingly compelling, so I ended up going 0 for 2 on those original assumptions. I participated in countless activities and clubs. More importantly, I was able to connect with so many people with varying backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, opinions and forge some lasting relationships.

Screen capture from a conversation with Andrew Young
Andrew Young, Jasmine Burton, Kegan Baird, Natalie Allen, Jeff Rosensweig (Clockwise)

I got involved with plenty of local organizations which I will stay involved with such as Step Ahead Scholars and 21st Century Leaders and even got to meet legends like Ambassador Andrew Young. I had opportunities to learn from a myriad of talented, enthusiastic, and driven leaders from a variety of industries and professions. In just one course during my final semester, I was introduced to Frank Blake (Chairman, Delta Airlines and Former CEO, Home Depot), Dr. Helene Gayle (President and CEO, The Chicago Community Trust), Rick Rieder (CIO, BlackRock), Major General Perry Smith (US Army), PJ Bain (CEO of PrimeRevenue), and many others. Moreover, I had opportunities to take some incredible trips as part of or adjacent to school. In addition to skiing in Breckenridge for fun and sailing in the British Virgin Islands for a leadership course, there were also plenty of weddings, golf tournaments, football games, and long weekends to deepen new or existing relationships.

I could not be happier with my decision to get my Goizueta MBA. It stretched me in ways I could not have anticipated; I spent most of my time trying new things and I do not regret a second of it. In a fairly low-risk situation, I put myself out there and tried out activities I was interested in as well as activities I was not great at or comfortable doing. These included as speaking in front of large audiences, taking a backseat with certain teams, or even leading important conversations on racial justice when I can only feel my own perspective as a caucasian individual. The great part about Emory’s MBA program is this: in a small close-knit community, there are so many people there to support you as you figure out who you are and what you really want for your future. A perfect example of this focus on the future is the “Goizueta Five-Year Letter.” Here, all students are asked to reflect on their first year and write a letter to our future selves. We were encouraged to give some deep thought to what we wanted life to look like in 5 years. It was a great exercise in investing in the future. Given that what I wrote has already faded from my memory, I look forward to opening that letter in 2027 to see if I got close and if I need to re-adjust!

Kegan (back row, center) and his team at Goizueta’s Leader’s Reaction Course

HOW IT’S GOING

My time in school were two of the best years of my life. Not only did I grow so much in the classroom and as a person, but I had the flexibility to achieve other life goals. I spent more time with my wife, family, and friends, helped start multiple companies, ran marathons and triathlons, and met so many incredible people. While I do not think I have really changed as a person, I believe I have transformed into a better, more mature version of myself.

Here are a few incredible lessons I have learned that have shaped my experience and will greatly help me in the real world and both a businessperson and as a human:

* Delegation – You cannot and should not do everything. Investing in others early and often will pay off for everyone.

* Time Management – You can always find time, but at what cost? Nothing is more valuable than time, so take care of that precious resources. For example, I had a strict “No work on Saturday” rule that almost held up the entire experience.

* Control – You cannot always be in control of everything (the pandemic clearly showed this). Being open, adaptable, and composed pays huge dividends.

* Failure – Failure is an opportunity for growth and needs to be embraced more often, just like conflict. As we regularly hear at Goizueta, “Feedback is a gift,” and failure provides quite an opportunity for feedback.

* Presence – Not only does devoting your full attention to the present allow you develop better relationships and retain more information, but it helps you be future-thinking. You cannot get stuck in the past as your most important decision is always the next one.

* Perspective – Nobody has gone through life on the same path, and everyone processes the world differently because of that. To connect with people, you need to always listen, empathize, and take the time to understand their thoughts and feelings.

Kegan and Halle (Kegan’s wife) at Graduation

Overall, during my time at business school, I widened my thinking, gained confidence, grew my network, created new friendships, and did so much more. Unfortunately, that time has ended, but I am excited that I have so many great experiences ahead of me. I try to regularly remind myself of a quote from Andy Bernard in The Office, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in ‘the good old days,’ before you’ve actually left them.” Being present and making the most of every day will leave you with no regrets and a lifetime of memories, so I am doing my best to make the most of every day.

It has been an interesting transition going from being so involved with the university to being a graduate in the snap of a finger, but I have already found ways to be involved. I have coached incoming Goizueta classes at the Leader’s Reaction Course, advised new club leaders on their strategic priorities, assisted professors with developing compelling case content, helped tweak MBA onboarding content, spoke at information sessions, and even attended local alumni events.

I am so grateful to Emory and the Goizueta Business School for providing me with these immense growth opportunities, that I am always happy to head back over to campus to help whenever I can. More importantly, the people around me have made this the experience of a lifetime. To my family, old friends, new friends, mentors, Emory staff & faculty, I am so incredibly thankful for everything. Thank you, all.

Kegan graduated from Emory University’s Goizueta Business School in May 2022 where he concentrated in Marketing, Analytics, and Social Enterprise. Kegan graduated from the University of Georgia in 2016, majoring in Marketing and Statistics. Prior to business school, Kegan was a consultant in the Strategy & Analytics practice at Deloitte, focusing on data analysis and marketing strategies. He will be returning to Deloitte in October 2022. Outside of work, he is a huge Atlanta sports fan and is often running, playing tennis, or enjoying time with wife, friends, and family.

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