Meet the MBA Class of 2024: Aidan McConnell, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Aidan McConnell

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

“I am a former finance professional pursuing my dream of becoming a real estate developer.”

Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina

Fun Fact About Yourself: I was a ballroom dancing instructor and debutante escort for many years. Although I strongly prefer swing dancing – especially the Carolina Shag!

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Pennsylvania, Political Science

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: VW Credit, Inc. (Financial Services Arm for Volkswagen), Senior Digital Payments Specialist

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of Kenan-Flagler’s MBA curriculum or programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I plan to pivot into the real estate industry after graduation. I have seen how real estate development can either catalyze growth in a community or create challenges depending on the collective choices of developers, municipal authorities, investors, lenders and neighborhood partners.

When looking for a business school with a strong real estate program, I was immediately drawn to UNC Kenan-Flagler’s core values of integrity, inclusion, innovation and impact. These values, applied through a real estate lens, help me remain humble and conscientious about the role I can serve in an increasingly fractious environment, where issues such as gentrification, displacement and housing shortages have become fault lines that can only be resolved through an empathetic, people-first approach. I look forward to growing this mindset as a part of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s real estate community, whether I am participating in the Leonard Wood Center for Real Estate Studies’ peer-to-peer and Executives in Residence mentorship programs; broadening my horizons with a Global Immersion Elective (GIE) that provides international and cross-cultural perspectives on development; or working on a capstone project with potential real-world impacts.

What has been your first impression of the Kenan-Flagler MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far. Tell us your best Kenan-Flagler story so far. On day two of my orientation experience, I found myself hanging by a thread – quite literally! As part of the Vetter Dean’s Fellows retreat, my peers and I participated in a high-ropes course team-building exercise called “Flying Squirrel.” It involved seven of my peers using a rope to launch me about 50 feet in the air in a matter of seconds! I had to put a lot of trust in my new friends that they wouldn’t let me down (metaphorically, of course I wanted to get back down from the obstacle course).

From this experience and many others, I’ve seen how the UNC Kenan-Flagler community is always willing to be open, trusting and supportive. While applying for business school, I spoke with dozens of alumni from all walks of life who lent me their ears, their time and their moral support as I was weighing a major life decision. During orientation, peers I’d only known for a few hours were already coordinating study groups, offering their cars to help others carpool to the McColl Building and helping newly arrived international students acclimate to life in Chapel Hill. I’m proud to be a part of this encouraging, collaborative community, and look forward to learning and growing along with my new-found friends and mentors over the next two years and beyond.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Kenan-Flagler? I’m extremely excited to take the Real Estate Development Process course, which places students in the position of identifying and leading real-world development activities. For example, students can take charge of a project in which they submit a letter of intent to purchase land, work with engineers for site analysis and due diligence, and partner with an architect to render preliminary site plans. I currently work part-time for a developer in the Charlotte metropolitan area, so I’m looking forward to the immediate impact the development process course can have on my ongoing projects and day-to-day responsibilities.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Three days before Black Friday, I learned that my employer, a Baltimore-based fintech startup, had lost much of its debt financing. Overnight, our scrappy team of roughly 30 people had to pivot from building a growing portfolio to immediately selling our business, just so we had a chance of making it to the New Year.

Our sudden change of fortune left thousands of our cardholders in limbo, unsure of whether their revolving credit products were stable enough for continued use. As one of only two people on the team dedicated to customer operations, I had to quickly identify our business’ greatest vulnerabilities in the market, instill continued confidence in our product among our merchant partners, and coordinate communications to worried customers and stakeholders that covered everything from our debt collection practices to acquisition announcements. I quickly learned how to build rapport and trust with hundreds of people while under severe pressure, ensuring that our company remained stable throughout our vulnerable transition. Ironically, a period of time most people would consider to be a “failure” became the source of my proudest career moments – whether it was recovering millions of dollars through persistence and ethical outreach, helping translate complex compliance insights into proactive crisis management strategies, or simply knowing that my efforts played a direct, tangible role in giving my team the chance to succeed for another day.

What is one thing you have recently read, watched, or listened to that you would highly recommend to prospective MBAs? Why? Robert Greene’s Mastery had a transformative impact on me as I was applying to MBA programs. While I was struggling to master the GMAT and hold down a demanding job at the same time, I turned to the book’s emphasis on patience, grit and creativity – told through the stories of famous masters of art, science, business, politics and religion – to learn how to develop better habits, discipline, and self-awareness. One of the book’s most interesting insights is that apprenticeship, not natural talent, is the gateway to massive success in an individual’s chosen field.

Looking ahead two years, what would make your MBA experience successful? I have three goals for my MBA experience. First, I want to honor my life-long passion for the built environment by combining my existing finance and project management skillsets with the rich experiences offered by UNC Kenan-Flagler’s real estate program. Second, I would like to build a strong and diverse network among my peers, so that we can continue to learn from and support one another long after we graduate. Third, I aim to find professional and personal balance, so that I can follow my real estate dreams while being a supportive partner, a great “family man”, and an engaged contributor to my community. If I can make substantial progress on any of these three pillars over the next two years, I will have spent my time and efforts wisely.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Kenan-Flagler’s MBA program? Almost everyone I’ve met at UNC Kenan-Flagler, from recently graduated alumni to our dean, Doug Shackelford, talks about how their school experiences acted as a springboard to a more fulfilling life, both personally and professionally. When applying to UNC Kenan-Flagler, it’s important to think about how you want to use this springboard: Do you want to accelerate your current career trajectory or pivot to a new pursuit? How does a two-year full-time MBA align with your existing obligations to your family, your community, or your work? Does your life vision match with the Carolina Way culture? Once you answer these fundamentals, it will be much easier to craft a compelling application and identify how your MBA experience can leave positive impacts throughout your life journey.

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