2023 Best & Brightest Online MBA: Brandon Bessler, USC (Marshall)

Brandon Bessler

USC Marshall School of Business, OMBA

“Sustainability-minded intraprenuer focused on connecting people and leaving the world a better place.”

Age: 30

Hometown: Seattle, WA

Fun fact about yourself: In December 2022, I moved internationally to New Zealand with my partner, just half-way through my MBA program. We’ve been enjoying the mountains, coffee, and daily adventures in our new home ever since!

Undergraduate School and Degree: California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo, Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management and Protection

Where are you currently working? AI and Sustainability Program Manager – Bridge Partners

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In the midst of this program, I changed careers entirely. This MBA was a catalyst in my “pivot,” both from an enablement standpoint as well as disruptor to my comfort zone. Chasing my passion for sustainability while getting paid to do so is both an empowering and marvelous thing.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? The Trojan Network and the wonderful humans at USC Marshall. From my first official interview to countless zoom calls with previous graduates to “vet” the program, everyone who had an experience with USC Marshall had something great to say about it. Each conversation with an alum led to a plethora of new connections who were equally keen to discuss their experiences. There were no empty offers. For a top 10 program, I was delighted to experience such a strong sense of belonging, identity, and care for others. Regrettably, this was something I didn’t sense when interviewing for other programs. A big portion of an MBA experience is the network you develop, and I could not be more pleased with my professional connections at and from USC.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? The strong sense of community and lifelong friendships that you can build remotely. I’ll walk away from my time at USC as a both a valued member of the Trojan Network and with a myriad of new friends. Additionally, the networking ability in an online environment was both surprisingly and uniquely unprecedented. The remote nature of the program highlighted the need to own your experience, thus encouraging you to actively engage and make the most of it.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? In undergraduate programs, the pace of the course is largely determined by the instructor. The online experience differs in that it gives you, as the student, agency in determining the speed, timing, and location of the learning. This grants you control over the pacing of material and when you do the bulk of your studying.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? Network, network, network. An online program can be isolating if you’re not willing to engage with others. By working to expand your network, you’ll undoubtedly develop new friendships, which makes the more taxing school days better and chasing new jobs easier. Additionally, a large part of the curriculum revolves around group work. This is all markedly more fun if you can establish sound working relationships with your peers.

What would you change about an online MBA Program? More options for in-person meet-ups. While an online program grants the ability to complete a curriculum with minimal to no in-person commitments, one can miss out on dynamics and joy of in-person networking.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? Yes, the skills developed throughout the curriculum have given me the ability to take on new assignments and interact with a broader range of clients. The online nature of the program has also greatly improved my ability to lead remote teams.

Did you earn a promotion while in the program or immediately after graduation? Yes, one of my main goals for enrolling in USC’s OBMA program was to change careers and break into management consulting within the Sustainability sector. Half way through the program I was able to make a full career transition (Business Development to Sustainability Program Management) and am thrilled to be on this new professional adventure.

Why did you pursue an online MBA program instead of a full-time residential program? Agency, autonomy, and after-tax income. The freedom that an online program provides is unparalleled. You’re able to do school when you want, where you want. Change cities, move internationally, take class riding public transportation – you got it. While the last is, admittedly, not recommended, it’s possible with an online program. The agency is an absolute game changer. Additionally, the ability to make these decisions on your own time grants you the autonomy to study as you see fit, not when someone expects you to be on campus. Finally, by working full time throughout school, you can use the funds to pay off tuition quicker, continue your desired lifestyle, and/or invest the cash where you see fit. Rest assured, if you dedicate your energies to a full-time program that prohibits full time jobs, your after-tax income number will, as expected, look a lot different than if you’d been working. Figure out what you want and select a program that works best for your goals. An online program may not be for everyone, but those who choose to maximize both professional and academic pursuits will be rewarded.

Number of Hours Per Week Spent on an Online MBA: 25

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to make a difference. More specifically, I aim to leverage my skill sets to drive measurable change for the environment across a host of sectors, and always be learning from those around me. I also want work that encourages me to be a present and caring partner, friend, and contributing member of society. It sounds facetious, but the work day can often pass in a blink, and I want to work with eyes wide open.


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