Meet the MBA Class of 2024: Colby Bermel, University of Texas (McCombs)

Colby Bermel

The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business

“Former energy journalist turned cleantech enthusiast who loves cycling, hip-hop, and TikTok.”

Hometown: Chestnut Hill, MA

Fun fact about yourself: I biked 118 miles in one ride from Sacramento to San Francisco just days before moving to Austin for my MBA.

Undergraduate school and major: Principia College — political science, mass communication (double major)

Most recent employer and job title: Politico — California energy reporter

What makes Austin such a great place to earn an MBA? Austin is arguably the best place to pursue your MBA right now. Countless companies have moved their headquarters to or opened major expansions in Austin, further solidifying the city’s status as a hub of opportunity and innovation. Many McCombs MBAs work on semester-long projects for locally-based organizations ranging from Fortune 100 companies to Austin’s municipal government, and those experiences often produce summer internship offers. Firms know McCombs and actively recruit its MBAs because, as our dean has relayed to us, they see us as “enterprising, tenacious, curious, and authentic.” Additionally, as most folks surely know by now, Austin is one of the most hip cities in the country. There’s the Austin City Limits music festival in the fall and the South by Southwest tech conference in the spring, among other top-tier events – in addition to an endless supply of concerts, tacos, and barbecue. Austin has plenty of natural beauty too, be it swimming at Barton Springs, kayaking the Colorado River, or hiking to Mount Bonnell.

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of Texas McCombs’ MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I want to pivot from just writing about climate change as a journalist to actually mitigating climate change as a businessperson, and that desire guided my MBA admissions journey. I looked for programs that featured strong energy and environment-related offerings, and I found plenty of them at McCombs. The school’s institutional support for climate action is evident in its Global Sustainability Leadership Institute and KBH Energy Center for Business, Law, and Policy. McCombs has academic concentrations and student organizations focused on the cleantech and energy finance sectors, along with a cleantech fellowship, a Net Impact chapter, and the MBA Impact Investing Network and Training program. And in February, McCombs is hosting ClimateCAP, the annual summit that rotates between top business schools. It’s the beginning of the semester, but I’ve already met so many classmates who are passionate about protecting our planet.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Texas McCombs? Aside from all the professional offerings, I’m looking forward to developing myself both personally and philanthropically at McCombs. I can’t wait to play rec sports with my classmates — the University of Texas is an athletic powerhouse, after all — and join the Graduate Business Adventure Team to hike, bike, and ski. These activities are obviously plain fun, but they will also solidify our relationships both in and out of the classroom. I’m also pleased that the program places a premium on community service. For instance, we volunteered during orientation to clean the lodge at Austin Sunshine Camps, a 94-year-old nonprofit serving the city’s disadvantaged children. I’m already a member of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, the national organization promoting BIPOC representation in business schools and business leadership, and I’m also interested in joining McCombs’ affinity groups like Graduate Women in Business as an ally. I recognize my privilege as a cishet white man, and I want to do my part to boost those around me and truly live DEI principles.

What has been your first impression of the McCombs MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far. Tell us your best McCombs story so far. McCombs MBAs were, by far, the nicest, most thoughtful students I met at the programs I applied to. They gush with generosity, enthusiasm, and humility — all of which belie their tremendous intellects and accomplishments.

A vivid memory from April’s preview weekend for admitted applicants was at “Think and Drink,” a function held every Thursday evening for McHomies to decompress and discuss the past week. Current students who I had never met before kept coming up to me to introduce themselves, ask about my life story, and answer any questions big or small. This same spirit translated to our next outing on the town later that night, when our McCombs group grew to fill the entire outdoor patio of a prominent bar. It felt like more current students were there than admitted applicants, which to me exemplifies the school’s collective, supportive culture. This was confirmed when the Class of 2024 recently revisited that same spot, where people with very different personalities and backgrounds came together and genuinely talked for hours with each other.

Some say that the MBA experience devolves into high school cliqueness, but that’s not the case at McCombs, where anyone can “slot into” any conversation or activity and immediately feel deep belonging. In terms of my best McCombs stories, my most memorable moments so far include: meeting a classmate one night and going to a music festival with her the next day, calling my accounting professor while driving to campus to discuss retained earnings, and another classmate literally giving me the shirt off his back so I could wear burnt orange for a photo at UT’s football stadium.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I’m proud of my journalistic record at Politico covering the business and politics of climate change in California, the world’s fifth-largest economy. I leveraged my deep and diverse source network to break market-moving news before state leaders’ official announcements on controversial proposals to ban fracking, stop offshore drilling in state waters, and help wildfire-sparking electric utilities pay victim claims, among many policy and personnel scoops. But my most meaningful stories were accountability reporting, be it publishing the governor’s tax returns ahead of his recall election, exposing the illegal lobbying tactics of the country’s largest natural gas utility, and highlighting the state’s questionable data and decisions tied to fracking, power plant malfunctions, and energy conservation alerts.

I’m also incredibly gratified and empowered by my experience working with colleagues to unionize Politico. Amid public and private pressure from management, we organized a monthslong campaign that attracted a supermajority of support in a newsroom with 260 staffers. This was fortunately rewarded with voluntary recognition by the company for our union — avoiding a contentious NLRB election. I was subsequently elected to our bargaining committee, which crafted policy proposals and negotiated contract language with company leaders and their outside counsel.

What is one thing you have recently read, watched, or listened to that you would highly recommend to prospective MBAs? Why? I hope that I can get away with several recommendations! NPR’s “Planet Money” podcast and its spinoff show “The Indicator,” along with the “Freakonomics” podcast, are great (and funny) places to start learning about the business world if you have no background in the space — although the episodes still teach a lot to those with a good knowledge base. Other favorite podcasts of mine include CNBC’s “Squawk Pod” and Kara Swisher’s “Sway” for business leaders’ news-making interviews, along with the “All-In Podcast” for venture capitalists’ unfiltered perspectives on tech and politics. In terms of newsletters, by far the best one is “Money Stuff” by Bloomberg columnist Matt Levine. He explains incredibly complex concepts in captivatingly simple terms, followed by the wittiest commentary that lambasts the ridiculousness of the business world. And lastly, I wouldn’t be anywhere without the numerous MBA content creators who pulled back the curtain on the business school admissions process and student experience. Some of my favorite TikTokers include @jayhoovy, @ruffinm, @kelloggtok, and @minutemba.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Texas McCombs’ MBA program? In the vein of Austin’s unofficial slogan “Keep Austin Weird,” you should embrace your “weirdness” — however you define that — in your application. McCombs is a collaborative, not cutthroat, program that rewards students’ authentic expressions of their conscientious character and lived experiences. The program will provide you the space to explore and the platform to grow, and everyone here wants to see you succeed — and will do anything they can to help you achieve your professional and personal goals. That’s the “Texas friendly” way.

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