2023 MBA To Watch: Brent Schlagel, Southern Methodist University (Cox)

Brent Schlagel

Southern Methodist University, Cox School of Business

“Trustworthy, servant leader driven by solving the problems of others.”

Hometown: Denver, CO

Fun fact about yourself: I love doing home renovations, which continued through my MBA program.  In fact, I am about to complete a self-remodeled condo while going to school full-time.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Colorado School of Mines, B.S. in Chemical Engineering

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? DCP Midstream – Facility Engineer

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? o9 Solutions – Dallas, TX

Where will you be working after graduation? (List Company and Role) Undetermined

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Reaching Out LGBT+MBA Fellow, also known as ROMBA Fellow

MBA Ambassador

1st year – Student Advisory Board

Project manager for SITE travel incentive research project

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of being a semi-finalist in the Cox School’s business accelerator program. There is no better sense of accomplishment than applying your learnings to a real-life scenario for something you are personally passionate about. It takes a lot of courage and support to put yourself in front of a crowd of people for your own ideas to get critiqued, but the excitement that you receive when a group of potential investors thinks you’re onto something is truly worth it in the end.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Although it was one of my earliest professional experiences, I am still proud of working as an operator at a chemical manufacturing plant. Most people in our positions continue to drive to the top as fast as possible without being able to experience what the front-line workers of our businesses are doing. Living the life of the people we are supposed to be helping has allowed me to stay focused on the most important people in the company – those on the floor – creating the final product or running the process. This has humbled me and continues to drive me to succeed in my own career, to gain the often-overlooked value of a company’s own employees.

Why did you choose this business school? The quality of the faculty was my biggest reason for choosing SMU Cox. Even before starting, I was welcomed with emails from specific professors offering advice toward my career goals. That showed me that the Cox School provides more than just a piece of paper at commencement and that they want students to really succeed in their passion. They are not there just to teach class and leave, but to engage with students, providing real, applicable support and feedback so that students can overcome the inevitable roadblocks along the way.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? My favorite MBA course was “Starting a Business.” The concepts were well taught in an application setting with the end goal of developing a business plan that would be attractive to investors. By having only one deliverable for the course, it allowed us to form a business plan from the start with our current knowledge and then pick at the plan and refine it piece-by-piece with business pitches every week. All of that created a strong cohort.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? It is hard to say that I would do anything differently in my MBA experience, as I have enjoyed every aspect from my cohort to classes and social events. If I had to pick one, it would be to hear more about the backgrounds and business interests of the second-year students when I first entered the program. I consider myself a curious person, and I’m always open to learning new things and experiencing other perspectives. I have made it to where I am now by showing genuine interest in other people’s lives and driving toward a similar interest. Who knows? Maybe I would have spoken to one more interesting person and that one interaction would have pushed me in a different path than the one I took.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The only myth that I heard when applying to SMU Cox was that the program did not have enough diversity among the business focuses it offers–with finance being the only focus. While SMU Cox does thrive in the finance department, I disagree with this statement. Every department has a strong group of professors and a lasting network to help students enter a variety of industries, even when students don’t have prior experience in those industries. Every professor in business analytics, entrepreneurship, management, marketing, real estate, strategy, supply chain and operations management easily pulls in knowledge from the other departments into their curriculum. My own bias is that the entrepreneurial department is a leading Cox School asset because of the way it facilitates high experimentation classes and, even more impressively, because Cox is the first business school to have three different entrepreneurship institutes.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Even with Dallas being a large city, it is better described as a collection of small, diverse neighborhoods that always have something going on. You can walk just a few blocks and feel like you are in a whole new town. Personally, being a DIY fanatic, I loved going through some of the amazing neighborhoods like University Park to admire the beautiful homes. Uptown was always on the list when I wanted to get away from responsibilities and enjoy noteworthy restaurants. However, that doesn’t compare to Dallas’s yearly events. Reunion Tower for NYE is a must watch for any incoming student but my personal recommendation is the Halloween block party in the Oak Lawn neighborhood.

What surprised you the most about business school? Most surprising to me was the Cox School’s openness to all professional backgrounds and how these diverse points of view enhance the overall learning. Some of the greatest business innovations stem from applying methods and technologies into new industries. Cox made a point of pairing diverse backgrounds and cultures into our study groups. Mine included students with backgrounds in engineering, music, and human rights. Each perspective drove our business solutions in whole new directions, which was useful when we were able to consult for a real business upon entering an emerging market in Berlin.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I made sure I could craft an ambitious story with noticeable effort to get the most out of my MBA program. Not coming from a business background, I wanted to prove that I had the ability and drive to perform at Cox. Knowing that some top recruiters highly weigh GMAT scores, I drove deeply into this aspect to have one large highlight to start the conversation. I wrapped it up with a focus on self-taught courses to learn business basics and identified three main goals that I wanted to glean from the program for both my personal and professional growth. In the end, this highlighted who I was as a person and I found my values were a fit with the Cox School.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? If I had to pick only one classmate, it would be Meredith Huggins. She has been able to find the right balance between excelling professionally and academically while fully living her life. She came into the program already being recruited by top companies and out-performed our class in every aspect. Even so, she made sure not to allow opportunities such as Dubai or a semester in Italy pass her by. It is this effortless aspect of how she pursues life that makes me admire her the most.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? At some point, I want to start my own business that follows my specific passions and values. Then, if successful, I want to use the knowledge I gain to help drive the small businesses of my family and other hopeful families. Not every business is going to grow into a large multi-million-dollar corporation. However, seeing these business founders put so much effort into something that they love makes me happy and being able to aid them in achieving success would be my greatest sense of accomplishment.

What made Brent such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Brent distinguished himself in my Brand Strategy class by leading his team through a well-researched human problem on finding community adventure especially after the isolation experienced through COVID. He led his team to the development of an idea built on his previous experience of renting houses, and pressure tested the plan before presenting it to industry experts. This included building consensus within a diverse team, helping build a white paper concept, operational design, and risk mitigation for various stakeholders within a seven-week timeframe. It was the appeal of this entrepreneurial plan that led Brent to submit the idea at SMU’s business accelerator competition, where he now stands as a semi-finalist. I would rank Brent in the top 2% of students that I have taught in the past five years in respect to problem identification and proposing a viable and feasible new product idea.

Despite a three-hour commute from Austin to Dallas, Brent was always ready to engage, remained dedicated to learning and has been willing to adapt his ways to meet the shared goal. His humility and desire to ensure that all voices in the room are heard spoke volumes about his character and values – while earning the Cox Scholar Award and making it into the Dean’s Circle program. Brent has proven himself to have the perseverance, initiative, and intellectual creativity necessary to be a leader.”

Radhika Zaveri
Professor of Practice, Marketing
SMU Cox Business School


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