Meet the MBA Class of 2025: Hugh Phelan, IESE Business School

Hugh Phelan

IESE Business School at the University of Navarra

“I enjoy getting to know people and what makes them tick.” 

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA, USA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I built a brick pizza oven during the pandemic. It still stands.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Notre Dame, Political Science

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: MarginEdge (Restaurant software startup), Product Lead.

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? With traditional learning methods (e.g. textbooks, memorization, etc.), the theory is interesting, but often difficult to apply or retain (at least for me!). In contrast, the case method’s use of real business scenarios brings the theory to life, making the value and applicability of the concepts clearer and memorable.

What has been your favorite part of Barcelona so far? What has made it such a great place to earn an MBA? Barcelona just can’t be beat. Not only does the city have beautiful weather, delicious food, rich culture, and stunning architecture, it’s significantly cheaper to live in than most cities with top-ranked MBAs (especially ones in the US). If I had chosen to attend an MBA in Northern California, I would be living in a shoebox and eating instant ramen for two years.

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of the IESE Business School MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I was really excited by the ability to create a custom academic track for myself. My goal is to get back into venture capital and eventually start a fund, so being able to choose from a diverse range of electives that would help fill out the knowledge and experience gaps I have was very attractive.

The IESE MBA is known for heavy reading and rigorous academics. Has the program lived up to its reputation? What advice would you give to first-years to help them thrive in the early months of the program? IESE lives up to this reputation, but the good news is that you’re not alone! Everyone is put into teams of eight students – all from different countries. These teammates are an amazing resource for approaching the coursework in ways you may not have considered. I would try to learn as much as you can from your team.

What course, club or activity have you enjoyed the most so far at IESE? My favorite class to-date has been Analysis of Business Problems. It’s the first course you take at IESE, and it gives you an amazing, high-level framework for identifying and evaluating the issues that really matter within a company.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I’m most proud of the work I did at MarginEdge during the pandemic. When the first lockdowns hit our restaurant customers, most of them didn’t have enough cash to stay afloat. My team and I quickly pivoted from our standard job responsibilities to help them get emergency loans from the government so they could weather the pandemic.

Describe your biggest accomplishment as an MBA student so far: I am critically deficient when it comes to learning languages. This is not false humility – I got a “1” on AP Spanish after ten years of classes and an immersion course. However, after four months of lessons at IESE and bouncing around Barcelona, I am finally getting to a respectable level of fluency.

What has been your best memory as an MBA so far? To celebrate the end of the first term exams, we organized a party for the entire class. It was stunning to see everyone in one place – so many people from so many places that I had met and formed meaningful relationships with in such a short time.


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