Culture. Values. Mission.
MBAs love these terms. They tap into a sense that business is more than payrolls and products. To them, business is a means to find purpose and connect people. It is a higher calling, a medium for kindred spirits to make a difference.
When it comes to culture and values, every organization tosses out terms like innovative and inclusive. Most pay lip service to autonomy, transparency, and flexibility. Input is always welcome too…in theory.
Of course, it is easy to picture a fun and fulfilling atmosphere. Reinforcing those qualities – that takes more than posters and PowerPoints. It demands shared vision and shared experience – something memorable that levels barriers, stirs passions, and binds people together.
LOOKING FOR A JOB? GO TO A TEXAS FOOTBALL GAME
In business school, you’ll find cultural markers in traditions and events. Some are scheduled. Others, such as the University of Minnesota’s Meal Train grow out of need. According to Liz O’Brien, a 2020 Best & Brightest MBA from Carlson, life happens in business school. “Babies are born, loved ones pass or get ill, bones are broken, and the list goes on,” she tells P&Q. When her time of need came, O’Brien reminisces, the Carlson community delivered for her…literally.
“In October of my second year, I broke my elbow while commuting to school, preventing me from typing or writing for a whole month, let alone cooking or driving. My classmates started a meal train for me, contributed to a Lyft fund so that I could get to school and doctor appointments, took notes for me, doubled down on group projects, and put my hair in ponytails before exams. This support came not only from friends and second-year classmates but from first years and the Carlson faculty and staff. It truly takes a village, and Carlson’s tight-knit community is there for you when you need it most.”
The best rituals foster unity. Come fall, few campus events can match the allure of the gridiron – particularly in football-crazed Texas. That’s one reason why the McCombs School holds MBA Tailgates before Longhorn home games. Here, students engage in a mix of informal munching and dead-serious networking.
“Not many people can say they have had barbecue and a beer with their dean – who’s wearing cowboy boots by the way – in front of their business school building on a game day,” writes 2020 grad Taylor Dilbeck. “On a more serious note though, the tailgates are an embodiment of our community here at Texas McCombs. Each game day, we welcome back alumni, host recruiters, and gather families to celebrate our great university with pride. On top of that, it is a whole lot of fun to spend a Saturday with over 200 classmates and then walk just 10 minutes to the football game together.”
FRIDAY COMES EARLY AT UCLA
UCLA’s Anderson School holds the weekly equivalent of a tailgate. They call it Anderson Afternoons. Since Anderson doesn’t hold Friday classes, the community gathers on Thursday afternoons to celebrate the end of another week together, says new alum Ezra Glenn.
“The Anderson Student Association hosts a casual party in what’s basically our backyard, a beautiful, woodsy multilevel patio behind campus. We cater it and have a beer and wine bar for everyone in the Anderson community. There’s music and mingling, a very relaxed guest policy, and an extremely Cali-chill vibe. Professors and administrators come, as do the deans, and students from all the different programs. Sometimes prospective students in town for their interviews participate as well. It’s usually around 300-400 people, predominantly full-time students. It’s a sweet and fun way to end the week with everyone from your best friends to people you are just getting to know, and an essential piece of the Anderson social ecosystem. I’ll miss it dearly next year.”
Some events are designed to connect different populations, giving students a platform to step into their classmates’ shoes. That’s the intent behind Diwali Night, which is organized by the India Club at IESE Business School. The secret behind this event’s success? Everyone gets involved in one form or another to support their peers.
“What makes this event so special is that all students who participate, regardless of their nationality, make an effort to dress up for the occasion in traditional Indian attire,” writes Connie Melgarejo. “The party features delicious food, Henna tattoo artists, and Dhol (traditional North Indian drum) players. Not only that, but everyone is part of the entertainment for the night as the different sections prepare Bollywood dances to perform for all attendees. The dedication to learning these dances is unparalleled; walking around campus in October you will surely encounter many groups practicing their moves! This event completely embodies the IESE community’s openness to learn and experience other cultures and is a genuine celebration of our diversity.”
STANFORD MBAS PULL “SHENANIGANS”
IESE MBAs aren’t the only ones who get into the spirit of their institution. At the University of Cambridge, MBAs follow a tradition dating back hundreds of years by participating in Formal College Dinners, replete with a strict dress code and candlelight. However, these dinners present a deeper purpose than simply following in the grand footsteps of Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking.
“Dressing up in formal wear topped with a gown transports you right into Harry Potter mode,” jokes Simon Schwartz. “While the pomp and circumstance can be exciting, college dinners are an opportunity to socialise across the MBA class and the wider Cambridge community. At one dinner, I had the pleasure of sitting between a cancer researcher and a college fellow who had studied the history of computer science in East Asia. The conversations were fascinating and inspiring. These dinners represent the best of Cambridge: the intersection of intellect and creativity, where opportunities to collaborate on new business ideas or disrupt the status quo flourish.”
That said, the best traditions aren’t all serious, even in the top MBA programs. Take the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Here, students are expected to take turns as class clowns, all with a knowing nod from their professors.
“During the first quarter, students form into six sections and take all of their classes together with their section,” explains 2020 grad Nathan Segal. “Every section develops a list of Shenanigans, where students say funny things or do funny things during the lectures. Professors are aware but play along. Examples can include saying a movie quote while responding to a question or bringing a lamp or a plant and placing it on your desk and pretending like nothing is weird about it. It’s a great bonding experience!”
What other rites of passage do MBAs bond over as students – or remember fondly at alumni reunion. This year, P&Q asked its 2020 Best & Brightest MBAs and MBAs to Watch to share their favorite event or tradition as business students. From festivals to forums, here are the most popular and memorable traditions at business schools ranging from Chicago Booth to INSEAD to Wharton.
“Tattoo! Our annual summer festival is the true embodiment of LBS’s open, welcoming, and inclusive culture and amazing student body. The school’s vast array of cultural and regional clubs (my MBA class has over 60 nationalities) join hands to put together an exciting evening with dance and cultural performances, culinary stalls, and other activities. Personally, Tattoo has been meaningful because of its live music stage. I sing lead vocals and play guitars for the LBS rock band, The 20 Pounders. Last year’s Tattoo performance was our first major gig together and this year we’re going to be headlining the festival.”
Sid Singh, London Business School
“The Babson Entrepreneurship Forum. It’s a platform joined by multiple entrepreneurs and alumni working in various industries and different geographical regions, discussing current affairs and providing students with a platform to network. This annual event gave me the opportunity in 2018 and 2019 to network with recognized leaders in various industries. It also allowed me to prove my leadership skills while leading a group of 40 graduate students in hosting this mega event.”
Prabaarja Bedi, Babson College (Olin)
“Sage Social. Every Thursday afternoon, our beautiful atrium is transformed into a space where professors, alumni, classmates, and their families convene for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. At Johnson, you get to know everyone—literally everyone—very quickly, but there is no guarantee that you’ll see them as often as you’d like. Sage Socials are a chance to reconnect and feel “reunion-vibes” every week.”
Deon Provost, Cornell University (Johnson)
Go to next page for favorite traditions from Chicago Booth, INSEAD, Columbia Business School, Yale SOM, and more.