Sounds easy … in theory, at least. In truth, failure rarely feels like a normal step in the process. For Washington University’s Allison Campbell, now an associate marketing manager at Walmart, the high odds for some failure in b-school compelled her to change her outlook and become adaptable enough to “roll with the punches.” “Projects change and you have to be flexible and willing to evolve with them,” she explains. “Sometimes you have to take a more creative approach. Other times you have to start from square one. I had one project that changed scope three times before it took off in the right direction. It’s important to be able to multitask and focus on other pieces if you have a roadblock in one direction. Then you have to execute. Complete is better than perfect if you have a timeline.”
NEVER HESITATE TO TAKE RISKS
In the end, the biggest lesson for the Class of 2016 can be summed up this way: You regret what you don’t do more than what you do. That theme hit home for UCLA’s Maeghan Rouch, a Dean’s Honor Scholar and Bain & Company recruit who urges future MBA students to take risks. “Every great speaker I heard from, or every great company I learned about, all took on risk to get where they are,” Rouch says. “I’m admittedly a more risk-averse person. While I benefit from that sometimes, I see how easy it could be to let that hold me back. After two years in business school I now have plenty of examples where taking risks paid off, and even in cases where it didn’t you try again and eventually it pays off.”
Taking risks doesn’t necessarily mean that MBAs launch a tech startup or join an NGO in Rwanda. Some are smaller, yet no less overriding, risks. Claudia Caron grew up in Quebec with a thin English vocabulary and little experience with finance concepts, let alone Excel. When she arrived at USC’s Marshall School of Business, she was wary of public speaking — even with an advanced degree in communications.
“I was terrified at the idea of having to raise my hand to share my thoughts in front of my 75 classmates or study group. I was worried that my peers would make fun of my French accent or that I would have a hard time expressing my opinions in English. Not to mention, my fear of being cold-called by my Strategy professor,” Caron says. However, she absorbed the initial embarrassments and gained confidence, with her experience punctuated by completing a successful internship at Mattel and graduating with a 3.81 GPA. “I learned that I should never hesitate to speak up and share my ideas.”
How are students like Rouch and Caron able to overcome their fear of risk and excel? The University of Maryland’s Tiffany Chang practiced a rather Spartan lesson: Make personal change a daily habit. “Every day, we risk falling back into the same comfort zones. Business school is designed to be challenging and there are definitely days where we are tempted to go the easy route. However, I have found that I learn more and evolve faster when I keep change and challenge top of mind and resist doing what I always do.”
Georgia Tech’s Trevor Clark, a lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard, was inspired by the transformative nature of business education. His biggest lesson echoes the purpose of any educational endeavor. “Never stop learning,” Clark counsels. “Never lose that childhood sense of curiosity, which makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning. I will always follow my curiosity into new problems, new topics and will continue to ask why.”
To read other important lessons gained by this year’s “Best & Brightest” MBAs, go to the next pages.