Want to reinvent yourself? Go to New York. Get famous? Think Tinseltown. Live the American dream? Increasingly, Austin is the place to be.
To outsiders, Texas is all big and brassy, oil rigs and ranches, a land where guns, God, and gridiron easily intermix. In Austin, the state’s fierce independence takes the form of an entrepreneurial spirit infused with progressive ideals and libertarian tendencies. The result is “Silicon Hills” – a tech hub and startup haven where you can stake your claim and make something all your own.
THE PLACE TO BE
Austin is also the home of the University of Texas – and the “famously friendly” McCombs School of Business. At a micro level, McCombs is known for across-the-board academic excellence, particularly in accounting and finance. From a macro perspective, the University of Texas is a world-class research institution with a 450,000 member alumni base who’ll throw up a “Hook ‘em Horns” whenever they see burnt orange. In the end, it is the aura of Austin, with its “Keep it weird” vibe and “Keep it coming” growth that leaves the MBA Class of 2021 giddy over the possibilities.
“The energy of the city is different to the ones of other places,” explains Sofia Baeza Perez, an entrepreneur from Mexico City. You can feel that it is a place that is evolving and thriving with technology and entrepreneurship, but with a familiar relaxed kind of vibe. People, in general, are very kind and always willing to help. It offers you a great exposure to venture capital and technology without having to pay the big bucks you would have to pay in a place like Boston, LA, San Francisco or New York. You have great weather, great outdoor activities, and fun places to hang out, and that is why, I believe, a lot of people from very different backgrounds are moving down here.”
Janet Huang, McCombs’ assistant dean of graduate career management, calls Austin the “center of change innovation” in a 2019 interview with P&Q. The area boasts 7,000 high tech firms – a 25% increase over the past five years – that pay an average of $118,000. Apple is building a billion-dollar campus in North Austin with room for 15,000 employees. Google has already leased 300,000 additional square feet to expand its 450 employee footprint. Facebook and Oracle have opened new offices in downtown Austin too. Indeed, the region’s top 25 employers include luminaries like home-grown Dell, IBM, Amazon, and AT&T.
CAN FIND EVERYTHING HERE
Of course, entrepreneurship is thriving, thanks to the low regulation, deep pool of potential clients, and intensive infrastructure and support. For example, investors ponied up $1.5 billion dollars to invest with local startups…which can be nurtured in 85 incubators and accelerators. In other words, local startups can access local talent or business partners to build their expertise and Rolodexes. That fosters a certain creativity and energy, a can-do spirit that acts as a safety net in many ways.
“If you can’t find what you’re looking for in Austin, you have the access to build it,” writes Andie Parazo, who comes to McCombs after being a Facebook recruiter.
Nolan Melson – a competitive gymnast and West Point grad – boils Austin down to three words: “Tech Tacos, and SXSW.” Make no mistake, people come to Austin for the culture. It is the “Live music capital of the world” after all, not to mention the South By festival where the worlds of tech and pop culture collide each March. Overall, Austin is just a great place to live, an area marked by top schools and medical facilities…plus an abundance of parks and paths. Oh…and there’s no personal income tax in Texas, either. In other words, there is something for everything in Austin, says Bermuda’s Tyrone Smith.
“Austin really provides everything you need to make the best of the MBA experience: World-class professors, a collaborative DNA, access to some of the top companies in the nation and world, the best food, music, outdoor activities, and my personal favorites, a Formula 1 race track home to the U.S Grand Prix and some of the best hill country driving roads in America!”
In the middle of downtown Austin is McCombs’ Rowling Hall, which enables the school to tap into the city’s deep expertise and energy. Tina Mabley, the assistant dean and director of McCombs’ full-time MBA program, touts this intersection as “a vibrant business laboratory right outside our doors.” Of course, the city takes after McCombs, which has become as welcoming as it is weird.
“Austin is a great city to start a new life, especially for international students with cultural differences,” adds Tianyu Zhou, an attorney and museum founder. “People here are super friendly— you’ll get greetings and help from the locals all the time and within a week, you’ll feel that you have become a part of the city.”
And a part of the McCombs community too, says Rahul Sekhar Rajasekharan Nair, who was struck by how helpful and collaborative her peers were when he arrived from India. “I was astonished at how eager my future classmates were to help one another out, be it for the visa process or the pre-arrival juggernaut. Every single person I’ve interacted with is like a walking expert in his or her field. The sheer diversity of experiences is amazing.”
EARNING A DEGREE…WHILE TRAINING FOR THE OLYMPICS
For example, the Class of 2021 includes Caroline Green, a U.S. Air Force Major and an internal medicine physician. Her medical skills were so impressive that she was chosen to be the chief resident of quality improvement and patient safety during her third-year residency – a position that enabled her to enhance existing curriculum and address physician wellness. What led Green to business school? For her, an MBA was the path to reclaim what was hers.
“When you are going through the rigorous residency training years, you tend to complain a lot,” she admits. “As a fairly new trainee, I remember discussing with a mentor about my sense that, globally, “those in charge” of U.S. healthcare didn’t seem to care about the same things I cared about as a doctor seeing patients every day. That mentor looked at me and said something along the lines of, “We have only ourselves to blame. Physicians gave up their seats at the table.” I came back to that comment again and again throughout my time in training and practice in primary care. The only way to help push for systemic change is to reclaim my seat to advocate for both doctors and patients. Learning the language of business will help me do that.”
The class also features Tyrone Smith, a three-time Olympic long jumper and senior Audi brand specialist. From him, business school represents a transition after 11 years as a paid athlete, which included qualifying for 10 world championships and making the finals in the 2012 Olympics. Equally, the McCombs MBA is Smith’s backup plan – a necessity for him after his family spent several months being homeless growing up.
“As I approached the last seasons of my career on the track, I wanted to find a new path through which I capitalize on my passion, discipline, and intellect. I decided that it was now time to really prepare for the eventuality of not being a professional athlete. With the plan of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics being my swan song, I would take the knowledge and experience gained from both of my current jobs and build on it with an MBA from a top tier institution.”
Go to Page 2 for a dozen in-depth profiles of the Class of 2021.