Category Archives: MBA

Foster delivers best bang for the buck

U.S. News & World Report recognized Foster as the highest-ranked MBA program with the best bang for the buck in its recent analysis of graduates’ salaries and average debt. According to the article, Foster graduates “who were employed within three months after graduation in 2014 have an average annual starting salary of $105,680, and those who borrowed had an average debt of $29,720 for business school.” Read the full story.

Foster was also the top-ranked program listed in U.S. News’ top 10 MBA programs where grads can afford their student loans.

Veterans way

A growing company of armed forces vets is choosing the Foster School to transition from military to corporate careers, and the benefits go both ways

Dan Boirum

Dan Boirum was leading a search-and-destroy operation up the remote Arghandab River valley of Afghanistan when a 100-pound improvised bomb exploded under his armored vehicle, wounding four crewmen, one critically.

The blast knocked Boirum unconscious. But he recovered to resume command of his US Army Stryker platoon and its mission: stabilize this volatile region at the front lines of the war on terror—a task that required a precarious balancing of military might and cultural diplomacy that is perhaps unprecedented in wartime history.

Today, just a few years removed from the dust and dangers of Kandahar Province, Boirum is back in his home town of Seattle, learning to manage in a very different context at the Foster School of Business. His combat experience and leadership credentials aren’t exactly typical at Foster. But he’s hardly alone, either.

In the past few years, a growing cohort of veterans of the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard have come to Foster, looking to power their transition from military to corporate careers.

“I came to Foster hoping it would give me the ability to learn about the various aspects of business and then give me a path to a new career,” says Boirum, a first-year student in the Full-time MBA Program. “I didn’t come in with a plan. I came knowing that it would be a place where I could figure it out in a safe environment and with all the support I could possibly ask for.”

Back to school

Foster is part of a nationwide surge of military veterans flooding into colleges and universities to plot civilian careers. Recent troop withdrawals and military budget cuts are expected to send 1.5 million service members into the civilian workforce by 2019.

At the same time, the education benefits available to veterans and active duty military have never been better. The largest is the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which covers tuition, books and housing costs.

“The GI Bill made all the difference to me,” adds Matthew Nutsch (TMMBA 2014), a recent graduate of Foster’s Technology Management MBA Program who served in the Navy as an electrician on a nuclear-powered submarine and is now a senior management systems analyst at Seattle City Light . “It’s an amazingly good deal and the TMMBA Program is so dynamic that it would feel wasteful not to take advantage. The education has changed my life.”

Tony Casement, lead counselor at the University of Washington Veterans Center, says that’s a common sentiment: “Instead of getting out and trying to go straight to work, many military vets are taking advantage of the benefits to advance their education and enter the workforce with a better job.”

A great place to restart

It happens that one of the best places to advance that education is the UW. U.S. News & World Report named the UW second nationally in its 2015 ranking of Best Colleges for Veterans.

Casement believes the reasons for the ranking begin with proximity to multiple military bases, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the Whidbey Island, Kitsap and Everett Naval Bases. He also factors the university’s generous tuition waivers and other assistance for veterans; a proliferation of military student organizations; and a high-functioning Veterans Center that advises students, offers career counseling, and removes the pain of finding and applying benefits so veterans can focus on their studies.

The university’s sterling international reputation doesn’t hurt, either. “The UW is not only military friendly, but also a great name academically,” Casement adds. “It makes a lot of sense to go here.”

He says that more than 1,500 students at the Seattle campus are receiving some form of military benefit, which is transferrable to dependents. Of that number, around 700 are veterans or active duty service members. And nearly 80 of them are enrolled at the Foster School.

Finding Foster

Casement believes that business is a popular field of study for veterans because it opens doors to so many lines of civilian work, and because many of the management and leadership skills mastered in the military—especially by officers—are transferrable.

This may explain why the largest jump in military enrollment at Foster is occurring in the MBA programs. The Full-time MBA has seen a doubling of veterans and active duty officers in the past couple of years alone.

Why Foster? Start with its reputation and ranking in the upmost echelons of American b-schools. Add its personalized approach to teaching, advising and career services, plus its long tradition of assisting dramatic career transformations.

Norma Domingo and Chris Wigley

But the thing that seems to appeal most of all to military veterans is the school’s genuine culture of collaboration. “There is definitely a different culture at Foster,” says Chris Wigley, a second-year MBA who has compared notes with Army buddies studying in MBA programs across the country. “For me, the collaborative environment here has been enormously beneficial.”

It’s familiar territory for anyone who has served in any branch of the military where, as Boirum says, “everything is a collaboration.”

The full package

Collaboration goes both ways. And Foster veterans give as good as they get.

According to Dan Poston, assistant dean for masters programs at Foster, students with military backgrounds add immeasurably to the shared learning environment.

“We’re looking for classes with a diversity of perspectives,” he says. “Military students bring a facility with structure and organization to get things done. These are very positive traits to have in any team. Plus, they share their leadership training, both formally and informally.”

That training is the best in any business, according to Bruce Avolio, director of the Foster School’s Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking and author of multiple studies on military leadership.

“What you see in our military is what we expect from our leaders in business: authentic, ethical, adaptive, agile role models who focus on development and put collective interest above themselves,” Avolio says. “This comes from a program of training and development that exceeds any business organization in the US or likely on Earth.”

But leadership is not the only asset that veterans bring to the management classroom. Avolio adds that they offer wisdom from having dealt with the most difficult decisions in life. They are comfortable working in hostile environments and ambiguous situations. They have a deep sense of team and self-sacrifice. They appreciate the ultimate importance of ethics. And they bring a learning orientation that challenges others in a respectful way.

Brave new world

So why do they need a business degree? Part of the value is simply in the time and opportunity to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives—especially for people with little work experience or professional network outside of the service.

“It’s hard for military people to start over,” explains Norma Domingo, a former aircraft mechanic in the Navy now studying human resources management in Foster’s Undergraduate Program. “You’ve earned a rank and a name for yourself. But that doesn’t carry over to the civilian world. I’m the same as every other Foster undergrad. We’re all here to start something new.”

Beyond career discernment and the acquisition of technical knowledge in the business disciplines, many veterans use Foster to “demilitarize” themselves, as Ryan McCarthy puts it. “In the Army we wear our rank on our chest, so you always know a person’s level of authority,” says the former artillery officer now pursuing his Foster MBA. “Here in business school and in corporate America, you have to be persuasive without the rank.”

Transferring soft skills is only half the battle. The other half is translation. “Bragging about your accomplishments is frowned upon in the military,” says Wigley. “But when you interview with a company, that’s exactly what you have to do. When you’re not used to telling that story, it can come out raw and unrefined.”

Poston says that Foster’s program staffs and career services excel at helping veterans communicate the assets they bring to any organization: “We help with the meat and the message, framing their experience in a way that has relevance to a recruiter.”

Nested networks

Military and ex-military students at Foster report a kind of sixth sense (or is it radar?) for finding each other in class. Maybe it’s their age. Or something in the way they speak, or carry themselves. Whatever it is, the bond is inescapable, the product of a shared experience, whichever their flavor of military service.

Now Foster vets have a more formal place to find each other. The student-organized MBA Veterans Association is only a few years old, but it’s rapidly evolving from social club to network hub.

The current officers are working with undergraduate leaders to charter a BA chapter of the organization. They are advising prospective students, coordinating with the Husky United Military Veterans organization (HUMV) to create a mentor program, hosting career development and networking events, and connecting with military bases and area employers to develop a military-to-corporate pipeline.

“The MBA Program administrators talk about how we have a golden ticket as a student,” says Veterans Association president Wigley. “I think we have a second golden ticket as veterans. If you reach out to vets at all kinds of companies, they’re usually more than willing to help.”

An old habit that dies hard.

Dan Boirum describes the connection between veterans in familial terms. He recalls suiting up for an interview with Liberty Mutual when a couple of classmates stepped in to perform an informal class A uniform inspection—even swapping watches so he’d look sharper. “It was just an instinctive thing,” he says. “Your buddy is going into an important meeting, so we’ll look you over, straighten you up. There’s a definite brother/sisterhood here—all within the larger Foster family.”

Passion and purpose

That’s the ultimate expression of the Foster student experience.

Matt Pescador, an executive officer in his 20th year with the Navy, enrolled in Foster’s Executive MBA Program preparing for an eventual second career, ideally at a comparable level of seniority. What he’s found is the definition of a symbiotic relationship. And endless inspiration.

“I have deep experience in leadership, and the executives in my program bring a fast-paced technocracy that I’m not familiar with,” he says. “The relationship between what they learn from me and what I learn from them is exactly what the program is trying to foster.”

For Boirum, those relationships—with people from every background who share a genuine passion—are the keys to his transformation to a successful and meaningful civilian life.

“When you transition out of the military, one of the things you’re most concerned about is finding another place where you belong, where there is a shared sense of purpose to make the world a better place. I was afraid that I’d leave the Army and be lost,” he says. “But at the Foster School I’m surrounded by people who want to be part of something special together, something bigger than themselves. I never feel lost here.”

The version of this article that appears in the spring 2015 issue of Foster Business includes profiles of six additional Foster veterans.

Historic MBA class gift seeds Foster’s first student-run investment fund

Senior lecturer Lance Young and portfolio managers Brennen Ricks, Tristan Toomey, Aalok Shah and Brett Schulte.

Lance Young is not afraid to wield a sports metaphor when it’s warranted. And to describe the Foster School’s new MBA Investment Fund, his game of choice is baseball.

“It’s like AAA ball,” says the senior lecturer in finance who serves as faculty advisor for the nascent student-managed fund. “We play the game to the best of our ability the way it’s played by research and money management shops, applying all of the frameworks we learn here at Foster.”

That is to say, the school’s “minor league of investment management” is educational, but not academic. The fund is a serious venture led by portfolio managers and informed by research analysts, each following a disciplined and rigorous strategy.

And now, they have real money to invest.


That money originated with the Foster MBA Class of 2011 which dedicated its outgoing class gift toward creating a live investment fund for future students to manage as an indelible learning experience and a pipeline to the majors, so to speak.

“We wanted Foster to develop more opportunities for MBA students with an interest in finance, and also improve the competitive positioning of the school,” says ringleader Andrew Parcel (MBA 2011), now a vice president and private wealth advisor at Goldman Sachs. “This seemed like an obvious way to add a tool for recruiting students and improving the chances of finding work in the investment community.”

Under the guidance of Thomas Gilbert, assistant professor of finance, leaders of the MBA Finance Society began drawing up structure, policy and procedures for the fund. The subsequent MBA Classes of 2012 and 2014 dedicated all or parts of their graduation gifts to the initiative. Dean Jiambalvo added to the account.

And late last spring, well ahead of expectation, the fund reached its trigger point of $100,000. Go time.


With Gilbert away this year as a visiting professor at the University of British Columbia, Young stepped in. And Tristan Toomey stepped up.

Toomey, this year’s Finance Society president, recruited fellow second-year MBAs Aalok Shah, Brennen Ricks and Brett Schulte to serve with him as portfolio managers. They “hired” 13 first-year students as research analysts and commenced building a boutique investment fund from the ground up.

This has required discipline and patience. Before a cent of capital was invested, the team established a viable organizational and spent most of the academic year systematically populating a massive matrix of market data that will become a library for future MBA fund managers.

This analysis trickles down from economy to industry to firm. “In the next stage we’re looking at particular companies that present real alpha because they’re doing something innovative that can provide positive returns in the long term,” Toomey says.

Young adds that the experience has been a de facto capstone of the entire Foster MBA experience.

“If you want to find alpha, you have to understand a company’s business better than the rest of the market does,” he says. “That takes an analytical capability that comes from all the disciplines we teach at Foster. Every one of those checkmarks on the matrix is a framework applied.”


This year’s portfolio managers have made their first investments of the fund—now over $300,000—just weeks before they graduate. “We knew that building continuity was the most important thing this year,” Toomey says.

The legacy will be both a working fund and a class outside the classroom—to be passed like a torch to future Foster MBAs of the finance persuasion.

“If we had done this in a theoretical setting, we could never achieve this level of reality and practical learning,” says Toomey.

“But because we have real money and report to real ‘shareholders,’ ” Young adds, “we have to follow a rock-solid investment thesis that makes sense and has the Foster brand on every trade.”

Dan Poston, assistant dean for graduate programs, notes that the fund, from concept to execution, is an exemplary collaboration between former, current and future Foster MBAs.

“As a sustainable, practical piece of the Foster education,” he says, “the way the fund mimics reality in its design and its management is a beautiful thing.”

Maybe even a grand slam.

Foster MBAs take first in their division at ethics competition

Evening MBA students  Kayla Erickson, Garin Wedeking, and Naveen Ahmed
Kayla Erickson (MBA 2016), Garin Wedeking (MBA 2015), and Naveen Ahmed (MBA 2016)

Foster Evening MBA students Naveen Ahmed, Kayla Erickson, and Garin Wedeking took first place in their division at the International Business Ethics Case Competition (IBECC) on April 23 in New Orleans.

The International Business Ethics Case Competition is the premier international competition of its kind. It is jointly sponsored by the Ethics & Compliance Officer Association, the Center for Ethics and Business at Loyola Marymount University, and the Opus College of Business of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

Foster MBAs competed in the full presentation competition. The team identified an ethically-problematic issue and designed a presentation to address that issue. They picked the use of technology at Uber. In their presentation they explained the legal, financial, and ethical dimensions of the issue and recommended a solution that addressed all three dimensions. The presentation was judged by professional corporate ethics and compliance officers. The purpose of the competition is to show students it is possible to do business profitably while acting ethically.

According to Elizabeth Umphress, associate professor of management at Foster, “The team was extremely well-prepared, and did a fantastic job!”

When rankings focus on student results, Foster rises to #12 in U.S.

If business schools were ranked based on MBA students’ results, the Foster School would leap to #12 in the country, according to MBA ranking site, Poets & Quants.

Poets & Quants re-ranked the schools in response to a recent Fortune magazine essay by Dean Glenn Hubbard of Columbia University’s Business School, who recommended weighting the MBA rankings based on student inputs and outputs. Hubbard wrote, “Every business school dean, myself included, will tell you that their school is the best, so as much as it pains me to say, you should probably look past the deans. Instead, look to the students. It’s in the student network that you will find the metrics that matter for assessing any business school: inputs and outputs.”

What would a new ranking focused on student metrics look like?
Poets & Quants analyzed publicly available data to re-weight the ranking of the top 25 business schools in the U.S. When those student inputs – applications per seat and yield (acceptance of admissions offers) and outputs – job placement rates and pay – are weighted most heavily, schools that focus on student results rise to the top.

Based on the student performance factors, Foster ranks #12, above Duke, Yale, Cornell and Michigan, and third among public schools.

Poets & Quants
A New Ranking Of The Top Business Schools

School Index P&Q Rank Apps per seat Yield Pay Jobs
  1. Stanford 100.0 1 17.9 78.7% $142,834 92.1%
  2. Harvard 91.3 2 10.2 88.8% $144,750 89.4%
  3. MIT 86.2 7 11.7 62.3% $142,936 92.8%
  4. Berkeley 85.3 10 14.4 52.5% $140,935 86.7%
  5. Wharton 82.0 4 7.1 68.0% $142,574 95.6%
  6. Columbia 81.6 5 7.8 70.4% $139,006 91.1%
  7. NYU 79.8 10 11.3 48.7% $135,933 90.4%
  8. Chicago 79.0 4 7.2 59.4% $137,615 97.2%
  8. Tuck 79.0 8 8.7 52.2% $142,489 93.8%
10. UCLA 78.1 14 11.7 48.2% $127,535 88.6%
11. Kellogg 77.2 6 6.7 63.9% $136,357 88.6%
12. Foster 75.9 23 9.8 44.7% $125,367 95.8%
13. Darden 75.5 13 8.4 45.8% $136,474 93.4%
14. Duke 75.4 9 7.8 50.9% $137,154 89.8%
15. Yale 73.9 12 8.5 49.5% $126,871 88.9%
16. Olin 73.1 24 12.1 30.9% $111,974 96.9%
17. Cornell 72.8 15 6.3 52.6% $132,316 89.8%
18. Emory 72.5 20 7.5 43.5% $128,347 94.8%
18. Michigan 72.5 11 5.5 50.9% $140,497 89.7%
20. Texas 72.0 19 7.9 44.4% $126,160 91.3%
21. Tepper 71.4 17 6.9 46.6% $131,865 88.3%
22. Kelley 68.4 20 6.6 45.6% $119,581 88.1%
23. UNC 67.6 18 6.8 37.9% $124,641 89.0%
24. Owen 66.3 25 5.3 44.7% $113,830 90.8%
25. Georgetown 64.4 22 6.1 34.5% $118,938 88.5%

Source: Poets & Quants analysis from publicly available data

Read Dean Hubbard’s full essay in Fortune and the How A Dean Would Rank Business Schools article in Poets & Quants.

Learn more about Foster’s current rankings.

MBA leaders experience transition under pressure

This post was written by staff members from the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking

MBA studentsOn Friday March 13, the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking (CLST) and Foster MBA Association (MBAA) celebrated the upcoming leadership transition as elected 1st year students prepare to take over the reins from soon-to-graduate 2nd year students. This event is part of our year-long Leading Across Boundaries (LAB) workshops series. The theme chosen for this half-day event was to Transition under Pressure.

MBA studentsWorking in four parallel teams of six to eight students, each team was charged with designing a giant Rube Goldberg machine! Teams consisted of both 1st and 2nd year students. Machines were required to involve at least 4 transfers of energy from one “mini” machine or component to the next culminating in a final machine that would drop a weight into a cup. Armed with an array of materials including dominoes, mouse traps, springs, and marbles, second-year students were instructed to work on the upstream portion of the machine and first-year students were instructed to work on the downstream or terminal portion of the machine. Midway through the event, the facilitators transferred a key player from each team to another team and added design requirements. The purpose of this challenge was three-fold:  1. To focus on how well, under extreme time pressure, the 1st and 2nd year MBAs coordinated the effort and communication needed to make all parts of the machine connect and work as one; 2. To examine how well teams adapted to unexpected and disruptive changes in their structure and resources; and 3. To observe how leadership emerged and was shared to achieve the team’s objectives.

MBA studentsFollowing the ending of the game competition, feedback about how the teams worked to achieve their goals was provided by the judges – CLST’s Bruce Avolio and Chelley Patterson; 2012 alumnus, former MBAA Executive Vice President, and co-founder with CLST of the LAB series, Colin Beazley; and Director, Full-time MBA Student Affairs, Sigrid Olsen.

Many thanks to outgoing MBAA Executive Vice President, Soleil Kelley, for keeping the LAB tradition alive and for all his thought- and leg-work putting together this Rube Goldberg event! And now we move on to working with the new MBA leadership on the next LAB event as we move into the Spring quarter…

Watch video of the event below:


L.A.B. sessions enable MBA students to discuss topics of interest with business and community leaders while  developing their own leadership skills. The sessions are sponsored by MBAA and CLST. Visit CLST’s website to learn more.

Taste of Foster: The Business of Wine

Taste of Foster panelists
From left to right: John Blair (Dunham Cellars), Angela Jacobs (WineGirl Wines), Bryan Maletis (Fat Cork), and Paul Zitarelli (Full Pull Wines)

Whether it’s tech, aerospace, or retail, Foster alums are often at the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurship. And in Washington’s wine industry, things are no different. With a focus on the business side of winemaking, the second annual Taste of Foster played host to a panel of four Foster alumni making waves in the burgeoning Pacific Northwest wine scene. Facilitated by Full Pull Wines owner/wine blogger Paul Zitarelli (MBA 2009), the panel included John Blair (MBA 2011), General Manager for Dunham Cellars, Angela Jacobs (MBA 2010), owner and winemaker for WineGirl Wines, and Bryan Maletis (EMBA 2010), owner of Fat Cork. Over the course of the evening, event attendees got to know a bit more about the panelists, their products, and their views on Washington’s growing wine industry. Below are a few highlights from the discussion.

Why do you think MBA’s aren’t well represented in the wine industry?
For John Blair, size is the issue. “A lot of wineries can’t afford to hire an MBA…I see that changing.” Bryan Maletis agreed with John, stating, “The big companies are getting bigger and there are more small startups. The big companies will be hiring MBAs.” Maletis also argued that more flexibility in state law will positively effect the number of MBAs in the wine business, especially when it comes to creating more direct-to-consumer experiences.

What are some misconceptions about the wine industry?
Be wary of over-romanticizing vineyard life says Angela Jacobs. “Living on a vineyard sounds fantastic,” she quipped, “but there’s frost in the winter and bugs in the summer. It’s amazing and rewarding but it’s not easy.” For John, it’s important to remember that a product is being sold. “It’s still a business,” he said, “a competitive business. I tell people when they go out to the grocery store that there isn’t a shelf more competitive that wine.”

Taste of Foster attendees

Advice for someone interested in getting involved in the wine industry?
Bryan advises those looking for a well-rounded sense of the wine business to set up informational interviews. “The most successful candidates ask to be connected with more people.” Drawing from his own experiences, Paul agreed, stating, “I definitely asked for more informational interviews.”

Looking toward the future, where do you see the Washington industry?
Pointing to the recent purchase of Columbia Winery by a California distributor and the success of Woodinville’s Chateau St. Michelle, John responded, “I think the sky’s the limit.” Angela agreed, stating, “Our market is not even close to saturation. It makes it possible for people like me to start a small winery.”

How do you maintain the balance between the heart and business of wine?
“I don’t think there is a balance,” said Jacobs semi-jokingly. “It’s an art, a science, and a business.”

See more photos of Taste of Foster: The Business of Wine on the Foster GOLD Facebook page. To be notified of upcoming alumni events, be sure to subscribe to the Foster Alumni event calendar.

Modern mentoring

Foster’s mentoring maven, Susan Canfield, discusses how the time-honored practice has evolved, and how you can get involved

Mentoring is having its moment.

An ancient concept, the powerful exchange between expert and apprentice is experiencing a surge in the public consciousness. Mentoring is a buzzword in business. Columnists hold forth on its virtues. And formal programs proliferate at b-schools.

Canfield_Author_ColorThe Foster School’s MBA Mentor Program was one of the first, and it’s still one of the best. The long-time director of this national model of mentoring, Susan Canfield, has become a nationally recognized authority on the subject. We asked the author of Mentoring Moments: Inspiring Stories from Eight Business Leaders and MBAs to enlighten us on mentoring beyond business school.

What’s new to learn about the ancient art of mentoring?

Susan Canfield: Plenty! Mentoring has evolved in recent years. Traditionally, people viewed themselves as either a mentor or a mentee. Today we recognize that we can be both at the same time and throughout our lives. It was once assumed that a mentor must be more senior and experienced than the mentee. In fact a mentor can be anyone from whom you can learn. In the past it was common for the mentor to choose the mentee and structure and drive the relationship. Now we know it is better if the mentee chooses the mentor and drives the relationship. Finally, mentoring used to be seen more as a formal, ongoing relationship. Today we know it need only last as long as it is useful and may be based solely on observation.

I titled my book Mentoring Moments because, after many years observing mentoring relationships and conducting interviews on the subject, I learned that mentoring moments can come from formal programs and one-time meetings. They can come from family, friends, colleagues and even people we hardly know.  They can come from hearing wise words and seeing wisdom in action. In fact they often come when we least expect them and most often need them.

What do you think accounts for the growing interest in mentoring?

A number of factors. People are seeking ways to accelerate their learning as they navigate more frequent career changes and face life’s challenges. Baby Boomers are arriving at a time in their lives when they want to give back. Universities are finding mentor programs attract prospective students, enrich their students’ academic experience, and provide them with career insights and connections. And businesses are seeing evidence that mentoring brings bottom-line benefits and addresses the issue of knowledge transfer before those Boomers walk out the door.

What are the hottest mentoring trends?

There are several. In reverse mentoring, younger recruits provide senior staff fresh perspectives and feedback—and maybe even a few tips on social media. Group mentoring, a trend we’ve pioneered at Foster, is an efficient alternative to one-on-one one relationships. And our experiments with speed mentoring have received unexpectedly rave reviews from both participating students and mentors. When a mentee prepares ahead and comes with specific questions, you’d be surprised at how valuable a short, focused meeting can be.

Mentor graphic-editWho should seek a mentor? Only the young and inexperienced?

We can all benefit from a mentor—or many mentors—throughout life. It’s a relationship that enhances our learning and growth, no matter what age. And, if we’re lucky, mentors inspire us as well.

My vibrant, still-learning 94-year-old mother has a number of informal mentors. One is Grace, a 99-year-old friend who travels, has an active social life and gets up early to swim every morning. Grace is an informal mentor and inspiration to my mother in how to continue aging with grit and gusto.

Stewart Parker (MBA 1981), a Foster MBA Mentor who founded Targeted Genetics, says that you can get along without mentors, but it may be harder to fully realize your opportunities and potential. Mentors make it easier to have perspective and a healthy approach to life.

How do you find a mentor?

We can seek mentors in formal programs (at work, school or community organizations) or create them informally on our own.

Formal mentoring programs in companies, for example, can run the gamut from being available to all employees to only being offered to select, high-potential managers. Increasingly mentor programs have become more widely available because of growing evidence that they help attract and retain talent, contribute to employee engagement, enhance training opportunities, and support leadership and diversity initiatives.

Informal mentoring opportunities are all around us and are often there just for the asking. If you are open, curious, and eager to learn, then it is natural to seek conversations with people you want to learn from. Avoid starting with “will you be my mentor?” Instead, ask for advice or feedback about a specific question or problem. One conversation over a cup of coffee may be sufficient. However, if you would like to meet again, you may eventually use the word “mentor.” Or maybe not.

At Foster, we encourage our MBAs to take advantage of our formal MBA Mentor Program and seek informal mentoring opportunities as well. Better yet, I recommend creating a mentoring network consisting of diverse people with unique experiences, skills and perspectives that can be your guides in different parts and stages of your life. This dynamic approach might include a combination of ongoing mentors and others who move in and out of your life as your interests and needs change.

How does a dynamic approach work?

Chris Howard and Richard Tait.
Chris Howard and Richard Tait.

A great example is Chris Howard (MBA 2007), founder of Fuel Capital, a San Francisco venture firm. As an incoming MBA student, Chris immediately impressed me with his networking savvy. He knew the power of creating a mentoring network—including faculty, staff, peers, alumni and members of the business community—that he called his “board of advisors.” He was very intentional about what he wanted to learn and finding people he wanted to learn from.

Along with this fluid board of advisors, Chris took full advantage of our formal mentor program and chose Richard Tait, co-founder of Cranium and founder of Golazo, as his mentor. Both Chris and Richard were seeking a goes-both-ways mentoring relationship, and they clicked immediately. Eight years later, they’re still learning from each other and regularly return to Foster to speak on their powerful mentoring relationship.

Chris would be the first to admit that all of these relationships helped him turn a pre-MBA career in advertising into a successful second act in venture capital.

What do exceptional mentees contribute to a great relationship?

Great mentees take initiative and maintain contact with their mentor. They know what they want to learn and they actively drive the relationship. They prepare for meetings. They are honest about challenges at work and in life, and are open to feedback. They respect their mentor’s time. They express appreciation and lend mentors a hand when they can. They create a network of mentoring relationships. They pay it forward and seek opportunities to mentor as well.

In short, great mentees are hungry to learn and appreciative of all the wisdom they can observe, hear and absorb.

Who should be a mentor? And why?

Anyone who wants to facilitate the professional and personal development of another should consider mentoring, not only for the sake of the mentee but also for their own growth and opportunity.

Studies from the pioneering corporate mentoring program at Sun Microsystems found that mentors are 20 percent more likely to receive a raise, and six times more likely to be promoted. And, according to several longitudinal studies cited in George E. Vaillant’s Aging Well, those who mentor—seeking to better the world not only for themselves but for others—effectively triple their chances of being joyful in their 70s.

Outside of formal programs, how do you go about offering mentorship?

The short answer is: be someone people want to learn from.

In fact, you may already be mentoring and not even know it. Many of the senior executives I interviewed for my book mentioned learning great lessons from their bosses and leaders by simply observing their actions and behavior. In addition, these executives were encouraged to stretch and grow professionally by someone who believed in them. In many of these situations, the word “mentor” was never used.

How can you become an exceptional mentor?

Exceptional mentors see the relationship as a two-way street. They create an atmosphere of trust. They genuinely enjoy mentoring. They listen deeply and ask insightful questions. They give honest feedback. They are vulnerable and willing to share their own setbacks and how they overcame them. They see abilities in mentees they may not see in themselves. They discuss and help mentees set goals. They facilitate connections. They provide role modeling for work and life. They inspire mentees to be their best selves.

We may not all be born with the mentor gene but we can certainly strengthen our mentoring muscles with guidance, good role models, practice, and a genuine desire to get better. I have seen this among our MBA mentors, many of whom have been guiding and inspiring our students for a decade or more.

Read more about the Foster’s MBA Mentor Program, an internationally-renowned model of modern mentoring.

Learn more about mentoring at Foster or how to purchase Canfield’s book.

The very model of a modern mentor program

The Foster School launched its MBA Mentor Program in 1999 to offer students a broader and deeper understanding of business through regular meetings with business leaders from a wide array of companies and industries.

Though it’s a voluntary program, more than 250 full-time and evening MBAs each year take advantage of the golden opportunity to learn from one of 86 senior executives about careers, companies and industries, and to discuss the keys to effective leadership, overcoming challenges and finding long-term success.

The program has been so successful that director Susan Canfield regularly fields inquiries from the world’s top business schools—Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, Chicago, MIT, to name a few—when they are considering installing or improving their own mentoring programs.

Canfield attributes the Foster program’s exemplary status to six differentiating qualities:

Leadership – The Foster School leadership—including Dean Jim Jiambalvo and Assistant Dean Naomi Sanchez—is a strong supporter of the MBA Mentor Program, providing essential backing and resources.

Longevity – At 15 years, it’s one of the oldest continuously running MBA mentor programs in the country.

Innovation – Foster has been on the vanguard of trends such as group mentoring, speed mentoring, reverse mentoring and promoting mentoring networks.

Efficiency – Mentoring software facilitates the logistics of mentor-student matching and students who serve as lead contacts synch schedules and organize preparation for meetings.

Flexibility — Within the program structure is a great deal of latitude to adapt based on the needs and wishes of mentors and students.

Commitment – The program is powered by a potent renewable energy—senior executives who serve as mentors year after year. “Our mentors say they get more than they give,” Canfield says. “They enjoy hearing what’s on the minds of future business leaders, they like being asked the tough questions that help them reflect on their own career and decisions, they are energized by being around bright and eager minds, and they enjoy getting to know other mentors who share their same commitment. Foster is lucky to be in the midst of many generous alumni and a giving-back business community.”

Read more about how modern mentoring has evolved, and how you can get involved.