Applicants from outside the U.S. face some special challenges, but there are plenty of resources available to help them, according to Megan Lewis, Associate Director of MBA Admissions. In choosing business schools to apply to, she advises going beyond the rankings to find schools that best fit your personal background and goals.
Guest post by Robert Mercer-Nairne (MBA 1971 and PhD 1989)
Dr. Mercer-Nairne actively seeks “to define how human organization forms and evolves as an expression of evolution as a whole.” His work can be found in novels like The Letter Writer, set in Bellevue, WA, to more recently in regular contributions to the Huffington Post. Mercer-Nairne currently resides back home in Scotland where he continues to grow beyond his original focus on organization theory.
Probably the greatest challenge facing the developed world is growth. This is not least because we are unclear what the word means. We have various statistical definitions, such as the augmentation of our gross domestic product—essentially the level of our economic interactions with one another—but our gut instincts tell us that such measures may not address the quality of growth. One example of that is our increasing awareness that the lifestyles we enjoy today may be adversely affecting what our environment will be tomorrow. The post-war notion that we can look forward to a better future for ourselves and our children has become decidedly tarnished.
Probably the greatest challenge facing the academic profession right now is how to escape from its own departmental rigidities so that the challenges facing the human world can be looked at afresh. Are these problems connected? I think so. The expression Breaking the Mould refers to doing something differently, after it has been done in the same way for a long time. In the scientific world, the physicist Thomas Kuhn called these mould-breakings ‘paradigm shifts’. Because of their fundamental nature, they inevitably upset a lot of careers laboriously built upon the old way of seeing things. Consequently their heralds, like the three kings, are invariably dismissed as being weirdoes, troublemakers or just plain delusional.
In most walks of life, the line between maverick and idiot is narrow. Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff is a buffoon whose comic utterances often embody a wisdom which would be unpalatable to the status quo without humor. In his short story The Emperor’s New Clothes, Hans Christian Anderson uses the innocence of a child to puncture the crowd’s acceptance of the emperor’s sartorial magnificence (two swindlers make him an ‘invisible suit’ that can be ‘seen’ only by the worthy and naturally his sycophantic subjects see it even though there is nothing there). Philosophers occasionally debate whether the sane are insane and the insane sane. And even the scientific quest for objective reality can be subverted by the context within which a scientific question is phrased.
My own area of interest – the nature of structure in the evolutionary process—spans every discipline imaginable qualifying me for the accolade insane idiot, although I would prefer maverick. What I am fairly certain of, however, is that while we need the mould—without structure we have nothing – we must pay far more attention than we do to the process whereby moulds are broken and new moulds are formed. And unless you believe in a deterministic universe (and I certainly don’t) space must be left for the creative impulse to work—in politics, in business, in academe.
In the twentieth century we allowed ourselves to be led seriously astray by the false assumption that there was such a thing as inevitable social progress which overrode any moral notion of individual right or wrong. Structure always and everywhere is a function of context. In the conscious, human world, that context is shaped by our values. Start there and growth suddenly becomes limitless and sacred cows (or sacred moulds) less sacred.
Your undergraduate academic track record, including your grade point average, is a useful indicator of your ability to succeed in a graduate program. If you weren’t a straight-A student and think there are some weaknesses in your record, there are ways to boost your chances of admission, advises Erin E. Town, Director of Admissions. She also includes some advice for international students.
The Evening MBA Program recently hosted its first ever case competition for the second-year Evening MBA students. The competition served as an opportunity for students to apply what they learned in their first-year core classes toward a simulated business case. This year’s case was developed by Sadie Raney, a third-year Evening MBA student. The winning team, comprised of Garin Wedeking, Abhi Thinesh Rathinavelu, Michael Pamphlet, Brad Waidelich and Derek Zahajko, has shared what helped them succeed.
What did you learn from the competition?
This felt like a round of “speed-dating” with our new group. It gave us an opportunity in a week’s time to identify team members’ strengths and quickly discover how to best work together. The best trait we share is that none of us needs to be in charge for any reason other than to get the project done. We have quickly learned how to let each other take the reins, as well as to give each other space and time at one’s discretion with the understanding that everyone is overbooked. It’s a fact of grad school.
What made your team successful?
We set early expectations of what we were going to do, and then each executed on our commitments. Those expectations were not equal in work load, but that didn’t matter. When you start keeping score you make room for excuses. To quote a teammate “All (five) of us should be pulling 25%.” The trick is actually doing that.
How could you apply what you learned in the competition to your job?
Since the case intentionally provided little detail, it forced our team to quickly and rationally make assumptions and move forward. We could have chosen to jump down rabbit holes in order to make real-world parallels, but we didn’t think that would create a better product in the end. This parallels the real-world in that sometimes time-sensitive situations or opportunities arise where rapid action is required and time is not available to acquire more data or more data may simply not exist.
Did it teach you to think about business issues in a different way?
Often times we have the inclination to think there is only one right answer. In this case, all three options could have been viable options for the company. It came down to the rationality behind the option and ultimately the ability to execute on the idea within the time frame. Parfait est l’ennemi du bon.
The Foster Full-time MBA Program has four deadlines each year for applying for admission. Which deadline should you shoot for? It depends. The most important thing is not to rush. Make sure you’re ready to submit your best application, advises Erin E. Town, Director of Admissions.
Genevieve Cohen (MBA 2013) needed experience. An elementary schoolteacher trying to make the considerable jump from education to business, Cohen knew she’d have to prove her mettle to employers, and demonstrate that she could apply her MBA knowledge to real-world challenges.
She found myriad opportunities to do just that at the University of Washington Foster School of Business. Internships with leading companies. Projects featuring live businesses and brands. And the MBA Strategic Consulting Program which, for the past decade, has deployed teams of graduate students to analyze business problems for a variety of successful firms in the region and beyond.
Gordon Neumiller, the program’s director, says that these education-in-action projects provide good value for clients—and essential value for students.
Foster School Dean Jim Jiambalvo agrees.
“The classroom is a great environment for learning theories and frameworks,” says Jiambalvo. “But it’s critical that students know how to apply these theories and frameworks to real-world problems. The MBA Strategic Consulting Program directly addresses this critical need, and ensures that our students can roll up their sleeves and solve the complex, unstructured problems they’ll face on the job.”
Ten years ago, Dave Albano (MBA 2004) was an MBA candidate with an English degree who had stumbled into the wireless telecom industry. “I found that I enjoyed solving problems and making businesses run more efficiently,” he says. “I became an internal consultant wherever I worked.”
At Foster, Albano parlayed this passion into an existing MBA student organization called the Business Consulting Network. As president, he worked—along the margins of his academic work—with Neumiller to recruit area businesses with strategic problems to solve, assign student teams, and provide quality control.
He and Neumiller believed that the experiences were so valuable—and time-consuming—that they should be worth class credit. They pitched the idea to school administration. And soon there was a formal class, then a requirement, then an official program of the Foster School.
Today the Full-time MBA Program requires a 10-week Applied Strategy project in the first-year core, and many second-year students and Evening MBAs elect to take on a longer Field Study project through the MBA Strategic Consulting Program.
“These projects are an invaluable counterpart of the academics in that you get actual experience and really get engaged,” says Albano, now a consultant at Accenture who continues to advise Foster teams and has delivered a “Consulting 101” intro to many Applied Strategy classes. “It’s critical to have a quality work experience to point to, especially when you’re a career changer like I was.”
This year’s model
The program’s portfolio of recent clients includes Fortune 500 corporations (Starbucks, Intel, PACCAR, Alaska Airlines), smaller firms (Outdoor Research, Web Turner, OneEnergy Renewables, Isernio’s Sausage), non-profits (Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle Opera), and, increasingly, firms farther from home (Machine Perception Technologies of San Diego, Scharffen Berger Chocolate of Hershey, Pennsylvania).
The type of project ranges from supply chain efficiency to expansion strategy to brand management to database marketing and anything in between.
One of last year’s collaborations was with Saltchuk Resources, a diversified holding company founded by long-time Foster Advisory Board member Mike Garvey.
The challenge? To develop a more robust and integrated Saltchuk corporate brand across its family of 35 distinct companies that are loosely assembled around a theme of transportation and distribution.
“This task was not in our skill set,” admits Saltchuk president Tim Engle (MBA 2002). “So we looked outside for help.”
He found the team of Foster Evening MBA Students—Etta Mends, Tyler Edgar, and Rose Tucker—was more than up to the task. They worked closely with the company’s many stakeholders to produce a set of guidelines, both internal and external, designed to make Saltchuk a stronger and more cohesive company.
Mends, who works full-time in finance at Boeing, found the deep dive into the unfamiliar waters of branding and organizational structure to be exhilarating. “Not only did this project offer me a completely different perspective on business,” she says, “it also gave me a glimpse into a smaller company that moves so quickly to adapt and evolve.”
The client was more than satisfied. “We got a heck of a deal,” says Engle. “In terms of return on investment, it’s tenfold, easily. Their work will guide our thinking for a long time to come.”
The largest and most consistent client of the Field Study Program is Microsoft, which generated five different projects this past year.
One of the longest running collaborations is with Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing venture. Under the guidance of Suresh Sathyamurthy (MBA 2007), group product marketing manager at Windows Azure (who recently joined EMC), Foster MBAs have helped scale the business, identify market opportunities, understand the partner ecosystem, and analyze strategy over the past few years.
“The quality of work has been extremely good,” says Sathyamurthy, who was introduced to Microsoft while doing a student consulting project defining value bundles for the Xbox console. “The Foster students collaborate well and work with the end outcome in mind. This collaboration stands out in every presentation and in every meeting.”
At the end of the day, standing out is the name of the game for every MBA looking to leverage rich experiences into interesting and impactful work.
“We always tell students that the way to turn their project into a good job is to do a good job on the project,” says Neumiller. “It may not land you a job with your client company, but it will help you get a job.”
Mends already has a good job, and really came to the Foster School to remain competitive. But she says that challenging experiences like the Saltchuk project have opened her world. “My ambitions of what I want to do are growing as I grow with the program,” she says.
For Cohen, the former schoolteacher, the MBA Strategic Consulting Program was an essential facet of her management education. Working with different combinations of classmates, she delivered a business development plan for Ecologists Without Borders, a supply chain solution for Alaska Airlines and an international expansion analysis for Starbucks, as well as a dynamite brand audit for Tequila Partida.
“Understanding the different types of clients, different personalities, different challenges that each consulting project brings were a critical piece of my education,” Cohen says.
Her first job after graduation from Foster? Consulting.