Networking: a new strategy for an established activity

Guest post by Claire Koerner, Lavin student and Foster undergrad
She attended the Networking Secrets talk that was the kickoff event of Entrepreneur Week 2012. The speaker was Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments.

Dan Price“What do you dislike about networking?” That’s the question Dan Price used to open his Top 10 Networking Secrets talk. Attendees weren’t expecting to hear that the networking “expert” hates networking! But Dan is not your average networker. He started his now almost $100 million (gross annual) revenue business, Gravity Payments, at the age of 19 and has grown it to be the largest credit card processing company in Washington. And he has met President Obama three times! Yet even Dan openly admits there are many things about networking that are difficult, including knowing what to say, following up with everyone you meet, and making it beneficial for all parties involved. Therefore, he suggests a different outlook on networking: incorporate the following 10 key values in your everyday life and an effective, mutually-beneficial network will follow.

  1. BE TRANSPARENT – When interacting with people, it is okay to disagree openly with their opinions, but make sure to honestly engage with them in order to build lasting relationships.
  2. PRACTICE EMPATHY – Even in uncomfortable situations like forced networking events, listen to what others need, understand their perspectives, and try to help wherever possible. Truly empathizing with others’ needs will smooth your networking nerves.
  3. RECOGNIZE SHARED INTERESTS – Don’t pretend you are exactly the same as someone else, but be willing to find and make meaningful connections around mutual interests.
  4. BE HUMBLE – Oftentimes you will be networking with people more successful and wiser than you, so be humble and willing to accept help. People are often willing to help if you are a sponge to their knowledge.
  5. GIVE AND ACCEPT FAVORS – Reciprocity is one of the most important benefits of networking, and is important in building trust in relationships. Try to find three favors you can do for someone else every day. Not only will it make you feel better, but it will also improve your network.
  6. SOLVE PROBLEMS TOGETHER – Be open and honest about issues you see in the arenas in which your connections have influence, and work through solutions to those issues together. This builds relationships much faster than merely shooting the breeze.
  7. HAVE FUN – When you go out and enjoy life, chances are others will come along to share in the fun and this will only increase your network AND social life at the same time.
  8. BELIEVE IN SERENDIPITY – Networking isn’t always about setting out to meet the right people. Sometimes, the best contacts fall into your lap and you just have to be open to the craziest and best opportunities coming your way.
  9. DON’T BE A DOUCHEBAG – This one seems obvious, but integrity is extremely important in maintaining your reputation and the trust of those in your network.
  10. TREAT EVERYONE EQUALLY – You don’t have to seek out the people that will be most beneficial for your success. When you are friendly and incorporate the values above, the best contacts will come your way and stay to help out for the long haul.

Entrepreneur Week is put on by the UW Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Learn more.

TMMBA Director Message

Dear Prospective Student,

My name is Tracy Gojdics and I am the Director of the UW Foster Technology Management MBA (TMMBA) Program and a proud alumna from the Class of 2007. Since 2001, the program has transformed hundreds of technology professionals into business leaders. In addition to our esteemed faculty and rigorous and relevant curriculum, the program offers a network second to none. As the Director and as an alumnus I have experienced the power of the TMMBA network and the great ROI the program yields.

When you become a student in the Foster TMMBA Program you become a member of an exclusive and supportive network of over 800 accomplished and high-caliber professionals. These professionals represent over 65 organizations including start-ups, non-profit, family-owned and global organizations – all with one thing in common: a passion for technology!  With the TMMBA network, you will meet potential business partners and make connections with people in the companies you’d like to work for.

As a student and alum of the program you will experience an ROI greater than you expected. Our students and alumni measure their TMMBA ROI in more ways than just an increase in salary. They look at factors such as whether or not they are more equipped and self-assured to lead others, more creative and strategic in their thinking, more analytical in their decision-making and more confident and well-rounded professionals. Factors outside of monetary gain are difficult to measure; however, I hear time-and-time again from students and alumni how the TMMBA experience is the greatest investment they’ve made in their lives.

I invite you to watch the video above, visit a class, talk with Technology Management MBA students or alumni, or contact me directly to learn more about the academic experience, our powerful network and the return on investment you can expect and more.

Kindest Regards,

Tracy

Email: tracylt@uw.edu
Phone: 206-616-2610

Meet Our GBC Board Members

Meet Jeri Wait, Global Business Advisory Board Chair and Co-founder of OrcaWave, a globally oriented software company providing revenue assurance solutions for telecommunications companies in the USA and across five continents.

How did you become interested in the telecommunications business?

Actually it was rather by chance.  When I was in high school, I was looking for a summer job in which the working conditions would be pleasant, and I could learn something new.  The previous summer I had been a hotel maid, which was very hard physically and not the best working conditions.  (But to this day I can make a mean bed!)  I had heard AT&T was hiring high school seniors to be telephone operators, sounded good to me!   My luck was with me, as they not only hired me, but placed me in a college program that allowed me to work around my upcoming university class schedule. The program I was hired in was targeting high potential incoming college freshmen, that had tested well for future management jobs in the telephone business.  It was a wonderful college job and ultimately career, first beginning as a telephone operator and then later working with a networking group assisting with analysis and managing special projects.  By college graduation, I already had four years of service with the company and had some solid experience to draw upon as I entered the management trainee program.   My accelerated program prepared me well for management roles at the age of 22, and also allowed me to career track to the technology side of the business.  At the time, I was one of the youngest managers as well as one of a handful of women who managed traditional male jobs.  I must admit it was challenging, but some of the best days of my early career.

By the time I left the phone company, I had experienced over a dozen different positions, including  the role of Vice President of major business accounts, responsible for $600M of annual revenue as well as leading a national development effort for a new business unit.  It was quite a ride and provided me a solid basis from which to co-found my own business.  Not only did I leave with a wealth of knowledge about the business and managing teams, I also was fortunate to have graduated with an Executive MBA (Class 6) from the University of Washington.

What is it like to be the co-founder of a company? What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about the experience?

Entering the entrepreneurial world as a co-founder of a company was quite a change from the bureaucracy of a fortune 500 company.  The phone company had surrounded me with training, procedures, outstanding team members and staff support.  For years, I had a personal assistant taking care of all of the little things.  Launching a new business that was initially self funded, required a change in my thinking and learning new skills.   I now had to be responsible for everything, with very limited time and resources.  No longer was there staff to back me up, or to even make my flight reservations.  The overwhelming responsibility of managing employees who were dependent upon me and the other co-founder for their salary and well being, was an awesome task.   In my corporate career, I was proud of my ability to mentor and assist my employees with their career development, but owning my own business now made that commitment to employees so much more complex.  After more than 12 years of co-owning my own firm, I continue to enjoy mentoring my team but also never cease to forget that their jobs and livelihood are dependent upon our mutual success as a company.

On the other hand, being an entrepreneur is exhilarating, wonderfully fun and addicting. The first company I co-founded was a telecom business providing long distance solutions to telephone companies on a global basis.  Ten years ago, we founded a new company providing the software for the management of telecom solutions.  This is a global company, with customers on all continents.  The opportunity to learn a new business, software was intellectually stimulating and challenging.  I have traveled extensively to places that never would have made the family vacation agenda  but have enriched my life in so many ways.  Every day, we are challenged by doing business in different cultures and time zones.  Although, from my perspective I always think we can do anything , time of day or culture should not create barriers to working together.  I think this is the American optimism exuding from me, however my customers can get very frustrated with the differences, so my challenge is to constantly be alert to the signals that will tell me there is more we need to do as a business to be successful in a global market place.

You have to think hard every day as a business owner.   You can never let your guard down, or think you have it right.  There are always multi faceted issues that present themselves daily.  Cash flow is probably the biggest challenge and requires close vigilance to assure the business is healthy.  The balance between having enough cash and not diluting mine and my business partner’s hard earned equity consumes me on some days. However, I would never give it up, not for one minute.  It is my life and my passion.

And one last thing regarding co-founding a business,  I have a great partner!  I was so fortunate to have traveled down this professional path with someone whose skills complimented mine, is intelligent, business savvy and has an optimistic outlook. Other entrepreneurs that venture into new opportunities will tell you this same thing, it is absolutely essential to move forward with partners, one or more. I am convinced the synergy of partnerships leads to better businesses and long term success.

How did your experience at the Foster School prepare you for your career in global communications?

My Executive MBA absolutely prepared me for the leap into an entrepreneurial career path.  The solid foundation built on accounting and economic principals has been drawn upon daily.  I was also so fortunate to have had such outstanding professors including Rocky Higgins, Karma and Bob Bowen who bestowed upon our class their broader vision of how their particular expertise was applied to the global marketplace.  I was also exposed to 40 classmates from 40 different corporations who shared their challenges, how they problem solved and their formulas for success.

What I see in today’s program that is so meaningful for success is the global perspective and the real life business models expressed through business case presentations and sometimes competitions.  They closely align to the current business client and challenges that I see today.

Can you tell us about a person or experience that has influenced you in your career decisions?

This may sound corny but my parents encouraged me to dream, excel and never did they discourage me in following my professional desires.  Also, I had many wonderful mentors along the way.  Early in my career I had individuals that identified me as someone they wished to invest time in, providing training, career path counseling and sounding boards for new ideas and problem solving.  These individuals will be held dear to me for all time.  I use them as my role models, as I mentor UW students and  my employees.

What would you tell current business students, both undergrads and MBAs, about the world of global business? 

Global business is an integral part of our world and is as much main stream as the domestic U.S. business was 20 years ago.  However, never take the cultural differences for granted.  Learn from each, and take the time to understand how your business actions are perceived.  Be open to others’ differences and views and enjoy those unique characteristics.  Be willing to step back and accept the culture you are working in even though it is not how you would manage if at home.  Enjoy global business, it will enrich your life!​​​​

Leadership is aggressive listening

Guest post by Julius Ekeroma, TMMBA 2014
He attended the MBA “Perspectives on Leadership” Speaker Series. The speaker was Phil Condit, former Chair and CEO of The Boeing Company.

Phil Condit was an absolutely excellent speaker tonight. He was asked to speak on the topic of communication and narrowed it down to a more specific topic: aggressive listening.

I heard a quote once before that said, “Behind every successful leader is a multiplicity of great mentors.” Phil truly was one of those inspirational leaders. One of the biggest issues Phil emphasized tonight is that top leaders fail due to their philosophy of “My way or no way at all.” Phil says a good leader is one that listens to his team and his people; takes in what they say and determines a plan of action. Under each leader are a whole slew of intelligent and talented people. If you don’t use their knowledge, there is no reason to hire them.

My key takeaways from tonight:

  1. If you have a big decision to make, use the pros and cons from the people to support your account. If you don’t involve your team in your big decisions, yet you hear their feedback, they’ll frown down upon you–to point of even losing their respect.
  2. Listen intently and interact with your speakers. Show them a sense that you care of their issues. Value who they are and they will do the same of you.
  3. Being a good listener is not a skill that comes naturally: it is a skill you have to think about.
  4. If you’re willing to listen to your people, they’ll start telling you things they normally wouldn’t tell anyone — good and bad.
  5. Kick yourself! Be an aggressive listener. Listen to the people and what they have to offer before you say, “Here’s our direction.” Every team has skilled people — as a leader, use them.
  6. Every great leader has a moral compass. Be sensitive to the people. As a leader, your job is the success of the enterprise, not your personal success.

Phil concluded that as a leader, once in a while you need to be alone and reflect on yourself as a leader. Reflect on how people perceive you as a leader. Are you leading in a good way or bad? Have you done your job well? Have you sincerely met the expectations of the people? Are you an effective leader?

The next speaker is Colleen Brown, CEO of Fisher Communications, on November 1. Learn more.

Grow smarter

Seattle Bagel BakeryAJ Ghambari, 2007 University of Washington Foster School of Business alumnus, has owned Seattle Bagel Bakery since October 2010. The previous owner was ready to give the business up in the midst of financial hardship and Ghambari took this opportunity to turn the bakery around. This summer, he enlisted the help of a student consultant through the Business & Economic Development Center’s (BEDC) Summer Internship Program to identify ways to strategically grow his business.

“I’m a big fan of the leadership at the BEDC. I want to surround myself with people I want to be like…They are good people doing positive things in the business environment,” said Ghambari. As an undergraduate studying at the Foster School, he “loved the opportunity to collaborate with small business owners, mentors…learning problem solving, consulting…real world stuff…the BEDC really gave that.” Ghambari wanted to play a role in getting students involved and applying their classroom knowledge to the real world.

Since taking over Seattle Bagel Bakery (SBB), Ghambari has continued to deliver a high quality product – “old school kettle-boiled bagels.” But it’s not only the product that is prospering; SBB prides itself on the relationships it builds with their suppliers, customers and employees. All the employees have been with the company from five to 15 years. “We instill a strong sense of ownership in our employees – they feel empowered to do what they’re good at. And that really comes out in the product.”

Ghambari said he hopes to double sales revenue of SBB in the next three to five years, and “not just to make a quick buck, but sustainable growth.” In order to do this, he emphasized how SBB needs to look at its strategy and how it is growing. “We need to grow smarter, not harder,” he said. The BEDC Summer Internship Program is providing this. Student consultant Cynthia Chiou has been creating a “clearer, more focused strategy on growing business outside of the state of Washington,” said Ghambari.

“Everything the student and BEDC said they would do, they have done…they walk the walk,” said Ghambari. He recommends this program for “any small business looking for mentoring and guidance, a second opinion. It’s a great group of people to bounce ideas off of.”

Twelve businesses participated in the summer intern consulting program. Learn more about the companies.

Food on wheels: a foodie blogger dishes with food truck owners

Molly Moon Food TruckFood trucks are not a fad. There are over 80 operating in Seattle currently and the number continues to grow. If you want to know what it’s like to start and operate a food truck, this is your chance. SmallFoodBiz.com blogger and author of Food On Wheels, Jennifer Lewis, will lead a panel discussion with food truck entrepreneurs Molly Neitzel, Molly Moon’s; Josh Henderson, Skillet; and Marshall Jett, Veraci Pizza. Jennifer, along with the panel, will cover everything from permitting and budgeting to executing on your idea to becoming profitable.

The challenges of owning a food truck are real. Food truck restaurateurs have to worry about competition, not only from restaurants but also from other food trucks. There are also other considerations: cost, location, rules and regulations, and marketing a business that moves. We’ll also talk about the amazing food truck craze. The initial impression was that it’s low rent food, but it’s actually delicious, high quality cuisine sought by foodies all over the Northwest. Join us for this insightful panel discussion about the business of operating a food truck.

Food on Wheels Panel Discussion
Wednesday, October 17 from 12:30-1:30 p.m. in Anthony’s Forum, 320 Business Hall

Food trucks will also be open for business! Molly Moon’s, Veraci Pizza, and Monte Cristo will be serving food from 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. on October 17 on the Business Hall Promenade.

Meet the 2012-2013 Fritzky Leadership Fellows

Get to know the 2012-2013 Fritzky Leadership Fellows below.

Chris Fryday
  chris frydayLinkedIn Icon Chris Fryday is a second year MBA candidate at the Foster School of Business. He is focusing on entrepreneurship and general management within the MBA program, as well as pursuing an Environmental Management Certificate in the UW Program on the Environment. He completed his internship providing financial modeling and budget forecasting for the NPS in Yellowstone National Park. Chris’s prior leadership experience included working as a Branch Manager for a major bank in San Francisco and later as a co-founder of a small business. He is honored for the opportunity to be a Fritzky Leadership Fellow to further develop his leadership skills and to mentor first year teams as they navigate their first year at Foster.
Yuki Igarashi
 Yuki Igarashi LinkedIn Icon Yuki chose to become a Leadership Fellow to further develop her leadership skills specifically in the business environment. Her previous formal leadership experience includes captaining her NCAA division I gymnastics team and performing in a leadership position on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee during her undergraduate athletic career. She is continuing to develop her leadership skills in the athletic arena in her second season as the volunteer assistant coach for the University of Washington women’s gymnastics team. Originally from Knoxville, Tennessee, Yuki attended Oregon State University for her undergraduate studies, where she majored in business administration. Prior to starting the MBA program at Foster, she worked in Seattle as a management consultant for a mid-sized consulting firm. This summer, Yuki completed her internship at Starbucks Coffee Company, where she supported the Americas Retail Single Serve team in a product management role, assessing international expansion opportunities for the VIA product line.
Vinay Sayala
vinay_thumb.pngLinkedIn Icon Vinay Sayala has a Master’s degree in Electrical & Computer Engineering. He worked mostly as a consultant for seventeen years in various industries that include telecommunication, energy and insurance. He worked as a software development/analyst for eight years and then moved to project management roles leading several teams. Before joining Foster, he worked for a small reinsurance company in New York. His main role there was to improve their operational efficiency by strategically redesigning and rebuilding their critical applications. His main focus at Foster is to improve his overall leadership skills and explore corporate finance. Vinay lives with his wife and two kids in Kenmore, WA.As a Leadership Fellow, Vinay would like to be a resource for first year Foster MBA students and to develop and encourage their leadership skills. He would also like to take this opportunity to enhance his leadership skills particularly in the areas of coaching skills and conflict resolution.
Ed Chinevere
Ed ChinevereLinkedIn Icon Ed Chinevere worked for a Detroit-area credit union prior to coming to Foster, where he applied his background in accounting and economics to identify and advocate for opportunities for service improvement. At Foster, he focuses on marketing and strategy and has had the opportunity to apply himself to that end via an internship working on a business plan, product design, and go-to-market strategy for a start-up in the field of evidence-based medicine. In the roller coaster of the first year of the program, he experienced for the first time the full extent to which a team of diverse individuals can pull together to generate innovative, creative, and high-quality work the likes of which none could do alone. His teams were greatly aided in this by their two Leadership Fellows, leading Ed to pay it forward by applying himself as a Fritzky Leadership Fellow for his second year in the program. Fun fact: he hopes to find time to work on his web comic where he draws pictures of birds suffering from unfortunate economic circumstances called “Birds in Hard Times.”
Genevieve Cohen
Genevieve CohenLinkedIn Icon Genevieve Cohen is a former teacher who is focusing on marketing and strategy at Foster. She studied psychology and early childhood education at Duke University, and was awarded a fellowship to teach for a year in Brussels, Belgium after college. After returning to her home town of Boston, Genevieve spent some time working at a public relations firm before returning to the world of education at Tufts University, where she earned a Master of Arts in Teaching. This degree led to teaching stints in public and private schools in Boston and San Diego.Genevieve’s favorite memory is of her solo cross-country trip which led her to the West Coast. She fell in love with the beach lifestyle and stayed in San Diego for six years before moving to Seattle. It was the constant urge to change schools for the better that finally pushed her to apply to business school. Genevieve realized her propensity for leadership and wanted to equip herself with the tools to be a successful agent of change. She hopes to be in a management position one day, where she can help her employees feel fulfilled and valued as members of a team. Genevieve sees the Leadership Fellows program as the perfect opportunity to test her wings and grow as a leader. When she is not hanging out in Paccar Hall, Genevieve enjoys running, exploring the city, hiking, and just generally being outdoors.
Galen Smith
galen smithLinkedIn Icon Prior to the Foster MBA Program, Galen spent 5 years in the lumber industry. His role for the first 2 years was Production Supervisor, fulfilling duties such as personnel management, policy enforcement, and process improvement. He then transferred to a new start-up mill to become the Quality Control Supervisor. There he implemented a new QC system, created and maintained spreadsheet databases, tracked key performance indicators, and trained and held employees to high quality standards. At Foster Galen is focusing on Finance and Operations to improve his capability in future production management opportunities.He chose to become a Fritzky Leadership Fellow to give back to Foster by providing incoming students the same support that he received as a first-year. He looks forward to using this opportunity to practice and develop his own abilities as a leader of people and organizations.
Matt Van Osdol
matt van osdolLinkedIn Icon Before Foster, Matt spent seven years living and working in China. Most recently he worked in the Beijing office of the US-China Business Council, a non-profit industry association, where he advised US companies on China business and regulatory matters including industrial policy, intellectual property rights, and government relations.As a second year student in the MBA program, Matt is focusing on marketing. He chose to participate in the Fritzky Leadership Fellows program in order to give back to the Foster School by helping first-year students navigate what he found to be an important, challenging, and formative period of time in the program. He is particularly interested in furthering his own leadership development as well as identifying and encouraging leadership qualities in others.Matt currently lives in Seattle with his wife Wang Ting. After graduation he will join PwC’s Consulting practice in Seattle.
Sarah Jeglum
Sarah JeglumLinkedIn Icon Sarah Jeglum is a second-year MBA student at the Foster School of Business. Prior to joining Foster, Sarah finished her seventh season as a wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service, where she was part of the management team on a Type II fire crew. Sarah graduated from the University of Washington in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is pursuing her MBA with the hopes of either returning to the journalism industry or entering the field of sustainability. As a Leadership Fellow, Sarah hopes to provide support to other MBA students as they navigate their first year at Foster, as well as to learn, grow and be challenged in her personal leadership.
Ryan Loren
ryan lorenLinkedIn Icon Ryan comes to us having worked in Tokyo, Japan for seven years at Citibank Japan and the law offices of Allen & Overy LLP. Here at Foster he has several leadership roles including the President of the Global Business Association and is actively involved with the International Affairs Committee, in charge of career development.He is excited to be a Fritzky Leadership Fellow and hopes that this program will allow yet another opportunity to make an impact on others’ lives within the class of 2014.  Ryan is looking to apply what he learns in a setting that is conducive for trial-and-error, feedback, and to continue to adjust his leadership style that is most effective for him and the teams in which he has been chosen to lead.
J. Sloan DuRoss
j sloan durossLinkedIn Icon Before enrolling in the Foster MBA program, J. Sloan DuRoss spent three years as an economic consultant for SH Brooks Co. helping private educational institutions with their enrollment and revenue prediction needs through econometric modeling and financial forecasting. Prior to that, Sloan spent eight years competing for the United States Olympic Rowing team including representing his country at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He also served as an athlete representative and worked with winter sports athletes at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He is looking to combine the quantitative and problem solving skills learned in his ScB. in Mechanical Engineering from Brown University and the knowledge gained at Foster to pursue a career in Operations, Logistics, and Management.During his first year in the Foster MBA program Sloan was a leader of the Operations Club, made the national finals of the NetImpact Case Competition, won 2nd place and made the final in the Environmental Innovation Challenge and the Washington Business Plan Competition, respectively, and made the Dean’s list. He spent his summer as a Business Manager Intern at Amazon.com. During his second year of the program he is a member of the Honor Council, MBAA VP of Academic Affairs, Student Ambassador, Coordinator of the Foster Cup, and a Fritzky Leadership Fellow.He’s looking forward to making the most of this year, imparting the first years with his knowledge, and traveling in Europe before starting his new career.
Ryan Scott
ryan scottLinkedIn Icon

Ryan Scott earned a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Florida, and a Masters of Science in Acoustics from the Pennsylvania State University. Ryan worked as a design engineer in the hearing-aid and headphone industry, bringing products from the concept phase to full-scale production. Ryan is also the co-founder and Director of Operations of Barrels of Hope, a non-profit that has developed a safe, affordable, and sustainable home for deployment in post-disaster zones and developing countries. After graduating from the Foster School of Business, he plans to work in product development and marketing as a bridge between customers and engineers.
Kris Weum
kris weumLinkedIn Icon

Kris Weum is a second-year MBA student at the Foster School of Business. Prior to joining Foster, Kris spent several years in the non-profit industry and a few more years in the financial industry. Kris earned a Mathematics and Computer Science degree from Gettysburg College and currently pursuing an MBA with a focus on marketing and operations. Kris is very honored to be a Leadership Fellow. He is excited to be a resource to other first year MBA students and looking forward to learning from them as well as helping them develop their own leadership skills.

Learn more about the Leadership Fellows program here.

Courtney Thompson

Courtney Thompson

Foster Alumna Courtney Thompson brings home silver from the 2012 Summer Olympic Games

“I have a chance, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

So said Courtney Thompson (BA 2008) back in 2007, when she was first training with USA Volleyball in hopes of making the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Many assessed that chance as slim.

Despite a stellar career at the University of Washington, Thompson was considered too short to compete at the international level. Not fast enough. Technique needed work.

She’d heard it all before. And, as before, such sober appraisals became fuel for the fire. “My entire career I’ve felt like the underdog,” she says today, donning her silver medal from the London Olympics. “I’ve always had to prove myself—but that’s a comfortable position for me.”

Chronic overachiever

Thompson wasn’t always a longshot. As a kid she played—and excelled at—every sport that would have her. Baseball. Softball. Hockey. Soccer. Basketball. In middle school, she took up volleyball.

Topping out at 5-foot-7 in a sport of giants, Thompson was never going to dominate the game’s martial lexicon of attacks, spikes, cuts and kills. So she became the catalyst, the quarterback, the setter. She graduated from Kentlake High School student body president, valedictorian, and captain of three state championship volleyball teams.

The collegiate powers, however, were not interested.

Their loss was the UW’s gain. Jim McLaughlin, first-year coach of the perennial also-ran in the mighty Pac-10 Conference, saw in Thompson precisely the kind of overlooked gem that would deliver Husky volleyball to the nation’s elite.

“I just got a vibe (the first time I saw her play),” McLaughlin told the Seattle Times in July. “I watched her energy. I watched her drive. I watched her compete… Those things outweighed her height and her blocking ability.”

Sure did. After four years of voracious learning, inspiring leadership and infectious intensity, Thompson became the most-decorated student-athlete in school history. She rewrote national and conference assist records, was a three-time All-American and Academic All-American (carrying a 3.55 GPA at the UW Foster School of Business), and received the 2005 Honda Award, honoring the best player in college volleyball. More importantly to Thompson, her teams reached three NCAA semifinals and won the 2005 national championship.

The Olympic dream

The international game was different. Difficult. After failing to make the team for Beijing, getting to London was going to take superhuman dedication. “I decided that either I walk away and say this wasn’t meant to be,” Thompson recalls, “or I’m going to do absolutely everything I can to make it.”

As usual, she opted for absolutely everything.

From fall to spring she played professionally—relentlessly—in Switzerland and Puerto Rico, delivering league championships in both (she’s off to Poland this fall).

Summers were all about making the world’s number one volleyball team. Competition was fierce. But Thompson clawed up the depth chart. She finally cracked the first team at last spring’s FIVB World Grand Prix, sparking a US comeback victory in the gold medal match.

A month later, she was named to the 12-woman roster headed to London, a moment that rendered the usually effusive Thompson “speechless… I wanted to shout, I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t do either or anything in between.”

Courtney Thompson
(Photograph by Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

That USA team marched undefeated to the gold-medal match, with Thompson stepping up from a reserve role to lead a three-set sweep of the Dominican Republic in the quarterfinal. The Americans’ magical run ended in the final, though, by a galvanized Brazilian squad.

The long road back

Thompson was disappointed, but hardly devastated. “You wake up the next morning and think, did that just happen?” she says. “But then there is a huge satisfaction in knowing that we’d done everything possible to prepare. And when you go play, you never know what’s going to happen. That’s what makes sports so fun.”

Thompson has off-court aspirations. Coaching or athletics administration, most likely.  But first she has some unfinished business. Another four years and countless odds to overcome lie between her and Olympic gold in Rio. As ever, she’s looking forward. For Thompson, the journey has always been as sweet as the destination.

“Some people train for the big moments. But I love playing this game and being with this group of girls every day,” she says. “The past four years were an incredible experience. I’ve grown a lot as an athlete and as a person. But what really motivates me is how much more I have to learn. I just want to do it even better next time—and enjoy every second of it.”​

Evening MBA alum moves to HR career, lands China mission for Microsoft

Evening MBA student Melanie Sharpe came to a career turning point midway through her program. With a prior background in education, she planned to use her MBA to further her career in the finance business, where she was then working. But she suddenly came to the realization that finance wasn’t a good fit for her. She had always enjoyed working with people, so with the help of the staff in MBA Career Services, she reworked her resume to bring out her existing strengths in that field and began to make contact with Foster’s extensive network of HR executives. Along the way, she also added a certificate from Foster’s Global Business Center to her resume. The result was a global HR internship at Microsoft, which quickly led to other assignments with a global reach. As of August 2012, when she gave this interview, she was leaving for a challenging new assignment in China.​

- Faculty perspectives, alumni happenings, student experiences, Seattle and Pacific Northwest community connections, and a taste of life around the Foster School.