This Kenan-Flagler student zeroed in on exactly the "sustainable enterprise" program he wanted—and finds it plenty challenging
Have you ever gotten new health insurance and signed up for a doctor or dentist based on the fact that they are located near your apartment? As a dot-commer in Boston, I made that mistake three times in a row. When you walk into their office, a cold chill runs down your spine, and you feel like you are about to be the star in a scene from Hostel.
The practitioner is alternately ancient, harsh, and vulnerable (Daisy of Driving Miss Daisy), young, beautiful and void of thought (Daisy Duke), or middle-aged and sweet, yet strangely difficult to understand (Daisy Duck). The only thing they share in common is their unsteady hands and lack of medical acumen.
It was this experience that I aimed to avoid in my business school search. I meticulously researched programs and focused heavily on the culture that I would be immersed in for two years. My goal was to find a consensus top-20 school that was highly ranked for sustainable enterprise, located in a warm climate on the East Coast, team-oriented, and not particularly cutthroat.
By the time I visited Duke, Emory, and UNC I was simply looking to confirm my earlier analysis. The "triangle" (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) was nicer than Atlanta, and UNC had a better sustainable enterprise program than Duke. I applied early decision to UNC and never looked back.
Zen And The Art Of Grad School Applications
My GMAT preparation consisted of getting a recent copy of Kaplan's book and software. I studied consistently for six weeks and took the test, leading to a 700+. It was an invaluable and affordable study aid that I highly recommend.
The next most useful aid was How to Get Into Top MBA Programs by Richard Montauk. This was extremely helpful for transforming essay writing and interviewing into a strategic exercise.
The final most useful tool for me was beyondgreypinstripes.org, a Web site dedicated to ranking B-schools in sustainable enterprise, the field of triple-bottom-line business. The goal of sustainable enterprise is to learn how to run economically successful companies that are socially responsible and committed to environmental stewardship.
How did I get turned on to sustainable enterprise after spending my entire career doing whatever it took to make money? Mainly, I credit meeting my wife. Wendy has spent most of her career in inner-city youth organizations, constantly combating racism, under-funded school systems, and drug-driven gang violence. Seeing these problems from the inside vastly expanded my view of the world.
Reading Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail, I found a credible and scientifically driven case study proving that societies that over-consume and under-preserve tend to fall apart. Watching the documentary The Corporation was equally informative—if we build companies only to generate shareholder wealth, then we should not be surprised when they ignore societal needs in the pursuit of this goal.
And despite the fact that the only thing I'm really good at is marketing, I realized that I felt disgusted with it. Saturday morning cookie commercials and soda-sponsored high schools seem crass in light of a childhood obesity epidemic. Gorgeous young people wear sharp clothes without knowing they were sewn by child slave labor. Disposable razors are designed to wear out quickly, filling landfills, so that we buy more.
That being said, ever since my first lemonade stand, all I've wanted to do is sell. That's why I'm getting my MBA at UNC, to run a business that leverages the strengths of honorable commerce while endeavoring to make a positive difference to my local and global community.
Kenan-Flagler offers an Analytical Skills Workshop during the summer before your first year, and while attendance isn't mandatory, it is an incredible opportunity. You get to meet many of your classmates in advance during a time when there are no major projects due.
The "hot shower just ran out of hot water" moment comes when you first step into a microeconomics, finance, or accounting refresher course. But it's worth it, and you start school prepared. My experience during the summer was irreplaceable; getting here early meant finding housing and my favorite pizza place, and meeting the majority of my closest friends in the program.
Orientation was equally exciting as we got to meet the rest of our classmates and our new study teams, and found ourselves in the wilds of North Carolina battling mosquitoes and course challenges doing some hard-core outdoor team building.
The experience at Kenan-Flagler is largely driven by the concept of group work and the constant feeling that you are part of something bigger than you. Class assignments are often group-oriented, and a pass/fail grading system encourages students to collaborate, not compete—although a rigorous honor code guides that collaboration. Here are the Kenan-Flagler group activities that I am a part of:
Legacy Groups I like to think of the creation of our legacy sections as being a scene from Harry Potter without the sorting hat. We are broken into eight legacy groups of 35 people, named after past and present legends in the Kenan-Flagler community, and then spend the rest of the year competing against each other for legacy points.
I am a Behrman legacy captain and can take personal credit for a botched attempt at making a float as well as our team not bringing enough people to a dodgeball tournament. We did, however, win the drinking event, putting us in fifth place overall.
Study Team What do an Indian process engineer, Chinese finance wizard, Indiana pharma marketer, California corporate responsibility expert, and Boston dot-com washout (me) have in common? I'd say stunning good looks and sunny demeanors. Past that, we are here to learn from each other.
Ben Basil, former college tennis phenom, reminded me how to take tests. I have helped Ivy Wong with her thank-you notes to recruiters, as English is not her first language, while she helps me with finance, which is a foreign language to me. Kapil Pundir can work out the most intricate steps of any process for all of us, and Jess Meyer's project management acumen keeps us all on track. Our meetings are well-structured, we have rotational leadership based on subject, and while we don't all go out with each other, we are close-knit and supportive of one another.
Premier Fellows Kenan-Flagler is running a pilot program this year in which first- and second-year fellowship recipients with excellent leadership skills are given unique opportunities to develop their potential. The events thus far have been amazing, and the first-year students are getting major input into the development of the program.
Net Impact Kenan-Flagler has one of the strongest Net Impact chapters in the country, and spending time with folks who are as passionate as I am about making a difference in the world has made school feel like home.
Fantasy Football Leagues Every week I can talk smack about football with 20 different guys. Hey, it beats talking about finance.
The Innovation Challenge There were 440 teams from 18 different countries that competed in the first round of the innovation challenge to solve real world problems for companies like American Express (AXP) and Whirlpool (WHR). Finalists compete for $30,000 in prizes as well as potential internship opportunities, while sponsors get top-flight ideas on the cheap.
In the middle of this is the staff of Idea Crossing, a group of folks who have the job of facilitating the process. Anil Rathi, founder of the challenge, says that "Giving passionate MBAs a vehicle to voice their fresh perspectives to open-minded, leading companies continues to be a rewarding experience for Idea Crossing." Hats off to a man who created his own dream job!
We put together a team of virtuosos for this project: Kapil Pundir, whose energy recycling initiative led to GM North America's (GM) most efficient plant; Hirohisa Onome, a concept car engineer for Toyota (TM) in Tokyo; Phaedra Boinodiris, owner and operator of a top-flight Web design company; and Sara Sparks, former photographer, editor, and producer for outfits like People Magazine and MTV (VIA).
This handpicked team has even less in common than my study group but was designed with the goal of creative friction and short-term high-output production. Our project for American Express: Open resulted in the highest overall score of the 440 submissions and won us a trip to the international finals at Darden in November.
The Academic Experience
My professors have been thoughtful and challenging; our subject matter has been mind-expanding; and my classmates have picked me up when I have fallen. Our curriculum has a great balance of group projects, lecture, and case study.
Yes, my time is constantly under attack, and it is hard balancing family, friends, activities, school, and responsibilities, but this has led to great improvement in my time and stress management skills. I've learned more in the past seven weeks than I did over the previous two years and remain deeply grateful to have this opportunity.