The Chili's Too Restaurant at Chicago's O'Hare Airport holds a very special place in my heart and not just because of the addictive qualities of its bottomless chips and salsa. It was in this place, after a long day of case interviews for a consulting firm, that I snagged one of the few remaining tables, plugged in my laptop, checked my e-mail, and saw one that said: "Congratulations, you are being extended an offer to join GE Capital's Experienced Commercial Leadership Program." My loud shriek got a few puzzled looks, but nothing could dampen my excitement. Awesome blossom doesn't even begin to describe how thrilled I was. I proceeded to employ multiple forms of communication like a true Gen-Yer. I called my mom and dad while simultaneously G-chatting with several of my friends, e-mailing my brother, and texting friends who weren't on G-chat with the news.
It was early December, and the last few weeks had been a whirlwind of interviews and flights. Despite my entrepreneurial focus at McCombs (McCombs Full-Time MBA Profile)and my belief that I was a "small-company person," all of my final-round interviews were with large multinational companies.In light of the recession, I had approached the recruiting season with an open mind.As a result, I discovered leadership rotation programs and consulting, two job-types that hadn't even been on my radar in my first year of business school. I met some incredible people through the interview process and felt confident that I had at least two great options lined up.
But GE's Experienced Commercial Leadership Program (ECLP) was far and away my first choice, and I had been on pins and needles waiting to hear since participating in the final-round Interview forum a few days before Thanksgiving. The ECLP program is a two-year leadership rotation program consisting of three rotations of eight months each focused on marketing and sales. Each ECLP rotates within one of GE's businesses (for example, Capital, Energy, Healthcare, NBC Universal). Given my private equity experience and involvement with the McCombs Venture Fellows, I hoped to join the Capital group.
A Singular Retreat
The Interview Forum was an impressive two-day symposium held at GE's famous leadership center in Crotonville, N.Y. I wish every company could make final-round interviews so fun. Jack Welch's Camp David-esque Center for Training & Leadership is part hotel, part conference center, part retreat. When I checked into my room (all rooms are the same size regardless of rank), I discovered that each floor had a pantry filled with healthy snacks. In addition to regular TV, a GE leadership channel was streaming interviews with some of the world's most illustrious CEOs. I grabbed a turkey pesto sandwich and some homemade chowder from the pantry and happily pressed my suit while listening to Avon's CEO discuss new product development.
The agenda for the forum was the perfect mix of formal and informal—with plenty of time for questions and networking, in addition to one-on-one interviews and the "final pitch," where each candidate has five minutes to pitch a business concept or new product/service idea to a room full of candidates and interviewers. Most exciting was how many senior-level employees took time to attend the event. GE's CMO, Beth Comstock, was the keynote speaker, and at dinner I sat at a table with GE Capital's CMO, Lee Cooper. Many current ECLPs were also in attendance, so I was able to get an authentic picture of what my life would be like as an ECLP. I genuinely liked everyone I met—from other candidates to current ECLPs to C-level officers. Although excited to see my family for Thanksgiving, I was sad to leave Crotonville. It was exactly the same way I felt when leaving McCombs' Preview Weekend: I couldn't wait to get started. Of course, I had to get an offer first.
Cramming for the Future
So when I saw an e-mail from GE with a subject line that started with "Congratulations …," I was thrilled. Needless to say, I accepted the offer right away.
While I always assumed business school would calm down once I had an offer lined up, I have actually found that, in many ways, I am just as intense about my classes as ever. I recognize that I have only one more semester, which is half over, to learn more that will help me succeed in my career. I know much will be expected of me. I want to make sure I really understand the concepts, so I can apply them in creative ways on the job.
The one "senioritis" element that's definitely creeping in, however, is the aversion to group projects. Regardless of how terrific my group members are, coordinating so many busy schedules has moved beyond mere annoyance. Fortunately, as second-year students, we've learned how to narrow down the scope of projects to what's manageable and also how to divide the work effectively so the same thing isn't done twice and we can each work independently. The other nice aspect of more experience as a business school student is the level of trust and reciprocity. We've all become good at taking turns doing the brunt of the work for a time and then passing it along to another teammate.
In fact, even this journal entry is benefiting from the abilities of my wonderful business school colleagues. Right now, it is being edited by two of my best friends at McCombs. We are on a layover in O'Hare Airport before departing for India for a McCombs Global Connections Study Tour. It shouldn't come as a shock that we're sitting at the Chili's Too, reminiscing about two years that have gone by too fast, planning trips we'll take together once we're back in the real world, and trying to tinker with this article to get it within the required word limit. For an airport restaurant, Chili's Too is one sentimental spot.
Kathleen Voboril will be chronicling her experiences in GE Capital's ECLP Program at http://eclpblog.com/journey/