Like many, I was an early entrepreneur. At a time when I still told my age by the quarter-year (that is, 5 and three-quarters), I earned my first dollar setting up a corner lemonade stand with kids from the block. (O.K., so my dad was our only customer.) From there I graduated to babysitting, snow shoveling, and eventually tutoring. In high school, however, my first "official" summer job was a lucky break: My aunt and uncle owned a fast-growing small business. They often had employment needs beyond their payroll capacity; as their niece, I was often tasked with responsibilities beyond my experience.
During summers and school breaks, I deemed myself the "marketing department." I spent my days photographing food products; designing brochures, product labels, and magazine ads; crafting trade show displays; and eventually writing the copy for their Web site (www.foodsbygeorge.com, shameless plug, I know). At yearend, as winter break coincided with tax season, I feigned accountant—reconciling the general ledger, categorizing receipts, and the like. As the business grew, the hiring of brokers, entrance into new accounts, and distribution into new channels laid the foundation for my business education.
From there, I could have declared a business major and gone on to all things corporate. Instead I opted for "the road less traveled." And it has made all the difference.
Two Key Revelations
A communications major at Boston College, my lifelong dream of becoming the next Katie Couric, however, was shattered upon graduation when I found myself in the ever-so-slightly-less-glamorous role as a paralegal at one of Boston's corporate firms. Working on multibillion-dollar private equity mergers and acquisitions, I learned a little legal lingo, a lawyer joke or two, and had my first legal revelation: I did not want to become a lawyer. I also experienced my first professional all-nighter and developed my caffeine addiction. More on that later.
Seeking my big break into "big business," I landed a consulting position with the Strategic Research Group at a global consulting firm. Here I performed strategic analysis and gained exposure to different industries, project teams, and management styles. I also had the privilege to co-author the 2007 World Wealth Report. In June 2007 the report launched and was covered by a number of mainstream media publications; it was featured on the Today show (ah, the irony) and in a mock segment on The Colbert Report (an American dream, well my American dream, come true).
Afterward, I moved on to a field consulting position on a business systems implementation (read, custom software development). As the liaison between the business and the IT department, I hosted client meetings, helped to manage the business analyst team and learned firsthand the inner workings of the consulting life: that is: early morning wakeup calls, delayed flights, hotel food, and travel to rural locales. Here I also had my first corporate revelation: I want to be the executive driving the strategic initiative, guiding a company through transformation, turmoil, and even static times.
Off to the Midwest
In order to become that enabled leader, I need to understand the basic and fundamental elements of business—something, as a communications major, I lack. Therefore, I feel that now is the most appropriate time to pursue my MBA.
Nine weeks ago I packed my bags and hauled 791 miles westward to Chicago. I have just begun my first year as an MBA student at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business. At 25, on the lower end of the experience spectrum, I am, needless to say, a bit intimidated by the caliber of my classmates: I-bankers, vice-presidents, entrepreneurs, and quadra-linguists. Additionally, as an East Coast native, I'm a little anxious about my big move to the "noncoast." (Driving through the city for the first time I breathed a little heavy when I saw a road sign for, gasp, "Wisconsin.")
In one word, the last nine weeks have been intense. In fact, they've been the busiest nine weeks of my life, thus far. I have a sneaking suspicion, based on a complex statistical algorithm and the foreboding words of second-years, life will become exponentially more intense in the weeks and months to come.
We came together for the first time at orientation, an outdoor excursion to Lake Geneva, Wis. There, all 578 of us—representing different languages, cities, countries, ethnicities, religions, genders, ages, and prior experiences—united for the first time as the GSB Class of 2010. Together we are former bankers, consultants, entrepreneurs, teachers, engineers, marketers. We are also mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, husbands, wives, daughters, and sons. But, for the next 21 months, we are students. We'll come to define ourselves by our concentrations, friends, clubs, cohorts, study groups, and summer internships.
Despite our differences, we meet on common ground: mutual respect for one another. And, after three days at "summer camp," we returned to campus, having bonded over team activities, improv comedy lessons, and late-night dance parties, vowing to never again torture each other with mundane, routine questions like "What's your name?" "Where are you from?" and "Where do you live?" Collectively we were exhausted, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, and hung over. Little did we realize the introduction this actually was to the two years ahead that will be etched in our collective memory as the blur known as business school.
Economic Uncertainty Creeps In
A month into class and already there isn't enough time in the day for all that needs doing: lectures, studying, lunches, clubs, study groups, socialization, networking, and sleep … never mind attempting to contact the outside world. (Family and friends, please accept this as my apology for my seeming disinterest and overall lack of communication.)
Midterms are peering around the corner and recruiting season has just begun. Already the level of intensity on campus has been elevated a notch or nine. The I-bankers have begun wearing suits to class, as have the consultants. Lunch and Learns, Corporate Conversations, and Networking Nights have claimed the calendar space previously occupied by reading the chapter prior to the class lecture, working out, and laundry. Pursuing summer employment has assumed center stage. Economic uncertainty is at the forefront of everyone's mind and can't help but sneak its way into every corporate presentation as we wonder how summer internships and full-time hiring will be affected.
The next two years are sure to be intense, chock full, overwhelming, demanding, challenging, exciting, and hopefully rewarding. Along the way I hope to gain a new perspective, seize every opportunity, challenge myself out of my comfort zone, broaden my network, meet interesting people with whom I can share my adventures, and conquer a new (Midwestern!) city.
I am honored to find myself at such an elite institution with such incredibly diverse, driven, motivated, and accomplished peers. And I'm honored at the opportunity to share my experiences with each of you. Hopefully in two years time I'll be writing from my office at the company of my dreams, provided that I'm still standing.
Stay tuned …