Two Years Down, One to Go

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of watching many of my Ross School of Business (Profile) classmates cross the platform at Crisler Arena (Michigan's basketball venue), shake the hand of Dean Robert Dolan, and start the second (or third, or even fourth) chapter of their lives. Of course, a half-dozen humorous moments occurred before and after the ceremony. With a furrowed brow and inquisitive mind, they simply asked, "Matt, where's your gown?" Before I had a chance to respond, a moment of realization crossed their faces and a simple, "Ohhhhh, riiiiiight…." affirmed their awareness of my unfortunate plight. I'm going to voluntarily suffer under the overwhelmingly crushing weight of another year of graduate education because of my dual-degree status. The horror!

Well, I wouldn't say it's that bad, honestly. In fact, in the weeks before commencement, the majority of my classmates described their sadness at having to leave the friendly confines of Ann Arbor for greener, more profitable, real-world pastures—or a quest to find such pastures. And while it was certainly sad to see some of my closest friends depart for good, the past semester provided a wonderful prologue to what I believe will be a monumental final year here at the University of Michigan. With that, let's recap what's been happening here in Ann Arbor since my last update.

Last year, I provided some basic insight on the tumultuous internship recruiting process and to be frank, I did not look forward to reliving that experience in the middle of an economic downturn. Companies had done a fair job of preparing us for the worst, but amid investing two-plus years of our time and money into this educational endeavor, the last thing we wanted to believe was that such bleak news would apply to us directly. Nevertheless, as the interviewing schedules were distributed, it was clear that many companies had drastically reduced their summer opportunities from the previous year. Some firms were unashamed to acknowledge this. One company, for example, initially provided our career services office with a schedule of 75 potential interviews. Two weeks before these interviews, however, the company reduced this schedule to 40. Events such as this brought home the economic downturn in a manner that was obviously frustrating, but also refreshing.

Pause for a second. How can I possibly conclude that first-hand exposure to the recession is refreshing, while millions are struggling to make ends meet? Well, I say this because the academic world provides us twenty- and thirtysomethings with an excuse to be unabashedly naïve for several years, regardless of the fact that a massive shakeup of the financial system and the lives of millions of citizens is occurring. While being sheltered from these challenging times may sound appealing, it's detrimental for any business leader to feign ignorance for the pinch that your employees—and customers—face. To be realistically exposed to our friends and relatives' difficulties was the wake-up call that should have served as a catalyst for examining new and creative approaches to business curricula. I won't paint a rosy picture, however. I don't believe business schools, in general, are doing their best to academically prepare their students to face the next cyclical downturn. While I certainly enjoyed the coursework I took this past semester (especially Aneel Karnani's "Strategies for Growth" course), I didn't notice a major effort to revise the curriculum to adapt to the massive restructuring of capital markets that has followed from the past year's events.

Teaching MomentsFortunately, though, I observed the Ford School making significant efforts to accomplish this very task. In Susan Waltz's foreign policy class, for example, my classmates and I had to tackle a variety of current international events (including the recent increase of Somali pirate activity off the African coast), many of which were caused, at least in part, by the economic crisis. My group was assigned to evaluate the role of the International Monetary Fund in global banking regulations on the heels of the G-20 meetings focused directly on these issues. Academics aside, the efforts undertaken by Ford's career services office proved they were aware of the challenges facing students. In fact, in hindsight, a great majority of my classmates at the Ford School are quite happy with the opportunities provided them this summer, ranging from employment with the New York offices of Acumen Fund to working for an NGO in Rwanda. The level of opportunity afforded to MPP students in these challenging times brings even more assurance that this decision to pursue a dual degree was most certainly the correct one.

Personally, my recruiting again focused on an opportunity to work for a global strategy consulting firm, and I discovered that having spent a year previously pursuing such opportunities was a worthwhile experience. In hindsight, I realized that I knew far less about the consulting world than was necessary to thrive and succeed in the industry, and my summer at the Civic Consulting Alliance in Chicago was a perfect inroad to the often hectic lifestyle that is inherent to such work. Having enjoyed the opportunity to develop my client interaction skills last summer, I decided to further focus my attention on an even more specific set of firms, namely those that were developing an increased presence in emerging markets. I've recently returned from my summer client's location, working for a firm known for both of the areas of interest I specifically wanted to focus on. Given that the opportunity to return full-time to the firm is presented, it appears that my goal to become a bona fide career switcher will have been unceremoniously met.

However, there's no reason to close the book just yet. While a significant reason for me to attend graduate school was to expand the professional opportunities available to me, I also came to Michigan with a desire to make the student and academic community even stronger than before I arrived. Many of my classmates will return in the fall after having learned valuable lessons about the use of business for social opportunity, and it's my hope to help churn that positive energy into a series of key learning events for Michigan's academic community to utilize. There's a variety of upcoming conferences, events, and international trips that will provide training grounds for us to apply what we've learned. This summer, I hope, will serve as my own commencement, as I begin the yearlong transition from a wide-eyed graduate student to an agent of change in the global business world. And I'm confident that I'll have a whole slew of fellow classmates looking to make that transition as well.