A Dramatic Change of PlanJonathan Stern
From the day my parents took me to the Philadelphia Phillies spring training complex in my hometown of Clearwater, Fla., I wanted to be the starting shortstop for the New York Mets. My Hungarian immigrant father and my Brooklyn-native mother had fallen in love in New York and there was no way they'd allow me to root for anyone but the Mets. Little League followed and I made all-star teams but when I hit high school, the growth spurt I had anticipated failed me and professional baseball became a fleeting dream. Even if I had made the school's team, I probably couldn't have competed with Jose Reyes. But at 16, I unquestionably did not see myself someday attending the UCLA Anderson School of Management (Anderson Full-Time MBA School Profile). Striking baseball from my options, I turned my attention to theater, appearing in dramas and musicals and even writing and directing a one-act play—a script that now turns my stomach. I had long penned little skits and routines, and putting on my own production further ignited my creative flame. As a result, a new dream emerged: I'd become a scriptwriter. So when I arrived in New York to pursue a history degree at Columbia University, I spent my free days and summers performing stand-up comedy and interning at the likes of Late Night with Conan O'Brien, Live with Regis and Kelly, The Daily Show, Comedy Central, and VH1. Entertainment and media experiences paved the way for my first real job after graduation: I landed a gig as a production associate in MTV's radio department. The thought of further education in management wasn't even a blip on the radar. At this point, you may be wondering: "MTV is on the radio?" I had the same reaction—and yes, in a way it is, at least for now. The name was indeed a bit of a misnomer. I was not featured on the radio. Neither were my co-workers. In fact, few staff members had ever set foot in a radio station. What we did, however, was write music and entertainment news for affiliate stations to read on air. Essentially, I was a ghostwriter for morning show DJs, and I got most of my story content by interviewing the talent. I spent much of my time rubbing elbows with rock stars and celebrities and attending red carpets, concerts, movie screenings, and junkets. Life was good—and interesting. Why would I want to go to business school? Business, by a process of eliminationLike myself, most people I encountered in the media world had never heard of MTV's radio department. Neither had the majority of MTV's employees, which did not bode well for my future at the company. Working in the radio business in general didn't seem to be so fruitful, either. Four years into my tenure, I was beginning to realize that in an industry evolving at breakneck speed, it was probably a poor idea to toil in one of its oldest technologies. This became abundantly clear when I had an informational interview with an MTV TV producer. He told me that if I were to work for him, I'd have to start at an entry-level position—despite my experience—because my background was in radio. At 26, these were troubling circumstances. Maybe it was time to start thinking more seriously about what was to come. I still wanted to be a scriptwriter, but I determined that graduate school was the way to go. Classes and study groups wouldn't prevent me from writing on my own time. But to what kind of program should I apply? I considered three options: journalism, law, and business. I was, to all intents and purposes, already a journalist, and with the apparent decline of the newspaper industry, journalism school was out. I had never met a happy young lawyer in 10 years of living in New York, so law school wasn't an option. That left business school, which made a lot of sense. I already knew the content side of entertainment and media, but I was in the dark about the mechanisms of decision-making employed by the "bean counters" who used my content. It also seemed apparent that those bean counters had little idea how to profit from the content in today's rapidly changing landscape. If I went to business school, I could learn the foundations of business, bone up on the current revolution in media, and then use my existing knowledge to chart a course through the maelstrom. I targeted four schools in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles: Columbia (Columbia Full-Time MBA School Profile), NYU (Stern Full-Time MBA School Profile), Northwestern (Kellogg Full-Time MBA School Profile), and UCLA. I came to this conclusion in July of 2008 and immediately began studying for the GMAT. I decided to forgo taking a course and simply bought all the books I could get my hands on. My exam date was Dec. 6, 2008. I took the preceding Thursday and Friday off from work so I could relax and remain stress-free before the big day. I certainly was not expecting to be laid off on Dec. 4, but I suppose that's the way life can work. Twenty-five percent of my division was let go that day; a further 10% are no longer with the company. It seems I was prescient about the radio business. (An aside to GMAT takers out there: If you think preparing for and taking the exam are stressful—which undoubtedly they are—try taking the GMAT two days after being laid off from an anachronistic job that seemingly left you with no chance for movement elsewhere; that's pressure.) Apparently, much like a successful Major League shortstop, I thrived under the pressure. This young man, who once dreamed of competing on the diamond at Shea Stadium and writing scripts to entertain the masses, is about to trek across the country and embark upon a journey he thought he'd never make even two years ago: matriculating at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. I only hope I can flesh out the business principles that weren't covered in my history courses so I can take my professional experiences and become a player in the new world of media.