Monday, May 3, 2010
To the MBA Class of '10
Over the next few weeks, more than 250 Consortium students will glide to the finish line after a memorable two years of hectic schedules, daunting course assignments, financial turmoil, vast uncertainty, late nights, and countless interviews. They will receive the MBA degree. About 60-70 of them will have concentrated in finance and (after some form of vacation, we hope) will head to positions in financial services.
A job well done. A notable accomplishment. An accumulation of experiences, contacts, knowledge, resources, and mentors. Now is the time to reach the next rung, to take the next step and turn the corner.
The Class of '10 heads out en masse after having endured two of the toughest, most volatile years ever in business school--when the financial world turned tumultuous and evil, opportunities vanished, corporations and banks disappeared, and professors improvised to make the real world relevant to coursework. Recruiting and career-strategizing became a fierce, suffocating battle. The Class of '10 dug in, reoriented their goals, remained steadfast to many of their dreams, and learned lessons from the crisis unfolding before their eyes.
Now with plans polished, altered and adjusted and with some renewed vigor (after seeing signs of a recovery), the Class of '10 departs--not having regretted a bit the MBA experience.
Before Consortium MBA's spread out all over the country (and globe), before they navigate long-term careers in finance, a few more messages of support or whispers behind the ear won't hurt.
1. Business cycles will always be. Prepare for them and brace for them. Understand the potential impact on you or your employer when trends head downward; take advantage of opportunities and the environment when they are on the uptick. As we've learned over the past two years, be suspectful of booms and seemingly unending periods of growth. But be hopeful and optimistic that downturns disappear and yield to better times and periods of promise.
2. Understand the MBA is not the end of learning. It provides a career-long foundation for understanding business, economies, financial systems, product markets, organizations, capital markets, and accounting. Learn to love learning. The MBA will have provided tools to sustain learning--even 20 years out.
3. Careers will have highlights, plateaus, and occasional troughs. A long-term career in finance will not be a recurring series of highs, promotions and big bonuses. Prepare for the ups and downs, and have a strategy for getting up from the downs.
When times are slow or career paths are stalled, try to be in the right place at the right time when business picks up. Use those slow periods to learn something new, take on a different role, or re-position yourself for good times.
4. Have a five-year career plan at every point in your work life. Ask yourself the following: Am I comfortable where I am? Am I continuing to learn, grow, and get better? Where do I want to go from here? How do I get there? Will there be others who can help me get there? What do I do if I can't get there?
Plan, prepare, and visualize where you want to be in five years. Decide how you will want to get there and whether you have the energy, motivation and skills to reach that goal. Focus on a Plan A, but know it's okay to have a Plan B or Plan C. Sometimes Plans B and C turn out to be better than A.
5. Be confident and comfortable in taking responsibility. The MBA provides the tools and experiences to permit you to take on tough projects, in-depth research, leadership of teams and groups, and unreasonable deadlines. Don't be surprised how often you come through. The deal gets done. The project is completed on time. The presentation succeeds. The research impresses. Responsibility begets more responsibility. Let others know you can get it done.
6. Be aware that some will try to undermine your MBA preparation. Many will say you didn't need the MBA to get promoted, to manage a team or group, and to complete a major project. Be comfortable and confident in your knowledge and skills. The MBA will have provided you a broad array of experiences, exposures, and networks. Your MBA foundation and tools won't fail you. Know that, continue to expand that knowledge base, and ignore the MBA critics.
But keep the MBA foundation polished by pushing yourself to keep learning.
7. If you are patient, somewhere somebody will recognize and appreciate hard work. Sometimes in a business setting, hard work, diligence, and an in-depth immersion in the project at hand are not rewarded. That can be frustrating and discouraging to young MBA's. If you continue to push and work hard, at some point, somebody will notice you. The hard work will pay off. But not necessarily in the first few weeks on the job. And sometimes the first year.
8. Just like businesses and the economy, the passion for diversity goes through cycles. Banks and companies sometimes get distracted. Sometimes they get too complacent. They reason (incorrectly) that diversity has an expiration date. So in some years diversity priorities shift to the back of the room. And other years, progress made in previous years recedes all of a sudden.
All the more a reason why you should remain resolutely involved in diversity issues and programs. Care about diversity and inclusion with a passion. Understand why it is important that those from under-represented groups should be at the table, in key positions, and in line for promotions. Help push the company forward on these fronts. Don't let the company rest on its laurels, as many are tempted to do.
9. Learn from and respect everybody. Learn from colleagues, peers, other associates, mentors, experts, senior manager, prominent deal-doers, salespeople and project managers.
Yet in a tough corporate environment, you'll find you can learn from those junior to you, from assistants, from analysts right out of college, from operations and systems personnel, and even from clerical staff. They know processes, people, corporate histories, networks and--just as important--how to get things done. They have access to resources, databases, and information. And they are happy to help.
If you respect what they know and what they do, they will assist you and help you get the deal done, the project finished on time, the research completed overnight, or step up to substitute for you when you can't be there. Or provide you with that one bit of expertise to get you over a hump.
10. Keep values in line. Work will become a top priority and will command almost all of your time. Armed with new knowledge, tools, contacts and a determination to succeed, you'll manage the workload and work pressures. In fact, you'll progress and might get promoted in timely fashion. You'll learn a lot, contribute to a company's growth, and get paid handsomely.
But don't let it all consume you; don't let it all define you as a person. Have perspective, maintain a long-term outlook, and keep your values intact. Proper perspective will keep you going as much as much as year-end bonus.
11. Pause, remember, reflect and appreciate. Remember classmates who helped you at 2 in the morning when you were completing a case project. Remember friends who sobbed with you when you thought none of you would find the right job. Remember professors who explained beta, LIFO, Black-Scholes or P/E ratios over coffee one afternoon. Remember those special moments, those pivotal classroom experiences and the vast, mind-boggling material you've mastered in just two years. And smile.
12. Give back. Don't forget those who helped you, guided you, and stepped in to become mentors or provided scholarships, funding and opportunity. Don't forget those who follow in your steps and crave your guidance, war stories, survival tidbits, recruiting strategies, and network contacts. Be gracious and give back--in the way you can--time, money, or guidance.
And always keep the Consortium in mind.