On August 29, at the UMass Club high above Boston Common, David O’Leary ’81 MBA convened the 2018 MBA Keys to Success panel discussion after drinks and dinner. The event was the celebratory end of a three-day Boot Camp (the unofficial name for the MBA Orientation Program*) for first-year MBA candidates, in which the students learned career-building skills while getting to know each other. Along with several supportive second-years, alumni, and faculty, the first-years engaged with moderator David and the panelists on subjects ranging from job searching and interviews to Ford’s recent decision to stop manufacturing almost all of their sedans. At the table were Michael Fish ’12 MBA/MS, the Associate Project Manager, Golf Balls, at Titleist; Karen Keenan, the current Chief Administrative Officer of State Street (David’s previous position before his retirement); and Kevin Koswick ’85, the director of North American Fleet Lease and Remarketing for Ford Motor Company.
The lively discussion included advice for the students about making the most of their time at Isenberg:
“Be a sponge; soak up everything, and learn from professors, peers, and alumni,” said Karen.
“It won’t feel like it, but you’ll never have more time that you will in the next two years. Do everything you can, engage as much as you can,” Michael said. “Work with your classmates. Present! Put yourself out there.”
Kevin added a note of caution. “Number one, take care of yourself. Take time to sleep and exercise. Do well in your academics, then have fun.”
“Balance is important,” agreed David.
…how to choose the right job, with the right company:
“When I graduated in the 1980s, there were lots of opportunities in the New York finance world, but I wanted to do something fun. Cars? Fun! Ford is fun,” said Kevin with a laugh. “Find balance in finding what you want to do.”
“To figure out what I should do, I make lists of threes,” Karen said. “1. Content: Is what I’ll be doing fun? 2. Culture: Will I like who I do it with? And 3. Compensation: Will I be fairly compensated? If you can find all three, take it. Just two? That’s the norm; most jobs will only have two of the three. Just one? Time to look for something new”.
…navigating challenges in the workplace:
“I have a lot of experience in things not going right. I try to ask myself, am I clear about my target? I try to determine what area is going wrong: The people, process, or systems?” said Karen. “Also, I want you to learn this much faster than I did: I can like someone as a person and they can still not be the right person for the job.”
“When we’re selling a product idea, we try to talk to key stakeholders before the big presentation, so you’ll understand their perspective before you begin,” explained Michael. “People want to feel included in making the decision.”
“People are the most important,” concluded Kevin. “It’s so much better to be upfront with people about how they’re doing, have the hard conversations, and deal with it quickly.”
…and general wisdom for navigating a career path:
“First, learn to run to problems. If you’re a fixer, grower, or seller, you’ll go far,” Karen said. “Second, be comfortable with discomfort. Know when something isn’t right, and move on so you can keep growing.”
“You’re not just interviewing for a job, you’re interviewing the company, to see if it’s a culture you want to be in. Take the time in the interview to see if you’d enjoy being in that culture,” said Kevin.
“Don’t stay closed off; there are lots of things you might love to do,” Michael insisted. “Through the MBA program, you may learn you’re good at things you weren’t expecting to be good at.”
*This program is funded through the generosity of David O’Leary and State Street Corporation.