There is no master plan for optimizing your MBA experience, observed first-year MBA “Boot Camp” orientation panelist Benjamin Percia ’03. Instead, consider it an opportunity to work on behalf of yourself and to evaluate career alternatives. “Identify opportunities and the risks; failing is okay,” he advised. But continue to experiment and grow, he emphasized. A second panelist, Tracy Atkinson, viewed it this way: “You will develop a core set of fundamental leadership and management skills. You’ll continue to build them out.”
An Isenberg graduate, Percia is vice president of platform development with Fenway Sports Management. Atkinson, a UMass Boston accounting grad, is executive vice president and chief compliance officer with State Street Corporation. Their fellow panelists also offered high-value credentials and insights. Tom Ackerman ’76, an Isenberg accounting alum, is retired executive vice president and CFO with Charles River Laboratories. And panelist Mike Scannell is State Street’s senior vice president of Global Inclusion and Talent Acquisition and president of its foundation.
Deftly moderated by David O’Leary ’81 MBA, the panel discussion on August 30 at the elegant UMass Club on Beacon Hill in Boston was the culminating event at the annual David C. O’Leary MBA Orientation Program.* The three-day retreat for Isenberg’s 42 first-year full-time MBA students offered workshops and discussions devoted to team building, personality management, improvisatory skills, behavioral interviewing, and other career building skills. The immersive gatherings also included three days of social and networking opportunities with fellow MBA students and Isenberg alumni.
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“I’m most proud that we [Charles River Labs] went public and later went private again,” noted Ackerman in responding to a student’s request to recall a career-defining moment. As his company’s CFO, Tom was instrumental in engineering both of those profitable transitions. You have to be open-minded and embrace opportunities, he insisted. “You’ll figure out what you want to do; and to do what ‘they’ like,” he mused. Progress may entail “moving sideways, even downward,” added Scannell. “When I pivoted to my foundation job, I operated on a completely different skill level. It really challenged me, sometimes in an uncontrollable space. Stretch yourself!” he advised.
When a student asked for the panelists’ thoughts on balancing work and nonwork priorities, Atkinson responded decisively: “There’s no such thing as a work/life balance. You make choices,” she insisted. “I went into work with my eyes open. Having a special needs child makes me a better leader, manager, and mom.”
As for the craft of decision making, all four panelists espoused decisiveness, but only after considering diverse perspectives and recommendations from team members. “It’s all about who you surround yourself with,” remarked Percia. “Remember, they are smarter than you. When you challenge them and they challenge you, you’re more likely to get the unfiltered truth.
“When I lead teams, I’m the last to talk,” confessed Atkinson. “I love hearing from contrarians. At some point, though, you just have to decide.” Ackermann concurred. “You want diverse opinions, including a pain in the ass in the room,” he remarked. [That approach] will help you “to avoid groupthink. In the end, though, I was never afraid to make decisions. Many people are. Not making a decision—that’s a decision itself.”
*funded through the generosity of David O’Leary and State Street Corporation.