On August 26, Isenberg's first-year MBA class gained cutting-edge career insights and professional contacts at a combined panel discussion/networking event at the elegant UMass Club in Boston's financial district. The event was the culmination of the just-launched David C. O'Leary '81 MBA Leadership Orientation Program, which immerses incoming MBA students for three days in professional development activities before classes begin. David O'Leary, former executive vice president and chief administrative officer at State Street Corporation, recently gave Isenberg $250,000 earmarked for the new program.
For much of the retreat, the students gathered at the Double Tree Hotel in Milford with professional development and industry experts. The students participated in exercises and workshops that helped them to assess their interests, improve their interviewing and social networking skills, and create personal elevator pitches.
The Keys to Success Panel
At the culminating panel, O'Leary-exceling as moderator-and the students posed questions to four senior executives about career paths and mobility, adaptation and resilience, networking and team building, and management styles and leadership.
Adaptive flexibility is critical to upward career mobility, emphasized Tom Heiser '84 MBA, executive vice president of Cloud Strategy & Execution and former president of EMC's RSA Security division. Embrace different experiences and differentiate yourself. Consider horizontal career moves that expand your experiences and skill set. "Be ready," he urged, "to hit the curveball."
"Failing is part of success; get out of your comfort zone," added Jim Buonomo '76 MBA, former CFO of Nypro, a high-quality plastics manufacturer. "Use your company's resources to find the best path for you." For Buonomo, that included working in Asia for 13 years.
"Your years in the MBA program are a great gift," observed Denise Coll '75 ['95 MBA, Simmons], former president of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide's North American division. Take the time as MBA students, she urged, for "self-reflection." Experience and determine "what you're good at; what you're passionate about." And, she added, make the most of the cultural and professional diversity of your classmates in sharing learning experiences with each other.
"All CEOs have resiliency characteristics. What else makes for a good leader?" O'Leary asked the panelists. "A lack of hubris," underscored State Street's chief compliance officer, Cuan Coulter. "It's easy to fall in love with your own marketing story. You're in a dangerous spot if you try to be somebody you aren't." "Articulate your strategy and get out of the way," added Coll. "Let people do what they do. Mix up your team by surrounding yourself with great talent-skills that you [yourself] don't have."
Following the panel discussion, the students chatted one-on-one with the panelists and with twenty recent MBA graduates spanning the classes of 2004 through 2014. "Isenberg has a number of very successful, highly engaged alumni," noted Associate Dean for Professional Programs John Wells. "This is a tremendous opportunity for students to start building their networks even before they take their first class.
"Putting professional development up front, I think, got the students off to a strong start and gave them a perspective that will greatly add to their MBA careers," said Mike Sedelmeyer '13, a dual MBA/MPPA (public policy and administration) graduate and former president of the Graduate Business Association, Isenberg's principal MBA student organization. "Improving professional development services was a concern of my classmates. Isenberg appears to be taking that concern seriously," added Sedelmeyer, who is Senior Program Manager with EMC.
The Future According to O'Leary
"Having the students, before they've even taken a class, devote time away from campus to personal introspection and career development skills gives them a tremendous strategic advantage--a leg up on the competition," O'Leary observed. "Combined with the new MBA Fellows Program,* the orientation brings the Isenberg MBA program to a new level. It becomes a true differentiator for Isenberg and its students.
O'Leary credits Dean Mark Fuller and Associate Dean John Wells for driving those innovations. "The orientation was not a one-and-done affair," he remarked. "There will be follow-through; for example, in helping students plan for internships, which they must consider sooner rather than later in their MBA careers."
Once the word gets out, Isenberg's innovations, which O'Leary described as "approaching unique," will elevate the program's national reputation, while energizing its alumni base, he predicted. In its support for the orientation, State Street, he noted, is extending an already strong relationship with UMass and Isenberg, which has yielded numerous internships for students in the firm's Hadley office. State Street, he added, values the opportunity to recruit Isenberg's MBA students, especially considering the MBA program's growing curricular emphasis on analytics, risk assessment, and compliance. "In the new regulatory environment, those are skills that would attract any financial services firm," O'Leary observed.
*The MBA Fellows Program offers all full-time MBA students two years of full financial support, health care benefits, and an annual stipend. In exchange, they dedicate time to Isenberg and play a consulting role, interacting with the school's senior management on strategic and operational challenges.