An excerpt from the best-selling book, The MBA Reality Check
“Vision is making people see what they have not seen, and making them follow you,” says MIT Sloan’s Rod Garcia who has led MBA admissions for the school for many years. Helping you dig down deep to determine your long-term vision is the central theme of your candidacy around which every other part hinges. One thing is certain: Until you know your long-term goal, you cannot possibly know why you and the school(s) you’re applying to are a “fit.” And your long-term goal must be as specific as possible. “Private equity” by itself is about as vague as it gets. Your goal is to get the admissions officer on board, so your task is to enroll him or her in your goal. And you cannot do that when you don’t really know exactly what you want to do. And you certainly can’t get specific until you get passionate. The sections that follow will help you identify and leverage passion and specificity in your own candidacy and, indeed, career.
Ask yourself this: Why should the admissions officer care when I don’t?
When push comes to shove, many people have no trouble being visionary, but they do have trouble giving themselves permission to be visionary. We all have those critics running through our head, making us worry about “what would my mother say?” “What would my girlfriend think?” “What would my coworkers, or worse, my boss or mentor, say?”
So what do we all do? We end up killing off transformational goals—the very thing that most top business schools want. Can you imagine if whoever invented the wheel had paid attention to the rest of the tribe: “You want us to chip away at some rock for a month just because you’ve got this ridiculous idea that somehow it will make it easier to bring water down the mountain? What’s wrong with the womenfolk carrying it down by hand? They’ve got nothing better to do while we hunt!”
You’re supposed to be in the 5 percent that’s going to lead the world, not the 95 percent that’s going to agree with the world. So, the barometer for a visionary goal is really simple: If at least one person looks at you like Scooby Doo and says, “Rhat?” like you’ve lost your mind, you’re probably on the right track. But don’t take me too literally: Just because everyone agrees with you doesn’t mean you have a boring idea. It’s just that when one or two people disagree with you—especially if that person is someone like your mother who fears for your security—you might be onto something exciting. Remember, Gandhi’s own mother must have been horrified when her son put on a lungi and started agitating for a free India. After all, he had a law degree from Oxford!
Goals Essay 3: Get Real—Leveraging Your Personal Story
Pia was a typical overachieving beautiful white girl (not to be confused with a White Boy—see Chapter 13—although she was a bit of that as well). After graduating from Bryn Mawr with honors, she continued her upward mobility with a position at an engineering-consulting concern. Currently, she was doing product packaging. While working with Susan, one of my coaches, she hit a roadblock in her long-term career goal. She was doing great work, but Pia’s resistance—this appropriate girl wanted an appropriate goal, not a visionary one—required an Auntie Evan intervention. (Imagine the love child of Judge Judy and Barbara Walters: Hit ’em hard with the facts, then make ’em cry when the truth sets them free.)
So I gathered all of Susan’s notes and began to examine the disparate parts of Pia’s life.
Rummaging through Pia’s file felt like being in an episode of Cold Case: She was the daughter of a single dad, who raised her to be a diehard feminist and encouraged her to break through the glass ceiling; she had grown up in Los Angeles and attended an all-girl, private day school, which gave her the mathematical confidence to study engineering; she was a young muckety-muck in a women’s engineering society. And then there was the non sequitur in the workbook that was originally overlooked: the tattoo. Pia didn’t like talking about this two-inch long dragon beneath her right collarbone, the last testimony of a crazy girlhood and former rebellious nature. But she wouldn’t get it removed: something about honoring a friend and promises made for life. But nowadays, Pia was a respectable young consultant who would never straddle a Harley! As much as she loved the tattoo, she was also deeply ashamed. She never wore open-collared shirts in an effort to hide it. In short, she viewed the tattoo as a necessary burden, like the needlepoint pillow my best friend made for my living room.
When I asked Pia if she really needed to cover up the tattoo or was she just being insecure, the floodgates opened. She had to cover it up—it was completely inappropriate in her workplace, and what would all the linemen in the packaging plants she worked in think of her (I think she feared getting asked out most of all). The tattoo was big enough to be noticeable when she wore a V-neck, so she either had to limit her wardrobe to grandma’s casual or cover it up with concealer.
Apparently makeup was a big issue. Pia began to talk about her experiences at cosmetics counters looking for the perfect concealer. One brand wasn’t thick enough. Another ruined a Theory blouse, and the rest, in one form or another, had destroyed her best clothes; it was a runway massacre.
Before we knew it, our conversation had strayed far from her firm. The whole thing became a classic bitch session about how nobody was doing anything effective about heavy-duty concealers.
Upon graduation I wish to lead the fiber-optics product management team in one of the world’s largest optical communication companies (such as Alcatel-Lucent and AT&T), supervising a group of 5-10. Striving to promote myself within the organization, I wish to become the Vice President of Marketing in the fiber optics segment, supervising several dozens of employees.
My mid-term goal is to become the founder and CEO of an innovative fiber optics firm. I desire to position the company as a profitable, international and leading company in its industry, and aspire to establish a sustainable organization, creating workplaces for thousands of employees and turning an underdeveloped area into a flourishing industrial zone. Passave, an optical communication company, which was lately acquired for $300M, is a model for such a successful company.
After fulfilling this goal, I intend to follow the growing trend of successful executives who moved to the public service sector. My plan is to become a senior manager in the Prime Minister’s Office.
I chose my first full time position in the Optronics Division at the military because I knew it will introduce me to the diverse optical communication community in my country, equipping me with basic hands-on experience in the field. The first two years I worked as a Physicist and a System Engineer and then I was promoted to the position of Electro-Optical Projects Manager in the division’s headquarters. There I set the goals, supervised and directed 9 Project Mangers in optical projects performed by 7 different companies in the defense industry.
At that point I realized that for developing the managing tools required for a senior manager I’ll need to gain more experience in bigger organizations. Therefore, I persuaded the head of the R&D directorate to be reassigned to a classified Intelligence unit. My first mission as an Optical Engineer was to lead a group of 4 in building a module which was the heart of a $100M system. One year later I was appointed to a Team Leader where I commanded a team of 8. Two years later I was promoted to Project Leader.
I understood I lacked the financial and international experience of technological project management to lead a global optical communication company. I therefore became a Project Leader in a classified unit of the PMO. I supervised a team of 20, and managed all financial aspects of a $2M project (presented to the Minister of Defense), where I also had the marvelous opportunity to negotiate with highly ranked officials of three foreign governments.
While considering studying for a PhD, I worked as a part time an Internal Consultant of 5 Project Leaders. I then became an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) in Precede, an entrepreneurship and investment firm, in hope to learn more about becoming an entrepreneur. Working in Precede, I matured in my understanding. I realized I still lack some Finance, Marketing and General Management foundations, which an MBA will enable me to develop.
In light of my long term goal to become a founder and CEO of a technologically oriented company, I’ll need to gain the strongest possible general management skills. The finance and marketing foundations will compensate for my inexperience in these fields. The structured formal general management education I’ll acquire in Wharton will broaden my view and give me the tools to leverage my experience and create a successful company. I believe an MBA is the most structural way to learn how to build organizational values, culture and design organizational structure and hierarchy.
Moreover, most of my leadership experience was developed in governmental organizations, where a leader is defined in terms of his values, inter-personal skills and professionalism. However, looking into the future, I will need to lead in the private sector where leadership is also characterized by the talent to lead corporate players in global, competitive markets and an understanding of the cultural, economical and financial forces that drive the marketplace. Hence, I believe studying by the researchers of the Center of Leadership and Change Development like Prof. S. Kaplan who composed Framing the Future will help me build and lead a high performance optical communication firm.
My experience is mainly based on large and established organizations. Hence, learning from Prof. Dushnitsky on the various dimensions of new venture creation and growth in Entrepreneurship, will show me his perspective on the trail I wish to follow as a founder. Desiring to build a sustainable company, I am looking forward to taking Strategy and Competitive Advantage, where I hope to learn how to create and maintain such an advantage. Learning how to identify entrepreneurial opportunities and how to exploit them where “Creating Values” was contemplated, will lay a solid basis for achieving these goals by myself.
In a world which is growing ever flatter, I find international exposure and experience important for the global company I wish to found. The Multinational Management major courses, such as Global Strategic Management, and participation in the Global Immersion Program will prove valuable in helping me understand other cultures which will be important when penetrating new markets. This international exposure will improve my ability to establish contacts with other nations, hence supporting my longer term career goal of rejoining the PMO.
Wharton’s mindset and student body imply numerous benefits. The exciting opportunity to participate in school’s management would contribute to the fruitful interaction between students and faculty. I plan to take part in the leadership development activities and the various student clubs to create strong friendships. These connections, combined with the great global alumni community, can be especially relevant as an eco system for the company I plan to start and for recruiting its management backbone.