My Tuck Essay that Worked! – Part 2

Leadership is not about being the boss.  It is about inspiring others to follow your direction.  If you have direct supervisory experience, great!  If not, think of situations where you influenced others without a position of authority. This can be an even more powerful example for a MBA applicant.

2.  Tell us about your most meaningful leadership experience and what role you played. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience?

It was midnight in Japan. My team was in the process of completing the improbable, reconfiguring our Western European accounting system, a task that had previously taken 6 years. However, we had advantages: I had assembled an all-star team, had built momentum in Eastern Europe, and had been given motivation. Our Chief Accounting Officer asked for this project to be finished in six weeks, which came as a surprise. I was scheduled to be in Kobe, Japan to train engineers and accountants on the processes I had designed over the last year. During the day, I trained my Japanese colleagues, and at night, I returned to the hotel to lead my team in the US and Europe.

When I joined the company, Eli Lilly & Co. had 44 affiliate countries disconnected from its central accounting system, Systems Applications Products (SAP). My task was to partner with each country’s leadership, implement SAP, and supervise the data migration of 35,000 Fixed Asset records. This position, especially my time in Japan, required me to perform at a mature level early in my career. I was the youngest member of a 200 person team and, moreover, the least-tenured process leader.

In this position, I learned how to lead subordinates and peers. This helped me discover a strength: caring for others. After a colleague realized that she had more work than time to complete the work, we met one-on-one. She quickly steered the conversation to what she needed to do and how long each task would take. I read in between her words and realized that she believed, if unsuccessful, her job would be in jeopardy. After having a discussion about what was truly expected of her, we developed a careful prioritization plan to complete the critical tasks and to ensure her success. I once viewed caring for others as a personality trait. After witnessing what people can achieve when they know you care about them, I now view it as my greatest strength.

I asked an experienced team member to help identify my weaknesses. He told me in some tough situations, like a mistake I made on a tax entry for the United Kingdom, my stress had affected my ability to lead. We agreed that if someone else had made the same mistake, I would have sprung into action, solving the issue and minimizing the damage. He could not understand why I would react differently to my own mistake. His honesty made me better.

Awareness of my strengths and weaknesses helped me lead my team from that hotel room in Kobe. Instead of allowing stress to slow me down, I organized the team before leaving for Japan, placed the European financial manager in charge during my absence, and scheduled daily virtual meetings to solve issues. The success of this project, completing the improbable in only six weeks, has served as an example for me of what I can accomplish as a leader by leveraging my strengths and mitigating my weaknesses.

My Tuck Essay That Worked! – Part 1

Fit is very important at Tuck and their first question gets right to that…

1.  Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA fit for you and your goals and why are you the best fit for Tuck?

How do I want to be remembered when I die? I answer this every few years with an exercise many would consider morbid, but I find constructive: writing my obituary. Although some things change each time, the theme has never wavered. I want a life of lasting impact.

I want to impact the world by making products that improve people’s lives. I will prepare myself for this at Tuck. I will leverage Tuck’s healthcare program and coursework, such as “Structure, Organization, and Economics of the Healthcare Industry.” Utilizing the Healthcare and Entrepreneurship Initiatives, I hope to combine innovation and improving lives into my First Year Project, ideally working with a healthcare startup. To further prepare myself and impact the world, I will join the Tuck Global Consultancy. In this trip, I hope to get a closer look at healthcare on the ground floor, as a previous team did in the Rwanda Health Ministry.

My passion for Tuck goes beyond my professional ambitions. The most important person in my life, my wife Jessica, has not stopped talking about Tuck since we visited together last April. She and I dream about our daughter, Loralei, making friends with other Tiny Tuckies. Jessica laughs when I talk about becoming a “Tripod.” There is no school that better aligns with our values of family, love for the outdoors, and community. We plan to add to this community, sharing our Mid-Western hospitality at Loralei’s birthday parties, leading kayaking and hiking trips around the Upper Valley, and organizing play-dates with other Tiny Tuckies. I look forward to the “transformational experience” my colleague and Tuck alumnus, John Doe, has told me about. His experience changed his life, just as I am sure Tuck will change my life.

Just as Tuck is a good fit for me both professionally and personally, I am a good fit for Tuck both in and out of the classroom. In the classroom, I will bring my international knowledge and six years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. I will be a vocal member of T’17, challenging my classmates and listening when they contest my assumptions. Outside the classroom, I will seek a leadership position in the Healthcare Club. My life experience and maturity as a husband and a father will bring diversity to the class.

I want a business school that will prepare me for my short-term and long-term goals. After Tuck, I will return to Eli Lilly & Co. to pursue leadership positions, which require broad management skills and strategic thought. Long term, I aspire to start my own healthcare company and continue to help my community through philanthropy and activism, as the Lilly family has in Indianapolis. I will give back to Tuck also, mentoring the next generation of Tuck students. This will be symmetrical; I hope to leverage my classmates as advisors, business partners, and clients to meet my long-term goals. When I die, I want my obituary to read how my Tuck experience empowered me to run and launch businesses that created jobs, shared wealth, and made products that impacted people’s lives.

Stay Tuned for Essay 2!

Choosing Where to Apply to Business School

There are two separate decisions you will need to make during your application process.  Where should you apply?  Where do you want to go?  You will struggle to differentiate between these two questions at some point.  Just trying to get into “somewhere” and confirmation bias could influence you.  Use this simple rule to separate these two questions:  where you want to go is agnostic of your chances of getting in, where you should apply is not.  If you are not sure you want to go to business school, are willing to wait a year if you do not get into your top choice(s), or are unwilling to go to a runner-up choice, your list of schools can be the same for both questions (“Flexible Applicant”).  If you are sure you want to business school next year, you definitely need to consider your chances of getting in when deciding where to apply (“Committed Applicant”).

Where do you want to go?  There are basically 2 schools of thought:  First, go to the best school you can get into. Second, go to the school that is the best “fit”.   Determining “fit” is tough, the best schools are a little easier.  Take rankings with a grain of salt; remember that if magazines published the exact same list every year, no one would care.  They are incentivized to change their rankings every year and publish ridiculous things, like “HBS is #8” (that’s stupid) and “What is wrong with Wharton?” (absolutely nothing).  As far as rankings go, I believe the simpler the better.  I am partial to Forbes, which calculates a simple ROI and shares their criteria.  Viewing composite rankings (BusinessWeek and US News) only shows you what others think is important, not what you think is important.

Regardless of what the rankings say, you should do your own research.  Talk to mentors you respect.  Interview leaders in the area you hope to move into.  As a general rule:  For general management, Harvard and Stanford are your best bet. For finance, Booth and Wharton (throw in Columbia and NYU, if you want to end up in NYC). For marketing, Kellogg is the best choice. For technology, throw in Berkeley and MIT. (If you want to end up in a certain region after graduation, you may also want to add Tuck and Cornell for the Northeast; Ross and Kelley for the Midwest; Duke, UNC, Darden, and Texas for the South, or UCLA for Southern California.)

The second school of thought is about finding “fit”. For this I recommend making a “Fit List” of what is important to you and ranking schools on each item on your list.  The best way to experience fit is to do an official school visit (this also has the added benefit of making your application easier).  For me, I chose 4 categories (each with several criteria):  Lifestyle and Environment, Perception and Salary, Teaching and Curriculum, and Innovation Atmosphere.  I then took the added step weight each category and criteria based on its relative importance to me. This was minimally helpful. Essentially, the only value gained from this step was ranking each criterion by importance (not the actual quantitative result, which seemed too arbitrary to be useful).

My Fit List (including Difficulty to Get Into):

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Where you should apply?  For Flexible Applicants, I recommend narrowing your list to 2-3 schools.  This should be the best schools for what you want to do or the top schools on your Fit List.  For Committed Applicants (definitely going to B school next year), you should be thinking 4-6 schools.  This should be your top 2-3 schools, plus 2-3 “Bumper Schools”.  These schools will help ensure you knock down at least one pin.  They are still high on your list, but where you will be a very competitive applicant.  You should also get at least one application done during Round 1 to ensure that there is time to finish or adjust strategy in Round 2.  To find your Bumper Schools, consider creating a two-part metric that utilizes both your personal ranking and difficulty to get into, such as selectivity %.  Schools in the South and Midwest such as UNC, Ross, Duke, and Booth, have high selectivity % relative to their perception and brand.  Schools in California and the Northeast, such as Berkeley, MIT, and Yale, have low selectivity % relative to their brand.

Ultimately, think of the application process as a “funnel”, where schools attrit at each step.  I hoped to get into two schools and allow the admit weekend to be the final deciding factor.  For this reason, I chose to submit 5 applications and ended up accepted at three (1 more than I had hoped).

My Application Funnel:

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So when you are applying to business school, remember “where you want to go” and “where you should apply” are not the same thing.  Where you should apply depends on two criteria:  Are you a “Fit Lister” or a “Top Schooler”? And are you flexible in your application process?