2010 was an interesting year. Most of us left high-paying banking and consulting jobs and finally decided to return to business school. And what timing! The financial crisis was finally starting to fade and the prospects of recovery left the business world enormously hopeful. At the same time, the nomination of Sally Blount as the first female Dean of Kellogg had just made business news history. Many of us were excited to be back in the classroom during such interesting times, especially as we knew the markets were recovering just in time to land our dream jobs at business school.
But one thing we didn’t know is that many of us would also be scrambling in business school. Many of us had to scramble to learn accounting and finance since it was our first time ever taking the classes. Others of us scrambled to stay awake in DECS and MECN, after spending the night before prepping for upcoming job interviews. And some of us scrambled all year trying to figure out exactly what our dream job was, or if that job even existed.
And so that leads me to the million-dollar question today. The one question that’s been on everyone’s mind since last August. What is the best opportunity to pursue at Kellogg? And what can I do to ensure that I maximize my success?
Having heard from a lot of successful alum over the past year, there’s a variety of things go into it. Getting started early, laying the groundwork, putting yourself in the right position at the right time, knowing how to seize opportunities, and most of all having passion.
Because making it all the way to the top is hard; and the competition can be stiff. We all saw it in our core classes at Kellogg and during recruiting. Someone always knew more, someone always worked harder, and someone always practiced more cases. Every time. It was inevitable.
But business school is a piece of cake if you compare it to becoming world class at the professional level. Coming up with the idea for the next big internet start-up, becoming a Fortune 500 CEO, winning a seat in congress, or being part of the deal team that takes Facebook public. In fact, statistically speaking, you have a better shot of becoming a professional athlete.
In a recent talk few weeks ago, Jonathan Reckford, CEO for Habitat for Humanity emphasized that same point. That it’s not just about going to the best school or getting the good grades. But that made it to his position because he figured out his “professional purpose” and did everything he could to pursue it.
Jim Hendry, the General Manager of the Chicago Cubs agreed when he spoke in my Sports Leadership class. That it takes 1,000 little things to go right to make it to the top, so passion for your industry more than anything else makes the difference. Because if you’re not ready to go all out, then you’re not taking the big risks, and you’re not making the sacrifices. He noted that he turned down a job that paid nearly three times as much, just before landing his GM role in Chicago.
There are plenty of MBAs from all the top schools that face this same dilemma. They get good grades and work at “top” firms but don’t have passion. So they never become the Managing Partner, can’t land a coveted CEO role, and can’t garner the support to fund their political campaign.
Don’t get me wrong. The majority of Kellogg alumni go on to lead highly successful lives by almost every possible measure. Good jobs. High incomes. Happy families. And I have no doubt that all of us will achieve the same upon graduation. But for just for one minute, I’m talking about something a little more. Like creating the social network that becomes Silicon Valley’s most admired company. Being the first female to Dean at two top business schools. Or best of all, figuring out a strategy to capture the world’s most wanted criminal after eight years.
So for just one moment, what’s more important than heading off top firms for the summer is that we all take a moment to reflect on all the lessons we’ve learned in our first year at Kellogg. Furthermore, we should also understand that to achieve our utmost success, it’s imperative that we spend next year uncovering our deepest passions and doing everything we can to relentlessly pursue them. Only then will we be able to put all of our talents to their best use and unlock our greatest potential for change.
* This post represents an article that I wrote for Kellogg’s school newspaper, the Merger on June 3, 2011.