When I arrived at Wesleyan University, it was my 12th school in twelve years. I had lived on 3 continents, in 6 countries, and in 3 U.S. states. At Wes, I double majored in English and social psychology. For social psychology, my concentration was in the study of subcultures. For English, my focus was on the evolution of literature. I received Honors for my undergrad thesis, a cross-cultural deconstruction of vampire stories over the centuries. I was also Treasurer of the Science Fiction Club, founded an adventure magazine, and was President of the Strategic Games Club.
So, yeah, awesome at cocktail party conversation, compulsive overachiever, and totally unemployable. One of the last episodes of Tina Fey’s 30 Rock includes her Liz Lemon character indignantly pointing out that her boyfriend is employed: “Chris has a job. He has a degree in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan, so he’s a receptionist in a dental office.” When I quoted that line on Facebook, my MBA classmates at Ross thought it was just a joke; they didn’t believe a school would literally have courses in something called ethnomusicology, but Wesleyan assuredly does.
In Wesleyan’s defense, I think the intro ethnomusicology class I took helped make me an excellent music journalist and a lot of my company’s bread is buttered by the music industry. Even that class in Kinship and Law in Medieval Iceland actually does inform my work today. My background is great for marketing and writing. My most important takeaway from both living all over the world, and from my academic study of the evolution of literature, is that we are all more alike than we are different. We are all human beings and we all want the same things and tell the same stories, just with different packaging. The social psych helps analyze the packaging. But my career path was not exactly obvious when I graduated.
Wesleyan’s Career Planning Center noted that I was good at leading others and good at starting new ventures. And they told me to be an entrepreneur. So I scheduled myself to take the GMAT and told my parents I was going to be an entrepreneur. I was a teenager when I started looking at business schools, but I hoped B-schools would view me as a bit of a prodigy and overlook their age requirements.
I am going to be blogging about my Executive MBA experience at University of Michigan’s Ross outpost in Los Angeles. So you know that this is the part of my story where I did not just go straight on to business school.
My attorney father wanted me to do something more artistic with my life, maybe take the creative path he had not had the opportunity to. I debated him, but, being an undefeated litigator, he was very convincing. I think almost everyone who gets an Executive MBA has some reason why they zigged instead of zagging, when it came time for graduate school. Some people had kids, some got a job they couldn’t pass up, some didn’t like the opportunity cost of taking off time from working, some couldn’t get the funding for tuition, and some just didn’t think of B-school at the time. I wanted to please my parents. EMBA programs are truly a boon for those of us who really should have gotten an MBA.
Despite the lack of a formal business education, I pretty immediately did become an entrepreneur, publishing internationally-distributed and critically-acclaimed magazines as proof-of-concept and selling design services and custom publishing. I feel very fortunate that this business model eventually expanded exceedingly well to both events and online. Today, my primary job function in my company is leveraging content strategy and social media for buzz marketing.
The biggest challenge I face in my business is repeatedly bumping up against the ceiling of what I can do, being self-taught in so many areas of business. My long term goal is to grow my projects into companies which can scale significantly. Every few years, I do a publishing project which catches fire and people start circling who wish to invest or buy me out. I feel like there have been times where I was pretty much being whacked on the head with the brass ring, and I failed to understand the situation, much less seize the opportunities being presented by potential investors and buyers.
I need to learn more about finance and how to speak about money. I think I will be a better business partner, if I know the language of investment, in the same way I am currently better at managing creatives because I know how to speak in those terms. I believe communication is key in navigating across cultures. I’d also like to generally build up my mojo, and hone my leadership, strategy, and operations skills.
Ross was my first choice to meet these goals for a few reasons. As a general manager, I like the structure of the Ross curriculum, where they try to cover a bit of all areas of business; the academic approach of each class is structured to interlock concepts with what is learned in other classes. The program is lockstep, meaning that everyone takes the same classes; I like that structure because I expect the school probably knows better than I do where a general manager might need to fill in gaps. Ross also has a unique Professional Development Program where they offer access to high level professional coaching and presentations by brilliant and inspiring people like innovation expert Jeff deGraff of Innovatrium and management guru Stacy Jackson.
I like that University of Michigan alumni seem to be very enthusiastic about the school. Wear a Michigan T-shirt to hike in the park in Los Angeles and someone is likely to jog by smiling and shouting, “Go Blue!” Ross also impressed me with the quality of their application essay questions and their advance team of educated and professional outreach people. At a number of the schools I considered, the interviewer wanted to make tangential conversation with me about sushi or flowers or zombies (really!), all subjects I am fully qualified to discourse on, but none of them areas I’d seek an MBA to improve. The Ross interview really focused on my business and my future plans and hopes for it. And that’s what I was looking for.
Amelia G is a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur and a member of the first Los Angeles cohort of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Her company can help make you or your product famous. She can be contacted via LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ameliag/