The Biggest Surprises For Business Majors

When students chose a business major, they assume they know what matters. Most have singled out the employers and roles they covet, along with where they want to live. Career paths aside, business is full of surprises — and it starts with who practices it.

Power suits? Black pumps? Perfect grooming. Perfect English. Perfect smile. Well, not such much in college, says J. Scott Allen, a 2018 Michigan State grad who went to PwC. His biggest surprise in business school? His peers didn’t fit into any “cookie cutter” profile that he might have expected.

“I’ve seen a variety of people in my classes that are smart and thoughtful while maintaining their individuality,” he shares. “Long hair, tattoos, numerous piercings — and they’re all business geniuses.”

SECRET TO ACCOUNTING: TEAMWORK

Case Western’s Zoe Yang

That applies to the workforce too. Zoe Yang racked up five internships, ranging from PwC to Northwestern Mutual, during her time at Case Western Reserve University. Going in, she had a certain impression about the accounting field. Now, she views the profession far different than what she envisioned from her textbooks.

“I was surprised by the emphasis on teamwork,” she admits. “I thought accountants worked independently behind a desk crunching numbers all day. The profession values teamwork and the different perspectives team members bring. I learned to work with different people and build trusting relationships.”

Those relationships are gold, says Elon University’s Matthew Jegier. Like most, he knew networking was crucial. At a young age, his family instilled in him maxim, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” However, this wisdom came to life for him in college.

“It wasn’t until I majored in business that I fully understood the extent of networking and making good impressions on the people who you meet,” he explains. “I have found that if I have a good relationship with the right people, I can rely on them to help accomplish my objectives, and they can rely on me to help them accomplish theirs. These synergistic relationships are a huge part of business and I know that I will not be able to reach my full potential without them.”

BUSINESS AS MEANS TO FIND MEANING

These are just a handful of the epiphanies gained by the Best & Brightest Business Majors from the Class of 2018.  Each year, Poets &Quants asks these students to share the biggest surprise — the unexpected delights or life-changing insights they gained from majoring in business. From coping with ambiguity to discovering unexpected connections, the class accumulated plenty of insights inside the classroom and beyond.

For one, to borrow a cliché, money doesn’t buy happiness. Instead, business is often treated as a path to purpose. Just ask Collin Newton, a Bowling Green grad and Gartner hire. He was stunned by what his peers cared for most: “the impact their future employer will have on the world.” This passion for progress isn’t new among business leaders, says Georgetown’s Michael John Poorten. Instead, it is a long-term vision, passed from generation-to-generation, that has blossomed into a deeply interconnected world defined by access and choice.

Georgetown University’s Michael John Poorten

“If we look back on just the past 120 years alone, we will see unrivaled exponential growth in manufacturing, technology, health care — you-name-it,” Poorten explains. Despite what some people think, our world is immensely better off today than at any other time in history, and the business leaders I’ve met are showing no signs of stopping now. Business entrepreneurs keep finding ways to fix the problems our world faces and I’m ecstatic to have a hand in the problem-solving process.”

‘EVERYONE WORKS HARD – YOU JUST NEED TO LOOK CLOSELY’

Of course, business leaders don’t operate in a vacuum. They establish structures and roles, missions and mindsets, and incentives and resources needed to harness the raw scale of their organizations. It is far more than simple number-crunching, analysis, and even strategy. Instead, business requires people to work together. Translation: business is predicated on personal relationships more than anything else.

“For a field that gets a reputation as cold and calculating, business is really all about relationships and the human element,” says Fordham University’s Joe Gorman. “I think business — or at least finance — is depicted as a place where only the hard skills matter, where you can be a brilliant but terrible person and go on to great professional success. In my experience, people in finance actually value the soft skills much more, particularly when you’re starting out — it’s much easier to teach someone how to value a company than it is to teach them how to be a good coworker.”

Then again, quality and commitment can be subjective. Just ask Southern Methodist University’s David Shirzad, whose early impressions about some peers were debunked over time. “Everyone in my business school is a hard worker,” he observes. “Even people who at first didn’t appear to be working that hard were putting in the hours when I just wasn’t looking.”

FAR MORE GOOD APPLES THAN BAD

Chrisford Belzaire

Such impressions are the foundations of reputation — a public image that may be more valuable than a network. Reputation is perception, one that encompasses a person’s trustworthiness, competence, and accountability. For the Class of 2018, the big surprise was this: their reputations were already being set long before they started business school.

“Reputation is something that you start building as early as your freshman year of college, or your first day on the desk as an intern, and it must always be built upon and improved,” points out Carnegie Mellon’s Alexandra Furlo, whose internships at UBS Investment Bank led to a job as an analyst with the firm. “A lot of top hires in banking, consulting, private equity, and a myriad of other industries are usually the result of a person having a personal connection and an outstanding reputation. I did not realize the importance of this until working in group projects at school and on the desk at my internship.”

Indeed, character lies at the heart of reputation. According to the University of Florida’s Chrisford Bélizaire, many people around him have low regards for businesspeople — a reality he attributes to pop culture focusing on entitled hucksters like The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort. While Bélizaire doesn’t discount that people will eventually encounter a “sketchy salesman,” he doesn’t share their cynicism thanks to his experience in business … and sheer numbers

“Ethics guide the workplace and is at the core of how business functions,” he notes. “Indeed, there are issues we must solve and those ‘bad apples’ do exist, but if ethics were ignored to the extent people assumed, we would not have an economy.”

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