On campus, many students associate business with conformity. Business majors become the cogs who churn out those quickly-forgotten spreadsheets and PowerPoints. It’s the safe path, sure, but predictable too. Others picture financiers hacking away, tossing people onto the street to add a tenth of a point to their reports. They’re still better than the strategists, who prey on people’s guilt, fear, and pride to get them to buy more at ever-rising price points.
Greedy. Cutthroat. Manipulative. Business is a place where you eke out a soulless living. It’s not an instrument to make a difference. That’s what some students would lead you to believe. So imagine the surprise that Elizabeth Augusta Longacre experienced. An International Business major at the University of San Diego, Longacre discovered that business was a means to help people to achieve their dreams and make an impact.
“I decided to study business because I wanted to make a lot of money, and now I’m graduating with the desire to change the world for good,” she writes.
At Boston College, Allison Ferreira would hear how business involved “corporate greed and the misuse of power.” However, as she advanced through the Carroll curriculum, she was increasingly exposed to the social impact side of business – and the tools used by leaders to raise social conditions for everyone.
“It is motivating to see the social impact that investors are pushing for through investments in ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) assets, green finance, biotechnology treatments, and other advancements in revolutionary technologies,” Ferreira writes.
The virtues of business weren’t the only unexpected takeaways for business majors. This spring, Poets&Quants asked the Best & Brightest from the Class of 2020 to share the most surprising thing they learned from majoring in business. From ambiguous solutions to the value of networks, here were some of their most insightful answers.
1) Business Is About People: “At the end of the day, it’s all about the people. When I was little, I always thought business was about crunching numbers. It wasn’t too long after I entered college that I quickly changed my mind. A major part of business is learning how to communicate with others, assess their needs, and identify what is the best way to cater to those needs. Sure, all the analysis is important, but it does not mean anything if there is not someone who can correctly tell the story. It amazes me how much people matter in business.”
Daniela Cuevas, University of Arizona
2) Psychology Is Behind Everything: “The thing that surprised me the most about majoring in business is how human needs, actions, and desires are reflected on everything a well-performing company does. Before coming to Hult, I thought that some details such as the placement of a logo, the color and font of a title, or tiny aspects in the packing of a product were left to luck or to the taste of a designer. By doing this, I was ignoring the research, time, and effort that’s behind a decision.
It is incredible how some companies have managed to merge the study of neuroscience and psychology with the business environment. It can be said that some firms understand us even better than we understand ourselves. By studying the human psyche, companies make informed decisions that appeal to their target customers. Thanks to Hult I’ve been capable of understanding people in a deeper way and see how companies influence us all.”
Roberto Pérez Segura, Hult International Business School
3) Soft Skills Get Results: “I have been so surprised at the value of soft skills. Things like good professional communication, being polite, and being able to work with different types of people are skills that I expect everyone to have, but I have learned that these things do not come naturally to everyone. So many people are never taught these and do not have enough opportunities to practice them, so I am grateful to my Scheller business education for emphasizing how crucial these things are. I consistently get compliments on my professionalism and maturity for just being respectful. I am stunned that this behavior isn’t the norm but so glad that majoring in business has drilled this into me.”
Darby Foster, Georgia Tech (Scheller)
4) There’s No Right Answer: “You cannot solve for X. By this I mean, there is never a single right answer. Unlike arts and sciences, where there’s an emphasis on tangible skill development based on standardized measures and metrics, much of business is creating a comprehensive business tool kit. For this reason, there are infinite ways to determine what “success” is to a business student. No two business majors are alike, and they continue to diverge more with each graduating class. This contributes to the diversity of thought, along with the importance of collaboration and additional opportunities for continued growth and development beyond the classroom. I am confident in the generation of business students I call peers as we enter the workforce with our own unique backgrounds, educations, and pursuits.”
Alexa Austin, Indiana University (Kelley)
5) Your Interests Inform Your Outlook: “I’ve been most surprised by the immense value that having a background of diverse hobbies, skills, and experiences has in the business world. In an ever-changing environment, it’s so important that you curate a unique perspective. In my role as a venture investor, it has been critical to have special insight into a particular industry or market that you’ve gained through life experiences. While painting, traveling or practicing yoga may not seem relevant to business, you never know when a new market opportunity or project may arise where you’ll have an advantage. To be successful in business, I’ve learned that you need to live a big, beautiful life full of experiences.”
Laura Mena, Miami University (Farmer)
6) Numbers Matter: “What has surprised me most about majoring in business is the incredible quantitative power that underpins most business theory. Calculus, algebra, statistics, probability, regression, and other mathematical techniques become integral to many functions performed in business such as forecasting sales, deriving a stock price, managing an investment portfolio, valuing a company for M&A purposes, or performing a risk analysis (to name just a few). These quantitative underpinnings are the “science” part of business, which enables analysts and managers to be armed with the facts so that they can then perform the “art” part of business in structuring plans or decisions that create value.”
Kyle F. Rice, College of New Jersey
7) Relationships Are Business Currency: “What has surprised me the most about majoring in business is the importance or relationships, networking, and soft skills. When I first came into college, I thought the primary goal of my experience in the business school was to learn the technical skills. While this is important, I have learned the ability to build a network of people to connect with and learn from along the way is the secret to success in business. I have learned so much about the business world, my industry, and myself simply from meeting someone new and listening to their stories and lessons.” Darby Foster, Georgia Tech (Scheller)
8) Teaching Is More Than A Job For Faculty: “The enthusiasm of the professors [was a surprise]. I had a predetermined idea that business school professors were industry-hardened faculty, with less of an enthusiasm for teaching. In so many of my business courses, the professors are ecstatic to be instructing us because they are doing so purely out of passion. They are able to bring their real-world experience and teach us about it in the most realistic way.”
Skylar Liang, Wake Forest University
9) Entrepreneurship Is A Way of Life: “Entrepreneurship is not a process or a method of starting a business, but rather a mindset. Entrepreneurship is about solving problems and creating value for the world all while making money, of course.”
John Wen, Babson College
10) Business Knowledge Can Be Applied Anywhere: “I was struck by just how integrated business really is. Business is not just plugging numbers and using formulas, but rather it encompasses in-depth knowledge of the world. Various tools are utilized to calculate solutions and different analyses are conducted, especially given the overlap between separate areas of business. There have been countless times in which a skill I learned in one class proved beneficial in another, such as when utilizing my accounting techniques to aid in IT discussions and problems. It is crucial to have a well-rounded, versatile business background and a determination to learn from past business failures and achievements and to utilize various skills, techniques, and tools to strive towards success in the future.”
Emily Coppa, University of Virginia (Darden)