In business, you sometimes learn the biggest lessons the hard way. Do everything yourself and you’ll eventually lose focus on what matters. Resist change and your solution will soon grow stale and vulnerable to disruption. Hire the wrong employee and word of mouth will sink your reputation.
Every year, business students are exposed to dozens of cases – stories of failed ventures, missed opportunities, and tarnished brands. Think liquidations, layoffs, and lawsuits: skimping on planning, ignoring red flags, and acting too late. Indeed, most cases are grounded in hubris – the inability to imagine the worst and the inflexibility to deviate from norms. Such lessons resonated with Savannah Josey, a ’23 graduate of Elon University’s Love School. A Business Analytics major who joined Ernst & Young this summer, Josey learned quickly that being flexible – the ability to quickly respond and adapt to changing conditions – often made the difference between success and failure.
IT’S NOT WHAT YOU KNOW, IT’S WHAT YOU APPLY
“This includes learning how to flex depending on the needs of a team or client, being open-minded to changing conditions and circumstances, and putting energy into developing the best possible outcome,” she tells P&Q. “In avoiding rigidity, whether it be when learning a new coding platform, approaching a finance problem, or considering a project management case study, I have recognized that being open to the unexpected has prepared me for the wide range of experiences and challenges that I will likely be presented with in the future.”
That just one lesson absorbed by the Class of 2023. At the Wharton School, Chin Chin Choi’s biggest takeaway involved leadership. An Economics major and Schwartzman Scholar, Choi found that knowledge and technical skills pale in comparison to something far more fundamental: authenticity.
“An effective leader leads with compassion, honesty, and confidence. Studying business helps you learn how to think, but becoming a leader teaches you how to apply what you think effectively.”
BUSINESS CHANGES HOW YOU VIEW EVERYTHING
Edward Anthony Blanco majored in Management Information Systems at the University of Houston’s Bauer School, minoring in Finance and Sales. Like Choi, Blanco learned that who you are easily outweighs what you know or what you do. In other words, the message is never separate from the messenger.
“I have learned that people buy from others they know, like, and trust; they buy on emotion, he explains. “I believe this lesson pairs nicely with the idea that you are always representing your brand in business and relationships. The power of your influence depends on the content of your own character.”
Upstate, Sean Payne also found his calling in Finance and Accounting at Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business. In fact, Payne remained at the school to work as an investment analyst in TCU Investment Management. For him, majoring in a business-related field has changed how he views everything that goes on around him.
“Whether it’s meeting new people, driving to the grocery store, or attending a sporting event, business has allowed me to make sense of why things occur,” Payne notes. “It has enhanced my critical thinking and my relationship skills. I view the world with professional skepticism; first considering motivations, then the opportunities, and attempting to place myself in another individual’s shoes before coming to a conclusion.”
What are other unforgettable lessons that business majors absorbed? In interviewing this year’s Best & Brightest Business Majors, Poets&Quants asked them to share the most important lesson they learned in business school. From the value of a network to managing uncertainty, here is what the Class of 2023 learned from classes, extracurriculars, and internships.
1) Relationships Are Currency: “I truly believe that there is something to be learned from everyone, and sometimes a new perspective can completely change your outlook. I take every interaction as an opportunity to learn something new, exchange ideas, and become a better version of myself. However, it takes much more than one interaction to build a strong relationship. Building relationships requires effective communication, checking up on people, sharing exciting news with them, and so much more. The people I have connected with throughout my time being a student in the business school have played a tremendous role in helping me get to where I am today, and I am so grateful for every relationship I have built here.”
Laman Mirzaliyeva, Binghamton University
“The biggest lesson I’ve gained from studying business is how important it is to cultivate and maintain relationships with people. It is true what they say: your network is your net worth. Investing time and energy into enhancing and maintaining your professional and personal network is one of the best investments you can make for yourself. Relationships are truly invaluable and hold immeasurable worth. Throughout my college journey, I have been blessed to have had numerous opportunities and experiences that were made possible through the generosity of those with whom I had established connections. Talking to people in fields I’m interested in, being involved in mentorship programs, and simply learning from others has been at the heart of my personal development, learning, and growth during my time in business school.
Lauren Gordon, Georgia Tech (Scheller)
2) Be Prepared To Pivot: “As someone who likes plans and structure, I have learned that there is value in changing plans; I began my freshman year on a pre-med track. After taking a few data analytics courses as electives, I realized that I wanted to pursue business instead. I switched my major to business information and analytics my sophomore year, and in doing so was required to take two accounting courses. It was then that I discovered my love for accounting and switched my major again. Being open to changing my plans allowed me to discover what I truly wanted to study and the direction in which I wanted to take my career. I have seen this same concept consistently throughout my studies and internships; I begin with a plan for tackling a project or assignment, but often realize that there is a better way to do it part-way through my plan. Pivoting can be hard in the moment—especially when you have already put time and effort into something—but studying business has taught me that being able to do so pays off.”
Ben Boxell, University of Denver (Daniels)
3) All Problems Are Solvable: “The biggest lesson I gained was that many problems have simple technical solutions but complicated human solutions. Many of the systems I studied in my classes could be vastly improved with intuitive technical solutions. However, implementing those solutions often times involves complex negotiations with several competing stakeholders. While this is complicated, I am a person who loves working with people, so I enjoy the challenge.”
Adam Ferrarotti, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
“[You just need to] take the time to learn how to approach them. By studying the design-thinking process, I have been able to utilize the formula for breaking down obstacles and finding real-world solutions. One doesn’t need to inherently be creative to find unique fixes. Instead, they must be willing to put effort and grit into the creative process to produce effective solutions. Being playful is powerful; it is childlike curiosity that helps us see past barriers and instead focus on potential.”
Erica Weiss, Bucknell University (Freeman)
4) Embrace The Uncertainty: “Improbable events happen every day. Probable events fail to happen every day. As discussed in our finance and statistics core classes, probability merely suggests the total occurrences in a large set of outcomes, but it does not state when precisely those occurrences will happen. This business and investing lesson can easily be applied to my life. I try to focus on what I can control instead of exuding time and energy on the many uncontrollable factors of life, allowing me to be more patient, present, and consistent. And, also, if success truly occurs at unpredictable times, it never hurts to always have big goals.”
Nicholas Trimble, Emory University (Goizueta)
“The biggest lesson I gained while studying business is how to make decisions in the face of insufficient information. During my sophomore year, I participated in a case competition where my team had to create a plan to reduce a clothing manufacturer’s energy costs. Though we knew nothing about clothing manufacturing, my team spent long nights poring over process diagrams and sustainability reports, becoming experts in lyocell, fiber-reactive dyes, and volatile organic compounds. Two weeks later, our hard work paid off in the form of a second-place win in the Southwest regional competition. After this experience, I realized that business contains a myriad of unknowns, but it is our job as businesspeople to make the best decision. I learned to find the solution when it seems unclear and gather the resources to do so. Ultimately, ambiguity is inevitable in an increasingly uncertain business world. Though a business education may not give us all the answers, it equips us with the necessary skills to find them.”
Jiaying “JaJa” Tong, USC (Marshall)
Comments or questions about this article? Email us.