As I prepare to graduate from the University of Michigan, I would like to give you the single best piece of advice I received as a business major…
“Win on first down.”
Hardly surprising. After all, Michigan is regarded as a “nerdy football school.” Why wouldn’t advice be caked in a gridiron metaphor, right? How exactly does “Win on first down” translate to the real world? In football, you get four plays – or downs – to advance the ball 10 yards to earn another four chances to eventually score. Although I am a fan of Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverine Football Team, winning on first down means more than completing a run-pass-option play to advance the ball. It is a mindset and strategic make-up. More than that, it is a choice that defines who you are.
KNOWING YOUR PLAYBOOK
As any good football player will tell you, you have to know cadences, blitz packages, and your lineup before you even touch the field. That comes from intensive study and goal-setting. From a business perspective, this means mapping out who potential clients will be, what your competition will be doing, and strategizing what your next transaction will be. The Business School of Ross has taught me that preparation is key. Whether you are gearing up for a business competition or presenting business plans, the key to success lies within the attention you pay to expectations, strategy, and detail.
For example, I enrolled in an action-based learning experience where I’d be sitting in front of executives in the Chilean Wine Industry. As such, I had to know the landscape for international trade among Latin American countries. At the same time, I’d need to be able to discuss how wineries conducted business within global hubs. Therefore, my first step was stepping into the library to start developing my plays. This meant studying international law from publications that the Ross School of Business provided and gaining an understanding of what went on behind the scenes in transactions. Through that research, I could outline how a smaller winery had unique advantages over large corporations within Chile.
This culminated in the production of a consulting report to our specific winery, where my team and I were able to include solutions to problems in the competitive landscape of the wine-making process and with the law itself. Every step was like we were racking up yards on the field, growing increasingly confident as we developed our analysis and recommendations for these wineries. At the end of the day, it was preparation interlaced with a dedication that helped us enhance our professional competencies, collaboration skills, and business acumen.
It is crucial to invest time in your studies. By setting goals and conducting due diligence, you’re preparing yourself to perform and lead – and you are on your way to winning on first down.
RUNNING INTO OBSTACLES
Preparation is just one step. Eventually, you need to take the field. Of course, not everything will go as planned. Many times, players face obstacles that they couldn’t have anticipated like slick grass, injuries, or turnovers. That can be intimidating. Even from the first play, a wide receiver has to be aware of the coverages that he is going to face. That can range from the safety coming down on a blitz and opening a zone that can be exploited to running across the middle and having the mike linebacker drill you as you catch the ball. Once you enter business school, you will be faced with the same situations that can be seen on 100 yards of grass.
From day one, there will be classes and clubs that will draw you in and demand your attention. You have to pick-and-choose your battles. Are you going to be a captain, guiding others and giving them the courage to accomplish amazing goals? Instead of breaking yardage records, you can be the voice of your classmates as a peer-elected councilman and promote positive change within the school. You can give back to the community by being a staff tutor for first-year undergraduates. Heck, you can even write for Poets and Quants!
No matter what you choose, you want to pursue something that’s meaningful, something you can see yourself sticking with for the long term. Just like football, it should be deep and daily. For me, that was the Preparation Initiative, a learning community designed for the University of Michigan undergraduates who have demonstrated excellent potential for business leadership. Through the Preparation Initiative, I grew tremendously because I was able to implement my game plan into who I was becoming. I studied for classes like how a football player studied film before a game. I was constantly meeting with professors, going through practice problems, and checking in with the community for different solutions. Eventually, I would become a tutor myself and others could lean on me to help them learn and grow.
If you aren’t challenging yourself, you’ve already lost your preemptive strike and thus have foregone winning on first down. It’s never too late to start but you have to be willing to take the field by storm. You need to be aware of obstacles like time constraints and competing demands, no different than blitz packages and bump-and-run coverage in football. In the end, your success will come from being a leader, comfortable with yourself and always there to support your classmates.
At the end of the day, winning on first down is no easy task. It takes having a plan, making adjustments, and then being willing to challenge yourself in new ways. You need mentors on the field and in the classroom. Then you yourself have to be a leader for others. However, at the end of the day, if you win once, you can win again. Setting the tone on first down gives you the opportunity to score on that series. Once you figure out your purpose and implement your strategies, whether that be in your football gear or in your suit, you’ll have won on first down! Now you just need to score.
That’s another lesson for another day. Keep grinding out your yardage and shaping your destiny.
I’m Maximillian C. Garcia III, a young whippersnapper hailing from the small town of Rancho Cucamonga, California. I am majoring in Finance with a minor in Performance Arts Management at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. My goal in life is to continuously explore my curiosity of the unknown. Finally, I fence the Sabre Blade on the Michigan Fencing Club to keep myself strategically growing and living up to learning about the unknown!
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