As part of Scheller’s Countdown to Commencement series, we interviewed a few soon-to-be graduates from our undergraduate, MBA, and Ph.D. programs to learn about their backgrounds, why they chose Scheller College, and what they plan to do after Spring 2019 Commencement.
Meet Gregory Shaw:
Gregory is completing his Full-time MBA with a concentration in Operations Management. The West Point graduate hails from Montgomery, Alabama, and served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer before heading to Scheller. He describes himself as “an average guy who works harder at it than the average guy.”
Why did you choose Scheller College of Business?
Scheller was an alignment of the stars and further proof that my luck is so uncommonly good that when it finally runs out the resultant event should be spectacular. Scheller combined everything I was searching for in furthering my business education – an emphasis on technology, a very engaged career services, a robust recruiting program and a high employment rate for graduates – and coupled all of those with convenience, since I was familiar with the Atlanta area, my brother was a Georgia Tech undergraduate, and we were closer to home for me and my wife. The “customer service” of the admissions staff was particularly noteworthy, since as a candidate for admission they actually cared about my success. This type of interaction was very endearing, and only strengthened my conviction that my decision to pursue my MBA here was a good one.
As a business student in the heart of Tech Square, how do you think Scheller College embodies the intersection of business and technology?
Every single aspect of the curriculum here is presented in a technology wrapper. We use simulations and games to learn about supply chain. Almost every subject is infused with technology – whether it is having a positive, or disruptive effect on the topic discussed – and the skills that we are learning are often tailored by the professors to be particularly relevant in an environment where technology is already playing such a huge role.
Who was your favorite MBA professor (and why)?
While I have enjoyed and learned a significant amount from each class that I have taken while here at Scheller, Professor Steve Salbu’s Legal and Ethics class required a deeper intellectual commitment than I had expected. I think that most people when asked would be able to articulate “what they believe” – albeit with a likely high degree of vagueness and even dissimulation. The truth is that many of us look at issues with a strictly “black and white” appreciation of the details, that is, there has to be one right answer rather than that infinite range of gray that constitutes most of our human decisions and situations. There is no harder decision to make than one where the options each seem equally good (or equally bad), where the outcome is uncertain or at least cannot be accurately predicted, or when you can see the validity and even the judiciousness of each of two opposing viewpoints. I encountered each of these situations in Salbu’s class. There were times when I found my opinion changing mid-sentence; there were times when I began to second guess my own sentiments multiple times over the same issue.
Being able to occasionally confound my otherwise fairly concrete definitions of what constitutes “right and wrong” was impressive enough, but what made this much more impressive on the part of Salbu was his ability to navigate these very volatile, morally ambiguous, clearly polarizing issues in a manner that fostered class discussion, and not class argument. Salbu deftly guided the discussion so as to encourage me and my classmates to share our varying points of view, without ever allowing us to know what he personally felt on the issue. This was very important, since even the insinuation that the professor favored one position over another would restrict the conversation and prevent the full airing of ideas that made the class so valuable. Now, Salbu was aided by the Scheller admissions department in seeing that the class be so successful, because a prerequisite of a class such as this is classmates who can disagree with one another professionally and constructively (a quality tangentially associated with the “culture fit” that the admissions department strives to determine within each MBA candidate); but even with a willing and respectful class, Professor Salbu still has a tough job presenting such difficult material to people who might be emotionally attached to their opinions. I think he does this to an impressive and probably uncommon degree.
What was your favorite course (and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it?)
The Core Operations class was my favorite course. The greatest insight I gained from it (arguably the reason I came to business school) was the service level equation. This equation explained in beautifully empirical terms a host of issues that I had seen in some of my previous work. This equation shows that service level (a firm’s ability to meet the demand of its customers) is dependent on the variability of that demand, the lead-time associated with producing the good, the costs associated with over and under-estimating demand. But, most importantly, this equation is used to determine how much safety stock a firm should carry in order to ensure the annotated service level. This was a powerful revelation to me.
What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into Scheller College?
Be yourself. Scheller is an unostentatious place, despite its many accomplishments and accolades. It does not demand that students conform to some ideal mold of what an MBA student should look like. Instead, Scheller values students who have learned from their own unique experiences and are willing to accept that they can learn just as much from their classmates and professors, who have their own unique experiences. Therefore, no matter what a prospective student has done with their life up until now, their best chance of attaining admission to – and then ultimately success within – Scheller is to be proud of who they are, and to be honest about their strengths and those aspects of their skillset that may need a little refinement.
What is the biggest myth about Scheller College and how was it the same or different than what you experienced?
That you need to be a “techie” in order to be successful here. As an ambassador, I’ve heard several potential students express their concern that as Georgia Tech is a “technical” school. That, by extension, this is somehow a prerequisite for success at Scheller. This is absolutely not the case, despite Scheller being so focused on technology. Anyone with a desire to learn business can be successful, regardless of their background.
Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program?
That cultivating the relationships (both with my classmates and with potential recruiters) was much more important than grades. While the “grades don’t matter” ethos is a fine line to traverse, it was still in the forefront of my mind as I began my MBA. Coming from an engineering undergrad, the military, and manufacturing (where KPIs are everything) I still hung onto that preoccupation with measured results. This isn’t a bad thing, of course; you have to pay attention to your grades in order to ensure that you are meeting the professor’s intent, but to the extent that I saw them as a “measure” of my success or failure, I think if I went back and had a do-over I wouldn’t stress about it as much.
Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college?
I saw that the senior leaders at the last company I worked for all had advanced degrees in business or finance. I recognized that I would not be competitive for any of the higher positions of responsibility that I aspired to without getting an MBA. None of these executives actively encouraged me to get my MBA, but I saw by example that this would be something required in order for me to advance my career.
MBA alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you?
I don’t think the same way or look at the world the same way now. Whereas I used to walk in blissful ignorance through shopping malls, or flip through TV commercials or ads on the Internet, I now have the understanding and intuition behind all of the messages that I see every day. I understand the incentives that are used to try and influence human behavior, and I understand the financial reasons for doing so. I understand how the engine of money drives the decisions that companies make – companies of which I am a customer. All of this makes me feel like “I’m in on it”, that so much of what used to be opaque and dense to me I now understand.
Which MBA classmate do you most admire?
I don’t think I could ever choose just one of my classmates to elevate in esteem over the others. There are so many instances of awe-inspiring effort: from the dual-degrees who are doing extra work, to my classmates who run their own businesses, to the ones who find the time to adopt leadership positions to the benefit of the entire class, and to the international students who are learning everything that I’m learning in their second, third, or fourth language, it would be impossible for me to point to a specific person and say, “Them, more than the others.” This is a non-answer, and in complete odds with the prompt, but this is truly how I feel. If there was space or time I would enumerate all of the things that I admire about every single member of my class, but there isn’t.
How did the extracurricular offerings at Scheller College help you during your time here? Is there anything Scheller didn’t offer that you feel would’ve helped you succeed?
I really enjoyed the Peer Mentorship Program, both as a mentor and a mentee. It not only helped me build relationships with two people that I might not otherwise have come to know well, but it also served as both a medium for me to expand my own knowledge, and as a way for me to pass on a little to the next cohort of MBAs.
What activities were you involved with on or off campus, and did your business education impact those activities in any way?
I am a Leadership Fellow in the Leadership Education & Development Office. This is a program which pairs graduate students as coaches to undergraduate students looking to improve their leadership skills. My business education helped me in this role because Scheller has taught me how to think about abstract concepts (like leadership) without the ideas becoming so vague as to be unusable. Being able to look at the “big picture” – that is, bring clarity to a strategic-level thought and hone it down into a functional call to action – has been crucial in opening my mind and helping me to communicate with younger students.
Did the career center help you find a job or internship during your time at Scheller or after graduation? Did you end up working or interning for one of your top choice companies?
I found my Bank of America internship through the Veterans MBA Conference in Chicago. Career services helped me prepare for the conference
Did you utilize any of Scheller College’s diversity initiatives? How did they help you during your time at the College?
I had the opportunity to participate in a leadership capacity with the Scheller Veterans club. Through our club efforts, we were able to provide financial aid to one of our fellow Scheller veterans through our scholarship fund (collected from the proceeds of our annual scavenger hunt, as well as from corporate sponsors). I was also proud to coordinate the care package drive, during which we collected a dozen U.S. shipping boxes worth of morale building items that we sent overseas to a unit stationed in Iraq. This was the benefit I gained from the Vets Club; not that it provided me with anything of material value, but it offered me the vehicle through which I was able to help give back a little to the community that I have the most in common with.
Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during your time at Scheller and why?
I am the most proud of the work that my group did on our Strategy Project, first year. We were faced with a very difficult problem given to us by our sponsor company. The issue was complicated, the research required to provide a coherent and actionable recommendation was immense, and the forty minutes that we had to present the entire project was a very tight window given the sheer amount of information that we wished to convey. But at the end of the presentation, when we had all finished our well-rehearsed parts, the written report was turned in, and our sponsors seemed appreciative of all the work that we had put into the report, I felt that I had participated in something worthwhile. Working very hard on something for a long period of time engenders a sense of profound satisfaction when it is well-received.
Why did you select the practicum(s), and how has it impacted your education and preparation for the future?
Since one of the main reasons I chose Scheller for my MBA was its unique technology offerings, I decided early on that experience with a practical IT business problem would be very beneficial to me, especially since I had relatively little exposure to these types of issues. I wanted to get my Six Sigma Green Belt in order to supplement my previous process improvement work (I had led a Total Productive Maintenance initiative at my previous job), and since I find that some of the most satisfying work in operations, I took the opportunity to expand my knowledge.
Each impacted my education and preparation for the future in different ways:
The IT Practicum introduced me to a topic that I had not (and still have not) encountered in the standard MBA curriculum, “the customer journey.” In order to contribute to the project I was forced to do a lot of extra research, seek out books on the subject, and generally learn the topic on my own. The idea was unfamiliar to me, and required a lot of conceptual energy expenditure on my part. But I feel like this was a good learning point, since there will inevitably be times in life when you don’t have all the answers or experience or knowledge, and the discipline to go out and seek that knowledge may become a differentiator.
The opposite was true for Six Sigma: I already had experiences similar to the material, the course included a two day seminar to familiarize us with the material, and we were given a book to assist us in our learning. So, while Six Sigma did not require the same amount of self-motivated learning, it required us to approach a business problem – a particularly costly problem, with no clear solution – by implementing a process improvement procedure that we had only the most superficial of experiences with. We learned as we went along, in each practicum, with each new obstacle requiring a slurry of individual effort to not only grasp conceptually, but also to address within the bounds of the project itself.
What was the topic/company/business issue for your practicum? And how did you address/solve the problem?
For our work in the IT Practicum, my team and I were sponsored by NCR. Specifically, they were attempting to identify a software platform (if it existed) that would seamlessly and in real-time allow their employees – on different teams and spread over the entire world – to interact, brainstorm, and efficiently plan together. NCR approached this through the “customer journey” model, with their own associates being the “customers.” Our team addressed this problem by researching all of the journey mapping software that we could identify, as well as collaborative software that would allow real-time interaction remotely. We also looked to database platforms for support to ensure that any group work done would not be lost. In the end, we could not find a “one size fits all” solution to NCR’s problem, so we ended up making several software recommendations, then “mapped” how those disparate pieces of software could be made to cooperate with one another, creating a single solution.
For the Six Sigma project, we were assigned to a local privately owned manufacturing company called Osprey that was looking to reduce the amount of quality inspections they were having to conduct. Our team quickly identified the fact that the company was conducting these quality checks not because of any concern over their own processes, but because of the quality issues of their suppliers. Recognizing that we could not directly influence their suppliers to increase their quality standards, we did suggest that Osprey may be able to quantify the cost of bad parts by building a Vendor Scorecard. The team took input from Osprey concerning what aspects of quality they most valued – it was “right the first time”, i.e. requiring no rework and “right in full on time”, meaning the supplier didn’t sent them any partial orders, and sent the orders on time. We built these and other requirements into a scorecard, which could be used by Osprey to “grade” their vendors over a certain amount of time. That score is then used in any feedback sessions they have with their suppliers, driving a conversation over quality if necessary.
How do you feel your experience with practicums has prepared you for post-graduation?
They made me comfortable with shifting objectives. Both the IT Practicum and the Six Sigma project objectives evolved over time -- the end function of the project was not the original intent.
As my teams and I brainstormed solutions and interacted with our sponsors at NCR and Osprey, we collectively identified more pressing objectives to be met, and while this could be somewhat disconcerting at times (it’s hard to hit a moving target), it nevertheless mirrored the realities of a complex business problem. Sometimes as you hunt down root causes you discover that the suspected solution will not do, and that what you thought was a cause was actually a symptom of something else entirely.
“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…
…still trying in vain to understand the fundamental forces of economics which prevented me from formulating a valid business case for my ideas while an employee. I would still be frustrated at not being able to speak the language of business. I would still be lost whenever the conversation strayed from basic operations principles.
I make mead from honey derived from my parents’ apiary (bee farm).
What is your favorite movie about business and what was the biggest lesson you learned from it?
The Big Short (mostly the book, but I watched the movie too). From this I learned that it takes a lot of teamwork between people with otherwise good intentions to create and propagate a disaster.
What dollar value would you place on your MBA education?
I have no idea, since I’ve actually never had to pay for my education. However, every semester, when I receive the Bursar’s email reminding me to check my tuition account, I go on there and look. I look at that huge number to remind myself what an awesome opportunity I’ve been given. Even though I receive 100% tuition coverage from the G.I. Bill, I still look at that number, just to remind myself that I didn’t get this for free. However, even if I’d been forced to pay for this myself, it would still have been worth it.
What are the top two items on your bucket list?
- Drive a Train – Achieved in High school thanks to a friend of my mom’s
- Ride on a Zamboni – Achieved while a cadet at West Point
- Be a space tourist
- Start a company
Fun fact about yourself:
I was once tackled by the Secret Service (a simple misunderstanding).
In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?
As someone who they would always want on their team.