Summer MBA interns take careers for a spin
One bright blue-sky day during his internship this summer, MBA student Keith Gislason wasn’t above calling up a friend to crow. His buddy, Gislason knew, would be sitting in a cubicle in Kansas City. Gislason, on the other hand, was at the wheel of a company car—a sleek blue 1996 Porsche Carrera 4 Cabriolet—wind rippling through his hair as he drove around Mount Tamalpais in Northern California. Gislason’s internship was with Club Sportiva, a classic car timeshare outfit, and the brainchild of Notre Dame alum Torbin Fuller (MBA ’00). Gislason’s internship projects ranged from marketing and corporate communications to pricing strategies, so he switched gears often. But on this day, as he and a co-worker chose locations to shoot the promotional photos for the newest set of wheels in the fleet, he was simply Keith Gislason, model. Having a great summer internship. Wish you were here.
While Gislason had his share of postcard moments this summer, he learned a lot more than the fact that his legs were too long to fit comfortably into a Morgan Plus 8 Roadster. During Summer 2005, 110 two-year MBAs tested their mettle, applying concepts they had learned in the classroom, expanding their skill sets, and building their résumés. There’s another benefit to the experience as well. A successful internship can clarify, confirm, or redirect a student’s career goals. “One of the reasons you do an internship,” says Ann Casey, assistant director of career development for the MBA program, “is to try them before you buy them.”
Sharon Moore didn’t get out on the road much this summer. But it still went by in a blur. She started out putting in 50-hour workweeks as an IBM Extreme Blue intern. And then it got busy. Raleigh? I’m in Raleigh? she answered when, near the end of the 12 weeks, a mentor asked how she had liked the city. By then it was crunch time and she was putting in more hours refining the business model for an IT product that she and her three software engineer teammates had identified and developed. “Do something big” is not just a slogan at IBM, she says. So Moore and her colleagues went big. By summer’s end, the team had four patent disclosures in the works and had sold their technology solution to a VP for internal use. The take-away for Moore, who has 14 years’ experience in marketing for small and start-up tech firms, is the affirmation that she wants to work for a company that is innovative and takes risks but large enough that one project can’t bring the whole company down.
For some, the internship provided an opportunity to test new waters. Andrea Miller, for instance, who came into the MBA program with an operations background, said yes to a finance internship at Procter & Gamble. The choice allowed her to grow her business acumen, she says, and move forward confidently with her career. She did well in the internship—Procter & Gamble has already made an offer that is sorely tempting. But she deals better in the now, making high-pressure decisions, she says, than post-analysis. Even though she’s sold on the company, she’ll say no to the offer.
Some lessons were personal. Julie Ellison, one of three MBA students interning in Jamaica, describes herself as a very organized person. She says she likes to have all her ducks in a row. So her stress level was raised more than a few notches by the laid-back nature of the students at the University of West Indies whom she was teaching to write business plans. But somewhere over the summer—maybe it was during those evenings spent on her front porch reading while a steel drum band practiced next door, maybe it was during the 2 a.m. hike up Blue Mountain to watch the sunrise from Jamaica’s highest peak—she let go of control. Peace in life, she says, is a valuable commodity.
There is Valerie Moore (Hewlett-Packard, finance development), who discovered the joys of deep-dive analysis and flourished in the breakneck pace of the electronics industry.
There is Jamin Hemenway (John Deere, marketing), an architect who wants to leverage his design know-how into business product development. He got solid experience, he says, and credibility for his career switch.
There is Julia Kropp (Stonyfield Farm, brand management), who saw some of the project concepts she worked on for the organic food producer being adapted for the market. “Working at Stonyfield Farm helped me understand that businesses can be both socially responsible and profitable at the same time,” says Kropp.
There is Merritt Noble (Procter & Gamble, brand management) who set her sights on a career at the company back in her college days. The day she was offered a post-MBA job, she couldn’t help herself. She turned a cartwheel in the hallway.
And there is Luke Drucker, who came away from his summer internship knowing that the opportunities at DaimlerChrysler dovetail perfectly with his interests. At 23, Drucker doesn’t match the definition of a traditional MBA student. He launched himself straight into graduate school from college without stopping to pick up the more usual four to six years of work experience—“I had absolutely no experience whatsoever,” he will say quite cheerfully—all of which made it a challenge to land a good summer placement, let alone a premier internship at one of the top corporations in the Global 500. Most days found Drucker in the international finance office at the Chrysler world headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan where, among other projects, he developed training materials for the international finance group. It was a great introduction, he says, to the company’s international operations. Drucker has already received and accepted a post-MBA offer in DaimlerChrysler’s four-year development program.
Oh, and one other thing Luke Drucker learned on his summer internship: The wind is very loud when you’re driving a car at 160 mph. There are some things, after all, that you can’t know unless you take a test drive.
—Sally Ann Flecker is a freelance writer and editor who is a former editor-in-chief of Pitt Magazine at the University of Pittsburgh. She also writes for Denison Magazine, The Penn Stater, and GSPH Public Health. She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.