Final Reflections: Learning to lead, manage, and help others

Ben Thayer (Kenan-Flagler, ‘16)

Ben Thayer (Kenan-Flagler, ’16) spent most of his time in Chapel Hill maximizing the classes and opportunities provided through the MBA experience but also in helping, mentoring, assisting, and leading In between winning the Class Core Value Award for Teamwork and juggling his many responsibilities, he took some time to share some of his thoughts on what made his MBA experience at UNC so special.

MBASchooled: What will you miss most about your MBA experience?

Ben: The people, the people, the people — I’ll miss the daily interactions with my classmates, professors, and staff that make UNC such a fantastic place to spend two years. In school, I almost never felt like I was wasting my time, even when I had to choose between several great events to attend or projects to work on. Each class brought out discussions where I learned something significant from both the professor and my classmates.

MBASchooled:What is your favorite memory of business school?

Ben: Every year, Kenan-Flagler and Fuqua reignite the UNC-Duke rivalry with the Blue Cup, an inter-business school competition consisting of 19 athletic and semi-athletic events. Fuqua’s a bigger school by 50% and had won the Cup in each of the past six years, but in April of my first year, we were leading with 9 wins before the drinking social event. K-F brought a huge crowd to Fuqua’s home bar, and we proceeded to win all five events and clinch the championship that night. The atmosphere was absolutely electric — we were yelling, hugging, running around, and chanting. It’s fun to win, but it’s more fun to be part of a community that wins together as a team. That experience encapsulated the community spirit that made business school so much fun.

MBASchooled: What are you most proud of from your MBA experience?

Ben: I’m most proud of being awarded the Teamwork Core Value Award. While I wasn’t elected to lead any of the clubs on campus, I worked hard in a supporting role for several of them, in addition to class project groups and informal events. My goal was to apply what I’d learned in class and create a positive, tangible effect in each role. For example, I led the rebranding of our Consulting Club and developed logos, type treatment, and templates for all of our communications. It wasn’t a massive initiative, but it added a visual punch to our efforts to make the club more cohesive and market our brand more effectively.

What brought it home for me was seeing the looks on my wife and family’s faces when the award was announced at graduation. It was a complete surprise to me, and they were really impressed that I’d been recognized for my work. It’s hard to communicate to your family and friends outside of school the impact of your efforts on campus, and this affirmation was huge for me. Business school is about much more than grades — you can’t put a grade on building culture, but that practice matters a lot in the real world. Confirmation of my work on the soft skills is what I’m most proud of from my MBA.

MBASchooled: What part of you has undergone the most transformation while in business school?

Ben: Besides the rapid growth of my PowerPoint skills, my understanding of how to lead from within an organization has grown significantly. In my prior career as an engineer, technical expertise was emphasized over learning management skills. My internship at a Fortune 100 insurance company showed me that it took more than expertise to succeed in a large organization and clarified areas for personal development. In my second year, I focused on my classes within the Organizational Behavior department to grow my understanding of the different motivations and tensions within a matrixed organization, how to form and run a successful team, and assess and troubleshoot cultural issues.

Our professors encouraged experiential learning in addition to lectures and discussions. During an exercise in class, we were assigned to build a bridge out of sheets of paper and dixie cups, and I was responsible for managing three groups. I think the professor was shocked that one of my teams was actually able to build a successful bridge — the only one in the whole class! The experience of, and discussion around, coordinating multiple groups within several resource and functional constraints will make me a better manager.

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