Beyond the MBA Rankings

March 3rd, 2012 by under Smith Life. No Comments.

Like the thousands of MBA students currently enrolled, and the thousands more completing their applications I did a lot of research before deciding on Smith for my MBA. And like anyone who fancies themselves as a “Top Tier MBA” I spent more time focusing on rankings then I would care to admit. That said, I never realized that I would spend more time trying to understand the rankings process after matriculating then I ever did before.

As my classmates are all too aware, Smith was an unfortunate casualty of the rankings process after I matriculated. BusinessWeek ranked Smith as the 26th best MBA program in the country in 2008 (rankings are biennial), but soon after coming to school in the school experienced what I would consider a precipitous drop to 42nd. Not good…but it doesn’t nearly tell all the story.

MBA rankings are an imperfect science and lack artistic ability. They rely heavily on self-reported surveys – the kind that reward only 5 out of 5’s, and punish any score lower than that. Overall, the rankings don’t stand up to the level of scrutiny they receive. That said, if you look beyond the rankings you’ll find the right fit – in my case that was Smith.


Top MBA programs come in all shapes and sizes, but few create the more intimate experience as Smith. With less than 250 full time students its easy to meet nearly all of your classmates, from both classes. Many folks might want a large program – I’ll take the more manageable size of Smith.


Let’s face it, College Park is not a great place to live. That said, its a pretty darn good place to go to school – just a few miles from DC and great places to live like Bethesda and Silver Spring – College Park has a lot to offer. There is no better place to go to school than the Washington, D.C. area.


Even with Smith’s relatively small size it packs a cultural punch. Students matriculate from across the US and the world and I think the culture at Smith is something I was most surprised about. MBA programs can feel elitist, but the well-rounded cohorts at Smith are friendly, while still intellectually and professionally challenging.

The rankings may serve as a good guideline, but if you dig a little deeper and are willing to consider something different, you’ll make yourself a lot happier in the long run.


Georgetown Ultimate 4

February 19th, 2012 by under Smith Sports. No Comments.

Ten brave Smith School students represented the program at the Georgetown University Ultimate 4 MBA Basketball Tournament this weekend, hoping to continue to improve Smith’s reputation in MBA athletics. With twelve MBA programs traveling from as far away as Chicago (Booth), Smith faced a daunting schedule of three games in two days – sandwiching Monte Carlo Night in the middle. Overall Smith fared reasonably well, finishing with one win and two losses against the likes of Wharton (University of Pennsylvania), Booth and Tepper (Carnegie Mellon).

Saturday morning started early with an 8am matchup with Wharton. Smith started off slow, going into the half with a tight single digit lead, before using their significant size advantage to break away in the second half for the 16 point victory. Next up was two-time defending champion Booth – a game that got out of hand quickly, with Booth taking a blowout win. Finally Smith entered Sunday morning’s matchup with Tepper with a chance at advancing to the final eight for the first time. The Monte Carlo “cobwebs” and Tepper’s sharpshooting first 4 minutes (5 for 5 from 3-point range) proved to be too much to overcome and the Smithers succumbed.

Despite failing to match last year’s two win and one loss performance, the Smith team represented the program well – and had a great opportunity to meet fellow MBAs from across the country. Next up in intercollegiate MBA athletics Smith travels to Darden in April to defend its co-ed softball title.


Happy New Year

January 8th, 2012 by under Smith Life. No Comments.

The New Year has brought a new lifestyle to the Petitt household. Drives up I-295 have been replaced by I-495 – a trade of traffic for traffic in Northern Virginia. This weekend brought my first taste of life as a part-time Smith MBA student.

After starting work immediately after the last day of Term B classes, I’ve started the final stretch to graduation with class this weekend in DC. I’m taking Understanding Organizational Change with Dr. Gebhardt – a perfectly top of mind class with my new challenge at Hilton. The course covers the frameworks of change at the individual, functional, organizational and industry-level and doesn’t focus on the usual cliche “change is hard”. I expect this to be extremely applicable for the months ahead at work.

Nine hour marathon classes isn’t ideal, but Dr. Gebhardt has done a great job thus far of keeping things moving. We all appreciate the energy and I appreciate getting one step closer to earning my MBA.


Back to Work

December 4th, 2011 by under Smith Life. No Comments.

I came to Smith with the same goal as the rest of my classmates – to find a great job after graduating. Turns out, I didn’t need to wait that long and for that I am both very lucky and somewhat melancholy.

Coming back to school is a tough choice for most anyone, but one of the greatest perks is the opportunity to get time away from the stress of work to invest some time in yourself. At Smith you start to take for granted the shorter days, the Friday’s off and overall easy-going atmosphere – until its time to get back to work. Well, its time for me to get back to work.

A few weeks ago my boss from my summer internship at Hilton told me she had decided to leave the company. She recommended me for the role and a few conversations later I was given an offer I simply couldn’t refuse – the opportunity to be Hilton’s senior director of business analytics. I truly was in the right place at the right time.

So while my classmates will be heading home to celebrate the holidays and take a month off to relax I’ll be heading back to work starting December 14th. I’ll be able to take part-time classes to graduate with my class, but I’ll certainly miss my time in College Park.



November 23rd, 2011 by under Smith Life. No Comments.

‘Tis the season to be thankful for all we have, and I personally am thankful for too much to put into words. It’s been a great year+ back in DC, and I would never have been able to succeed without the love and support of my family.

While I’d love to blog about my family and Baxter, this is a Smith-themed experience and I think this space is better served by my version of “What I’m thankful for at Smith”:

  • I’m thankful for the friendships I’ve made at Smith, starting with team building at orientation and continuing through today.
  • I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn beside military and police veterans who risked their lives for our country and society.
  • I’m thankful for the opportunity to study in the DC area near almost all of my target employers.
  • I’m thankful for a faculty that does their part to improve Smith’s rankings, while also trying to become more avid members of the Smith community.
  • I’m thankful for the incredible staff throughout the Smith school – from Rudy’s to the MPO, they make our experience that much better.
  • Finally, I’m thankful for the opportunity to play a role in a Smith community that continues to evolve and improve.

Most of all, of course, I’m thankful for days with light traffic on I-395 so I can get home quickly to my wife and dog for dinner.



PepsiCo CEO@Smith

November 16th, 2011 by under Marketing, Smith Life. No Comments.

Al Carey '74 presents at CEO@Smith

I’m an unabashed Coca-Cola fan, the kind that brings his own Coke to Smith everyday so that I don’t have to drink the Pepsi from Rudy’s. That said, I’m now a big fan of Al Carey ‘74, CEO of PepsiCo Americas Beverages and Smith School alum.

On Tuesday Mr. Carey visited the Smith School for our CEO@Smith series, giving a truly stimulating speech about his career and some of the innovative leadership and sustainability programs he as implemented at PepsiCo and Frito-Lay. The presentation was eye-opening on many levels, but I personally was most impressed by his commitment to PepsiCo’s vision of “Performance with Purpose”.

PepsiCo’s commitment to their 4 P’s of Products, Partners, People and the Planet is very different than your standard 4 P’s of marketing. Mr. Carey focused the majority of his presentation of PepsiCo’s innovations in sustainability (Planet), including the revamp of their truck fleet and installation of energy and water saving equipment at their plants, as well as his insights into leadership (People). Here are some highlights and quotes that I found particularly enlightening:

  • You can make healthier products without remaking the brand – In the context of Tostitos and other Frito-Lay products PepsiCo has made subtler improvements in the healthiness of their products, while learning that by not over-marketing these changes they can acquire new customers without alienating old ones.
  • Servant leadership is about removing obstacles – Mr. Carey presented an inverted leadership structure in which executives were at the bottom of the pyramid, serving the rest of the organization in their goal of serving consumers.
  • “The best leaders are optimistic leaders” – Mr. Carey’s affinity for the question “what do you think” and openness to creativity and the ideas of less experienced employees is really refreshing.

Altogether CEO@Smith was an excellent experience that left even this diehard Coke fan respecting the direction and leadership of PepsiCo.



A Week at Smith

November 12th, 2011 by under Marketing, Smith Clubs, Smith Life. No Comments.

This past week was the kind of experience you come to expect from Smith, with a diverse range of out-of-class opportunities mixed in with the standard course load. Here’s just a sampling of some of the highlights:

  • Monday Morning – Undergraduate Mock Interviews
  • Monday Evening – Club Presidents Meet to Discuss Hospitality Club
  • Friday – Inaugural Meeting of the Marketing Communications Student Advisory Council

What better way to interact with our Smith School undergrad neighbors, a constituency we so rarely engage with. I was immediately reminded of my recruiting role at my prior job with HEI, and what differentiated candidates from each other. It was clear that to me that the two most common needs were practice and confidence – clearly the former helps create the later.

On Monday evening the Hospitality & Travel Club had its much anticipated day with the Smith club presidents, and not surprisingly we were approved to move forward as part of the Smith community. The next task – make the hospitality industry a bigger part of the Smith community, not only with the students, but with the professors and administration so that we can better engage alumni and local employers.

The week ended with the inaugural meeting of Office of Marketing Communications Student Advisory Council (yes, we need an acronym). The council is the ideal cross-section of Smith MBAs, including both cohorts, international, part-timers and both men and women, and it’s clear the group will be vocal in the sharing of ideas. Excited to see how we can enhance Smith’s internal and external communications.

This week was certainly a great cross-section of uniquely Smith experiences.



Hospitality & Travel Club at Smith

October 31st, 2011 by under Smith Clubs. No Comments.

Next week Clay Gaynor, Narda Ipakchi and I will state the case to the MBAA to create a Hospitality & Travel Club at Smith for the first time. Our presentation will be the culmination of many months work identifying the need and strategizing how to implement the club.

The DC-area is home to 3 major hotel companies

Few people come to Smith realizing that it lays in the center of the country’s hospitality industry. Just miles from College Park are three of the biggest companies in the hotel business – Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and Choice Hotels International.  Surrounding DC are three major airports, all of which serve as airline hubs. Throughout the city and metro area are restaurants and restaurant groups started by entrepreneurs with a passion for food and/or beverage. Until now Smith students have not had a way to tap into these markets.

While this would obviously be exciting to a club co-founder, I also believe it represents a big opportunity for the Smith community. Last year alone five second year students found full-time employment at a local hotel company, and four more found a summer internship – all without any organized engagement with the local hotel community. Imagine what Smith could do with a more organized and targeted effort led by the students towards these potential employers?

Recently Narda, Clay and I visited Marriott’s HQ to meet a few Smith alums. We were shocked at the number and the depth of interest from this untapped resource. Marriott does not formally recruit at Smith, but it seems like a relatively large portion end up there every year. Imagine if Smith could teach its current students a little about this industry before they join it?

At Smith we are previliged to be home to the Center for Service Excellence, led in part by Dr. Janet Wagner who has graciously agreed to serve as advisor to the Smith Hospitality & Travel Club.  This Center already partners with major industry players to provide research and share best practices. Imagine if Smith could leverage the intellectual capital of professors already engaged in hospitality-related research projects to attract potential employers?

Altogether we believe this makes for a great case to add a hospitality-focused club to the Smith community and we are excited about the potential of a better educating our classmates on this exciting industry.



MBAA Charity Golf Tournament

October 19th, 2011 by under Smith Sports. No Comments.

Snead. Palmer. Nicklaus. Tucker.

Each golfer dominated their era, the latter just happened to be known for his dominance of the Smith golf world. Like the former three though, Tucker would learn to face defeat for the first time in a Smith golf tournament.

Glenn Dale Golf Club played host to the 3rd Annual MBAA Charity Golf Tournament last Sunday, and eight teams of Smith full-time and part-time students, as well as alumni, joined to enjoy a day on the links. All proceeds from the event were donated to the Michael Scott Lamana and Eric Cranford Memorial MBA Fellowship Fund, created in 2001 to honor Smith MBAs who perished in the attack on the Pentagon.

"Old" Tony Ragano rears back for a drive

This year’s  event turned out to be an epic showdown, featuring a one stroke victory by the team of Eric Choi, John Gravel, Taylor Muckerman and Jennifer Spina, finish at five under par for the tournament. The victory was secured with a birdie-eagle finish, highlighted by an 18th hole eagle single-handedly secured by Gravel. Not since Watson’s victory in the 1977 “Duel in the Sun” has golf seen such a dramatic finish.

“The MBAA golf tournament was the perfect way to blow off some steam at the end of term A,” said Choi. “Our team was lucky to play well and take home first prize and we definitely will look to defend our title next year as alumnus.”

Muddying the results was a scorecard error by the team of Michelle Brown, Ward Sloane and Robert Bloomer, who’s miscount of their score left them at four under par, tied for second place with Tucker, Mark Manion and Jess Petitt, the tournament’s defending champions. The gaffe created a one hole playoff which was handily won by Tucker, Manion and Petitt.

The defending champions failed to create the momentum they did in last year’s six under par finish, particularly hindered by playing as the only three-man team without a rotating fourth shot. Clutch putting eluded the team throughout the round. A number of new participants also joined for the tournament, which exceeded either of the prior two tournaments in registrations.

Alas, this was a day for the winning team, whose mental tactics of hiding their place in the standings throughout the round created a false sense of security for the rest of the teams.

MBAA Golf Champions Muckerman, Gravel, Choi and Spina


Advertising Analysis with Hershey’s and Campbell’s

October 14th, 2011 by under Marketing, Smith Clubs. No Comments.

This week the Graduate Marketing Association (GMA) welcomed Smith alumni from two of the world’s most iconic brands – The Hershey Company and Campbell Soup Company – to share their insight’s on analyzing advertisements and preparing for marketing case interviews. Ed Edson, MBA ’09, and Don Wood, MBA ’08, shared their experience in consumer product marketing to an audience of GMA members, marketing faculty and Smith staff.

The evening’s event was led off by Dr. David Godes, who laid out the marketing framework for the audience. Leveraging this structured approach is crucial to marketing case interview preparation, particularly for those who can apply the framework without specifically referencing it. Of particular interest was sequential nature of the framework when used correctly: turning insights (5 C’s) into strategies (STPD) and strategies into actions (4 P’s).

Edson and Wood used a variety of TV and print ads to educate the audience on how to identify the consumer insight, targets and primary product benefits. The discussion about a Gatorade ad was particularly compelling – trying to identify the customer segment they targeted, while also gathering insides on the positioning and segmentation of the advertisement.

Practicing analysis of ads in this manner is crucial for those interested in acquiring the most sought after of MBA marketing careers – brand management. Case interviews often use examples such as those discussed, and Edson and Wood were both kind enough to share their insights as former Smith students, interviewers and alums.

It turns out the major take away from the event has a double meaning, as good MBA’s, just like the good brands they were referring to:

  • Stand for something distinctive
  • Offer a high quality product or service
  • Live up to their promises
  • Have a clearly defined personality and set of values

That might be a bit of a stretch, but go with it.