Leading Matters: Stanford University At The Forefront Of Change

As an anthropology major, I’ve read a lot of papers by the great anthropologist Margaret Mead. In one case she said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.” Well, if this is true, than we certainly need more of these groups today. The current economic crisis is still on everyone’s mind, in addition to other issues like clean energy, new Supreme Court justices, and failing investment banks and law firms.  I’m not surprised that many of the law students and business students, not only at Northwestern but also across the nation, are feeling a little nervous in the midst of uncertainty. But in my opinion, times of uncertainty are good because they also create opportunity. And “we have to be willing to take chances, to push the boundaries, to work in collaborative new ways to try to make a difference in our world.” At least that’s what Stanford President John Hennesey told us at a leadership conference in Chicago this past weekend.

This past Saturday, I returned to Stanford to reconnect with hundreds of alumni and former classmates. No, not literally; it’s finals week here at Northwestern Law. Instead Stanford came here, to Chicago, as part of their Leading Matters tour to showcase how the school is playing a leading role in helping solve some of the world’s biggest problems. And the Cardinal crowd in Chicago was well represented—students and alumni from the GSB, alumni from the law school, and others from various departments and schools at Stanford–and there were over 500 alumni registered for the Chicago event.

Among others, Penny Pritzker, President Hennesey, and Helen and Peter Bing were there.  And for all my law school readers, I also had a chance to hear and meet Constitutional Law expert, former Stanford Law School Dean, and current litigator at Quinn Emmanuel, Kathleen Sullivan. I found her talk to be especially compelling, given my first final exam is in Constitutional Law and given that all 65 of the rest of my section mates were in their apartments or at the school studying while I was at the event downtown. (Click here for my follow up post on the Constitutional Law exam).

The entire crowd was engaged and ready for an inspiring afternoon. After almost every remark for the first five minutes, a series of claps, and “wows” would ripple through the audience from front to back, and sometimes back to front, often ending with those around me, an entire row of Stanford MBAs. In his welcoming address, Mr. Hennesey ended with the remark I mentioned above … that “This is a university willing to take chances, to push the boundaries, to work in collaborative new ways to try to make a difference in our world.”

In that moment, right at the outset, I re-connected with Stanford, which unfortunately has been a rare experience given I’ve spent the past four years in Boston, Phoenix, and Chicago. And for the day, I didn’t think much about my upcoming finals here at law school. Instead, I took the day to engage in the event, connect with old friends, conjure up old memories and traditions, think about the broader vision that Stanford had, and finally to do what I enjoy most, meet lots of new people.

I attended the first few sessions with GSB alum Marquis Parker (MBA & M.Ed, Class of 2006, and Stanford MBA blogger).  I also re-connected with fellow 05 Anthropology major, Andrea Lazazzera, who also happened to be the master-organizer of the Chicago event! I saw two of my good friends from my undergrad days, who I met during Stanford’s Engineering Academy. I had drinks with  a good buddy who also lives in Chicago but who I don’t see often because of law school.  And I even ran into a Stanford grad that graduated from Northwestern Law in 2009. It was great seeing everyone again.

But more than the great connections that I made at the event, the underlying purpose was to show that leadership matters and that Stanford is playing a leading role as the nation is facing real challenges ahead.  And “in a series of panels, speeches, and seminar sessions, President Hennessy, deans and faculty shared their bold visions for Stanford in the 21st century.” They discussed the current financial crisis, foreign policy issues, clean energy, Obama’s appointment for the Supreme Court, and how Stanford leaders were leading in all the fields.

“It was pretty impressive. The entire event blew me away. I was inspired,” one of the guests said to me as the day concluded.  Another alumni commented that “it was good to see everyone again in such an inspiring environment.” I agree with both of the comments. And what I found most interesting about the event was that topic of money or donations never came up, at least not to my knowledge. Instead, the focus of the event was on education and on leadership.

And in the end, I re-engaged with the idea that when we bring ourselves together around a common purpose and when we connect with others, with ideas, and with inspiring leaders, then we can effect change on a broader scale.  Not only because we have more hands to help and minds to come up with ideas but also because you can connect with the hearts of the people, and inspire them to do more than they could have ever imagined on their own.

And after being capped off by a 15-20 minute video during dinner, the event did just that.  The message was compelling and well worth the time, even in the middle of finals week. In fact, after the event, I’m now even considering heading to the one in Boston toward the end of the year (I spent a few years in Boston before Chicago) and maybe even to the one in the Bay next month, depending on how my summer work schedule plays out.  The event in San Francisco already has nearly 900 registered attendees, and could turn out to be a huge reunion-type event.

Either way, Bravo Stanford! And best of luck the remaining events!

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Monday, April 19th, 2010 Leadership 13 Comments

Can I Get You A Drink? Kellogg’s MBA Admit Reception

Have you ever been at an event and seen someone you really wanted to chat with for some reason or another but didn’t.  Perhaps someone you recognized from high school or college; or someone you knew had the insight you needed for work or class; or maybe just someone you thought was interesting, but you never quite found the moment or the courage to go introduce yourself.  Well, the good news is that it’s completely normal and that it’s probably happened to all of us.  But here’s an interesting question. What if after leaving you found out that the other person was hoping to get the chance to chat with you too?

My question arises having just attended Kellogg’s admit reception last week. It was a two-hour event, organized by Kellogg admissions and hosted by the Chicago offices of Deloitte Consulting here in Chicago.  Overall, it was certainly an interesting mix and a good number of people, some who I recognized from previous events and many others who I met for the first time. I always enjoy going to these types of events, as they’re usually a good way to meet new people, which is something I personally enjoy.

The event started at 6:30pm and took place on a Thursday.  I walked in with one of my JD-MBA classmates. We were a few minutes late, so I was pretty excited to finally make it to the event.  As soon as I stepped out of the elevator, I scanned the room to see who was around. Gazing from left to right, I saw a sign-in table to my left, the table of appetizers directly in front of me, and to my right, that’s where the lions share of people were standing, over by the bar. “Can I get you a drink?” was the first thing I heard upon entering the doorway to the  room. I figured it was probably going to be an interesting night.

The first thing I did was head over to the sign in table. I figured that would not only allow me to grab my name tag and sign in but also to chat for a few minutes with the admissions team.  I’ve gotten to know a few of them over the past year or so at these types of events, since I originally applied last year as a JD-MBA, so I enjoy chatting with them when I can. I also figured that I might some good information about which of the JD-MBAs would be showing up that night, since I had heard from a lot of them earlier in the day.

So I quickly chatted with one or two members of the admissions team and talked about the upcoming admit weekend in late April. I took a look at the list to see which JD-MBAs would likely not be coming out and I concurrently scanned the room to see who was around.  And after leaving the check-in table quickly found my way to a few good conversations.  The first who actually turned out to be a 2009 alum who worked in marketing in Chicago. I actually saw her in the elevator right up in front of me on the way up to the event, so knew I’d eventually catch up with her.  I also ran into an MLT Fellow and a friend who I met in New York City a few weeks back. I enjoyed engaging in conversations and seeing where people where from and what other schools they were considering. Although for some people doing this may be a bit less natural, having food, being admitted to the same school, and having a bar usually helps to mitigate that.

At some point, I finally made my way over to the bar for a glass of wine, but I spent more of my time and energy chatting with people nearby. I did this for about 30 or 45 minutes before we had to head into the adjacent room where Kellogg had set up a 5-person panel of alumni to talk about their experiences. Most people grabbed a drink from the bar on the way into the room and took a seat to see the panel session.  Taking my glass of wine with me into the other room as well, I decided to sit at a table where I didn’t know anyone at the time.

The panel was facilitated by Director of Admissions, Beth Flye and led by a panel member who was a partner at Deloitte, and an older Kellogg alum.  It was pretty typical panel, though instead of fielding many questions, Kellogg threw them a few underhand softball questions for most of the time. And by the time, they opened it up for Q&A, I think most people were ready to mingle again.

One thing that interested me just before the event ended was that I ran into my friend that I’d met in New York City a second time that night. And he was looking for finance information about Kellogg, specifically alum in the private equity industry.  I was surprised he hadn’t bumped into anyone that night, because I found a number of them in the room, including the person I spoke to five minutes before form Madison Dearborn.   Although people like to call Kellogg a marketing school, Kellogg usually has more finance majors than marketing, so it tends to attract a lot of people just like this.  So I shared the information I found with him, as did a Kellogg professor who was at the event.

And that tends to be my usual mentality at these types of events. Find a way to help someone. Give information, show concern, and connect them with someone else. Because in the end, everyone wins. Someone finds the information they need, and more generally, more connections you established, which pave the way for making new ones and learning new information. It’s also a lot more fun.

In my view, every meeting or conference can be a game changer.  You can change the game for someone else, or someone else can change the game for you.  In today’s age, where there’s increased pressure to work longer hours in a bad economy and where internet is king, it can be easy to sit back, send emails, and rely on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook to make connections.  Don’t get me wrong, those can be very useful tools that connect you globally, all across the world. But at the same the Internet connections can’t replace real connections.  And while for some people doing that is harder than it is for others, that’s still no reason to stay home. Try doing a bit of research before the event, and think about other ways to help you connect. And when all else fails, ask someone if you can get them a drink. At events like this, most people won’t turn you down.

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Monday, April 12th, 2010 Admissions, Business School No Comments

A World Apart

Hey everyone. So I just arrived in Chicago this past week. It’s definitely a lot different here, and a world apart from Phoenix, where I spent the summer, and from Boston, where I spent the past two years. Fortunately, I won’t have to deal with any more 100 degree weather. I also don’t have to deal with having a car, since I’m living in downtown Chicago which is a nice convenience.

First off, the area is pretty interesting. My apartment sits less than one block away from Lake Michigan, and the picture above is taken right from the window in my room. Surrounding my apartment is all of downtown Chicago, which consists of lots of really nice apartment buildings, Northwestern’s 20+ acre downtown campus, the beach, and the magnificent mile. If you don’t know that magnificent mile, it’s a world-renown shopping district that goes through the city of Chicago. It has all the top shopping spots, nice restaurants, tons of people in the summer, and lots other of things to do.

My building is about a 4 minute walk from the law school campus, which sits adjacent to the Kellogg Executive Campus (downtown) and the Med School campus. Generally, in the morning students are hustling about through the city to go to class and professionals are walking or taking the metro to work. In the summer, people are always outside, either running, tanning on the beach, swimming, or just enjoying the warm weather while we have it, since Chicago does get extremely cold in the winter.

It’s a big change to be headed back to school again after a few years off. I’ve spent a lot of time in the law school since I’ve been here. Not everyone is here on campus yet, but when you enter into the law school, it’s a surprise to see people in jeans and t-shirts and starring at laptops rather than taking in all the city has to offer, especially in the summer. But I’d expect nothing less at law school. The kids seem to be a bit more serious than the b-school kids. They’re definitely sharp, but they also seem to want to work really hard. And since law school grading is based on a curve, it seems like we’ll all be spending a lot more time in the books than I will be next year at Kellogg.

In terms of facilities, the law school building is nothing like that of Kellogg. Kellogg is actually pretty old for a business school, though fortunately a new building is in the works. However, the law school has some of the most attractive physical facilities of any law school and the best location of any major urban law school, since it has prime real estate downtown less than a block from the lake and beach.

School wise, this week I’m doing a summer preparation program that Northwestern has, which is sponsored by one of Chicago’s bigger law firms. The point of the program is to allow a handful of the students to get a head start on how to prepare for law school. Basically, we all had to apply to this program a few weeks ago, and the school accepted about 30 of us. Today was the first day of the program, and we are learning about things such as outlining, briefing cases, performing the Socratic Method, and other similar things. All these things are pretty foreign to me, since I’ve been in business the past few years.

But despite being a world apart, I’m pretty excited to learn a bit about the legal industry. I plan to post a little about my experience in this program later in the week. Stay tuned!

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Tuesday, August 18th, 2009 Business School, Law School 5 Comments

Starting Over

In two days, I’ll be packing up my things, heading to the airport and moving to the windy city (i.e. Chicago) to start a new journey in the Northwestern JD-MBA program. Similar to when I went off to undergrad years ago, I won’t be taking much with me except a few suitcases full of clothing and other personal things. I’ll be starting all over again. While most people don’t go as empty handed as I am, I think starting over is a common theme for the majority of business school students. I’ll explain.

People apply to business school for all kinds of reasons and with all kinds of goals in mind, both personal and professional. But they can usually be narrowed down into two broad categories, 1) those who know exactly what they want to do upon graduation, and 2) those who have a few ideas in mind but aren’t really that sure. The first reason includes people who want to go into a certain industry, work for a specific company, or have a very unique job role that requires specific training to accomplish. Often these folks have a career change in mind but not always. Sometimes they just need the degree before they can start over at work in a new role. The second category is made for career changers. These people know they want to change their careers but they aren’t quite sure where they want to go, so they want to use school to explore, learn, reflect, and have access to a variety of careers after school. No matter which category you fit into, you usually come to business school to start over.

Most of the Northwestern JD-MBAs I’ve met so far fall into the second category. I think this happens for two reasons. First, it’s because the law degree, unlike the MBA, is tailor made for career changers, as it opens up the entire legal industry that you would otherwise be prohibited from. As such, students are less likely to put a stake in the ground right away. But it’s also because getting a JD-MBA reflects the fact that you have a wider set of career interests, which fortunately the dual degree opens up. Despite writing very pointed essays about our career goals, usually more specific than our MBA-only counterparts, and convincing admissions from both school offices of why we need to obtain both degrees, many of the JD-MBAs still want to make sure they have put their dual degree to its best use. With career prospects in both business and law and in jobs that might otherwise be harder to obtain without a JD-MBA, this is pretty understandable.

I usually consider myself to fit somewhere in between those two categories. Although I have more than one potential career in mind, I have a pretty pointed idea of where I’m headed after school. But like many of the other JD-MBAs I know, I’m going to keep an open mind about it because I don’t want to cut off any options until I have time to do more research and experience new things.

Over the past year, I’ve learned that there are a lot more careers out there than most of us usually consider, and that sometimes it can take a long time to really figure it all out. That’s why all of us in grad school will be inundated by career fairs and encouraged to take different personality and career tests. My advice to applicants and students, is don’t feel rushed into making decisions early. Explore a wide variety of careers and see how they stack up against your values, personality, and your skills. You’ll be surprised at how many options turn up and what different things seem to appeal to you. More than 12 months after beginning the application process myself, I’m still doing some exploring.

Personally, I’ve come to enjoy the process of looking into careers. I think it has a lot to do with my personal interests in careers, employment, general management, and leadership. But it will be a lot more fun to continue my career research with new classmates, with new friends, and in a new city. In fact, that’s part of what the b-school (and law school) experience is all about, discussing your ambitions, values, interests, and career goals with people in the same decision-making process as you are. It’s a great opportunity, and I’m looking forward to finally getting started after eight months of impatiently waiting. In sum, I’m look forward to starting over.

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Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 Law School 4 Comments

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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