Welcome to MBA Voices
Ben went about his life like many of us would normally do. After finishing his schooling, he enrolled himself to a bachelors degree in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University, New York. After graduating in 2005, he started to work in Honolulu, Hawaii where he indulged in Triathlon as a hobby.
But, his remarkable career sprung to life from there as he started to turn his hobby into a professional athletic career. He quit his job and focused on professional triathlon. Ben was a United States Triathlon National Team Member for 3 consecutive years (2010 to 2012) and has over 30 professional podium finishes.
Currently, he is an Elected Board Member of USA Triathlon. His uniqueness comes from the convergence of his Engineering background, Professional Triathlete accomplishments, a world class MBA from Chicago Booth School of Business and a keen interest in the business world.
Read his inspirational story below (covered in 2 parts).
Benjamin Collins – A Professional Athlete’s Quest for MBA (Part 2/2)
Being a professional triathlete what influenced you to consider an MBA and what were the drawing factors?
It was a number of things. My parents were small business owners and my Dad was a great manager. I admired that quality. Having grown around a business environment, I always imagined myself to be in a leadership role. In engineering I loved the creative stuff, the process, the redesign of things and the analysis. Early in my triathlon career, I was sponsored by K-Swiss. In working with them I kept hearing about social reach, metrics, marketing etc. and I realized I knew nothing about them. I wanted to learn more so later, while I was racing on the national team and living at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado, I took some MBA classes in marketing at the University of Colorado .
I put a great deal of thought into what I wanted to do after my athletic career. I knew I wanted a career with impact, and where I could continue to learn. I also knew that who I work with is as important to me as what the job entails. In addition to an MBA, I thought about medicine, law, or going into academia. I decided to pursue the MBA because the career possibilities are broad and the impact can be great. Additionally many of the skills that allowed me to succeed in athletics are vital to a successful career in business.
Why did you choose Chicago Booth School of Business?
With my engineering background and the way I think about things and solve problems, I wanted to be part of an analytically rigorous MBA program. I wanted to know the theory behind data driven marketing, the ways we statistically analyse data etc. I looked at several MBA programs and found Chicago Booth to be the most analytically rigorous MBA program. Additionally, I chose Chicago for personal reasons as my fiancée was a medical student in Chicago.
Can you describe your business school experience?
It has been incredibly rigorous. I came in wanting to focus on marketing and entrepreneurship but I have not taken a class in Booth where I did not fall in love with the subject. Every time I turned a corner I fell in love with something new. My first class was regression analysis where it sounds like a computer programming class but – the way they taught it, the enthusiasm of the professors and the way they applied it to real life situations were simply amazing. It was hard to pick a concentration or area of focus. What I wanted to do with my MBA changed a dozen times through the MBA because I kept falling in love with marketing, with strategy, with econometrics etc.
Did you find it difficult to navigate through the academic rigour and the demanding schedule of an MBA course along with your athletic career?
Yes – but I managed it by strict time management, prioritizing and setting up a calendar at the beginning of the week. I blocked time for athletic training and MBA studies. The biggest lesson I have learned is, “When you are doing several different things you cannot do all of them at the same time”.
So when I was in class I was fully focused on class, and when I was training I was fully focused on training. There are many forces vying for your time in both business school and triathlon but with good planning you can do a lot more than you think; make dean’s list, win major national triathlons, and still enjoy life in Chicago along the way.
What are the great things about pursuing an MBA from Chicago Booth School of Business?
It all comes down to people. You can probably learn about business frameworks, theories in a lot of business schools. But it is the people you work with, the diversity, the depth of knowledge and interest in teaching amongst the professors at the business school can change the experience.
There are so many brilliant and amazing people I have met through my MBA, but what struck me the most was the quality of teaching. I knew when I started at Booth that I would have some of the best minds as classmates and professors, but I didn’t expect such level of brilliant teaching from the professors as well.
In my undergraduate studies, I took classes with big name professors who were brilliant and had impressive achievements, but often their classes left me underwhelmed. At The University of Chicago the professors are both brilliant and good at teaching. The professors are animated and passionate. The more inquisitive you are the more they listen to you.
What are the positive influences that MBA has had on you?
I view problems differently. I analyse business situations much more quickly and with different framework than before starting business school. It is now easier to evaluate business ideas, analyse markets, and understand what I am seeing when presented with data – my entire way of thinking has changed.
What are the transferable skills athletes bring to business?
Coming from athletics, there are a lot of transferable skills into business like leadership, working with people, dealing productively with tough situations and setbacks, maintaining friendly relationships with those who compete with you, coaching, both being coached and teaching others, time management, etc. Athletics teach you how to perform at a high level, how to set a goal, plan for it, work towards it and achieve it. Athletics also teaches you to work and train as part of a team and work for overall goals not just your own personal success. All these skills can be applied in business situations.
What would be your advice to athletes who are contemplating an MBA? What are the things they should consider?
MBA training or any professional degree is a great way to make a career transition whether you are coming from sports, engineering or any other profession. As an athlete there are many transferable skills for the business world including work ethic, leadership and ability to work on teams. In my experience, an MBA has been a great way to focus those skills and prepare myself for a career in business.
What are the life lessons you can share with the MBA community?
My mantra has not changed in the last 10 years. My favourite saying is “Do it for the story”. This means that sometimes you have to follow your gut even if it goes against what data tells you is the safe or smart decision. In 2006, no amount of data would ever have supported my decision to leave engineering and try to make the Olympics in a sport I had only recently started competing in. If I hadn’t been willing to follow my gut and take a chance, I would have missed out on the opportunity to win a world championship, race for the US national team, win major triathlons, and have all of the amazing adventures that triathlon has provided me. My gut told me to try to make the Olympic team and – though that was not to be – I pursued it with all my heart. At the end of the day, if you go after your dreams and put everything into it, even if you fail you get an incredible story of your life.
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