Welcome to MBA Voices
Brad’s interest in cars started as early as when he was 6 and when his father allowed him to drive a Lawn go-kart. In spite of developing a racing career, he did not compromise his education and work experience. After high school, he enrolled in an engineering degree in Vanderbilt University and continued to race. In 2006, he met with a serious accident in the race track through which he had to fight to recover. In spite of the odds, he completed his engineering degree in 2007.
In 2009, because of the recession, he lost his full sponsorship and hence started to work for a startup called Edison2. He initially headed the R&D and later went on to head the whole engineering division. “That was a fabulous experience for me to get into a startup at an early stage of the company and work with the investors and see many aspects that go into building a company”, he says.
Currently, he is pursuing his full-time MBA in Darden School of Business alongside his professional racing career. Solomon caught up with him to hear his voice.
Brad Jaeger – Blazes through Racing Circuit & MBA
Name: Brad Jaeger
Business School: Darden School of Business
Year of Graduation: 2016
Career Specialization: Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Business Development & growth
Love: Learning from others and being challenged
Hate: Giving up
Interesting Works: Winning the Automotive X PRIZE with Edison2 in 2010. More information about the X PRIZE and my racing career can be found at www.bradjaeger.com
Tell us about the world of racing and its thrills
Most people who don’t know racing or who are not an enthusiast of the sport, see it as something that is very dangerous and they automatically assume that as a racer I am a thrill seeker, live on the edge, put myself at risk, an adrenalin junkie and is reckless. However, their assumptions are far from the truth.
For almost every racer that I’ve gotten to know – it is about precision, control, mental clarity and the focus you need to have when you are pushing something to the absolute limit. When you are trying to control something that is inherently out of control and you turn the wheel and it goes exactly the way you want it to – it’s fun and exciting and can be almost more than art form.
So that’s what attracts me to racing and that’s why I still love it. It is pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, making mistakes, learning from them to find that perfect balance of the car and you. It is a constant pursuit of perfection. You seldom achieve that as you always feel you can do a little better.
How about the challenges, risks and rewards?
Rewards are amazing. When you stand on top of the podium (especially first) with a trophy in hand, it can’t get any better. It’s a high like nothing else. But it does come at a cost and it can be a grind.
The travel in the summer every week all over North America.When you find yourself in a spot where the car is not performing at its best and you are working with engineers’ day and night to improve that on the track and you just don’t find the results it can be very depressing at times and you can start doubting yourself. There is also the emotional roller coaster you can imagine there is when someone is about to wreck your car, your emotions are running full steam and there is this push to try and control them which is very difficult
The other big part of motor sport is the financial aspect which is trying to find the funding and sponsorship for the team. A lot of work and time goes towards this to ensure that you and the team have what you need to run a full season. So it is very cut-throat and when you find yourself on that podium after dealing with every odd that the racing world throws at you, it is an irresistible feeling. You deserve it for everything came together perfectly.
How do you deal with failures?
While analyzing a failure you should always know what you can control and what you can’t control. You have to measure your performance on what you can control, the effort you put/didn’t put, the mind-set you brought and how you dealt with the adversities that came your way.
That’s how you need to judge yourself but it’s easier said than done. There are many times when the car’s output is not enough or when a competitor hits you and takes you out of the race and you start getting really down on yourself and it’s important to remind yourself that those are not the metrics that you need to be thinking about or using to judge yourself. It helps to look into what you can control and judge yourself based on that.
Maybe you can tell me a little bit about what is it like to be behind the wheels of a racing car?
There isn’t just one thing, I mean the experiences range throughout the race. Before the race starts when you are strapped in and waiting for the start or watching the ceremonies – sitting there and thinking about the start, the competitors, where you are positioned, what you want to do, what you want to do and everything like that flows through your emotions and this is the most nerve racking for me.
Once the car starts firing up and you do the warm up laps, everything is fine – you are focused on driving and the job at hand and everything calms down. Racing is one of the most exciting experiences in real life. When the race starts there are no external thoughts except for a single thought in your head “to win”. When you have such a focus with no breaks (for 1.5 to 3 hours) for such a long period of time where you can’t allow anything else get into your head it is very cleansing almost like a meditation.
So, the wheel in your hand, the way you are controlling the pedals, how you position to try to execute a pass, it is just time to let it happen. Trust your hands and allow it to take control.
Sometimes you don’t come out with a smile at the end of the race, but looking back you realize, you have had some great experiences. There is also a lot of adapting to do. Throughout the race conditions change and you need to adapt your driving style to the track curvature, the rubber build up, the tyre condition and the weight of the vehicle. So you adapt and do your best to get the perfect lap and it changes every moment throughout the race.
What were the highs and lows of your racing career?
By far the low came in June 2006 where I was involved in a severe accident. Multiple cars were airborne and piled up. One came across and hit me in the head. I suffered a concussion and other brain injuries. Coming out of it was a difficult and long process. It was a year before I completed under graduation. I had to focus on recovery as well as my education. There were some side effects and I had to progress every inch of my way. Starting in 2010, I took a few years off from racing to focus on another venture I was a part of. In 2013, I got back into the car and though I had been away from racing a few years, those years helped me to recover and heal. I felt like my old self.
The 2 highs were – one was the championships in 2004 and other in 2015 when I was racing for Nissan and secured 5 podium finishes. This was the time when the car and team came together. What was special about the 2015 season was, I was both a full-time MBA student as well as a professional race driver. Hence, there were more odds to win over.
But in the past, I performed the best when I had so much to deal with. Those situations keep you without getting distracted. It helps. It was difficult primarily at Darden because the business school predominantly uses case methodology and in the first year most of your grades come from participation.
When I had to miss classes because of the travel to races, I missed on points. I did not get any exception because of my racing career and was considered equal with other classmates. While I had less leverage on my points, I was still able to succeed in both – MBA and racing. I wouldn’t trade this for anything else.
Giving up on one of them would have been detrimental to me as the MBA enhances my professional career in the auto industry. One thing I feel sad about is that I could have built stronger relationships with my classmates. However, between racing and school, there was just a limited amount of time. So there was a balancing act to do.
As MBAs we love to draw a parallel between sports and business. Do you find any between racing and business?
There are a lot of similarities between the experience on track and business. In both cases, you are always trying new things, making mistakes, learning from them and trying to be your best and perform at the optimal level. There are so many cross overs.
Also, what is nice about racing is “There can be always another race”. That success or failure is all about one weekend. There is a saying “you are only as good as your last race”. It doesn’t matter how many championships/races you won in the past, but how you performed this past weekend. Similarly, in business, it doesn’t matter how great your company was, if you are not performing right now and looking into the future and planning, your shareholders are going to be upset.
When you are in your car in the middle of the race when all your competitors are around you, you have to figure out, which competitors you can rely on or collaborate with and which ones you are going to be going head-to-head with. You have to figure out how your actions will create reactions from that competitor. Trying to sense that from behind the wheel at 180 miles/hour, you have a lot less time. In racing, you might just loose one race, but in business, you could end up damaging your strategy for years, market positioning etc. So, with these kinds of example, I try to take some parallels from the racing to the business world.
There are a lot of other parallels we could look at – Leadership is one among them. The CEO sets the direction and his/her actions have a lot of trickle-down effect on the company. The same is true about the owner of a racing team. I have been with teams that have extremely strong cultures of helping one another with a community spirit as well as with teams where the owners were cut-throat where they instilled a culture of “watch your back”. On a race team, this could be dire as it takes the focus away from what needs to be done and forces you to think of yourselves. With such an attitude the team cannot excel. So, the leadership effect is huge on a team. Some of the best racing teams have done a great job in setting the culture right within the team.
I am tempted to compare the race driver to the CEO of an accelerating company/startup. What would you advise them when they are in the racing seat to take the company forward?
There are some aspects which we can translate to a driver’s role. You are the leader of the team – you just don’t drop in and drive. Your attitude and the way you work with all the members of the team can affect the mood and performance of the team drastically. If you have a bad race and you go around talking with the team and take the blame, then that builds a culture of people wanting to work with each other. Otherwise, it brings in a divisive culture. So the driver of a race car and CEO are in similar roles. It is also important that you get to know and understand each team member as you need to approach them in a different manner as not all are the same.
So knowing how to build relationship and lead the team by example is paramount. One of the best pieces of advice I got was “look where you want the car to go and your hands and body will take care of the rest”. Hence when things get too fast and too many things happen simultaneously and the company CEO loses touch of where he/she wants the company to go, they end up crashing out of the race or lose control and someone else takes their place.
Hence you always have to be looking forward and you always have to look where you want to go and this has a huge influence.
Why did you choose Darden School of Business? What is fantastic about this business school?
Darden is situated almost in my backyard. When I was working for the start-up, I had been invited a couple of times to present at the business school in classes and innovation summits. So that is what got me interested in the case method of learning. When I presented, I was hoping to run through my slides and take some questions in the end. But the students in Darden business school caught be off-guard by asking questions from my very first slide.
I like the dynamics and the fact that everyone was learning from each other. Having seen that and been there, it made me apply. The other thing being, I was fascinated with design thinking taught by Jeanne Liedtka and that was a big pull. I also considered MIT Sloan School of Management and Stanford Business School but Darden became my number 1 choice.
The MBA has been so much better than what I had expected and I am glad that I ended up here.
You come from a racing background and the business school is a totally different world. Tell us about your challenges in coping with this different setting
Initially, I found it difficult but I had to get over it. Some have told me openly that my biggest issue was that I had never worked for a big company and hence did not have a first-hand knowledge/experience about the business world.
I wanted my MBA to help me to transition from a racing and start-up background to work for a big automotive company. Last summer, I had interned at Ford and I had a wonderful experience there. I wanted to turn my downside into a strength and the MBA at Darden helped me to achieve it.
Tell us the things you enjoyed the most while doing your MBA and your memorable moments
In Darden, during the core course, we were structured to meet as a ‘learning team” every single night to help each other on the extreme course work requirements. This is the experience I will look back with fondest memories. The relationship we built amongst the five of us are so strong that we had so much fun and taught each other and lent help when one needed. Also, the emotional support apart from the academic learning was great.
As you are almost completing your MBA – how has it transformed/ equipped you?
The course was so intense and the faculty gave you so much to do. Learning how to balance that and manage it successfully, reaffirms your confidence that you can do it. It also teaches you how to do things and balance life and work and prioritize work. It also taught me to prepare myself for any situation.
It has been an eye opener as I came from a startup world and thought I know about management and have seen a lot of interesting situations throughout my career. But once I got to Darden, hearing the personal experiences of my class mates from all over the world with completely different work situations, opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and understanding situations or issues that I need to face probably during sometime in my career. So this has really enriched me.
Have you made up your mind in terms of what you want to do post-MBA?
I got an offer from Ford after my internship with them in 2015. I will join Ford in the marketing leadership program. I am really excited to go back to Ford in Detroit and start my new career.
I am also working alongside my classmates to launch 2 startups and lift them off the ground before I join Ford.
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