Welcome to MBA Voices
George Wilson pursued his MBA from Columbia Business School to propel his career forward with NBA. While he has been inspired by the opportunity to work for NBA, he felt that an MBA from a top business school would help him to broaden his scope and understanding of business as well as gain a well rounded business acumen and management skills.
After completing his MBA, he continues his career with NBA. Read his story below…
MBA Shoots George Wilson to New Heights in NBA
Name: George Wilson
Business School: Columbia Business School
Year of Graduation: 2015
Career Specialization: Sports Business
Love: Reading, rowing (I rowed Crew in college and high school), basketball, traveling, IMAX movies, candy
Hate: Long car rides, clowns, tomatoes
You have pretty much worked exclusively for NBA so far. Tell us a bit about NBA as not everyone is familiar with it.
I love the business of basketball. I love the NBA in particular because the company takes an innovative approach to growing the game of basketball globally. It is a place where diversity of experience is embraced and celebrated. Every day, I am surrounded by incredibly intelligent individuals who are experts in their functional area, be it marketing, finance, strategy, statistics, or basketball operations.
How did you get your foot in the door (to NBA)?
As an undergraduate at Cornell, I knew that I wanted to enter the sports and entertainment industry upon graduation. I was fortunate enough to secure an internship with the NBA during the summer of 2007. I was able to return the following summer as a member of the incoming Associate class of 2008. Since then I have held various roles and risen in rank.
Are there any differences in working for NBA compared to the traditional corporations? If yes, what’s the difference?
I am probably biased because I have a passion for sports business. There’s nothing like making your passion your career. At the NBA, it is an even greater reward for me personally. The company is so small and everyone is responsible for their respective part of the business. I’m in a position to create significant change. For anyone that ever wanted to be a difference maker or contributor to a team, this is the place to do that.
You have probably met the NBA stars or reputed sports professional as part of your Job – Has it impacted or inspired you in any way?
I am definitely inspired by the level of dedication that some of our athletes have for their craft. There is a lot of raw talent in the world of sports.
But when you see someone who is that good, but still working to improve…that first one in the gym last one out mentality….it is really inspiring. It is a mindset, and while most of us may not have the athleticism or physique to ever play professional sports, we can still bring that same level of intensity and dedication to the other areas of our lives
I try to approach my career with the same level of intensity and dedication.
Why did you aspire to do an MBA? What did you want to get out of it?
While I was happy with my company, I was convinced that if I wanted to continue to rise within the organization, I would have to broaden my scope and understanding of business as a whole. I didn’t want to job hop, so I felt like business school would be the perfect incubator to allow me to gain a more well-rounded business acumen, additional experience, and management skills.
Why did you choose Columbia Business School amongst others?
I chose Columbia Business School because of the collaborative diverse community, the strength of the curriculum, and the advantage of being in the New York City marketplace.
The diversity of the community is amazing. The school has so many international students that were business leaders in their respective fields and countries around the globe. I believe over 40% of my class had international citizenship. We learned so much in the classroom from each other, and we traveled together. It really enhanced my experience.
The curriculum is top notch. The pedigree of the professors, the executive speakers, the wealth of knowledge available…these are all reasons I chose Columbia Business School. I can’t even remember how many classes I had where we were going through a case study, and then the CEO or executive that the case was about came to class to walk us through their decision making process (it was quite often).
Regarding my last point, the executives are able to easily visit our campus because of the New York City advantage. As a person interested in sports, I had the opportunity to visit and network with so many major sports leagues at their headquarters. NBA, MLS, NFL, MLB, NHL, the list goes on. This is not just the case for sports.
NYC is a major market for finance, fashion, consulting, and entrepreneurship. Pretty much anything you’re interested in, you can find and get involved with. I held three internships while in business school (one with PepsiCo during the summer, one with the Brooklyn Nets during the fall semester of my second year, and one with Wasserman Media Group during my second semester second year). I was only able to do this because of the NYC advantage.
Your volunteer experience seems to be more focused on kids? What drives you in this direction?
As a child, I was part of an organization called A Better Chance, which changed the trajectory of my life. I feel that with the proper guidance, children can have a better opportunity of reaching their full potential in life. I try to align myself with organizations that I feel can provide that opportunity for a child. But my #1 organization is A Better Chance, because they paved the way for me, and I feel it is my duty to give back.
How has the Columbia MBA journey transformed you?
My time at Columbia taught me how to take a relatively ambiguous business situation and develop a methodical approach to resolving it. In management situations, there is not always a clear roadmap outlining the correct way to proceed. You have to be comfortable assessing risk/reward scenarios, securing buy-in, and executing. Columbia Business School transformed me in the sense that I am now comfortable approaching these types of scenarios.
Why did you decide to go back to the NBA after completing your MBA?
As stated earlier, I have always admired the NBA, and I appreciated the company even more so after leaving for a few years. I returned because I saw a unique opportunity to rejoin the company and contribute to a growth opportunity via the NBA Development League. The NBA D-League is the official minor league of the NBA.
Currently there are 19 teams affiliated with 19 NBA teams. The league is rapidly growing, and in time there will most likely be 30 NBA D-League teams affiliated with each of the 30 NBA teams. The business operations and strategic expansion of this league were of great interest to me. The process of growing this league to that level is almost like a business case study. So that opportunity combined with my love for the game of basketball and the NBA specifically equated to my decision to return.
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