After I graduated from Stanford this year, a favorite question at social gatherings is ‘What were the two years at the GSB like?’ As I start fishing for the right word to describe the two years – fantastic, awesome, enlightening, …, the only one that shouts out from the swirl of adjectives running through my mind is ‘transformative’. It is hard to capture all the ways that the two years at the GSB have been transformative. Sometimes you go through an experience and you come out of it a changed person and it’s hard to pinpoint what in that experience caused the transformation. However, I will try to list down a few that I think have impacted me the most.
I started business school thinking I would learn about strategy, balance sheets, sales and marketing, … but I came out of it learning much more than just that. I learnt about myself. I learnt what my strengths are, how good a leader I am, what holds me back from being the best I can be, how do I impact and influence others around me. By understanding myself better, I understood others better. Courses such as Interpersonal Dynamics (popularly known as ‘Touchy Feely’), High Performance Leadership and Paths to Power, provided me the opportunity to look into the depths of my personality, churn through those layers and emerge a better leader at the end of it. It was like I learned a whole new language that I never knew existed before. While you can learn how to read a balance sheet or write a marketing plan from a book, I couldn’t have learnt how to read myself from any book, and am thankful to the GSB for this skill.
Take risks, follow your heart
As you enter the GSB campus, you see a quote by Phil Knight (Stanford GSB’ 62) founder of Nike and the donor of the new Knight Management Center in the courtyard. He says, ”There comes a time in every life when the past recedes and the future opens. It’s that moment when you turn to face the unknown. Some will turn back to what they already know. Some will walk straight ahead into uncertainty. I can’t tell you which one is right. But I can tell you which one is more fun.”
The dean, the professors, the top honchos of the world who visit the school, in fact every part of the school, through subtle yet constant exhortations, encourages you to embrace change, to take risks and follow your heart. The fact that your classmates and alumni are some of the most accomplished people in the world, from founders of companies to creators of social change only reinforces the message. In an amusing way, you follow the herd at Stanford by taking risks. The fact that 16% of the class last year started companies right out of school is testimony to it. And, the numbers are even higher a few years out. Anecdotally, I have heard that 50% of the class starts a company within 5 years of finishing school.
“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” A.A.Milne, author of the Winnie the Pooh series, wrote. These could very well have been words that Stanford tells its students. Stanford reposes a lot of trust in us. Stanford doesn’t question if each of us is going to be successful or not after we graduate. They assume so. And, it is this trust reposed in us that goads us to try harder and fulfill the promise that we have made to the school – to change lives, organizations and the world, for the better.
I know a lot of people who question the value of an MBA. I did too. But the two years at the GSB couldn’t have proved me more wrong. Stanford was truly transformational.
Uzma Hussain Barlaskar graduated from BITS, Pilani in 2007 with Bachelor’s degree in Comupter Science Engineering. After working with DE Shaw for close to 3 years and being associated with BITSAA as CMO for 2 years, she joined Stanford GSB in 2010 to pursue an MBA.