Seattle Trek!

MBA student Rajat Gugnani reflects on creating a career trek to Washington state and the opportunity it provided to graduate students at Fisher to connect with industry leaders Amazon, Expedia, Microsoft and Starbucks.

With the academic year coming to an end and everyone finishing final presentations and papers for various courses, I look back and feel blessed to have spent a wonderful first year with some fantastic people at Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business. One of the things I feel passionate about is serving as an MBA Ambassador. It gives me a chance to speak with prospective candidates from across the world, show them our campus, and take them for coffee and lunch while sharing my perspective about our program and school.

I recently took the initiative to build a new “career trek” to Seattle. My motivation for creating a new career trek targeting tech companies came from innumerable phone calls I answered while working with the Admissions Office during my first semester at Fisher. Many students asked if we have established connections with organizations on the West Coast, and I always wanted to say “Yes!” This consequently led to the development of a formalized trek to Seattle.

As soon as I decided to undertake this initiative, I approached a current second-year student, Thais Batista Ronconi, who interned at Amazon and will be joining Amazon in a full time-role this year in Seattle. She was enthusiastic about the idea and was happy to mentor me throughout the development of the trek. We approached the process step by step and started reaching out to alumni and talent acquisition heads/recruiters at various organizations in Seattle. In the meantime, we gauged interest from current students and started working on the timing.

The response we received from students was massive — something that kept us going even after hearing “no” from some of the organizations. After working with companies for almost three months, we got our final “YES” list: Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft and Expedia. Yes, the Big 4 in Seattle.

The timing worked out well with the organizations. We visited in mid-March during spring break with a group of 15 first- and second-year MBAs.

Seattle’s Ferris Wheel at Pier 57

Day 1 started at Starbucks! As soon as we entered Starbucks’ board room, we received a bag full of coffee and goodies for each of us. We started with a session from one of the executives on Sourcing and Global Operations and then learned more about how Starbucks is differentiating itself by investing in technology. We toured Starbucks HQ, which was one of a kind. Every wall illustrated the company timeline by connecting Starbucks’ different product releases with prominent historical events. Also of note: employees can contribute to the less fortunate by buying coffee at a special store inside the building. People from across all departments also meet weekly to discuss how they are impacting people’s lives. From its coffee-tasting space to roasteries, everything at Starbucks is distinct.

Starbucks’ first logo!
At Starbucks’ HQ (top floor)

We commenced Day 2 at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. The first activity took us to the visitor center, a place that has a neat display of everything Microsoft (it features all of Microsoft’s current and upcoming products). From Xbox to Surface book, and from HoloLens to Microsoft’s Age Detection API, we experienced everything.

We were introduced to some cool initiatives at Microsoft and learned how it is utilizing technology to make the world a better place to live. One of the projects that stood out was how Microsoft is helping to find missing children in China. After spending some great time with the recruiter, we met a panel of Ohio State alumni who answered our questions about “all things Microsoft.” Concluding our visit with lunch, it was overall a great day spent in sunny Seattle with our alumni members. Big shout-out to Rafael Williams, university recruiter at Microsoft!

Outside Microsoft’s Visitor Center

Expedia welcomed us with an overview of its organization and later gave a detailed description of its global network of brands. The best part of the visit was a Q&A with the recruiter, who answered more than 50 questions from us.

At Expedia Group’s headquarters in Bellevue, Seattle

Amazon came at last — marking a perfect ending to our Seattle trek. This organization never fails to surprise me — it has now surpassed Google as the best place to work in the United States, according to one survey. We started at Amazon’s “Day 1” building (they consider every day at work to be the first day creating an entrepreneurial start-up environment) with a panel discussion featuring the head of Product Management and a mix of people covering different areas at Amazon! Conversation with each of the panelists gave us more clarity on what Amazon is seeking from its future employees and how its current employees live those 14 leadership principles in their day-to-day work.

After touring the building, we went to the newly opened Amazon Spheres. These spheres serve as a “haven of carefully tended nature geared to letting Amazonians break free from their cubicles and think disruptive thoughts.” Going through each of its floors while experiencing more than 400 different species of cloud forest plants from all over the world was an exhilarating experience. It is definitely a “must-visit” for everyone visiting Seattle. Amazon will soon open the spheres to public.

Amazon Spheres (photo from https://www.instagram.com/seattlespheres/)
Inside Seattle Spheres (I am at the extreme left in a white shirt ;))

It was absolutely a delight to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime event and to learn new things about all these organizations. I hope this new trek becomes a legacy at Fisher College of Business.

Organizers (From left to right: me, Rajat Gugnani, current first-year MBA; Thais Batista Ronconi, current second-year MBA, and Alexander Toomey, advisor at the Office of Career Management)

My First Winter Break in the U.S.

So, here I am, 25% through Full-Time MBA and I never felt time fly this quickly before! My first day at Fisher feels like it was just yesterday. Then, I had a three-week long winter break– something that I was absolutely thrilled about…

The highlight of break was a Fisher MBA “Marketing Hop” where first-year and second-year MBA students (myself included) took a trip to Detroit and Chicago to meet and greet major “movers and shakers.” This is an annual event (and not the only event of its kind– students take organized “hops” to other cities).

I had a few hours to pack my bags after my last final exam on the night of December 13th– before heading out the next day. It was extremely cold on that morning when we were supposed to report outside Gerlach Hall a.k.a. our “MBA academic powerhouse building.” A short bus drive away… and we arrived in Detroit for a stop at Ford Motor Company. Then, we were off to the “Windy City.”

We met brilliant people at LinkedIn, Dyson, Groupon, Rise Interactive and a few other digital marketing agencies in Chicago. We also had some fun on the side! The city (even when freezing) was warm enough to me; I got introduced to Giordano’s deep-dish pizza by one of my Brazilian friends studying at the University of Chicago, the security check at Skydeck Chicago was gracious to offer me a free ticket, and I enjoyed mouth-watering paan in Chicago’s Little Pakistan-India neighborhood. I spent two nights in Chicago before I headed to San Francisco to spend the rest of my break with family.

Skydeck with friends

I began the evening of December 16th by landing at SFO, where a group of my friends came to welcome me! After chatting for hours with my friends while roaming around the streets of San Francisco, my family came to pick me up and the day ended with a lot of homemade Indian delicacies, deep conversations with cousins, and wine. The next few days were exhilarating and packed with a lot of action. My cousins had a plan for every single day and when I look back in hindsight, I believe that I couldn’t have lived any of those days better. Highlights include sightseeing San Francisco: walking along the Embarcadero, experiencing the breath-taking views of the bay; biking the Golden Gate bridge with cousins and friends; riding Lombard Street in an SUV (that’s the really curvy, downhill street that you’ve probably seen in pictures), relishing hot chocolate fudge at Ghirardelli Square, and eating the best Thai food with an unforgettable view.

Christmas morning breakfast table at our Airbnb

After just a week, I was enthralled with what California has to offer. The city was dressed in lights as Christmas got closer and the vibe of the holiday season could be felt on every street. Following a last-minute change in the plan, we all decided to visit Yosemite National Park for Christmas. Staying at an Airbnb in the middle of the forest for three nights with no internet connectivity gave me time to reflect and cherish quality time with family. Hiking the Yosemite peak during this time of the year was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I never thought that I could even complete the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail with absolutely no training. What I took back from the visit to Yosemite is a new version of myself. I learned that I can be comfortable with the uncomfortable. The next few days were spent enjoying a lot of New Year’s Eve parties, learning some board games (such as Monopoly, Catan, Ticket to Ride, and playing the lying-bluffing-fib-till-you-win Fibbage), and trying to get better cooking skills some Indian recipes!

Yosemite Christmas Trip
Our trail
Columbia Rock (1/3rd through our trek)

With the onset of the new year and my last week in California wrapping up, I got an opportunity to visit the Apple HQ in Cupertino, California, with our Marketing Professor and Program Director, Dr. Shashi Matta, who (every year) takes a group of students to a road trip in California. I also got a chance to visit GoFundMe, crowdfunding platform to raise money, and Asana, an organization that designs a mobile application to help teams track their work. Plus, I met with Fisher alums while I kept my focus on a summer internship. Lastly, I got to spend my last night in California with some 30 Buckeyes in San Francisco over a meet-and-greet event before leaving for my 12:25am flight back to Columbus.

Dr. Matta, third from the left, and some current Fisher MBA students (myself at extreme right)

California was definitely fun and I took back a bag full of memories that I’ll cherish forever!

Core Team: An Integral Component of the Fisher MBA

As I reflect through the past five months of my Fisher MBA experience, one thing that kept me going through this rigorous and fast-paced program was my core team. Yes, you heard that right – ­my core team! Go, Team #3!

Fisher heavily emphasizes the concept of team. Just before you officially start your MBA, you go through a three-week pre-MBA term. At the end, you find out who’s on your core team, the team you will be working with throughout the first year of your program. Just to offer a glimpse of how a pre-MBA term looks, this is where you get to know about the program structure, professors, resources at Fisher and Ohio State. At the same time, you get to attend executive lunches, seminars, career roundtables, and speaker series.

The whole entering class is divided into teams of four to five, with people not only coming from different backgrounds but also from different parts of the world. The diverse nature and vivid experiences that every individual brings to a team make you appreciate the power of such a setting. We, as a core team, faced our first challenge on the very first day we got introduced to each other. As a part of Fisher Challenge, we had to present a case analysis on one of the budding organizations in Columbus and propose an innovative way to help increase the firm’s profits. This was the first group exercise with my team and to date, we’ve delivered on many such assignments. We ended our pre-MBA term with an experiential learning program with all core teams at a location little outside of Columbus (called “Summit Vision”). This was absolutely one of the experiences that I’ll add to my special memories from Fisher for the rest of my life.

A pic from Summit Vision (I am on the extreme left, along with rest of my team)

Over time, as I’ve progressed through the MBA program, these are the people who’ve become a big part of my Fisher family. It’s not just the assignments inside class, but the other experiences. Recently, we all planned a day out at the Columbus Zoo. It was definitely a stress-reliever after the end of our first term and simultaneously gave us the time to know each other better in a setting outside of the class.

A pic from the Columbus Zoo

Overall, working in a team setting has not only helped me in learning the art of coming together as a team to solve a problem but to also appreciate different leadership styles operating within the same team. It, in a true sense, gives you the flavor of how your post-MBA corporate life would be.