Colin Ferguson, WG’17, took a closer look at Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives after hearing positive feedback from several of his Air Force Academy classmates who had graduated from the MBA program.
“I appreciated Wharton’s similarity to military academies with high-performing cohorts — this was the type of environment I wanted,” he said. “I also knew that Wharton would provide financial and analytical rigor, which would be a great foundation for the rest of my career.”
Combined with the leadership and operational experience he gained as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, Colin knew this business knowledge could help advance his career in both the military and private sectors. Since 2015, he has served as the director of operations for a cyber protection team in the Maryland Air National Guard and as a federal account manager covering the Intelligence sector at Corning Optical Communications.
His interest in an MBA grew after participating in a leadership development program at Corning that gave him a broader view of other functions in the organization. “I had experience in engineering, sales, and account management, but I was inspired to learn more about the whole business,” Colin said. “I wanted an MBA to step back from the trees and see the forest.”
Classroom Learning at Work
In addition to learning more about corporate functions, Colin wanted to acquire new tools to improve process efficiencies in his military role. He characterizes the cyber protection team as a military startup taking innovative approaches to expand the National Guard’s ability to fight in cyberspace and better manage resources for cyber defense operations.
“I apply startup principles and knowledge from classes like operations and business analytics every day,” Colin said. “The financial classes are helpful because we’re all fighting for dollars in the military, and the financial modeling and frameworks provide tools to perform better budget battles.”
His classes have proven useful in the private sector as well. While most of Corning’s industries are b2b spaces, Optical Communications is closer to a b2c model. “Viewing our business from that angle, I better understand and use data analysis for everything from marketing decisions to analyzing consumer behavior,” Colin said. “Negotiations has been very helpful too because I can now categorize my customers in many situations and apply a specific strategy for each situation.”
Plugging into Wharton’s Military Network
When Colin started doing a cost-benefit analysis of using his GI Bill benefits attending Wharton vs. other business schools, he felt it was very doable right off the bat.
“Leveraging the GI Bill is something you can definitely do at Wharton. Also there are additional parts of the GI Bill, such as Yellow Ribbon Program, that you could be eligible for,” Colin said. “They have a commitment to veterans here — even with simple things like waiving your application fee.”
He also found a strong and knowledgeable military network at Wharton right away. “We seek each other out and provide a sounding board when it comes to careers,” he said. “We know the organizations that value veterans with an MBA.” They share that information and other resources in the Wharton Veterans Club, which is organized by the full-time MBA students but open to Executive MBA students as well.
With many active military members, reservists, and veterans in Wharton’s MBA Program for Executives, Colin feels a strong sense of community in the classroom as well.
“Discipline is ingrained into our work ethic, and we can share our military leadership and strategy perspectives,” he said. “We also bring our leadership experiences to the table in classes and projects.”
“Many of us have been in dicey situations and know that a good plan now is better than a perfect plan next week. We can jump into messy situations, take command, and get people pointed in the right direction.”
Posted: December 21, 2016