After completing a Harvard MBA, Meghan just started a new job as Director of Operations at Aspire Health in Nashville, TN. Just a few weeks before her wedding to Eamon Doyle ‘09, Meghan took time out of a very busy schedule to chat with PGP’s summer intern Gretchen Rice ‘20.
What was your major at Olin, and what did you do after you graduated?
I was a mechanical engineer. My first job out of college was with Boston Scientific as a software controls engineer for manufacturing equipment. I traveled internationally for them but unfortunately my project was canceled. After that, I did two years at a company called MicroVention that makes brain aneurysm implants. I started out as a Manufacturing Engineer and then after a year, I was promoted to Production Operations Manager. The assemblers reported up to their production supervisors, who reported to me. It was not a very traditional Olin post-grad job, but it was something that I really loved. I learned and grew a lot.
What is the Harvard 2+2 Program?
Applications for this business school program your are completed senior year of undergrad, and the program is designed for students to work for 2 years, and then attend do a 2-year MBA program. It seemed like a good opportunity to set up an option for my future, and not necessarily a definitive plan that I was going to business school. I ended up working for 3 years, and having that open door of Business School was really good for me. Had I not applied in December 2011, I do not know that I would have stopped and thought about it in 2015 when I was pretty busy managing the operation at work. I don’t know that I would have had the time to take the GRE or write essays and apply to a bunch of schools. So I’m glad I did 2+2 early. The. 2+2 program is also somewhat targeted towards students who have a STEM background. Traditionally, a lot of people at HBS come from consulting, banking or finance. So 2+2 tries to attract more people from STEM fields, bringing more diverse opinions to the classroom.
What prompted you to go to business school after Olin?
I ultimately see myself as someone who wants to know how everything works. Obviously in engineering, you’re taking things apart, figuring out how they work, and designing new systems. For me, knowing how the business works as well is equally important. How do the organization and all the different functions within it interact with each other? How does it interact with the various stakeholders, whether they are customers, employees, business owners, or community members? When I reflected, I realized I understood how my function worked, but I really wanted to know how all of parts of the business worked and how the industry worked as a whole. How I could make the most impact with my knowledge and experience?
You said that Harvard was trying to bring in more STEM undergrads with the 2+2 program. Did it feel like you were bringing a unique perspective to the classroom?
The 2+2 program is less than 10% of the entire HBS class, and we were mixed in with everyone else. Once I matriculated, it’s not like we were sequestered off to a different part of the school. Engineers and others with a STEM background were still in the minority, but I definitely wasn’t alone. There were many people to give a technical perspective of an issue in the business cases we were discussing.
What was unique about my background is that not many of the engineers and scientists came from manufacturing. I had a unique perspective of what it looks like when rubber meets the road in daily operation. I had also managed large teams prior to business school. Even for MBA grads, it’s hard to get into a position in 2-5 years where you’re managing people. These two things -- the manufacturing and the management of a large team -- were somewhat unique. However, in such a large, diverse class, everyone brings something to the table. It’s one of the great things about HBS.
How did you feel HBS was different than Olin, and what was the experience like?
Well, for starters, there are 900 people in the class, which to Oliners seems gigantic. We were placed in a section of 90 people in our first year (almost Olin-sized), and I got to know my section well. All the education at HBS is case-based learning. For each class we read a 15-50 page write-up about a business and the problem or situation it faced. Then we would hash out the details in a conversation that illustrates the different teaching points. Having such diversity of perspectives and opinions is really helpful in generating the lesson’s takeaway. For example, if there was a case where the company was trying to finance building a new factory, the people who have finance or banking backgrounds bring their perspective, I bring my perspective from manufacturing, and someone who worked in an HR function brings their perspective. Combining the viewpoints of all those different stakeholders helps you understand how the different pieces work inside one business model.
HBS is much less open-ended than Olin, and it’s a bigger and more dynamic group. There were very few small group projects at HBS - most of the education consists of large 90-person discussions. It’s in an 80 minute class period, so you might get to share your thoughts that day or you might not.
Additionally, the perspectives at HBS are so different. You learn more about others and how they think than you may at Olin because Oliners tend to get excited about similar things and when there’s debate it may be more about design specifications and less about core principles. If you’re in a leadership question, how do you essentially think people operate, are people inherently good or are people inherently evil? It’s an interesting way to learn how others think, you get outside your comfort zone and see things a bit differently.
Pros and cons of HBS?
I think the people are the biggest pro. I learned so much from your classmates. They’re smart, and they bring their unique experiences but also their biases, and you learn from both. I learned about my own biases from my classmates. The obvious pro of HBS is the giant network of classmates and alumni that you walk away with. It’s an amazing group of alumni who are happy to help anyone from any year. It’s ultimately a good brand to have. We have to be careful when or how we use it, but it is a nice way to get your foot in a door. The final benefit I walked away with is a set of tools to think about and frame problems. They give you a lot of tools to do that and through the case-based discussion you practice using those tools, and you see how different people apply them to different problems.
As far as cons, for me, the biggest con is that two years is a long time to take away from whatever else is going on in your life. It’s very fun, everybody has a good time and you enjoy being around each other, but for me, I felt like I was missing out on the ways that I was contributing before HBS. There were certain things that I personally had to put on hold in order to move to Boston for a few years, and so there are some MBA programs out there that are still at top schools but are only 1 year. Looking back, I might have considered that. It’s a question of whether you want to take 2 years off from other things in your life, or how do you integrate other things that you value into that time.
What is the structure of the learning? Are there tests? Is it just discussion? What is a typical day like?
There are generally 5 classes a semester. A normal day: in a normal day I would read a bunch of cases the night before, walk in and talk about them for 80 minutes. There are a few tests here and there but they’re uncommon. The grading is based on participation - am I speaking up? Is what I am saying insightful or am I just repeating something read in the case? At the end of the semester they have a case-based exam so I would read a case write a time-bound paper about itt. It’s about 50% of the grade in most cases, and it’s a way for people who don’t speak up as much to demonstrate their competencies in an essay form.
The one caveat I would say is that maybe, grades matter, but ultimately they don’t. This is something that I really valued about HBS. You get ones, twos, and threes. Ones are excellent, those are the top 10% or so. Two is pretty much everybody in the middle, about 80%. And three is bottom 10%. Most students walk away with mostly twos, but in the end, once you have your MBA from Harvard, nobody asks you - what was your GPA, did you get all ones? No one outside cares. Few people at HBS really care either. At this point in our careers, let’s worry about bigger problems in the world that we can solve with the privileges we have than getting all perfect grades.
So you take five classes a semester?
The first semester comprises Finance, Operations, Accounting, Marketing, and an Introduction to Leadership and Orientational Behavior. You have between 10-15 cases per week, based on those classes. Second semester includes an ethics course, an entrepreneurship course, another finance course, a strategy course. In the second year, it’s all electives so I took a lot of health care courses personally because I came from working with medical devices and plan to work in the hospice space after. People can elect to take whatever courses they want second year.
You just graduated from HBS! What’s next for Meghan?
I’ll be a Director of Operations at an in-home palliative care company.I felt that moving into health care delivery and working on how people receive health care would be more impactful than working on incremental changes in devices. The health care system is pretty broken right now. Helping people receive care in a cost-effective way that matches what they want and value and is a huge area of opportunity for our country. I’ve joined a company that is a Google venture backed late stage start-up - they’re 4 or 5 years old, and I’m excited because it’s a great opportunity for me to grow with the company. They’re growing fast and they need people with a variety of perspectives in their central leadership to grow with the company and to figure out a) how to run the operations now, and b) how to continue their growth in the future. Much of this is end-of-life care, so I’m applying the fundamentals of UOCD to figure out how people want to be cared for and how they want to finish their life with dignity. Is it in the comfort of their own home, or in a hospital that may be an unfamiliar environment? How can we do that in a way that minimizes their pain and saves health care costs. There are many trips to the emergency room at this stage in their lives - how can we take care of them and prevent unnecessary emergency room visits?.
So you’re not going to be doing engineering?
My engineering education taught me to think analytically and systematically. It’s actually interesting - the chief operating officer that I’ll work for is an industrial engineer, so I think the two of us will tag team pretty well on thinking analytically, on a systems level about how to run the operation.
Any advice for Olin students?
Go where the growth is! Take the job offer at a risky company. You don’t know if they’re going to be around tomorrow or it’s a place that no Oliner has ever gone? If there is high potential for growth for the company, or for yourself, take the risk. Go where the growth is. It’s easy to go to a company that’s reputable and has a well-defined job description and job security. But on the flip side, when you have a well-defined job description it’s harder to take on growth opportunities. At a growing company, they need people willing to learn new skills, flex various muscles, or lead new initiatives. Going to a smaller understaffed company where you’ll wear a lot of different hats is a good way to show your broad base of skills, and also learn new skills to really improve yourself. So that’s my number one piece of advice, go where the growth is.
Secondly, build yourself some doors for your career. I took the GRE early, while I was still a student and taking tests was fresh. I applied to 2+2 in order to build that option for my future. You don’t need a perfectly defined plan of what your career trajectory is, but build doors for yourself. Join professional networks like SWE or if you’re into health care, some sort of healthcare device group in your region. That way you can start making those connections that will be there when you need them.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
I’m happy with my career path and the trajectory I’ve taken. What I might have done differently is just take a bit more time off between phases. I graduated Olin in May, and within a month I had started my next job. I took a week between my first and second job. And then I had maybe 3 weeks between my second job and HBS, and I spent that moving from California to Boston. Now I have 2 months between HBS and starting this new job, and that will include remodeling a kitchen and getting married! There’s been very little down time for enjoying the people around me and all that’s going on. Part of that is my personality -- I cannot sit still -- but I think I’d probably be a little bit happier right now if I was sitting on a beach somewhere instead of planning contractors for my kitchen and a wedding. I think that’s something in my life I need to work on because work-life balance is important. Taking time to rest, refresh and be grateful for the people around you.
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