Echoing one of the military's best-known slogans, "Uncle Sam Wants You!" the Olin School of Business is aggressively recruiting junior military officers who are making the transition to civilian life.
The message from the Hilltop Campus is strong and direct: Washington University wants you!
For nearly three years, the Olin School has been seeking newly minted veterans to fill choice seats in its master of business administration classes. And the University is getting the best and the brightest:
• Capt. Kara Bates, Army, a Kiowa Warrior armed reconnaissance helicopter pilot who served in Iraq commanding a unit of 30 troops and eight helicopters, will earn an M.B.A. in May.
• Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Gibson, Navy S.E.A.L., with classified responsibilities, earned an M.B.A. in May 2002 and works for 3M in Minneapolis.
• Capt. Doy "D" Gorton, Marines, who served in a decoy unit during the Jessica Lynch rescue, began attending classes this fall and expects to earn an M.B.A. in May 2006.
• Capt. Kyle Hill, Air Force, who worked with the bomber wing on Diego Garcia during Operation Iraqi Freedom, will earn an M.B.A. in May.
Veterans have always been welcome at the Olin School, said Joe Stephens, assistant director of M.B.A. admissions, who has responsibility for military recruitment. But "there wasn't a steady stream," and the school wanted more because they add value to the educational experience.
"What makes them special is their very finely honed leadership skills," said Olin Dean Stuart I. Greenbaum, Ph.D., the Bank of America Professor of Managerial Leadership. "They are extraordinarily focused and mission-oriented. It elevates the tone of the program and the classroom.
"And when they complete the program, they become very, very desirable employees. Our corporate clients are very eager to have them. We've had extraordinary success with these people."
The Olin School began reaching out to the young leaders through military publications, career fairs and conferences. In addition, the school offers 5-10 military scholarships each year. Ranging from $2,000-8,000 per year, these come on top of regular scholarships that are also open to the military students.
"And we do have a full fellowship, if the right person comes along," Stephens said.
With tuition at $33,000 for the 2004-05 school year, the scholarships definitely add to the University's appeal, but Stephens said "what sells the program are the testimonials" from graduates like Jack Benecke. A former Army captain who served as a field artillery officer at Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Campbell, Ky., he is now at Guidant, a cardiovascular medical products company with headquarters in Indianapolis.
"My experience in the military taught me a lot about leadership," Benecke said. "It taught me a lot about management, and it taught me a lot about how to achieve operational success.
"With those attributes, I needed more raw business discipline. I needed to understand the attributes of finance, business strategy, accounting, marketing — all the core business functions. I needed to roll my sleeves up and get dirty.
"Also I wanted to do some experiential learning in entrepreneurships, developing a company from the ground up. That requires a balance of all those core business skills."
With alumni like Benecke spreading the word in the close-knit military community, what was once a handful of military students has grown to about 40, representing all branches of the service. They are spread across the full-time M.B.A. program as well as the part-time evening and weekend Executive M.B.A. programs.
Inquiries and applications are up for all programs, and more than a dozen new military students joined this year's full-time incoming class at the end of August. Stephens said the goal is to have 15-20 junior military officers — mostly first lieutenants and captains who have served 5-7 years — in every full-time class of about 150 students.
A recent agreement with the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) promises that it will direct even more graduates to the Olin School's M.B.A. programs.
For the military students, an Olin M.B.A. holds the promise of a job commensurate with their considerable experience. Stephens explained that without an M.B.A., military veterans can be in for "a huge letdown" on the job market.
"The positions that they are offered are entry-level," Stephens said. "The money that they are making is probably better than what they were making in the military, but the level of responsibility is such that it's just not fun to them. …
"The M.B.A. allows them to skip that entry-level step, and when they put that M.B.A. together with the past years of leadership experience, that level of responsibility, then they are able to go out and get that type of job that they can truly handle. It's what they deserve and what they are looking for."
Bates, who returned from nine months in the Iraqi theater with an Air Medal of Valor, and Chris Springer, who spent four months in Iraq commanding 147 soldiers, praised the Olin School for its small classes and accessible administrators and faculty.
"If you don't value that individual customized learning, then WashU may not be the school for you," Springer said. "It is a small school. They are going to keep it small for a reason."
Bates said that the school's "team culture" is one of her favorite aspects. "I've heard that not all business schools are as team-oriented as they are here," she said.
"The biggest thing is that WashU recognizes the value that you bring coming from the military background. All schools probably say they do, but WashU really, truly does recognize that you've had leadership experiences in the military that contribute to both the program and to the civilian sector when you go out there."
Springer is still on active duty and will return to West Point to teach economics when he completes his degree in May. Identifying himself as "an artillery guy," he says one of the Olin School's most distinctive programs, ICE Week, turned up his adrenalin for the University. The Integrated Case Experience (ICE), a grueling exercise, comes at the end of the first semester, when students present case after case in rapid succession to corporate executives brought in for the occasion.
Springer said ICE Week matched the toughness of his military training.
"I really enjoy that kind of competition intensity, like what the Army gave me," Springer said. "And here it was being applied to the M.B.A. program. … People with a military background thrive in that sort of environment."
Joe Fox, director of the M.B.A. program, described this leadership style as "bulldog determination."
"They really have a can-do attitude and an almost unlimited eagerness and willingness to put in the hard work to get things done," Fox said.
Olin Veterans Association
Both Springer and Bates agreed that the Olin Veterans Association (OVA) cemented their connections with the business school. Founded 2.5 years ago by four students, the school immediately embraced their idea for an organization that would promote student recruitment, mentoring, networking and socializing. It rapidly became the centerpiece of the Olin School's efforts on behalf of military students.
"OVA did make a difference," Springer said, "because that's one of the factors why I came to WashU. No other school had that (formal program) that I know of. … That right there was a huge signal for me. We have a lot of classmates out there who seem drawn to that, the fact that we have an association."
The Olin School M.B.A., coupled with military experience, puts students "in the catbird seat," according to Stephens, when it comes to the job market. Graduates hold jobs at companies like Bear Stearns, Guidant and Salomon Brothers.
Students are winning prestigious internships as well. Average starting salaries reach $84,000, with most students getting signing bonuses of about $16,000.