Ten Questions

June 28, 2011 4:08 pm

Ten Questions - Melissa Bates

Melissa Bates

Melissa Bates: "Tell the punch line first"

Melissa Bates is an MBA student at Duke University: Fuqua in the US. She has an undergraduate degree in human and organisational development. When she graduates, Ms Bates will work as an associate at McKinsey & Company, the management consulting firm.

Ms Bates grew up in Cohasset, Massachusetts before attending boarding school in Kent, Connecticut. She has experience in project management in the construction sector and energy efficient projects.

She enjoys hiking, horse riding, rock climbing and travelling.

1. When did you know you wanted to be study for an MBA?

In 2005, I met a mentor who told me, “Melissa, it doesn’t matter if you get an MBA, JD, or other masters degree, but as a woman, in order to break through the glass ceiling, you need another degree.” After my conversation with her, I saw numerous examples of this among impressive women I know. I decided that an MBA best matched my career aspirations.

2. Who is your ideal professor?

I am extremely lucky to have already had my ideal professor and his name is Shane Dikolli, one of Fuqua’s managerial accounting professors. Every year, Shane memorises 210 students’ names and faces before we arrive on the first day of class. He also spends significant time outside the classroom speaking to and getting to know students so that he can ensure his classes are relevant and incorporate students’ knowledge and experiences.

3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?

Never blame anyone for anything. Always analyse the situation and assess what you could or should have done differently to change the outcome and how you can learn from that in order to prevent a similar situation in the future.

4. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

It is critical to respect the executives and managers at your company and if you do not, get out. I learned this lesson early in my career and have benefited from it tremendously. Having a purpose and doing something that matters to me is one of my top career priorities.

5. What is your favourite memory of school?

One of my favourite early school memories was the day I fully realised that learning to learn and act on my knowledge is much more important than learning to get a good grade. A teacher I had in middle school was dedicated to teaching his students and to expanding our horizons. What was most powerful and unforgettable for me was his push for us to take our knowledge into our local communities and actively do something to improve the lives of others.

6. What advice would you give to women in business?

I have three pieces of advice that I would give to any person in management, not just women. First, feedback: view feedback as a gift; it is the best data you will receive to both improve yourself and advance your career. Second, communication: tell the punch line first. In professional communication, a deductive as opposed to an inductive style is more effective. Third, mentors: actively seek mentors with both personal lifestyles and professional careers that you admire.

7. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?

I consciously set boundaries so that power and gender dynamics do not negatively impact my or the team’s work. I also attempt to be strategic about which skills I demonstrate, as I believe in the concept: “don’t do anything well that you don’t want to do forever”. In male-dominated environments, I find that women can be pigeon-holed to stereotypical categories and tasks such as note taking. Finally, I add value to male-dominated environments by leveraging my emotional intelligence.

8. What inspires you?

I am inspired by the prospect of having a meaningful, large-scale impact. I want to make important things happen. I live my life so that I can be proud of my actions and so that people know that if I say I will do something, I will. Mark Twain said: “action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often”. I try to live each day in a way that would prevent someone like Mr Twain from saying this about me.

9. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?

I wish I could have learned earlier that until I am my own boss, my job is to make my boss look good. For example, if my manager needs something done urgently, I now understand that I need to be a team player and make her strategic goals my own, even if no one apart from her will know that I completed the task. Understanding this has drastically improved my performance, my relationships with my managers and my satisfaction with my work.

10. What are your future plans?

Professionally, my future plans centre around my long-term goal of founding my own company focused on renewable energy or energy efficiency. While at McKinsey I plan to gain the skills, knowledge and relationships required to achieve that goal. That said if I stumble upon an opportunity that enables me to achieve a greater impact than I would if I were to start my own company, I will re-evaluate this goal.

Compiled by Charlotte Clarke

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