With autumn just around the corner, the New England state of New Hampshire, where I am about to begin my MBA, is preparing to look its best.

Thomas Park
© Financial Times

I have moved to Hanover, to Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business for a two-year programme. Although remote,Dartmouth is beautiful– red bricked buildings with manicured lawns and the majestic White Mountains surround the town. There is a main street that is very much “small town America” – Lou’s Diner is an institution here as well as Murphy’s pub, serving local beers and a large heaping of pub fare to generations of Tuck students. Orientation is about to end and classes will start in a few days, so it’s a good time to think about how I, at thirty years old, have arrived at Tuck and what I plan to do at the school.

I certainly do not fit the profile of a typical MBA student. Having studied law in my home country of Canada and put in a brief stint in corporate law at a leading Canadian law firm, I sought adventure overseas. I wanted to do more with my law degree and the post-conflict challenges in the Balkans and Africa offered the kind of opportunities for active engagement that I sought. Over the next few years, I moved to The Hague as well as Kosovo, wrestling with the challenges of international criminal law and nation-building. The work was fulfilling; the experiences life altering.

Working in international bodies, I developed an interest in understanding how these organisations performed and achieved their strategic objectives. Out in the field, having a clear idea of mission and a plan for execution is of vital importance. Roads need to be rebuilt, people relocated and settled and the basic functions of government need to be set up and running.

International criminal prosecution is no different – suspects must be identified, evidence analysed and evaluated and key international and local stakeholders need to be lined up.

But I realised I wanted to have deeper insights. I wanted to understand what made certain organisations more effective than others. How did they set and then achieve their goals? How did they make sure they did not wander from their intended path? How were these organisations supposed to deal with very challenging environments?

I wanted to couple this with a growing passion: emerging markets. A recent opportunity to work with the UN-sponsored Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia allowed me to see up close how quickly the economies of Asia are transforming. I was excited at the economic prospects and the fast-paced changes underway in Asian societies. I wanted to pursue a career that would combine my passion for working in emerging economies with an organisation that would give me the opportunities to work on exciting and challenging projects. I felt that it was time to build on my experiences in the humanitarian field and participate directly in the economic development of the Asian continent: in short, pursue private sector opportunities in emerging markets. This was why I needed the MBA.

So why Tuck? Why choose a school which is, admittedly, in a remote part of New England, rather than study in a bustling metropolis such as London, New York, or Beijing?

I had several reasons. One factor was that I had chosen to study in the US rather than abroad. The US is an exciting and dynamic place to study business and I also enjoyed studying in the region. I had completed graduate studies at Harvard and felt that remaining in the US made the most sense for me.

Nevertheless, the leading US business schools boast similar qualifications – top notch faculty, rigorous core programs, illustrious alumni and - most importantly - high recruitment rates in the world’s most prestigious businesses around the world.

Yet for me, Tuck distinguishes itself from other top US schools in two important ways.

First, Tuck seems particularly focused on ensuring that its students have one of the best MBA curricula in general management and leadership by having faculty interact with students in a meaningful way.

All members of the faculty are expected to teach as well as publish; more faculty members are being added but class size will not increase; and teachers are expected to get to know their students. In fact, close faculty-student interaction is one of the hallmarks of Tuck.

Tuck’s dean, Paul Danos, explained to me that Tuck wants to differentiate itself from other business schools by ensuring that its graduates experience one of the most demanding curricula in the world, with a focus on leadership and analytics. Tuck students work hard, he says and recruiters know that. At the same time, students have every resource available to help them succeed in each aspect of their career path: tutors, leadership coaches, great teaching, etc.

Second, it was the nature of the school’s community that ultimately won me over. It has been two weeks and I can already see why the student body is so close knit.

There are only 250 students in the first year class and minimal distractions available in town. In fact, at first, I had trouble falling asleep at night because it was “too quiet” outside. But after a few days of orientation, I feel that I have already made some great friends with incredible stories to tell. Many are former military officers; one had biked from Alaska to South America; and another had been a photographer at Saddam Husain’s trial. We eat, drink and socialise together, exchanging stories and figuring out how to get the most out of the next two years. Indeed, for those students who are not “people persons”, Tuck should be the last place on their list – it’s impossible to be anonymous here.

I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know my new friends. But classes are beginning, with assignments in financial analysis and decision science already due. The hard part is about to begin. Welcome to Tuck.


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