By Damien Potocnik, MBA’20
My first experience in the Kelley Direct Online MBA program—one of two on-campus Kelley Connect Weeks—was both eye-opening and exhilarating. I was out of my comfort zone, realizing how much I leaned on my technical knowledge to be effective in my current role, with little to fall back on when preparing for the proposed business case. It required effort to find a working dynamic with people from diverse fields, with different skillsets and ways of thinking. By the end of the week it was clear; my classmates were talented, driven, and generous. Together we could formulate real solutions to real business problems.
The experiential learning component of the Kelley Direct Online MBA sets it apart from other programs. Global immersions increase complexity when compared to on-campus residencies, but with commensurate learning outcomes. The South African immersion experience provided a tantalizing opportunity to tailor business solutions outside of my usual professional and cultural contexts, with a chance of making a difference in underserved communities, and a personal connection with individuals so similar, yet so different to me.
Our client was Youth Employment Services (YES), a joint initiative between the South African government and business, tasked with tackling the burgeoning unemployment crisis. Our goal was to identify value chains for job opportunities and SME growth that not only solved problems for communities but also encouraged outside investment into strategic growth models. This involved extensive research into the historical context and realities of township life, supplemented with our observations in the community, conversing with citizens, and visiting local businesses to understand emerging market dynamics.
Within this setting, I learned how to effectively revaluate my assumptions; something I seldom did within my daily life. For example, spatial inequality for those residing in the townships rendered proposals unworkable that may be effective in underprivileged communities in the United States. Similarly, despite limited access to many fixed services, townspeople have near-universal ownership of smart devices, extensive 4G coverage, and are tech-savvy. Ignoring these realities would limit the breadth of opportunities, dismissing the ability of technology to help leapfrog stages of development seen as necessary elsewhere in the world.
The practical application of the lessons learned in my day-to-day role has been profound. The aerospace industry is famously conservative, and often the risk posture is not proportional to the level of risk. Questioning why things are done a certain way and not necessarily benchmarking within the industry have enabled new-found agility in decision-making. Ultimately, I most appreciate how it has made me a stronger leader of my own team; better able to relate on a personal level, leveraging individual strengths and minimizing individual weaknesses such that the team collectively arrives at the best possible solution with the knowledge at hand.
In much the same way that travel has broadened my perspective and made me a more well-rounded person, the South African global immersion has made me a more effective leader and team member. If the opportunity to take a Kelley Direct global immersion experience presents itself, take it! You won’t regret it.
Damien’s story reflects a typical academic year in the Kelley Direct Online MBA program. The coronavirus pandemic could impact the courses and experiences offered. You can always