MBA Alumni Spotlight: An interview with Doug Harris, MBA ‘19
Why the UNLV MBA Program?
UNLV's MBA program was the perfect fit for me as I could go to school part-time and work full-time. That flexibility really provided me the confidence to achieve my goals. I wanted to get an advanced degree to increase my chances of moving to Seattle to get a better job and make more money. My commitment to attaining my MBA provided me with the opportunity to change my life. There are no guarantees. It's up to you to implement what you learn to enhance your toolkit and augment your desirability in the marketplace.
Invariably as life changes, initial exuberance fades, and you may become disenchanted or hit a low moment in the program. I can't imagine the struggles that everyone has endured during the pandemic, from staff to students. Even during regular times, however, attrition takes a toll. Just remember to keep your eye on the prize. Strive to get the most out of a complete MBA experience, and your sacrifices will all be worth it.
If you could time travel, what advice would you give yourself on the first day of the MBA program?
I would tell myself to be more social, expand my network a bit more and integrate myself into different classroom group projects. In my first year, I remember being so singularly focused on the end goal - leave work, go to class, get good grades and get my MBA. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't a complete nerd. I had a strong group of friends in my cohort. Still, I felt that others may have had a richer experience in the program as they extended their social circles a bit more purposefully than I did. Some people appeared to know everyone and could seamlessly transition from one social circle to the next.
One of the best things about business school is the connections you can make. Given the talent pool, there's no shortage of inspiration to derive, or knowledge one can glean from the many possible encounters throughout your time in the program. Lastly, as you progress through the program, it's natural to adhere to groups that you worked successfully with in the past. Why mess with a good thing, right? But, when there are opportunities to work with different people, it's not the worst idea to do so at times. You will be working with other people for the remainder of your careers, so it's a necessary practice. Business school is an excellent opportunity to develop soft skills that are best razor-sharp when working with varying personalities.
What was your favorite class or professor?
Before I proceed, I'd like to make the disclaimer that just because I'm highlighting one professor/class doesn't mean I didn't value others. With that said, I took MBA 763 Leadership, Teams, and Individuals with Professor Gardner my first semester, and I really enjoyed the class structure. We always had class discussions where you would be forced to take a side on a particular dilemma. Professor Gardner would physically separate the class into different sides or corners of the room. We would then be required to support our opinions with evidence from a case and argue our points against others. The next week, however, you might find yourself standing in another corner with a different group. The classmates whose views you opposed and debated last week might now share in your thinking. There might be a larger lesson to be learned from that. It was just a great way to interact with many different people in the program. For me, I benefited from that social engagement early on in the program.
Professor Gardner was very relatable and an all-around cool dude. I could tell he was personally invested in his students' comprehension of class topics and desired that we develop critical thinking skills. He was always very thoughtful in his approach to class. I enjoyed his teaching so much that I later requested to do an independent study with him.
What are your thoughts on group work, and what should people get out of it?
Learning how to work well in various groups comprised of distinct personalities will pay dividends in your career. My current job so often involves group work, and I need to consistently deliver in my area of expertise. We are often judged by our last performance. Opportunities can multiply or diminish based upon your work ethic and reputation, so it's to be taken very seriously. If you have a job, you already work in a group. An organization is just a large group so learning how to successfully navigate teams early on in your career and be successful with your deliverables is tantamount to career progression.
The MBA program allows you to jump-start developing the soft skills required to handle different personalities and manage roles within a group project setting. It's safe to say that there is obviously enough work for four people if a professor wants four people per group. We need people firing on all cylinders from the start and clear communication regarding segregation of duties. Those looking for a freeride are doing a disservice to themselves, their team, and their reputation. They will likely be quickly exposed and won't progress as well as others in the program and beyond.
What, if any, were some of your favorite experiences while in the program?
I always enjoyed the Moonlight Mixers that happened three or so times a semester in the late afternoon/early evening. I would initially attend to grab a free dinner before class, but I would always get so much more out of the experience. Sometimes when sitting in a structured classroom setting, you forget that your classmates can actually be pretty cool to talk to socially. They are smart, talented, like-minded, and were often driven to succeed as I am. I was always super happy that I went, even if it meant that I had to ask my boss if I could leave work a bit early to attend. It was worth it.
If you meet an MBA candidate, you wouldn't have otherwise, and a good conversation is all you get out of the interaction, then cool. But who knows... Maybe the person you shared a laugh and dinner with in between classes might just be the new director of the department of the next company you want to work for a few years down the road.
As you look back at your life, is there a time you failed that you are proud of?
I was a competitive mid-distance runner in both high school and college. I worked out multiple times per day for eight years straight and was super focused. In the end, though, I never achieved the level of success I thought I would initially. I was probably likely near the bottom of the talent pool on my team. Despite my efforts, I hit a plateau and couldn't seem to get significantly faster throughout my collegiate career. You have to work every day to get better at something, and even then, there's no guarantee. The sweat equity that I put in taught me a lot about hard work, and I know I wouldn't be as successful today as I would have been without those lessons. It's crucial in life to have goals, even though you might not attain all of them. And besides, I met my wife on the track team. That might be my favorite thing about this otherwise potential failure.
Do you have any hobbies outside of work or family?
I do have a few productive and unproductive hobbies, I suppose. Since graduating from school and no longer reading textbooks, I've really enjoyed reading for fun lately. I've probably read a couple dozen books in almost two years since graduation. Reading might not be quite an obsession, but I do enjoy it in my spare time. I've also gotten back into running and personal fitness over the past year. I'm not training as intensively as I did before as an undergraduate, but I do enjoy running 3 - 5 miles three times a week or so. I play some Call of Duty on the weekends as an excuse to catch up with my brother, who lives on the east coast. To unwind, I also enjoy a quality Hulu or Netflix series, relaxing at home with my wife.
What is your best investment (time, money, energy, etc.)?
As an MBA with a finance concentration, I immediately think of financial investments as it is, of course, essential to save for the future. Equally important, I believe, is the investment you make in your relationships with friends, family, and colleagues both at school and work. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I think my best investment perhaps has involved my continuous efforts to improve myself. For example, I got my MBA to learn more and put me in a better position to receive better job offers. I'm relieved to say that has already paid dividends. I invest in reading to increase and diversify my knowledge base and expand my perspectives. I work out to improve my quality of life and potentially reduce my future health care costs. The energy that I expend to improve myself and my relationships has been time well spent.
What book might you recommend to others and why?
I'm cheating because it's a trilogy, but I would have to say His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. It's just a really fascinating story that I read while an adolescent. I recently rediscovered it and was amazed at how intricate the plot is and how extensive the universe the author created. Pullman's efficiency with words to make such an elaborate universe is astounding despite the actual length of the trilogy. It could've been much longer as it was so involved. If you're not a big reader, the story was made into a series on HBO, which is quite good as well.
Do you have a favorite quote?
"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." - Isaac Newton. I have this as my screensaver. We should remember how much work has been done already that now allows us the benefit of our current insights and understanding. If Isaac Newton, one of the brightest minds in the past millennium, can be humble, we can be too. It also instills in me a responsibility to hopefully add to that progression of knowledge so that the proverbial giant might grow an inch for the next generation to see yet further.
Although I am proud of my MBA, I know that it was not entirely an individual accomplishment. I benefited from my upbringing, surroundings, UNLV and my professors, and the wisdom shared by fellow students.