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March 11, 2008

Q&A with McCombs MBA Student Adcom Member & Blogger

Tatsuya Ishihara, who will be graduating from the MBA program at McCombs this spring, was kind enough to answer my questions regarding his experience. I have previously mentioned Tatsuya’s blog, which is a great source of information on his experience in Austin.

After graduating from Shimonoseki City University (he also studied as an exchange student at the University of Queensland, Australia), Tatsuya Ishihara worked for NEC Corporation as a strategist in its mobile phone division for four years. He started his MBA program at McCombs School of Business in University of Texas at Austin from Fall 2006 as a Rotary’s International Ambassadorial Scholar. He is a student member of the McCombs Admissions Committee.


Adam: What have you learned from studying at McCombs?

Tatsuya: Among a tremendous amount of learning at McCombs, I want to raise three major aspects below:
1. Solid financial literacy: As many of you may have already known, McCombs is one of the top Accounting schools in US. Not only accounting, but we also have great core/elective finance courses and real-world finance workshops taught by ex Wall Street investment bankers. During my internship period in summer 2007, I literally used many of those financial modeling techniques that I have learned through those courses, which differentiated me from other top MBAs and helped me getting the full-time offer. I had no background regarding accounting or finance prior to MBA. However, after one and half year of my concentration in learning Accounting and Finance here at McCombs, I strongly feel that I have a solid foundation to aim at a CFO/COO position in my mid-term future career.
2. Real-world international team leading skills: I served as a president in the International MBA Student Association (IMBASA) at McCombs. Again, I haven’t had an experience to lead an internationally diverse team using English. We formed 8 member officers group from different cultural backgrounds and organized several international events, including “International Night” which invited over 700 people living in Austin. This experience helped me understand which culture has what kind characteristics regarding how they approach businesses. Now, I am a much better leader who can plan a business/event, package each task so that each member can maximize her/his skills, and share the great feeling of the accomplishment with those diverse team members.
3. Work-life balance: Austin, where McCombs is located, is a great mid-sized city mixing the big-city-like convenience and small-city-like friendliness. Many of the students in UT-Austin, including me, have quite an influence from such a unique environment. I used to have one-sided view about how to live my life, just working and becoming smart. However, after I met really cool people here in Austin I really broadened my view about what kind of life I want to live and I literally imported some of their great personalities. I truly feel that I became a better person and now I have a clear vision of my future in 5-10 years. This is something that I could never have done without my experience at McCombs.

Adam: Can you compare yourself before attending McCombs and now? How have you changed?

Tatsuya: Firstly, before coming to McCombs I didn’t know what’s important in my life and wasted a lot of my time wondering what I really want to do. One of the most painful realities about preparing for and studying at the MBA program for me is that I had to sharpen up my life. It was all about compromising what it’s important to my life for what it’s REALLY important to my life. In fact, I have lost some of my good old friends and even my girl friend along the way. However, throughout the whole process, I could prioritize what is important in my life and spend less time on wondering what to do. Now I feel like I am 100% concentrating on what I want to do. Another less important thing, I have received a full-time offer as a financial analyst and could double my annual salary from that of previous job, being the top 5% of the total working population in Japan at my age of 28. That’ll give me some economic benefits. This is, however, something that does not guarantee my career after MBA.

Adam: I know you already have obtained a job from the company you interned at in the summer. What kind of internship did you do? What kind of job will you be doing?

Tatsuya: I worked at Eli Lilly Japan in Kobe as a summer finance intern. I was assigned a very ambiguous project, which was called “long-term investment optimization.” Not only myself, but also the other interns were assigned a very broad topic and Lilly’s management seemed to be watching the intern’s ability to break down the vague problems and make a significant tangible contribution to the organization within a limited time. Communication with the managers across different divisions was one of the key success factors during the internship.

I will be analyzing the company’s entire income statement, communicating the situation with headquarters in Indianapolis, creating a strategic framework, and implementing projects to increase the value of the firm from the financial side.


Adam: I know you have served as student adcom member. Can you please explain how you were selected and what you do?

Tatsuya: I had to write a one page summary of why I want to become the adcom member and what I can bring to the McCombs Admission Committee (MAC) . I also had a brief interview with the 2nd year MAC member and one of the adcom members. MAC consists with the admission members and around 40 McCombs full-time MBA students to represent our MBA program. We were involved in the process of reading and evaluating the applications. We also assist campus visitors to attend our classes, have lunch with us together, and chat about our MBA program.

Adam: McCombs has a very unique to asking about leadership in the application: “The Texas MBA is built around four key pillars of leadership. Describe an experience that you have had that clearly demonstrates your leadership as it relates to one of our
Four pillars:
1) Responsibility/Integrity
2) Knowledge/Understanding
3) Collaborative/Communication
Or 4) Worldview of Business and Society”
How would you answer that question for each pillar based on your experience at McCombs?

1) Responsibility/Integrity; As one of the Japanese MBA students and MAC member, I was voluntarily involved with more than 10 campus visits from Japan. Even when I was extremely busy with my own school workload, I organized several dinner sessions with the current Japanese students.
2) Knowledge/Understanding; As a Rotary’s ambassadorial scholar, I have presented several times in the Rotary’s meetings to enhance our cultural understanding. I have communicated with the coordinator to prepare the best material for the event to transfer my knowledge, and had great feedback in every occasion.
3) Collaborative/Communication; Also, during the summer internship, I think I could show my collaborative leadership to proceed the project that I was assigned. I communicated with more than 50 employees to incorporate as many aspects as possible to implement the projects.
4) Worldview of Business and Society; As a president of IMBASA, our team organized “International Night” to enhance our worldview of Business and Society. We had to communicate with the sponsors of the event, faculty members, over 100 student volunteers for their food stands, and with 10 performance groups in the event. The event ended up great by attracting more than 700 participants.

Adam: I was wondering if you could explain a little bit about the role of the pillars in your education at McCombs.

Tatsuya: These are actually the concepts that have developed under the leadership of Dean Hirst from 2006. The faculty tried to re-identify our core values to further develop the Texas MBA programs. The four pillars now act like a compass in our MBA program. For instance, our 1) strict policy on cheating, 2) market-driven specializations, 3) cohort system, and 4) international study opportunities clearly shows towards which direction the school is going.

Adam: Lots of schools have contribution questions, but it always seemed to me that there was more of a sense of reality to it at McCombs (“At the McCombs School of Business, you will be part of an active and diverse community. Referencing your personal strengths and unique experience, how will you enrich the McCombs community during your two years in the program?”) because the application was actually being read by students. Care to comment on that?

Tatsuya: You’re right. First and foremost, we hate smart liars. Those applicants, who write great things in her/his contribution essay, but actually cram themselves for better grades, get a good job, and do nothing for our school and classmates will not fit our culture. Letting such people in our school will destroy our great collaborative environment. We just try to avoid such a thing.

Adam: What general advice do you have for those considering application to McCombs?

Tatsuya: I think they should definitely do a campus visit, ideally before sending the application. But, even visiting after being admitted will still be worthwhile. I was also one of them who would say “Where do I have such time as I’m busy with GMAT!?” However, there is so much information or feeling that we cannot really imagine without meeting the current MBA students and visiting the city. Most likely, the applicants have higher expectations than the reality is. It is important to fill the gap at least before actually getting into the MBA program.

Adam: Do you have any specific advice for Japanese and/or other international applicants?

Tatsuya: Related to the above question, there is so much information or feeling that we cannot really imagine without campus visits. Fit is an essential factor for choosing YOUR MBA program. For example, I was also attracted by the Georgetown’s MBA program, because of its “international” environment. I have nothing bad to say about the program, and Georgetown was a great school. But, it was not my fit. The school provides a great environment for International students to be comfortable with the program. The rate of international students is also high, and the school seemed to be very used to such environment. However, I felt I cannot really develop myself in that kind of environment. In contrast, to be honest, McCombs has less care to the international students. I mean this in a good way. For instance, in our study groups, there’s no discrimination or mercy for international students. We’re supposed to do the same quality of work as American students. Some people would say that’s too harsh. However, I felt this kind of surviving environment will really help me grow into a truly global business leader. Anyway, such decision processes could not have been developed if I was biased only by the general school information.


Adam: I know you are a Rotary Scholar. Would you care to comment on how you obtained the scholarship?

Tatsuya: I knew that I cannot afford to the MBA tuition without getting some financial assistance. My family has slightly less household budget than the Japanese average, but has three kids including me, all of whom graduated bachelors/masters degree. My little brother was going to university at that time as well. So, at the very early stage of my application process (Dec-Jan 2004), I searched for several scholarship programs, and found Rotary’s would be the best option for me. The application process was similar to the MBA application process except for that you don’t need GMAT score. You need to have a reasonable TOEFL score, write essays both in English and Japanese, transcripts, and two recommendation letters (it was okay to have them from previous college professors). I went through one English test in both oral and written, and two interviews before being admitted. I remember there were around 80 applicants at the fist screening, and 4 of us were eventually selected as the scholars. I heard the process depends on which district they apply for, but it shouldn’t be that much different.

Adam: What kind of activities do you engage in as a Rotary Scholar?

Tatsuya: I’m engaged in attending and making presentation at the local Rotary Club meetings for a couple of times in a semester. Also, for a couple of times, I have been invited to do some volunteer work for local activities, such as making spaghetti for the high school football game in the same district. After graduating, I’ll be contributing the local club activities, including making presentations and doing volunteer works in the Yokohama 2590 District (http://rfd2590.blog48.fc2.com/). It’ll be my life-long fantastic opportunity/responsibility to give something back to the sponsor organization and local communities.


Adam: You have been actively doing a blog in Japanese since you started at McCombs. What has motivated you to do that?

Tatsuya: Because I had hard time deciding my best fit school. I eventually went to the campus visiting after being admitted. I think I made a right decision visit campus, but still I hoped that I could have more visual images and real-life information about the MBA programs. Also, I just thought it’s a huge mistake if an applicant chooses her/his MBA program just based on the ranking or on biased information. I hoped my simple real-life pictures and messages will help the applicants have a clearer view about the Texas MBA life. Also, I am financing the MBA cost by myself, and have a couple of financial supporters including Rotary club. I wanted to keep them informed about how I am doing in US.

Adam: What is your favorite MBA application Japanese language blog?

Tatsuya: “こうすれば受かるMBA 2007.” Actually, Kousurebaukaru website has information from 2000. I referred to the information a lot for my own application and motivated myself with those “old mans’ words.” This was the only web resource for me to collect the information about MBA. There are other dodgy websites related to MBA, but thought they are not much reliable and found some of them had wrong/misleading information. However, this website is all about the applicant’s real-life experience, and more than 50 people wrote their experiences. I think we can learn a quite a bit from their stories.

I want to thank Tatsuya for taking the time to answer my questions. I hope you found his perspective useful.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.

-Adam Markus
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