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First Year Perspectives: From Broadway to B-School – The Value of Non-Traditional Backgrounds

About Franklin: Frank Swann (’24) grew up in Denver, CO, and attended NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. At NYU, he majored in Production & Design and Politics. After graduation, Frank lived a childhood dream and worked on Broadway. He worked in a variety of roles, eventually rising to become a production manager for many shows and projects, including Hamilton (Global), The Inheritance (B’way), CAMP (Metropolitan Museum of Art), The Time’s Square New Year’s Eve Ball, and more. At Anderson, Frank is focused on strategy & operations within the entertainment, media, events/sports, and hospitality industry. He hopes to eventually work at the intersection of art and commerce, helping storytellers reach new audiences and address new topics.

As I was going through the business school research and application process, I quickly learned that my background was, to put it mildly, nontraditional. When I told current students, other prospective students, or even admissions staff that I was a Broadway Production Manager, it usually elicited a surprised look and a question about why I wanted to return to school. I was frequently reminded of how “unique” my experience would be.  

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about going to business school from the theatre world. While my time at NYU was rigorous, and my job allowed me to help lead some of the most exciting entertainment properties of the last decade, I did not have much experience or coursework in many of the core areas of B-School. I wondered how I could translate my experience working backstage to the classroom. Would I be able to contribute anything to the discussions? Could I keep up with my peers in classes like Finance and Accounting, where I had no experience?

In most MBA programs, you see a lot of similar work experiences in the student body: former accountants, consultants, bankers, etc. After going to several admitted student days, I was prepared to be the odd one out until I visited Anderson. For the first time in my B-School process, I found a group of people with so many unique backgrounds. From former teachers and filmmakers to engineers and entrepreneurs (and even another person who worked in professional theatre!), everyone was brilliant, driven, and many of us were trying to figure out how to take our “unique” background and bring it to the MBA. I felt like I had found a place where the school and the students truly valued all the different experiences we would bring.

Similarly, there was a ton of variety in what people wanted to do post-MBA. While Anderson has its share of consultants and bankers, my classmates also wanted to go into industries like entertainment, clean tech, non-profits, and more. It was exciting to envision myself in a world where people were coming from, and going to, all different walks of life.

Now, almost a year into the Anderson MBA, I can confidently say that getting your MBA after working in a non-traditional field is not only possible but an incredible opportunity. My professors and classmates at Anderson leverage the unique experiences of every person in the program to gain valuable and wide-ranging insights. Want to hear about queuing theory in practice? Who better to ask than a classmate who worked at a theme park managing the rides? Trying to learn about the challenges of running a non-profit? Talk to your classmate who used to run one. Or do you want to work in an industry where you have to manage creative and business teams? Find your classmate who worked on Broadway and spent his time trying to help designers & directors understand the financial and schedule ramifications of their ideas. 

So, if you’re considering business school but are nervous about it because your background is not the typical B-school path, I have a few pieces of advice:

  1. Be authentic! Don’t feel like you must change who you are, what you did, and what you’re excited about to fit a mold. Just as diversity in gender, race, religion, etc., makes for a better business school community, so does the diversity of thought and experience. Bring your whole, authentic self to the application process, and it will help you find a school where you will thrive.
  2. Find a school and student body you genuinely connect with. It might feel like an extra expense or inconvenience to visit schools in person, but in my opinion, it’s so worth it! In talking to other admitted students, I got a better sense of the type of class I’d be a part of and gauged if it was a community I could see myself succeeding in professionally, academically, and socially. Getting a sense of the school’s culture is incredibly important. Similarly, if you want to use your MBA in a unique way post-grad, find a program like Anderson with classes, clubs, and professional support services for a wide range of industries. Leveraging those offerings can help someone with a unique background pivot into a new career.
  3. Don’t be afraid to speak up in class. At first, I was nervous to talk about my work experience. But once I started to speak up more, it benefited not only myself but also our whole class. Business school students are naturally inquisitive and want to learn more. I’ve found that everyone loves hearing about the exciting challenges and projects their classmates faced. And 90% of the time, the non-traditional background folks have way more interesting tales to tell!  
  4. Be ready to put in some extra work. Business school allows people to make big changes and try new things. But if you don’t have as much experience in the business world, then some classes might be more challenging for you than some of your classmates. Don’t let that deter you! Be ready to put in the extra work, seek out help when needed, and don’t feel like you have to master something on the first try. At Anderson, I love that the professors and my classmates want everyone to succeed. Every time I’ve turned to someone for extra help, they have enthusiastically jumped in to give me that additional support. Trust me, if a guy like me, with his BFA in Theatre, can do this, so can you!

The business school application and decision process can be daunting for anyone, particularly if you’re coming from an industry where this is not the norm. Don’t be discouraged. While it might be a little extra work, the value of your unique background will shine in the MBA environment and make this degree even more meaningful!

Student Blogger: Franklin Swann (’24)

Undergrad: NYU/Tisch (’15) – BFA, Theatre Production & Design, Politics

Pre-MBA: Production Manager, Hudson Theatrical Associates/Hamilton the Musical

Leadership@Anderson: First-Year Director, Admission Ambassador Corps; Director of Social, Section E; Director of CEMS Relations, Entertainment Management Association; Board Fellow, Net Impact; Mentor, Riordan Program

Instagram: @frankdswann

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