University of Southern California

Marshall MBAs Show Military Might
43 Students Test Strength and Character in USC Marshall's 2010 Leadership Challenge
March 13, 2010 • by Amy Blumenthal

When MBA students talk about getting first-hand experience in companies, it is usually in the context of private enterprise not military units. But for 43 USC Marshall MBA students, the 4th Annual Leadership Challenge, held at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center - Twentynine Palms, California Feb. 26-27, immersed them in military culture and leadership.

The event, designed to encourage business students to rethink the concept of leadership and reflect on their own leadership potential, required a 24-hour immersion at the largest (per-square mile) Marine base in the United States. Participants included students from Marshall's full-time, part-time and IBEAR MBA programs. Onsite, the students took part in authentic Marine Corps training evolutions designed to trigger physical and emotional stressors that might affect one’s ability to make sound decisions. "It is hard to think straight when someone is violating your personal space and yelling at you," said Jim Legeman, MBA candidate and a former naval aviator, "However, learning how to control stress and think clearly in chaotic situations will be beneficial for the students in their future business careers." The Leadership Challenge was sponsored by the Financial Research Group and organized by members of the Marshall Military Veterans Association (MMVA), led by Aren Nazarians (MBA'12), a former Marine infantry officer. Assisting Aren were Lt. Commander Jimmy Karam (USN) (MBA'11) and Capt. Kim York (MBA'10), United States Army Reserves, both Marshall MBA students who are currently serving in the military. Organizers also included members of the Marshall Military Veterans Association, Jim Legeman (MBA'11), Eddie Galvan (MBA'10), Adam Manella (MBA'11), Jacob Sullivan (MBA'11), Curt Prudden (MBA'11) and Ben Hum (MBA'10). Students cited the value that businesses place on the leadership skills possessed by those with military experience. Oran Chirapuntu (MBA’12) had worked with many veterans and "wanted to experience some of what they experienced." Others said they wanted to test themselves.

And test themselves they did.

Upon arrival Friday night, students were directed into barracks and experienced what new recruits would go through during their first few days of training. Exercises like "two sheets and a pillowcase," sprinting games and the constant yelling of Marine Corps drill instructors were meant to stress the students and push them outside of their comfort zone. Instead of sleeping late the next day, Marshall MBA students were "on line" by 5:00 a.m. and sitting on the desert floor by 6:30 a.m., smiling and learning how to heat up their Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) a basic staple of combat soldiers. On the menu this day were items such as beef patties, chili, Sloppy-Joes, or chicken pesto.

As the only business school to collaborate with the Twentynine Palms Marine Base, Marshall students were given unprecedented access to training apparatus such as the Indoor Simulated Marksmanship Trainer and the Virtual Combat Convoy Trainer normally reserved for Marines training for combat.With limited information, MBA students had to navigate obstacles in their virtual High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles ("Humvees") and respond to "enemy combatants" while keeping the convoy intact. After the students finished the exercise, Marine Corps Tactics Instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hector Viramontes, said, "They fared better than most first-time Marine squads. They communicated concisely…giving the who, the what, where and when."

Throughout the immersion, students discussed the overlap between the skills required to complete a military mission and the skills required to lead a business organization. Common values and themes included decisiveness, endurance, initiative, integrity, communication, judgment, tact as well as the importance of having a code of ethics, understanding the backgrounds and assets of team members and the need for transparency in order to motivate charges to achieve a joint goal.

Sandra Hirschberg (MBA '10), and the only student to participate in the Leadership Challenge for two consecutive years, spoke about the experiential learning opportunities afforded by the Leadership Challenge, "...this allows us to apply mental and physical strategy."

The 12-hour day concluded with not one but two obstacles courses—with a challenge to carry a 250 lb sand-filled barrel the distance of one-mile sandwiched in between. Although exhausted and in some cases, bruised, every Marshall student completed the final obstacle course. "They were pushed well past their comfort zone both physically and mentally and they came through," Legeman said. "I think this experience will give them a newfound confidence that they will carry forward into their business careers. It also gives them an appreciation of what the men and women of our armed forces endure on a daily basis."

2010 Leadership participants include: MMVA members Aren Nazarians (MBA'10), Jimmy Karam (MBA'11), Kimberly York (MBA'10), Eddie Galvan (MBA'10), Ben Hum (MBA'10), Jim Legeman (MBA'11), Adam Manella (MBA'11), Curt Prudden (MBA'11), Jacob Sullivan (MBA'11) under MMVA USC Faculty Advisor Joseph Hernandez;

MBA student participants included: Fred Aframian (MBA'12), Rachit Awasthi (MBA'10), Ketan Bakhshi (MBA'11), Nitin Bansal (MBA'10), Avishek Basu (MBA'12), Mark Chau (MBA'12), David Shao Chen (MBA'11), Hailu (Marissa) Cheng (MBA'11), Luke Cheng (MBA'11), Oran Chirapuntu (MBA'12), Steve Cho (MBA'11), David Cramer (MBA'11), Greg Drakos (MBA'11), Jonathan Eng (MBA'11), Ted Evans (MBA'12), Ravi Gogte (MBA'10), Leila Guieb (MBA'10), Rodrigo Guillen (MBA'11), Franky Handra (MBA'12), Sandra Hirschberg (MBA'10), Samir Idnani (MBA'10), Sara Jensen (MBA'10), Robert Kalutkiewicz (MBA'11), Maneesh Khare (MBA'12), Rakesh Kumar (MBA'12), Edward Lin (MBA'11), Stanley Liu (MBA’12), Xiaofei (Jerry) Liu (MBA’10), Samuel Lo (MBA’11), Govind Raj Maligemane (MBA'11), Mimi Maw (MBA'11), Nathan Montgomery (MBA'12), Veronica Muth (MBA'12), Yuki Nagase (MBA'10), Mahesh Nair (MBA'10), Roberto Navarro (MBA'11), Cheech Pencavel (MBA'10), Jessica Runnels (MBA'10), Erik Stalnaker (MBA'10), Hiroshi Takai (MBA'10) and Reid Yoshimura (MBA'12).

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.