Mendoza School of Business

Echoes of Mendoza

Author: Mike Weppler (MBA '17)

I will forever be thankful for my experience at Notre Dame and Mendoza, and am grateful to be a lifelong part of the family. The people and experiences I encountered along the way have influenced my leadership capacity, as well as my life and career choices. What follows is a brief journey through what I wish I would have done at Mendoza, what I did, who influenced me along the way, and the echoes of those experiences in my life, work, and vision for the future.

As much as I treasured my Notre Dame experience, I would have changed a few choices. I include these to encourage current and future students, and to be clear that what I experienced was only the tip of the iceberg for what is possible at Mendoza. Personally, I wish I would have invested more time and energy in friendships rather than taking an extra course each mod. Professionally, I wish I would have focused more on courses that leveraged analytical tools outside of excel, given their growing importance in the market. I wish I would have taken advantage of the second mod abroad opportunity, which I decided against because of a dwindling personal relationship I was desperately trying to save. Finally, I wish I had been more conscious during our Business on the Frontlines project, to focus on making a business case for the role Newmont could play in local sustainable economic development in Ghana – in order to not only envision but also realize significant impact.

While a Mendoza student, I was most impacted by a few people and experiences. Three professors influenced me in terms of life and leadership (Joe Holt), good problem-solving and the value of work (Viva Bartkus), and a passion for teaching (Mike Mannor). My classmates Sir Martin Cortez and Logan Patterson challenged others to upgrade their critical thinking, Jennifer Deng and Emily King set an example of how to support their classmates socially and professionally, and Christine Ginger (the eventual valedictorian) demonstrated unparalleled diligence and strong team leadership. I like to think I have learned a bit from each of them.

The most impactful experiences came from Mendoza’s hands-on courses. Problem-solving and Judgment classes taught me to refine my natural strategic way of thinking, using a more structured approach that has been useful in my consulting work. The Seed Investor Practicum taught me how to evaluate the basic viability of a business, which is useful as an entrepreneur, consultant, and future investor. Finally, Business on the Frontlines was an immersive experience that offered an incredible international experience and consulting challenge, which have continued to inspire and strengthen me.

“BOTFL,” as former participants lovingly refer to it, was a particularly powerful experience that has continued to shape my professional outlook. It challenged my classmates and me to develop core skills that serve me well. We learned to structure and solve ambiguous problems, take initiative while remaining flexible and resilient working across cultures, effectively communicate and practice empathy to build cross-cultural relationships, and to work effectively as a team on a large-scale, deeply meaningful project.

This experience also personally taught me the value of making both a human and a business case for change, especially when crossing the streams of profit-driven companies and positive impact on their stakeholders. Others on our team also exemplified the power of awareness, constantly seeking out key insights that could change the game. These included understanding the size or nature of the problem before exploring solutions, identifying the active thought partners who will engage more deeply in the project, and recognizing whether the current structures are adequate to the task ahead.

Additionally, I learned the value of identifying and working with a convener – a person or organization whose weight or reputation can quickly bring together partners to engage in a project. In fact, I was blown away by the level of access Newmont (our client) was able to give us to community members that included government, other businesses, foundations and NGOs, religious and educational institutions, community leaders, and even emerging leaders among local young professionals.

Among this latter group, I had the opportunity to interview a group of nearly 20 young leaders. As others in the group nodded along, one of these leaders gave me a parting invitation to return to their community one day once I have a successful business, offering to work for me. I was looking into the eyes of people near my own age who are all intelligent, mostly educated, and eager to work. All they lacked was opportunity. It was both gut-wrenching and inspiring, and remains an inspiration for my consulting work.

Finally, I must include the hospitality we encountered in Ghana. Not only were we well cared for by Newmont’s staff, but also the people we met were mostly open and ready to help, and our host family went far beyond expectations to make us feel at home and help us fall in love with their home country (thank you Oduro family). Overall, the international exposure of this experience and the inspiration to make an impact where it is deeply needed, together spurred my decision to earn a one-year Master’s of International Relations degree. During my studies in Spain, I met the woman who is now my fiancé, and have developed a global network of contacts and friends I may not have found without the BOTFL experience.

Notre Dame and Mendoza will always be a place I remember when envisioning where I want my life and career to go. Beyond the impacts on my choices since South Bend, I am committed to professional impact that incorporates much of what I have learned – from effective business principles, to inter-cultural awareness, to the value of a good day’s work, to the belief that business can be a tremendous force for good. My appreciation for consulting and teaching others can also be traced in part to Mendoza. Part of my joy in consulting is the challenge of the learning process when there is no teacher, and much of my joy in training or teaching others is in cultivating the “aha” moments such as those I encountered at Notre Dame.

These ideas and experiences, and the people I met at or as a result of Mendoza, are invaluable to me and will continue to echo forward to those I am blessed to meet, influence, or impact for the rest of my life. I can only imagine the impact the next class, the next generation, or the next 100 years of Mendoza can have on the world. Echoes without end.

Topics: MBA