Patrick McGowan Shares His Student Perspective on Getting an MBA from Kenan-Flagler

In the coming months, we’ll be highlighting various members of our Kenan-Flagler community including students, alumni and faculty.  The following is a Q&A with Evening MBA student, Patrick McGowan.

Personal & Professional Background 

I grew up in Wilmington, NC.  Always liking to draw, I went to college to become a designer.  I attended North Carolina State University’s School of Design, earning a Bachelor in Art & Design. I joined IBM full-time after graduation.  I have over 10 years of experience designing software and leading design teams, and I hold 20 patents in software design and related technologies. 

My professional passions include fostering environments that enable design and innovation efforts to succeed, developing compelling solutions to complex problems, and exploring new tools and techniques.  In addition to design and innovation, I have a keen interest in formal business concepts, and I continually work to blur the lines between design methodology and business strategy.

I enjoy spending time with my wife, 3-year old daughter, infant son, and family dog.  I also have a passion for cooking and a skill in home renovation.  If family, work, and school allowed any additional free time, I’d fill the time playing soccer (football) and guitar.

Why did you choose Kenan-Flagler?

I wanted a degree from a top tier MBA program.  Living in Chapel Hill, NC, I visited Kenan-Flagler to learn about the programs, students, faculty, and staff.  I also talked to alumni.  My research led to a single conclusion – Kenan-Flagler earns its reputation for excellence.  I wanted to become part of the Kenan-Flagler family.

Did you get any advice when you were researching schools?

I was told to really ask myself why I wanted an MBA.  Someone asked, “Do you want the degree because you want a short cut or do you want the degree because it’s going to help you grow as a professional?”  The former and the latter are two very different starting points.  If you approach it from the latter, absolutely go for it.  If you expect it to be this magical transformation, think a little bit harder about your personal and professional goals.  Really research the schools and programs you’re looking into and the curriculum. 

A mentor of mine suggested I pick up The 10 Day MBA and read through it.  It’s a high level overview of the type of learning you get from an MBA and at least for me, gave me an initial level of understanding of what I might learn in business school. There are some people who jump into the process thinking that when they graduate they’ll immediately get that executive position.  In my opinion, that’s the wrong approach.  First of all, there are no guarantees and shortcuts in life.  If you’re going to pursue an MBA, it should be for self-knowledge, an opportunity to expand your skill set while getting the foundation and training in how to run and manage a business.  If these are your goals, then there's immense value in pursuing the degree.

What led to your decision to get your MBA?

I had a personal goal of getting a master’s degree at some point in my life so that was a good 50% of the equation. My background as an undergraduate student was in design and I always considered a design related field.  After working for a few years though, I realized it wouldn’t help me with long-term career goals and growth. I really started to think about how I could impact business results and contribute more in the roles I was in.   As I started thinking more about it, pursuing an MBA path seemed like the next logical step.

Do you have a favorite moment being a Kenan-Flagler student?

The whole immersion experience was fantastic. You meet your team and participate in the “outdoor adventure”.  I had never done something like that.  Personally and professionally, it was such a great way to connect with my peers in a unique setting. All the classes have been great too.  It’s really hard to pick a favorite.  I enjoyed my Management and Leadership Skills class, which was all about developing interpersonal skills related to being an effective leader and manager. 

All in all, the curriculum gives you great exposure to a range of topics. It’s been an eye opening experience for me and a great opportunity. You’ll learn things about yourself that you might not have otherwise realized.  For example, I had no idea that I actually enjoyed statistics related work.  You’ll get pushed out of your comfort zone, learn new things, and grow as a person.

Describe the Kenan-Flagler community.

All the literature I came across prior to joining the school has proven itself to be true. The school is a community of social people who believe in the value of the experience they are gettinng. I've heard that some MBA programs are really competitive, but my experience has been the opposite. I get together weekly outside of class with my peers and you can just tell that everyone is there to network and be supportive of one another.