Team Mentor Conversation Assignment

Our mentor, Ryan Maxwell, took an unconventional journey to where he is today. As an undergraduate student, he studied Psychology with a minor in Biological Anthropology and Anatomy. His first job after graduating showed him that he lacked the necessary skills to do what he wanted career-wise. For this reason, he went to Fuqua School of Business to get his MBA. Today, Ryan is a healthcare consultant for higher education with Huron Consulting, where he has worked since 2011. While he does not consider himself to be what people traditionally consider an entrepreneur (i.e. running his own startup), he utilizes the same skill set in his consulting career. He was eager to share his insight and experiences with us.

As undergraduate students, we are often fixated on our next move following graduation. Ryan’s story taught us that things might not always go as planned and we shouldn’t be afraid of that. He was upfront in saying that the company culture of first job was not a great fit. He considers it a failure, but a necessary motivation. Graduate school was a decision that allowed him to gain a new skill set and pivot career paths. Although his first job did not align with his passions, he seemed grateful for the growth he experienced in coming to that realization. His ability to pivot demonstrated a resilience and open-mindedness which we found particularly admirable. He said, “If you never fail, you’re not reaching your full potential.”

Along the lines of failure, Ryan emphasized the importance of taking risks. He believes that regardless of your industry or position, you can be a trailblazer. It’s easy to reject a potentially good idea out of a fear of failure. Sometimes, he finds himself caught in a battle between professionalism and accomplishing his goal. Regardless, he sees risk-taking as crucial for adding value, forward-thinking, and problem-solving.

Ryan also gave us more general advice from his own time at Duke. He offered Duke undergraduate resources as an exceptional opportunity to help us in our professional development. He regrets not taking full advantage of resources and clubs at Duke – with the exception of founding a sommelier club on campus. He learned how to operate a budget and make useful networking connections. In pursuing any job opportunity, he explained that researching a company’s culture is critical and Duke’s alumni network can provide us with necessary insight.

As a group, we were interested in Ryan’s experience with problem definition. Ryan discussed how effective problem definition is crucial in both entrepreneurial endeavors and roles at traditional firms. With this, he stressed putting the client/customer first. You may be told about an issue, but it is your job to truly understand the underlying problem that needs to be solved. Important steps in problem identification include interviewing key stakeholders and data analysis. Proper problem definition is key to implementing a successful change. However, this process is not seamless. Ryan often struggles when presenting his problem identification and solution to clients who challenge his findings. To overcome this issue, Ryan builds map/process flows that lay out the steps to the solution and include the relevant milestones and stakeholders. Ryan also suggests finding people who can be champions for you, and thus establish more support for your findings/solution/idea.

The most important lesson our team took away from our conversation with Ryan was his final piece of advice: do not underestimate proper business communications. He believes “soft skills” are invaluable. He stressed the importance of knowing how to write emails, presenting yourself and your ideas professionally, and speaking articulately. Ryan said that these skills are foundational for how he acts and performs every day and will serve us well as we build our personal brand. We have the opportunity to play active roles in creating our personal brand every day. This could be dressing professionally or being conversational. With Linkedin, we can share our personal brand to leverage networks. Ryan recommended Linkedin as a means to maintain connections and visibility. We were encouraged to hear that we can take an active role in developing our personal brand every day. We want our personal brand to be a positive influence that will follow into our future endeavors.