Course Requires Students Map Out Own Business Plan

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Members of Patrick O'Brien's business class, which instructs students to map out their life.(Photo: Tom Borgerding / WOSU News)
Members of Patrick O'Brien's business class, which instructs students to map out their life.(Photo: Tom Borgerding / WOSU News)

It’s college graduation season and Miami University in Oxford this weekend is sending its graduates off to the next phase of their lives. Commencement speakers share many words of wisdom and advice.

But some Miami students are going to leave with more than words. A special business class requires students to map out their career paths before they leave campus.

A half dozen Farmer School of Business students on campus arrive for interviews dressed to the nines, in suits, pressed shirts, and blouses on the last week of classes.

A special kind of class

These students have just finished what they call their toughest college assignment. They had to develop a business plan, a life plan for themselves.

Dominique Suarez of Columbus and Rachelle Repinski of Cleveland took the course.

“I always like saw myself just going home to Cleveland after I interned and did all this stuff with it. And then I realized I can do whatever I want, whatever city I want to go to,” Repinski said.

Suarez said the class instilled confidence in her for the future.

As part of a top business school curriculum, the class titled: “Real Strategies for Real Business” is an outlier. No amortization tables, no lesson on optimum price-to-earnings ratio. Students learn that stuff in other classes.

Instead, Instructor Patrick O’Brien, requires students to get personal.

“If I stand in front of you and just tell you, you’re going to have to work really hard to be successful, it’s going to bounce off your forehead,” O’Brien said.

10-year plan

O’Brien graduated from Miami authored the book Making College Count. He requires each of his students to compose a 10-year ‘holistic’ life plan. He stresses the importance of those first years out of college.

“From age 22 to 25 you’ve got a pretty clean slate,” O’Brien said. “So, if you want to go really hard, if you want to establish yourself you can do so.”

O’Brien bases his curriculum on some basic business principles — ‘Think Big.”

“What’s really unique about this class is that we created these ten principles,” O’Brien said. “And because of the ten principles the class has real take-away value. One of my students from three or four years ago the other day said I didn’t realize how important this class was until I got into the work world.”

Student Andrew Kleshinski of Mansfield  says the course is more than a series of career pep talks.

“Never before in my life did I have to get such a concrete pathway that I want to, exactly that, plan out the rest of my life,” Kleshinski said.

Kleshinski will start his career as an associate consultant at Bain Capital.

“After my experience at Bain which will likely last anywhere from three years to a lifetime,” Kleshinski said. ”I will likely pursue an MBA and then after that hopefully go into the private equity field. And so actually mapping this out, quite literally on paper was just a mind opening experience to see  all the different opportunities available.”

Melanie Smith of Cleveland has a plan on a power point presentation. She takes a new job after graduation as a consultant at a Big Four accounting firm in Cleveland. Her plan includes professional travel after she studied abroad while at Miami. She wants to get an MBA by year five.

And in year three, a dog. And not just any dog.

“The dog is in my plan actually, I can show you,” Smith laughed. “Yes a dog is in my ten year plan. What I did is essentially have two dogs in my life. But, a Golden-Doodle is kind of what I have on my power point slide. I also really like Dachsunds so depending on whether or not I’m in a city a smaller dog would be appropriate.”

Where are they now?

O’Brien’s has taught the class for ten years. So he wanted to see if his former students are sticking to their plans.

Five years ago Jennifer Budig’s plan included a career in fashion in New York, an MBA and a family in three years.

“When I was coming out of school I just really thought that was something I wanted to do,” Budig said. “And that was my goal, four years out of school I would get my MBA so as that time approached it like pushed me to really think about and you know, four years later I think you’re a little more educated.”

Well, Budig started in fashion. She’s in New York, but now works as a global account executive for the Wall Street Journal. The MBA is on hold. As is the family. Even though she’s veered off her post-college plan, she says it was worth doing.

“For me it was more like a roadmap to have all those things on the top of my head and they’re things that I re-evaluate, I would say even monthly,” Budig said. “You know, like what’s the timing and what’s next for me, and I think those are important things because without those, what are you striving for?”

O’Brien knows students won’t stick to their exact plan, but says for a 20-year-old near the end of his or her college studies, the thought process of thinking ten years out is “incredibly meaningful. The American Dream, we believe, it’s still available if you make the right choices along the way.”

As students from this year’s class scatter to jobs and internships, O’Brien is planning for next year’s class. He accepts only 20 students — and they compete hard to get accepted.

  • MU Alum ’05

    As a student in the inaugural class in 2005, I can tell you with pride I still have my ‘Real Business – 10 simple rules’ card in my briefcase. Unbelievable that Pat is now teaching his tenth year of the class!…I guess that means I need to pull up my business plan to see if I’ve achieved everything my 22 year old self thought I would. I know I’ve hit quite a few of the goals! Thanks for not only a great class, but exceptional real business and real life lessons, Pat!

  • Jess Byke

    I feel much more prepared for the real world after taking this class- Pat invests his personal time to help his students figure out their own path to success and I feel so blessed to have been a part of it. Thanks again Pat!

  • Meghan Hughes (MU ’11)

    This was one of the most memorable exercises of my entire college experience. I also remember it being terribly difficult to think about being in your early thirties as only a college senior, but it was such a worthwhile exercise.

    I just tracked down my 10 year letter in an old email account and it was very fun to read!! While, some was exactly on point with how my first three years have gone, other goals have evolved and changed. Its great to see where your head was at age 21 and how much growth you experience immediately following graduation.

    My 10 simple rules card is also in wallet and it does make an appearance time to time ;) Thanks for everything Pat!