How traveling around the globe boosted his confidence

  • October 4, 2022
  • By WashU Olin Business School
  • 5 minute read

Next in a series of Olin Blog features on recent alumni.

Now a podcaster and a business leader in a global firm, Bryant Powell, MBA 2019, has carried lessons from his father, from his professors, from his education and from his community into his career. Here, he shares some of his insights from the various parts of his professional personality.

​​What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

I work for Bristol Myers Squibb, one of the leading global biotech companies in the world, as the associate director of worldwide commercialization operations. Essentially, I serve as the chief of staff for the senior vice president of worldwide commercialization capabilities and strategy. I am also the producer and host of the Bristol Myers Squibb-sponsored global podcast BOLD Innovators Podcast series.  

My Olin education has had a tremendous impact on my career. I started at BMS in their business insights and analytics two-year rotational development program. Nearly every skill I learned from SQL to advanced Excel data modeling, to effectively presenting to key stakeholders, I learned from Olin. An Olin education allowed me to hit the ground running on day one in the development program and it also provided me with a toolkit with skills and experiences that I still use today.

What Olin course, “defining moment” or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

While at Olin there were many courses, moments and faculty that positively influenced my life and career. For example, courses such as Competitive Industry Analysis and Critical Thinking Process and Modeling for Effective Decision Making, having in-depth conversations about digital marketing and analytics with Professor Michael Wall, and presenting key findings for a special consulting project for the St. Louis Cardinals were very influential.

The defining moment for me was our year’s weeklong capstone trip to Shanghai in March 2019. The goal was to develop a strategy for a local St. Louis business to enter the Chinese market. Prior to going on the trip, I knew I would be working with a team of smart, driven classmates and I felt as though my skills and experiences would not be as valuable as theirs. At that moment I suffered from imposter syndrome.

This was only a few months before graduation, and I would be entering into a new industry, pharmaceuticals, which made me more anxious. However, after working with my classmates and providing key inputs to the recommendation allowed me to boost my confidence.

After completing the weeklong capstone, I knew that I could be an asset to any industry, including the biotech world. Now that I look back at it, it’s funny that I had to travel all the way to Shanghai to really understand my value and my inner confidence.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

I stay connected with Olin through my personal desire to give back to the school, which has given me so much over the years. I wouldn’t have been able to go to business school without the resources that Olin and the Consortium for Graduate Study in Business provided. For that, I am forever committed to give back to my community.

“When much is given, much is always expected.” This is something my father always reiterated to me. Once I was able to have some extra financial flexibility, I wanted to make those words a reality and start giving back through philanthropic efforts to which I am passionate. Earlier in 2022, I decided to start my own scholarship at Olin called The Powell Family “Pay It Forward” Scholarship. This scholarship will provide financial assistance for deserving underrepresented minorities that are members of the Consortium. My hope is that recipients are inspired to pay it forward to future students.

Why is business education important?

I believe that a business education is important for three reasons:

  • General skills: It gives you general skills necessary to begin a career regardless of industry or focus. It allows you to build your toolkit to add value from nonprofits to corporate settings.
  • Presenting and influencing: Most of life is spent communicating, and it is important that your communication is effective and that you can influence others. A business education gives you the core communication skills to effectively craft and persuade others.
  • Networking: A key part to growing your career is doing the work, but also building your network and your own personal board of directors.

What advice would you give current Olin students?

I understand what worked for me may not work for someone else, so I don’t like giving out advice, but my opinions. I would tell current Olin students to take full advantage of all the opportunities that Olin and the city of St. Louis has to offer. I always viewed being at Olin and St. Louis as being a big fish in a small pond.

There are so many great organizations and major corporations to get involved with in St. Louis. A student is only one conversation away from starting a meaningful relationship. That’s the power of an Olin education.

For example, I had the opportunity to work for and build relationships with Anheuser-Busch, the St. Louis Cardinals, the St. Louis Film Festival, Express Scripts and Edward Jones, just to name a few. With so many options to choose from, the biggest obstacle is figuring out where you want to put your focus.

So, if I had to sum up my opinion, I would say go out, network, and have real authentic conversations with people Olin, WashU or the St. Louis community. You never know where your next opportunity of a lifetime will come from.

How has the pandemic influenced your thinking about doing business locally or globally—or your career?

Chase good management, don’t chase money. With everything that has happened with the pandemic, I would say it has influenced my career by making me understand the value of working for good leadership. We’ve seen throughout the pandemic the importance of leadership and management.

There were some organizations that truly listened to their employees about burnout, social unrest and lack of growth. Although other companies may have had higher paying positions, they ignored these topics and the struggles of their employees.

These employees left their organizations for better roles, but some left for lateral or lower positions to start over again. People don’t leave a job; they leave bad management.

MBA students have a plethora of companies, including Fortune 25 organizations, to choose from that would look great on their resume. Even with all these options, there won’t be a lot of places with great management where they will listen, develop and have opportunities for you to be a future leader in their organization. I would say to choose stability and smart, talented management. The money, experiences, and development will come when you chase good management.

About the Author

Washington University in Saint Louis

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