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Learning How to Bring People Together Through an MBA

Jeffrey HarrelsonJeffrey Harrelson has a couple pieces of advice for people debating an MBA. First, understand why you want an MBA: Are you pivoting your career, looking to gain additional skills? “Don’t do it just because other people are doing it.” Second — and most challenging for Harrelson — figure out what kind of program you want: Are willing and able to commit to a full-time program, which often means leaving the stability of a full-time job? “There’s no silver bullet for the decision,” he says. “It’s very personal.”

Harrelson started exploring an MBA during his first job after college. “To become a manager at Ernst & Young, I was required to be pursuing a graduate degree,” he recalls. “It really got me thinking about what my next career step should be.”

It proved to be a turning point for Harrelson, who decided to leave his job as a transfer pricing senior consultant and enroll in Bentley’s full-time MBA program. “It was one of the biggest decisions of my life,” he says of leaving the workforce for two years. “But the timing was right and I knew that it would help me down the road.”

He landed at Bentley because of the option for a finance concentration, the on-campus resources (including the Trading Room), and the fact that the curriculum required a one-year consulting project with an outside business.

The MBA Experience

It turns out that Harrelson was right about the consulting project; it was the most impactful part of the program for him. His team worked with Tufts Medical School to enhance their onboarding program. It included bi-weekly conference calls and a presentation to Tufts leaders.

“A big piece of the project was learning how to work effectively with diverse groups on problems,” he says of his team members that came from the U.S. and abroad. “Different things motivate people in different ways. You have to really work within a group and understand the individual nature of each person in order to be the most effective.”

Harrelson also got a chance to build his leadership skills, by working within the team and with Tufts. “It was our job to manage the project from start to finish. Tufts relied on our work to help their business.”

As far as work inside the classroom, Harrelson says that a course on negotiation was among his favorites. In addition to lectures, students spent time reviewing and prepping a sales situation (buying a car, for example) and then negotiating with classmates. A key takeaway: it was a successful negotiation when both sides walked away feeling as if they won.

A Turn of Events

At the time Harrelson chose to complete a finance concentration, he thought his career would focus on financial analysis or investment banking. But after working at a major retailer, he began to re-evaluate his plans.

“I wanted to be passionate about who I was working for,” he says.

Harrelson came across Rapid7 — a 2015 honoree in the Boston Business Journal Best Places to Work award — and applied for a job in sales operations. “I fell in love with the company from the first interview, and I felt I had the traits needed to be successful in the role.”

His finance skills worked well in regard to the modeling and reporting aspects of sales operations. His experience consulting for Tufts also proved significant. “I acted as an internal consultant to work cross functionally with different groups within the company, including finance, marketing and sales departments.”

Today, Harrelson is senior manager of sales operations at Buildium, a property management software company. He joined with the task of building up sales operations. “I’ve really enjoyed starting from scratch and creating something new. There’s not a cookie cutter approach to it, but it’s helpful to be analytical and enjoy tackling problems head on.”

One of his primary responsibilities is to help make the sales team as efficient as possible through strategy and operational changes, including forecasting, variable compensation and the customer relationship management database. Building out reporting, he says, has helped the company better understand the marketing and sales funnel: how to deem leads as qualified and turn them into sales.

Harrelson’s long-term goal is a role such as chief operating officer. “That could change over time,” he admits. “But I’m always trying to take the right steps to put myself in a position to get there.”