Susan Dawson - Master's: Management Information Systems, 1990
After receiving an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Princeton and practicing as a consulting structural engineer, I soon figured out that if I wanted to move past engineering practice into management levels, it would be best to go ahead and get my MBA. But I was worried that whatever “B-School” I picked would be populated by students who cared more about a fast buck than the good of the world around them.
I looked at schools across the country and eventually decided to come back to my native Texas, and while it’s true that a number of the “fast buck” types joined me there, I was pleased that (in contrast to what I heard about other schools across the U.S.) they were definitely the minority. Most of us, across varying fields of business endeavor, were there because we genuinely cared about learning and expanding our horizons.
Horizon opportunities don’t greet you every day, but they were definitely there at the UT GSB – what is now the McCombs School of Business. I was a trained engineer interested in the intersection between engineering, manufacturing, information systems, and business. There could not have been a more perfect role model for me than Bob Galvin – CEO of Motorola, technician by training who rose to the level of Fortune 50 CEO through business acumen, ethical leadership, quality production design, customer commitment, and demonstrated innovation. Bob almost single handedly drove the quality movement across the United States after the Japanese had drubbed U.S. manufacturers who could dream great ideas but couldn’t produce high quality goods that consumers would buy. When he came to visit as a GSB distinguished lecturer my last year, I was one of a privileged three students who got to meet privately and spend much of a day with Bob Galvin. The business lessons he imparted in a short couple of hours were truly the capstone to my semesters of business and production theory.
Later, when Bob gave the distinguished lecture in front of an audience of hundreds, he pulled out a cellular phone from his pocket and demonstrated how he could answer a critical customer call wherever he was in the country. The phone was about 10” by 3” by 3” and easily a pound and a half – I guess we didn’t notice how baggy his suit pants were until later – but at the time we all gasped at the remarkable technology unveiled right in front of us. None of us had ever seen a truly portable phone before.
When I graduated, the late 80’s Texas oil bust was only just starting to wane. At a breakfast of migas at Trudy’s Café it was still rare to have a waiter or waitress who had less than a Master’s degree… nobody wanted to leave Austin. I was one of the lucky few who was able to secure a job IN AUSTIN. All my cohorts were incredibly jealous. And who came through with a post graduate job? Motorola. And I’m almost totally sure Bob Galvin had nothing to do with it…
A short decade later I was asked to take on the role of Chair of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce because I was seen as the person who could bridge the wealth-creating entrepreneurial tech sector and traditional Austin businesses. I was the only woman with children at home, and the youngest known business leader ever to be asked to take on the role of Chamber Chair in the 125 year history of the Chamber of Commerce. That year I was honored to be awarded the Austin Under 40 “Austinite of the Year” and the following year the McCombs School Trailblazer Award.
Many people, lessons, and skills have contributed to the business and civic success that I have been fortunate enough to experience. But a key underpinning was the ethical, theoretical, and practical leadership foundation that I was able to gain at The University of Texas Graduate School of Business. The graduate school experience at UT has played a critical role in shaping my life and my future.