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Penn State Smeal MBA alum reflects on how leadership opportunities prepared him for the real world

January 11, 2022

By Melissa Manno

Jon Coulter
Jon Coulter, Dell Technologies senior advisor
Equipped with real-world management experiences during his time at the Penn State Smeal College of Business, MBA graduate Jon Coulter is no stranger to leading a team.

The Poets & Quants “MBA to watch” credits Smeal with preparing him to make an immediate impact following graduation by giving him experiences in leadership, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A Pittsburgh native, Coulter was inspired to pursue his MBA degree while working as a systems engineer for Intel, where coordinating with global supply managers opened his eyes to a newfound passion. 

“Running projects with cross-functional teams and people of all backgrounds turned out to be something I had a lot of passion for, and when it came to make the next step in my career, an MBA seemed to be the best path forward,” Coulter said.  

His sights were set on pursuing his MBA at Smeal because of how well the college’s values aligned with his own goals. Previously working in supply chain issues, Coulter said he wanted to build on those experiences by going to “the best school for supply chain management.” Additionally, he was blown away by Penn State’s unrivaled professional network and valued the MBA program’s small class sizes and tight-knit sense of community. 

Now, just months since his graduation, Coulter is thriving as a senior advisor for Dell Technologies in its Global Operations Strategy Division in Austin, Texas. Guided by the real-world exposure he acquired at Smeal, Coulter spends his days striving toward creating and implementing the next generation of software used for demand planning and lead time projections. 

“Smeal prepared me for this role by putting me face to face with some of the smartest minds in supply chain management and change implementation,” Coulter said. “The focus on teamwork throughout the program prepared me for the reality that mostly everything I do in this company is with a team of people with differing backgrounds and skillsets.”  

Smeal’s array of leadership opportunities validated Coulter’s capability to effectively lead a team and make well-informed decisions. As president of Smeal’s MBA Association, he was responsible for the MBA experience of roughly 150 students throughout the course of 2020 — which forced him to navigate a plentitude of unprecedented challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“There were successes and failures alike in trying to adapt to the realities of COVID-19 and to be able to take such chances in a somewhat secure environment was a tremendous confidence boost for how to approach similar needs for adaption in the business world,” Coulter said. 

These experiences gave him firsthand knowledge of how the pandemic has affected the global supply chain. Now, Coulter said he believes it’s more important than ever for people to understand the complexities of supply chain systems — an area of expertise Smeal excels in. 

“Supply chain was a term mostly unheard of outside of the business realm prior to COVID,” Coulter said. “Now, it is front and center as one of the largest problems our economy faces.” 

Reflecting on his Penn State journey, Coulter said one of his fondest memories took him far outside the slopes of Happy Valley. Through Smeal’s Global Immersion program, Coulter was able to travel to South Africa to study business in a developing country. His time in the nation comprised of going on safaris, exploring Cape Town and, most memorable to him, examining the unique battles faced by businesses in the Johannesburg region. 

“It’s one thing to go to a country to learn about their culture from sightseeing and eating food, among other things; it’s another thing entirely to go inside the office walls and see firsthand the economic battles the nation is facing,” Coulter said. 

Coulter emphasized that throughout his time at Smeal, several faces within the college provided him with invaluable support and helped him “pivot his brain from an engineering focus to a broader organizational level mindset.” 

One of those faces, and more specifically, one of Coulter’s favorite professors, was Don Hambrick, Evan Pugh University Professor and Smeal Chaired Professor of Management. Hambrick instructed Coulter in Strategy Implementation and Organizational Change — a course that shaped his approach to business strategy ahead of starting his postgraduate position with Dell. 

“Jon Coulter is the kind of person every business school professor wants to teach: constructive, upbeat, hardworking, analytically capable and endowed with reliable judgement about social and human behavior,” Hambrick said. 

In the future, Coulter said he hopes to attain an executive-level position at an established company and is also interested in the prospect of launching his own innovative business. In either path, he’s confident the level of preparedness he’s cultivated at Smeal will propel his ambitions.  

In conversations with graduates from other MBA programs, Coulter said he often hears people discuss their master’s program strictly as a business affair. For him, one of the many aspects that sets Smeal apart is how its students genuinely enjoy their experiences. 

“The emphasis Smeal places on building a community not only makes the tough workload easier, but also helps you build lasting relationships which you can maintain long after the program ends,” Coulter said. “If you can call a classmate up to 10 years down the road and chat about work, life and everything in between — you know your time in the MBA program was well spent.” 

To learn more about the Smeal College of Business residential MBA program, visit Smeal’s official website.

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