A Veteran Takes a Road Less Traveled to the No.1-Ranked International MBA

There’s no one path to business school. Often a traditional timeline looks like this: Graduate with a bachelor’s degree (typically in business or engineering), work for about 3-5 years (typically finance or consulting) then get an MBA.

The academic and professional stories our admissions team sees in University of South Carolina MBA cohorts reflect a wide range of impressive credentials, circumstances and personal choices — like current MBA candidate and Michigan native, Alec Klungle.

Alec served in the military after graduating high school and later went back to earn his undergraduate degree in advertising from Michigan State University. After graduation, he worked as a marketing manager in Lansing, Michigan.

We wondered what inspired Alec to trade a career in his home state for full-time studies at the Darla Moore School of Business in the school’s 2019 International MBA cohort. Here’s what he shared about his decision, plans and more on his path to the University of South Carolina.

What brought you south? 
Moving from the Midwest seemed like a good challenge at this stage in life. I had a desire for warmer weather as well as a change in scenery and people.And, I like to shake things up and challenge myself every few years.

How has it been so far?
So far, it has been a good change. The people are very kind, everyone waves at you (which was especially weird at first, because I had no idea why people were waving at me). The landscaping down here is gorgeous (think, palm trees), but the biggest challenge has been adjusting to the heat.

What was your ‘aha’ moment to begin your application?
I’ve always known I wanted to get my MBA. I’d finally reached the point in my career where I knew my trajectory without an MBA was not where I wanted to be. I knew I needed an MBA to get to the level of success that aligned with my long-term ambitions and I knew I had enough professional experience to finally qualify for programs I wanted to get into.

Why did you choose the University of South Carolina MBA?
What set the University of South Carolina apart was the individual attention I received — and continue to receive — from the staff. During the admissions process, Jennifer Ninh, managing director of Full-time MBA programs, sent me an amazing email. I felt she was actually writing an email to me as a person rather than to me as a prospective student. The UofSC MBA programs office continues to be the most helpful entity in any business school I have encountered. My experience so far confirmed my initial feelings: it’s a small program able to focus on us as individuals and connect with us on a human level. They’re not just pumping out degrees.

What led you to military service after high school?
I would have liked to have gone straight to college after high school, but I didn’t have the funds, grades or a lot of options that reflected my potential. I took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test and scored high enough to get a really good job with a $23,000 signing bonus, which sounded awesome to my 18-year-old self. However, I needed to develop work skills, habits, discipline and traits I did not have after graduating from high school. The Navy allowed me to jump straight into a working environment, so I was able to develop skills that would set me apart from others.

Why should a veteran consider the UofSC MBA?
I was impressed by how UofSC was able and willing to work with me and my personal circumstances to support my interest in the program and position me for success. Other programs were happy I was a veteran, but they seemed more interested in me as a statistic or “checked box.” UofSC was the only program that really seemed to understand what it means to be a veteran. Jennifer reached out to ask me about my GI Bill and how UofSC could work with me to create the best MBA experience.

What type of work experiences have you had since your service?
I worked as a marketing manager for a small marketing and design firm called Addis Enterprises. We partnered with small businesses to strategize and execute marketing plans that supported their business goals. I was also the lead digital marketer with various colleges within Michigan State University (MSU) as well as the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. My job was to act as the chief liaison between clients, internal management, programmers and designers to ensure that websites and digital marketing campaigns met ambitious SEO, SEM and analytics goals.

We also understand you’re a bit of a rugby marketing expert?
One of my favorite stories was when our firm was approached by the president of the Michigan State University Rugby Club to promote a match between MSU and the University of Michigan (UofM). I led the team that created the brand, coordinated and marketed the entire event. It was such a success we were asked to help recreate the same sort of collegiate rugby events in other parts of the country. We also got the attention of organizations such as USA Rugby, media affiliates, performance apparel brands and more. There’s not much extra time in an MBA program, but I actually still serve as a consultant for collegiate events and recently designed marketing plans and materials for the 2019 Battle for the Mitten Rugby Tournament.

Why should a marketing professional consider the UofSC MBA?
UofSC is the place to be for marketers, digital or traditional, who want to make a global impact. In the Midwest, I could have worked at an auto company that does international business, but never directly with an enterprise truly immersed in foreign markets. If you’re interested in world economies, this is the place to go. UofSC put me in touch with a breadth of companies and the marketing arms of some interesting firms that I would never have known about.

What’s your typical day like?
A typical day for me is waking up to make a pot of coffee, followed by a shower before biking or walking to my 8:30 a.m. class. We have class until either 11:15 a.m. or 2 p.m. On most of the 2 p.m. days, I go to the gym to work out for an hour or two before coming home to make food and study or read. On the earlier days, I usually try to get a few people to go play a round of golf. There are a lot of outgoing personalities in this program, so there is always a good group to decompress with, if that is what the day calls for.

What do you like best about the program?
The people. The south attracts kind people and this program attracts ambitious folks, so it turns out to be a great combination of classmates who are both accomplished and helpful.

There is a good mix of experience and backgrounds coming into the program, so it allows for a lot of great perspectives to feed into personal and professional growth. And everyone who teaches a class has a great deal of knowledge and insight, too. I’m learning things that will help in my career.

The MBA office is spectacular in their willingness to help. If ever there is a problem or a question about careers, classes, clubs or just life in general, the Office of Career Management and the MBA office is always willing to meet and talk through it.

You’re also involved with the Center for Marketing Solutions. How is that adding value to your MBA experience?
My graduate assistantship provides a good stipend that helps me offset the cost of tuition while enhancing my learning of the curriculum. I’m working on marketing-oriented projects that greatly add to my education and also put me in contact with target companies. After only seven weeks in the position, I’ve had opportunities to create marketing materials for large corporations and research topics in my field for the purpose of helping create industry-changing insights. I was offered similar positions at other schools, but they were positions that put me to work grading papers and doing office hours. It’s nice to work 10 hours a week on projects that advance my career interests.

What do you intend to do after you graduate?
I’m seeking the next step on the road to CEO. As a marketer, my short-term goal is to be a brand manager. Being raised in Michigan, I lean toward the manufacturing sector, but I also have eyes on consumer-packaged goods, too. I was thrilled to learn the Moore School’s corporate partners include Coca-Cola Bottling Company Consolidated, Johnson & Johnson, and Sonoco Products Company.

I’m looking forward to combining my creative interest in marketing, military leadership skills, and marketable business skills from the UofSC MBA.