Brian Precious on Elon Musk and Mastering Accounting

Noodle Expert Brian Precious discusses Elon Musk's inspiring vision and how mastering accounting turned him into a better student.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

Elon Musk. Mr. Musk is a visionary leader, bringing disruptive change to several industries, including transportation (Tesla), solar power (Solar City), and even space travel (Space X). I would like to understand his new product development process, specifically how he looks beyond what is currently available to identify solutions that don't yet exist. I'd also like to learn how he develops and motivates his employees to meet or exceed the lofty goals he sets for each organization he runs. Finally, I'd like to hear his thoughts on marketing to both end-consumers and potential investors.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

Sometimes, the simplest advice is the most useful. In my case, resisting the urge to respond immediately to all requests has allowed me to become a better professional. My nature is to be responsive and organized, but sometimes it's best to stop and think through all the implications and permutations before sending a hasty response to a request. Interestingly, I've found that some of my most creative and thoughtful ideas have come at irregular times and locations. By giving myself time and space to think, I'm able to deliver better solutions.

Where would you send a student who hasn’t traveled before?

Europe. Students traveling to Europe have the opportunity to experience many new countries, cultures, historic sites, and cultural attractions within a relatively small geographic area. The rail system and common currency throughout EU countries makes it easy to get around and English is widely spoken throughout the continent.

Once a student has experienced Europe, I recommend they visit a major developing nation like India, China, or Brazil. My travels to these and other international venues have had positive influences on both my personal and professional life. Professionally, I have a better understanding of where the majority of my international students are coming from. I also had the opportunity to meet many of them in their home country, which has given me a great chance to develop a relationship with them early in the recruiting process. Personally, my international travels have allowed me to remain close with many of the friends I made in my MBA program.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

Early in my sophomore year, I received a "D" on my first accounting midterm. At the time, I blamed everyone but myself. I thought it was the teacher's fault for covering too much material, and for being so boring. I also blamed my other professors for assigning so much work due the same week. And, of course, if my roommates hadn't made so much noise when I was trying to study...

I went to my advisor and was quickly told that if I wanted to continue in the College of Business, I had to earn at least a C in accounting. There were no exceptions and no second chances. To further turn up the pressure, she mentioned there was a waitlist of hundreds of students who wanted my seat in the college.

That conversation still sticks with me today. I quickly stopped feeling sorry for myself and made a commitment to learn accounting. I looked at it as a necessary step along my path to success. I didn't love it, but if I gave up , I may never have had the chance to do what was really important to me. I also learned to ask for help. This was not easy for someone as stubborn and self-reliant as me. I spent many an hour with the professor at her office hours and asked my friends who where better accounting students for help. I also studied harder than I ever had before. I wound up getting an A on the final and a B in the class.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

My MBA experience was truly transformational for me. In a very short 621 days, I had opportunities to start a company, work at a start-up organization, travel the world (Australia, New Zealand, China), attend several case competitions, and lead a student organization. More importantly, I made friendships who span both the globe and beat the test of time. Because this was such a special experience for me, I went into the MBA administration field to help others realize the value of an MBA education. I enjoy working with students at all points in their career to see if earning an MBA is helpful.

One thing that is different from what I expected is that not all students are looking for the same experience I had. Some attend school at night and don't have time for the extracurricular. Some aren't interested in the friendships or networking opportunities. Over time, I've learned to tailor my conversations with prospective students to learn as much as possible about their reasoning for wanting the degree.

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