LGBTQ Veterans as MBAs: Robert Mark – MBA, Rice University’s Jones School of Business ’15
Name: Robert Mark
School: Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business
Year of Graduation: 2015
Undergraduate Institution: Davidson College, 2008
Where did you do you mid-MBA internship: BP, Internal Management Consulting Group
Tell us a bit about your background, prior work experience and career interests
I was born in Houston, Texas and raised traveling internationally for about fifty percent of the time with my single mother who worked in international energy infrastructure development. I attended Davidson where I majored in History and worked as a firefighter and EMT, rowed crew, and held fraternity and student leadership positions. Upon graduation I joined the U.S. Army and served as an intelligence officer for five years on active duty holding various command and staff positions and attaining the rank of Captain. After I was selected to the White House Internship Program to work for the National Security Council I transitioned off active duty and into the Army Reserve. Upon completing the internship I returned to Houston to begin my MBA at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business. I continue to serve as a Captain in the Army Reserve in a U.S. Africa Command strategic intelligence unit in the Washington D.C. area. This past summer I completed an internship with BP in their internal management consulting group, and recently accepted an offer to return and work with them after graduation in May of 2015 from JGSB.
What made you decide to get your MBA?
I was always determined to continue my education at the graduate level and upon deciding to leave the military I knew I wanted to work in the energy industry. An MBA was the best way that I saw to enable that goal, and Rice was the ideal school.
Were you out as you went through the business school application process? If so, in what ways? If not, at what point upon entering did you decide to come out?
Rice previously did not have a field on their application to identify LGBTQ candidates (which is intended to change for the 2016 application) but I wrote an essay about the challenges of serving as a gay Army officer under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy and the way its repeal enabled me to be a stronger leader in the military.
Tell us a bit about your involvement with the LGBTQ and Ally communities on your campus or the great LGBTQ MBA community. Are you particularly active?
Upon starting my MBA at Rice, I was surprised to find that I was the only open LGBTQ member of the full time business school. This made being open and out difficult, as I was not prepared to be the ‘token’ but I had made that vow to myself to always be open about myself and did it anyway. I became the president of Out for Business and attended Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) conference my first year which changed the course of my graduate school experience. I found an incredible network of LGBTQ professionals and students unlike I had ever known existed. It was incredible. I dove in head first, feeling a sense of identity and purpose with this group. I made friends with first year students at Wharton and Tuck and we formed a committee of ten to submit a bid to the board of directors of ROMBA to be selected as the organizing committee for the 2014 conference. We won the bid and successfully executed the 2014 ROMBA conference in San Francisco. This position did two things: First, for the first time I found myself not only involved with but helping run an LGBTQ advocacy organization, and a high profile national organization at that; Second, it put Rice’s name among a very short list of distinguished schools that have had student organizers of ROMBA. Aside from all I learned and the amazing network of LGBT peers and mentors that I developed across the country, the ability to market Rice’s business school as an institution that was as good about LGBTQ issues as any of the top 10 was the most rewarding.
Rice is in Texas, a state not known for operating at the forefront of LGBTQ acceptance. Rice feeds primarily into Oil and Gas, an industry not known for its progressive policies regarding LGBTQ inclusiveness. While the undergraduate college at Rice is very good on LGBTQ issues, the business school has more work to do still. It is not an environment where I have felt unwelcome, but there is more that Rice and all business schools can do to better serve the LGBTQ community. To my knowledge, the most openly LGBTQ students the full time MBA program has had enrolled at any given time is two, with one to none being more common. While the admissions staff is very supportive of LGBTQ candidates coming into the school, we need to do more to target and recruit quality LGBTQ candidates, and as president of Out for Business that is a mission I have sought to help with. I am currently working with admissions to get the term LGBTQ included in the diversity recruiting language so that it is no longer merely implied but directly stated. Within the ROMBA conference this year we put together pre-MBA content for prospective LGBTQ candidates, and Rice sent an admissions associate director who I assisted in representing the school at the Rice booth. I also moderated a student perspectives panel for the pre-MBAs and had the chance to represent Rice in front potential candidates.
I am currently working with the Director of Admissions to join the eight or so schools that have already signed on to take part in a Reaching Out MBA LGBTQ Fellowship. This will allow the school to demonstrate that it not only supports LGBTQ in name, but actively pursues the top candidates. The administration at all levels has both expressed interest in making this scholarship program a reality and improving the LGBTQ recruiting ability and exposure of Rice. Rice University overall has been supportive of this movement as well, and I was recently awarded an endowed award from Rice Alumni Pride for Advocacy of the campus LGBTQ community.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience as being a member of the LGBTQ community while serving your country. How did DADT impact you (if at all) during your experience? How did culture change after it’s repeal?
Up until September 20, 2011, the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ I was closeted in most every facet of my life. I was out to only my family and a very close circle of friends, ‘passing’ as straight to everyone else for fear of being in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and being discharged from the military. After DADT repeal I came out to my superiors in the Army, but with the exception of my First Sergeant and Executive Officer, I did not discuss my life at all with the 120 Soldiers in my command. I wish I had because I know for a fact there were a few soldiers struggling with their sexuality and having a commander who was brave enough to talk about himself openly might have helped them. At the time I had just gained the legal ability to consider my own sexuality in public terms and I wasn’t yet prepared to help others. After that command position I transitioned off active duty and went to the White House where being open about your LGBT’ness was encouraged. It was in this transition that I vowed to myself that I would never live my life in any way but completely open. I learned that sometimes just being visible is an act of leadership in and of itself.
The comment has been made that as the US Armed Forces go [in terms of policy] so goes the rest of the nation. Do you think the repeal of DADT set us up for a lot of the progress we’ve been seeing in terms of national LGBTQ issues over the past 2 years?
Yes, I absolutely believe that the passionate discussion around DADT repeal enabled a wider discourse about the rights of LGBTQ Americans. This debate allowed for momentum that I feel directly impacted the progress we have seen as a nation over the last three years.
What made you decide to shift from serving your country to the business world?
Upon joining the Army I knew that I was never going to make it my life’s career, though I have enjoyed the opportunity to continue my service in the Army Reserve. I always had aspirations to move into the private sector, and particularly a career in the energy industry. I believe that US energy security directly effects our national security and economic development and hope to continue serving my country by promoting sound energy policy.
Do you think veterans bring something extra to the MBA experience? What about LGBTQ MBAs?
Veterans are equipped with many skills that enable us to contribute well in an MBA environment. We are given great amounts of responsibility at early points in our careers and expected to learn how to perform. We are adaptable and react well under pressure. We are adept at negotiating and managing organizational politics in a way that directly creates success in a corporate environment. Most of us have strong oral and written communication skills, which, in at least my case, offset any weaknesses in finance and accounting acumen that my peers coming out of the private sector have.
Qualified LGBTQ MBAs also bring a unique perspective to business. Leadership requires a strong understanding of diversity and an ability to pull together people from all walks of life in order to accomplish tangible goals. LGBTQ MBA’s bring a strong ability to understand diversity leadership and leverage that to benefit their corporate employers.
What advice do you have for LGBTQs currently serving their country that might one day consider going to graduate school of an MBA or business masters degree?
Pursuing an MBA is no small feat, and transitioning from the military into the private sector can be daunting, particularly for LGBTQ candidates. Veterans know better than most that the best way to deal with fear is face it head on, so if an MBA is something you aspire to, don’t be deterred by anything. There is a massive network of LGBTQ peers, and a robust network of Veteran MBAs to depend on. Leverage those networks to the fullest extent and face the jump head on. You will be surprised at the lengths your community members will go to support you in achieving your goals.