Student Profile: Jake Skinner, Midland MBA Class of 2014

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Good evening, Jake. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

"I finished my undergraduate degree in May of 2011, and I've worked at First National Bank in Omaha for the last three years. I started out as a Teller, but then moved to a job as a Loan Specialist. Recently, I was promoted to a supervisory role where I also handle training."

What motivated you to go back to school?

"I wasn't really actively looking to go back to school, but I saw some of the advertising for Midland University's MBA program, and I liked the idea of their hybrid class structure. After I called Midland, I liked what I heard. The small school environment really aligned with the values I was looking for in a school."

Can you elaborate on the values and environment you're talking about? 

"Everyone was very accessible. I was always able to speak directly to Ray [Sass, Director of the MBA at Midland University] during the recruiting process. I could get immediate answers to any questions, and I liked that."

Did that carry through to your experience as a student?

"Yes. I liked a smaller school feel. That's what I enjoyed about my undergraduate work. At Midland, there were smaller classrooms, great communication, and I had direct access to the professors. Sometimes in bigger classes, you're working on a hope and a prayer that you'll be able to get to the professor directly, but at Midland our professors were always available."

Earlier you mentioned the hybrid structure of the MBA program. What was most appealing about that to you?

"I didn't want to quit or cut back on my hours at work, but I didn't want to do it all online either. I like the face-to-face interaction in school. This was a great way to get enough in-person interaction while letting me manage my own schedule around work."

Did it take you long to adjust to the additional workload?

"I did take a little while to adapt, but after I got into a routine, it got pretty easy to find the time. For anyone coming into the program, I'd say that establishing a schedule and getting into a rhythm is important. You can do the work whenever you have time, but building that time into your weekly routines helps. By the time I got through my first month, I was pretty amazed at my ability to create time in my schedule."

To take things in a different direction, we’d like to talk about your interest in entrepreneurship. Can you tell us a little bit about the entrepreneurship class you took at Midland, and why you found it so interesting?

"The class was really an eye-opener for me and provided a number of valuable experiences.  

I’ve always wanted to run a business. My dad owned a successful plumbing business for 25 years growing up, but always joked that he lucked into figuring that out. Joe’s [Joseph Frost, Professor of Entrepreneurship] class had a great mix of resources through readings and people. Some of the assigned readings like The E-Myth and Lean Startup provided great insight on considerations and unique strategies in the initial stages of starting a business.  

Throughout the class, we also had the ability to listen to nine other local entrepreneurs who were able to share their experiences from their business with a wide variety of services from e-retail, business-to-business, and direct sales. Hearing from people living this life, and being able to directly ask questions about how they managed a work-life balance when it can be so demanding, or how they dealt with difficult money situations, for example, was very useful. In general, hearing some of the processes and strategies those entrepreneurs utilized was very motivating and encouraging."

How did you find yourself applying what you learned in class?

"Along the way, I was able to apply some of those teachings directly to a business of my own. While my wife and I make up our employee workforce, the class started to help shape some of our practices. We started planning more based on the class teachings and began laying out more goals, from weekly, monthly, and even long-term 5-year plans. We also started incorporating more defined roles and meetings to help with accountability. 

Things like these were common in my corporate world, but I never thought they were necessary or utilized in small business settings. I had never experienced the framework for starting a business that was a part of this class. This helped keep me extremely engaged as I was learning about these new concepts in this setting, and at the same time, I also had the chance to incorporate and start using the new information, which was very exciting!"

You just mentioned your own business. Would you mind elaborating a little bit more on that? 

"Sure. The business is called FITness Into A Lifestyle, which offers personal training, group training, and health coaching in a variety of ways to a number of different clientele. 

It really was a surprising and quick climb to where we are today. Gabby, my wife, and I had discussed starting a business and had even conducted some marketing research through an undergrad Marketing Research class at Midland University, looking into some of Fremont’s demographics, and what kind of fitness opportunities were available when I had first started the MBA about a year ago. This last summer, we were able to apply some of her degrees and experiences towards a very informal business model in the personal training industry, and then developed a blog and a Facebook page that turned out to be the start of FITness Into A Lifestyle.

Currently, we run the business out of our home, with clients working out in our basement gym or in some cases, going to people’s house and using the equipment that is available. Luckily, we have complementary skillsets as she does a lot of the technical work and labor of the business, and I am able to concentrate on a lot of the billing, pricing, and marketing components. We both work together on developing the vision and where we see the business going. To date, we have between 10-15 clients who are utilizing the personal training services; we had only 2 clients at the beginning of the year."  

Did you have any support with your business after the class ended?

"While I mentioned some of the operational benefits earlier, Joe was also great in helping build out the business from its current place. After the class and putting together the business plan, we decided to look at more avenues for creating growth rather than allowing it to grow naturally, as we had done before at a slower pace.  

I reached out to Joe about creating a more defined marketing plan. We were able to sit down for a meeting that allowed me to ask him as many questions as I could think of about our current ideas for the company’s advertising plans. He was extremely receptive, and with his background in the service industry and numerous businesses, was a great resource and provided a number of his successful (and unsuccessful) experiences." 

How much have your Midland experiences played in your decision to start your own business? Is it something you wanted to do prior to your MBA, or a new aspiration stemming from an experience here?

"Starting a business was always something I wanted to do as I mentioned above. While the business had some of the inner-workings as I was beginning my MBA, the concepts I was able to grasp and apply were one of the things that has really helped the business develop from when I started the MBA to where we are at now. 

While I would like to think the business would have grown all by itself, the ability to keep learning and adapting was only reinforced through the program. Hearing from other entrepreneurs about the steps along the way was significant, and helped entrench and encourage us to continue growing the business, but also be more aware to spotting areas that could make us more successful. 

While I wouldn’t say the MBA was critical in starting the business, I know it played a huge role in helping us move past some of the early stages of the business, to building a brand in Fremont and eventually with our vision of expanding well outside the city limits."  

Great. Thank you for your time, Jake. And congratulations on completing the program. 

"Thank you."

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