Rady Military MBA Spotlight: Ben Folkers (MBA ’11)

“What I found is that the military had given me more than leadership and decision making skills — my experiences in the military directly led to my success in my (MBA) coursework.”

Background:
Ben earned his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Virginia. He spent 12 years as an S-3B Viking Pilot at the Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego, California before becoming a flight instructor at the Naval Air Station, Meridian, Mississippi. After his service in the military, Ben wanted to start his own company and decided to get an MBA to assist the transition between his military service and civilian career. He chose the Rady School of Management because of the school’s focus on entrepreneurship, Lab to Market courses and a student population with backgrounds in science and engineering.

Rady MBA Experience:
Ben developed strong leadership skills in the military, but needed technical skills and fluency in the language of business. The Rady School’s Lab to Market courses prepared Ben to take the first step in realizing his goal of starting his own company.

“Lab to Market was so positive for me because it not only allowed me to take an idea and develop it into a formal business plan ready to be executed, but it also put me in front of local business leaders and potential investors,” Ben said.

Before starting the Rady MBA program, Ben wondered how what he learned during his military career would fit into a rigorous business program. He was surprised to find that his military training actually enhanced his academic success at the Rady School.

“What I found is that the military had given me more than leadership and decision making skills — my experiences in the military directly led to my success in my coursework,” he said. “There’s a certain social aspect of the military that allowed me to work with cohorts from an incredibly diverse set of backgrounds. Rady allowed me to ‘train to my weakness’ through the broad selection of electives.”

Beyond his academic experience, Ben also found a shared camaraderie among other students transitioning from the military and developed lifelong connections with his fellow classmates.

“While I certainly bonded over shared experiences with my fellow military classmates right away, the diversity of our class is what really made my time here at Rady so memorable,” he said. “My classmates ranged from biotech and engineering Ph.D.’s to musicians and designers. You don’t have to have a technical background to succeed here.”

Career Advancement:
Even before graduating from the Rady School, Ben was being courted by companies interested in his engineering and military background.

“I was really impressed with how almost universally well received my military background and Rady MBA were at career fairs,” he said. “One person simply asked ‘when can you start?’”

In the end, Ben decided to stick with his dream of starting his own company. Today, he is working on securing investors for his startup, Gas Plus Vending which will blend technology, retail and user experience by putting vending machines at gas pumps.