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After MBA, 8-Months’ Backpacking, Former Microsoft Marketing Wizard Eyes Tech Start-Up

AGSM graduate says benefits of career break outweigh setbacks

By  Marco De Novellis

Mon Dec 21 2015

After graduating with an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management, Michael Kelso spent eight months backpacking through 13 different countries in South and Central America.

The adventurous Australian started out his career at PepsiCo in Sydney, selling Smith’s Snackfood’s snacks to a range of clients, from local pubs to the biggest distributors in the country.

He then moved on to a marketing co-ordinator’s role at manufacturing giant 3M, before relocating to London to join Microsoft, including in its global marketing team, focusing on digital strategies.

Michael, who has only recently returned home from travelling, is prepared to re-locate again in order to fast-track his career in the digital space, and to one day pursue his very own tech business venture.

What are your career plans?

My end goal is to have my own business somewhere in the tech space.

In the meantime, I would love to combine my passion for digital and innovation into a specialized strategy consulting role. I am currently considering roles based in the UK, Canada and Australia, although I’m open to [working in] any country in the world if the opportunity is right!

Why did you decide to take a career break after your MBA?

I wanted a short break to refresh and reflect on my potential career path. What started as a three-week holiday turned into an eight-month backpacking trip!

What would you say to MBA students who fear a post-graduation break will be to the detriment of their careers?

The benefits far outweigh any setbacks.

I gained exposure to new cultures, dealt with constantly challenging situations, built relationships with a diverse range of people and, most importantly, developed a deeper understanding of what I value and want to achieve in my career.

I would recommend MBAs take the time out to travel and explore the world. It was an experience which I will remember for the rest of my life.

Could you see yourself living and starting a business in any of the countries that you visited?


Colombia may have some negative stigma surrounding it, but my experiences there were truly exceptional. The locals were some of the friendliest I have ever encountered and almost every day someone would stop me on the street and say, "Welcome and thank you for visiting my country!”

A number of the countries had developed infrastructure, government initiatives, investment, and a willingness to….Support new businesses. However, to start something out there I would need to be in partnership with someone who has a deep understanding of the local market and customs.

Tell us something about working at Microsoft that most people wouldn't know.

People at Microsoft like to work hard, but also have fun when possible.

It’s great to have a productive morning followed by a lunchtime game of FIFA on the Xbox! There were also large end-of-year or post-[product]-launch parties, where globally-renowned musicians played to relatively small groups of people.

What are your top tips for landing a job at Microsoft?

At the risk of sounding cliché, be yourself.

Hiring managers at Microsoft want to see the passion you have for your area of expertise, and that you are prepared and have done your homework. But most importantly, you need to be someone they could see themselves working with.

In such a large company you really needed to stand out by building cross-functional relationships throughout the business and working collaboratively. If you are personable, a good communicator, can clearly articulate your thoughts and have nailed your “elevator pitch”, you will be in a much better position to land the job.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at AGSM?

AGSM is the best business school in Australia!

I visited the school and was hugely impressed by the receptiveness of the staff and the quality of the elective courses. I wanted to take on a massive challenge and work collaboratively with like-minded business professionals.

How have you profited from the MBA?

The MBA forces you to fine-tune your strengths and to identify and work on your weaknesses. 

I’ve become more comfortable with overcoming adversity. I’ve learnt skills to help me work better in diverse teams, to be more comfortable with public presentations and to work more efficiently under pressure.

It’s made me a more well-rounded business person and it’s given me the time to explore what I value in a career.