MBA Plugs The Airwaves With Music Entrepreneurship

Daniel O'Hanley has always been torn between music and traditional business functions. But an MBA in Spain has allowed the musician to merge the two.

Daniel O'Hanley’s career was building up with a crescendo but begins soaring with an MBA in 2012.

He sits in an entrepreneurship class at IESE Business School in Barcelona. Many of his classmates are transitioning from corporate roles, enticed by the buzz of start-ups. But as the lecture begins, Daniel begins to connect the dots with his current career track.

He starts linking everything on the course to his own background in the music business. Everything the professors speak about, he envisages achieving in his own foray in the creative industries.

“For the first time, I washed away this idea that music and business were two separate worlds,” reflects Daniel. “When you have a love or passion for music, no matter how hard you try it never goes away.” Most MBA students spend their summer at investment banks or consultancy firms. But not Daniel.

He is different. One of his ‘summer internships’ was a tour across three continents, playing in cities including Miami and Rio De Janeiro. The boy from Richmond, VA, plugged airwaves while his classmates crunched data in Barcelona.

When he started the full-time program at IESE two years ago, he was already an entrepreneur. And something of a rock star. Right out of undergraduate studies, after managing bands and interning with a major record label in the U.S, he took a non-traditional track in the music biz.

How many MBAs do you know whom are also singer-song-writers? (Daniel also plays the guitar, and occasionally a harmonica). He built a brand around this solo act, put together a band and self-produced his first album.

There are thousands of hopefuls who do the same and struggle to come to stardom. And the reality is that very few make it in the music business. But Daniel toured around much of the East Coast before his MBA.

Many business students will by now have heard enough of Daniel the musician. But there was a business brain behind the stage performer; he marketed the entire tour which, in a huge area, is no easy feat.

Yet when it comes to business, he is torn between a love of the music industry and working in development or consulting for fast-growth start-ups. Even he can’t tell me exactly what he’ll do post-MBA.

“It’s a hard thing to pursue them both,” says Daniel. “I see consultancy being in my path at some point. Understanding what we can do to improve businesses is something that always attracted me, so now I’m driven to join a start-up to help it grow.”

He made it pretty far as a musician. His career is dotted with stints in music entrepreneurship and more stable business functions. Daniel was a regional player on the East Coast, but the step-up to international acclaim might have been too big a jump.

“It’s a large gap. I had to make a decision to pursue a traditional business background or live out of a van and eat spaghettios for the foreseeable future,” he says.

For a time at least, the former won. He co-founded a new sales department at Absolute Security of America in Virginia, growing operations from a team of two to 12 within a year. “I realised I had to choose one and I guess I prefer to be able to cook my own meals,” Daniel says.

Then came the MBA in Spain. “I wanted that international career. I wanted to be part of the global economy,” he says. “I wanted an opportunity to reach out globally and develop my skill-set and network.

"As an American I also wanted to improve my Spanish skills, and I fell in love with Barcelona.”

His aspirations shifted towards the traditional tracks. But IESE is famed for entrepreneurship, and when Daniel told classmates about his musical background, they all asked: are you going to go back to the music industry?

The answer, for a while, was yes. He combined music with the MBA skill-set and crowd-funded about $5,000 over a month to release a new album, in the summer of his first year at IESE.

Daniel marketed a new tour on both the East and West Coasts of the U.S. “It was an incredible experience. Using the skills I learned plus my previous experience, I was able to accomplish in less than six months on a global scale what had taken me more than two years on a regional scale before the MBA,” he says.

He wasn’t too far gone for a stint at traditional business that summer, though. Just as that tour began to develop, Silicon Valley came calling. Because he did an exchange in the fall in North Carolina, he had an unusually long summer period.

Daniel worked with disruptive, fast-growing technology companies for an accelerator in the world’s tech centre. “I had enough time to pursue music and complete a business development project for Silicon Valley. So I did both together,” he says.

“I wanted to make sure I had opportunities if I took a different route. It also opened the door to the West Coast.”

It is not just the plethora of tech giants that draw MBAs to the San Francisco Bay area. Daniel wants to leverage his social media and global marketing skill-sets in SMEs. “I speak to fast-running start-ups now and early stage consultancies,” he says.

“I feel really good about the experience I had in Silicon Valley. I am considering starting my own business, but it takes a great idea. And right now I don’t have the idea.”

But he doesn’t rule out other destinations. “I’d go to any of the hot-beds as far as entrepreneurship is concerned. There are opportunities in New York City and Barcelona too,” Daniel says.

I suspect I know where he will end up, though. Silicon Valley has claimed many MBAs before.

Unless he goes back to eating spaghettios in his tour van, of course.

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