After Afghanistan, US Diplomat Eyes Consulting With HEC Paris MBA

Ryan Bates worked at heart of US policy in Kabul

Ryan Bates worked at the heart of US policy in Afghanistan before an MBA at HEC Paris.

Based in the capital Kabul, the foreign affairs specialist spent 11 months liaising with local leaders, military groups, NATO and a variety of multinational aid agencies caught in the midst of raging warfare between the Taliban and the Western-backed Afghan government.

It was the culmination of an almost decade-long career working for the US Department of Defense (DOD) in which the ambitious American worked his way up through the Pentagon’s ranks, transitioning from human resources to foreign affairs.

A natural-born adventurer, Ryan relocated to France for his MBA, but not before circumnavigating the globe as part of the winning team in the Clipper round the world yacht race of 2013-14.

Ryan was in Paris at the time of the horrific terror attacks of November last year.

After his MBA, Ryan plans to sail to new shores and kick-start a business career in management consulting.

How was your experience working in Afghanistan for the US DOD?

I went there willing to serve in order to make the best difference that I could. What I left with was a life-changing experience.

Working in the middle of a warzone taught me how the next day is never guaranteed. It made me reflect on how I wanted to live my life and what its purpose should be.

Afghanistan was the most difficult overall environment I’ve ever faced. Yet with great challenge comes great reward.

What challenges did you face?

From when I first landed I had to learn about all the international actors operating in the country — the militaries, diplomatic organizations and aid agencies — as well as how the Afghan government was operating.

On top of that, was the added challenge of [being] in a NATO environment, on a military base, tasked with providing civilian input into the planning of military campaigns.

Lastly, I had the physical and mental stress of working 12-14 hour days, seven days a week.

How did your experience with the DOD prepare you for a career in business?

It was in Kabul that I learnt first-hand how the social, political and economic worlds intersect.

My experiences have taught me great lessons about the social and political worlds.

Why did you decide to study an MBA at HEC Paris?

I loved my job at the DOD, but I was becoming entrenched within the foreign affairs specialty.

I wasn’t ready to limit myself quite yet. My curiosity with the world wasn’t satisfied and I knew that it was time to make a move to keep opportunities for further growth open and my curiosity growing.

The small class size, the international student body and the second-language component meant that HEC was always the hands-down front-runner for me.

All along the recruitment chain — from the first time I spoke with an HEC representative to my campus visit [and] to admissions — HEC stood out, as I could see that the program staff really cared about their students. Now that I’m at HEC, I’m even more convinced of my initial impression.

What advice do you have for MBAs looking to work in government institutions?

Focus on understanding organizational behavior and design.

Many skills are transferable from the private sector. The key is to learn how best to leverage your skills within the specific environment.

To become really adept at working in a government institution, one must understand the political dynamics behind them and how to best leverage and influence those dynamics.

Although, interestingly enough, I’m not sure that this is so different in a corporate institution.

What skills are transferable from your round-the-world yachting experience?

Sailing through some of the most punishing weather and water in the world takes concepts like teamwork, discipline, and leadership out of the theoretical world and into a very concrete world.

I learnt how to be disciplined and reliable. I learnt about interpersonal conflict and how to resolve it, and I learnt how to be part of a team and how to lead effectively in difficult situations.

How has the HEC Paris MBA community responded to last year’s terror attacks?

The impact was felt most strongly by the professors and classmates of Juan Alberto Gonzalez Garrido – a part-time MBA student killed at the Bataclan theatre – and the entire community has struggled to make sense of this needless loss.

The feeling amongst the students here is that this is a time for strength and solidarity.

As a former DOD specialist, how would you describe the current security situation in Paris?

The French government has done a lot to increase the security presence and to take a serious look at the systems and institutions that support a good security environment.

What I see in the people of Paris is unity and optimism for the future.

What are your career plans?

I’m pursuing management consulting. I’m excited about the opportunity to work with clients to create solutions to their problems while staying current with new business models, analysis tools, and solutions.

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