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Learning From Team Spirit: I Used My MBA To Switch From Baseball To Sales Lead At General Motors

From college baseball to Fortune 500 firm General Motors, find out how Clayton Gelfand used a JD/MBA to make it big in marketing


Thu Feb 29 2024

While many MBA hopefuls build up years of experience before business school, one ambitious JD/MBA graduate took a different path.

After his bachelor’s degree where he gained years of experience as a standout baseball pitcher, a degree in Business Administration and Management, and the highest GPA in his department, Clayton Gelfand initially set his sights on law school.

Now the sales lead at the Fortune 500 company General Motors (GM), Clayton credits the skills he built in baseball for his ability to transition to a JD/MBA at Michigan State University (MSU) Broad College of Business and his fulfilling career. 

BusinessBecause caught up with Clayton to find out more about his unique journey.

How college baseball shaped a business mindset

Originally from Portland, Oregon, Clayton was in his first year of law school at MSU before realizing that law might not be for him.

When his contracts professor told him about the dual JD/MBA program, a combination of the MSU Law JD with an MBA from the high-ranking Broad College of Business, he realized this might be what he was looking for.

“I didn’t have any prior work experience, and I knew that would be a challenge. I was pretty adamant that based on my experience playing college baseball and my business degree, that an MBA was the path for me.”

What Clayton lacked in business experience he found in the fundamental skills he developed from baseball—strong communication, leadership potential, and a lasting work ethic. Above all, the emphasis on teamwork and collaboration in the MBA resonated with Clayton.

“You learn as an athlete, if you’re going to be selfish and not a team player, the game is a lot tougher on you.”

Leveraging the MSU Broad mindset during the JD/MBA

To prepare candidates for the complexities of collaboration in business, Broad develops teamwork in students by allocating groups with conflicting personalities.

“This helps you understand people differently and how to work with people who are different than you.”

As well as numerous opportunities to practice presentation skills and showcase themselves to employers, Clayton cites the MSU Broad mindset as an asset in his career growth.

“As an MSU alum, we’re not scared of rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty.”

Through the vast alumni network, Clayton found mentorship for his future marketing career. 

During an inspirational marketing talk delivered by the CMO of the bank holding company, Ally Financial, Andrea Bremmer, Clayton not only resonated with her marketing philosophy, but took it as an opportunity to reach out.

“Over the last three years, every few months, we hop on a call. She’s been a great mentor for me. That never would have happened if I wasn’t a Michigan State alum.”

From internship rejections to a career at a Fortune 500 company

Summer internships are often the key to landing lucrative career opportunities after your MBA, although a lack of experience can pose a challenge.

Despite rejection, Clayton persisted and was eventually offered an internship at a growing sports startup after emailing the customer service team.

His involvement in various sides of the business placed him in a strong position to initiate their influencer program—a role he continued well into his next semester alongside his studies.

“Working in a small business allowed me to understand how to navigate different waves of growth and how each of the functional areas of the business work.”

Facing the same issue the following summer, Clayton sent over 100 applications before landing an internship in the brand marketing team at GM, a Fortune 500 company.

His successful work as an intern positioned him for a full-time position as the associate marketing manager for infotainment (news that combines information and entertainment) products after business school, leading marketing strategy for in-vehicle infotainment applications.

Internal networking in GM made him think that expanding his skillset in other areas might make him a better marketer.

“You can be an inch wide and a mile deep, so you can know a lot about one thing, or you can be a mile wide and an inch deep, you can know a bit about a lot.”

After a year and a half in the company, Clayton transitioned to the role of digital global planning and strategy analyst at Onstar, a GM subsidiary, before beginning his current role as sales lead for digital emerging products over a year later.

Looking back, he believes that the JD/MBA taught him a valuable lesson for career growth.

“Sometimes you have to do things that you don’t love, but it gives you valuable experience that will help you be better with what you do enjoy, which for me is marketing,” he concludes.