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Guide To Surviving Brain Surgery, Marathon Running and the AGSM MBA

Amanda McCormack failed her first module on the AGSM MBA, but the former communications expert went on to land a consulting job at KPMG

By  Ifeatu Nnaobi

Wed Apr 11 2012

As promised in our article highlighting AGSM’s strong employment record, we’ve caught up with Amanda McCormack, one of the AGSM success stories. Amanda has been on the AGSM MBA(Executive) and is set to graduate this year. She is a Business Performance Analyst in KPMG in Canberra, Australia and has also held senior communications roles in the Office of the Prime Minister, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Customs Service.

Those of you considering a part-time MBA or moving into consulting from a non-business background will get lots of useful tips from this fitness guru and pro-marathon runner, who once ran ten marathons in ten months! Amanda talks about getting centered again after an intensive exam period, handling difficult classmates, and picking herself up after failing a module.

How old are you and where did you grown up?
I live in Canberra, Australia’s capital and I’m currently coming up to 30, although I am most definitely a teenager at heart. I grew up with severe epilepsy, having multiple seizures every day and taking various types of medication which, sadly, wasn’t able to control the seizures.

In the end, brain surgery at the age of 18 was the only option. The surgery involved removing a chunk on the right side of my brain leaving me temporarily paralyzed on the left side of my body, but I’m all good and seizure-free now. Studies say when you grow up with an illness you tend to be more mature – I’m not too sure about that, I like to make sure I laugh at something stupid every day.
My tip: Laugh every day, every hour if you can. It feels so good.

You've held senior roles in professions that many people are desperate to join – the Office of the Prime Minister, the Australian Federal Police, Customs! Why did you want to move into management consulting?
Never the shy person and always wanting to try something new, I’ve dabbled in tourism, retail, personal training, government, intelligence operations, media, and now management consulting. There is a different culture in every industry and there are different people you meet along the way. Some people are lovely and want to see you succeed but for every one of them, there are those who want to sabotage your career and see you fail. Be aware!
My tip: Always treat people the way you want to be treated, always say thank you and always give credit where credit is due.

What was the craziest thing that has happened in your career?
Gah! There are too many to count. I tend to create crazy and fulfilling events in every job.What stands out most is viewing the various and somewhat sneaky encounters from travellers and criminals whilst filming Channel Seven Border Security (Australian Version) when I was with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Command.

There was also the time I was in a team and we were working around the clock on a large operation. By the end of the week we were all too exhausted to go home so we slept in the office over the weekend.
My tip: No matter what, you’ll always work in a team so identify ways to make the team laugh, provide input and work collaboratively.

How did you land the role at KPMG? Did you encounter any difficulties?
Undertaking an MBA most certainly helped when joining KPMG. Since beginning in my role it’s been a dichotomy – a huge and exciting challenge, but also incredibly tough to undertake projects with clients which are very much outside my comfort zone.

At KPMG I work alongside some remarkable people who most certainly help me to leverage almost everything I have learned in my MBA as the work can be quite diverse. It is an enthralling, enlightening and inspiring experience to dabble in the learning zone (situated between the comfort zone and panic zone).
My tip: Everyone always tells you to be yourself, so it’s important to know who you are and what drives you. Know your weaknesses but more importantly, know how to fix them.

Any advice for people who come from a non-business background and want to move into management consulting?
I’m against the saying ‘fake it until you make it’ and believe good manners and confidence will get you everywhere! Joining a new industry can be quite confronting so be willing to learn how a new organisation works even if it means re-learning. Do your best to understand how and where you can provide input to the team because you are important and your input helps develop the team culture.
My tip: If you’re going to commit to try something new, give people your time, it’s the greatest gift in life. Then once you’ve done that, listen to them; they’re just as important as you are.

Is the AGSM MBA your first Masters degree? Why did you decide to take an MBA?
Studying is a rewarding and enduring experience because you’re learning something new. The AGSM MBA Program is the second Masters degree I have done. I initially undertook a part-time personal training degree. The reward was teaching gym classes each week and knowing more about food, my body and how to find a balance than I am able to comprehend!

I was 25 and working incredible hours in the Australian Federal Police when I enrolled in the AGSM MBA program because it dawned on me that I was responsible for creating and developing my own career path. The UNSW / AGSM Program is one of the leading MBA programs in Australia and its motto ‘Knowledge by Hand and Mind’ correlates with my thoughts on taking responsibility to use what you learn and apply it to reality to develop your skills.

The AGSM MBA has taught me to be just that. And whilst I failed my first unit I’ve learnt that studying isn’t about you, it’s about your family, because the impact on them is so great and finding a balance is tremendously difficult.
My tip: Before embarking on study, get the full support of your employer and family; they will be your rock.
Tip two: Motion creates emotion, get into a daily fitness routine before embarking on study. It will
be your saving grace.

When considering job opportunities what are your top criteria to take into account?
I’m a firm believer that the hardest thing is not knowing what you want to do, or where you want to work. In this case, the most important aspect is knowing who you are, your standards, what you enjoy and your strengths.

I suggest you then start with simple things such as identifying a brand or company that you relate to, a culture and people who enjoy their job, and a suitable location because I personally found these factors are compounded threefold subconsciously by your mind and body – if you don’t like the environment, you’re never going to be happy.

I also believe salary isn’t as huge a factor as people think. If you’re enjoying what you’re doing, you eventually you adapt your lifestyle to what you earn.

My tip: Don’t stay in a job for a day longer than you want, (not have) to.

Tip two: Be ambitious, don’t make excuses, talk with people then get out there and just do it.

How often do you run marathons?
The body is designed to move. I run every day to get air into my lungs, blood through my body and space in my mind. I plan my day when I’m out there, and just let go. I ran my first half marathon a year after I was paralysed from brain surgery for epilepsy and a full marathon the year after that. I was 20.

In 2009, I ran ten marathons in ten months. It wasn’t a challenge, I just realized that by the sixth race I should keep on going for another four months. I believe a race just tells you how far you’ve come and what’s on your mind... But believe me, there are plenty of days when I don’t enjoy running and that’s why I still do it – because it’s not easy.
My Tip: Everyone needs an ‘out’. Find yours.
Tip Two: Know if you’re a team person or solo person, then find something to satisfy this need.

Amanda’s top six tips:
The saying ‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy’ is true. I believe you should refrain from taking shortcuts because you’ll end up where you were. Instead, look for opportunities to develop yourself so you can strive to be the best that you can be (sounds corny, but what are your other options!?).
1 Show appreciation: Do what you want but always show respect and say thank you.
2 Respect: Always remember, everyone is just as important as you are.
3 Learn to ask for help: you can’t study, look after yourself and work full-time without a little help from others.
4 Time: This is the greatest gift you can give to others.
5 Bend: Be flexible and incorporate other people to create a collaborative team, but don’t ever break yourself to fit their mould.
6 Laugh: Out loud.


Read more about students, alumni and programs at the Australian Graduate School of Management here