You were with the Pistons when they won the Championship. That must have been quite an experience. Why the shift from the high octane world of sports entertainment to teaching?
I loved that Detroit Pistons experience – the Pistons were my “first love” as a kid growing up with Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, and the Bad Boys, so to live out that dream of working with them especially during a championship run was amazing. The job itself, though, was direct sales – cold calls, sales pitches, prospecting, etc. I gave it a healthy year before I realized that sales just wasn’t for me, and what hastened my decision to give it up was actually that I had begun teaching for Veritas Prep in the evenings. My days were full of trying to determine “what can you do for me” from my clients – how could I sell them more? How could I get referral business? In the evenings, though, it was much more “what can I do for you?” for my students – how can I better explain a concept or provide homework drills to help them improve. It just felt more pure and altruistic. I much preferred being in a position to help, so I made my decision to go back to graduate school in education to become a full-time teacher.
Veritas Prep. When & Why did you make the move?
I was graduating from Michigan with a master’s in education and interviewing for full-time teaching jobs, all the while still teaching and tutoring for Veritas Prep in Detroit, when Veritas announced that it was looking to bring someone in to run the academic side of the business. The address for collecting resumes was on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, so I figured even just getting a chance to fly out to California for the interview would be a pretty big win, and since I was sending out resumes all over the place it was easy to drop one in the mail, plus I already knew the company and had been doing pretty good work for them. I really enjoyed teaching the GMAT and thought it would be fun to get more involved – already a student from my first-ever class had scored 770 and gone off to Harvard Business School and another student increased from 490 to 710 in a week, so I was pretty enthusiastic about working for Veritas Prep and obviously I was committed to staying in education.
On consecutive days in the summer of 2006 I had two job interviews – one in California with Chad and Markus, founders of Veritas Prep, and one at the high school in Michigan from which Larry Page, the founder of Google, graduated. They couldn’t have been more opposite. The high school job – I mean, this school launched the guy who founded the most successful company in the world – had a panel of teachers grilling me with hypotheticals about discipline that just didn’t have answers. For example, one was “one of your students storms out of the classroom angrily; what do you do?” How do you answer that? I don’t know the kid or the circumstances, and they wouldn’t accept my story about a time I dealt with a similar situation that actually happened (actually one of my favorite stories and I think I handled that one really well). Just a really awkward interview, and it was particularly surprising given what a good school it was. They couldn’t have cared less about my vision for inspiring and teaching the students…it was like I was interviewing to be the warden at a juvenile detention center.
The Veritas Prep interview was phenomenal – we talked for over an hour over lunch about ideas for how to better teach the GMAT and offer more to our students. A lot of what we talked about in that interview led to what we’re doing with the new Essentials Course and to a lot of the updates we’ve made to our books in recent years – really breaking down the GMAT from the perspective of the authors of the test to give students insight in to the “why” behind the test. I can’t imagine a more productive job interview, and the fact that our table overlooked the Pacific was just icing on the cake. By the end of the interview we were making plans for how to improve our classroom experience and student offerings, how to better train and develop instructors – it was creative, productive, and really big-picture. After that interview I had a few hours before my flight home so I sat on a rock along the beach – still wearing a tie and dress clothes – watching the waves roll in and praying that I’d get this job…it just felt too perfect. So, naturally, when they offered it to me I jumped at the first salary offer and in retrospect made it too easy on them. They won that round, but I’m still really happy that I made that decision.
Part 2 of the riveting series will be posted tomorrow.... Stay tuned.