“I didn't want a two-year hiatus, but to be challenged by the brightest people in the field.”

In Los Angeles, Mickey Mouse casts a long shadow. While majoring in theater at UCLA, Ben Story got a touch of "Disney magic" when a vice president of the firm helmed "one of the best classes I took," a course in theme entertainment. The course led to an internship at Walt Disney Imagineering, which in turn became Ben's career after college.

"It was a departure from theater as an art form," Ben says, "but an extension of my skill sets in production management." Among his responsibilities, Ben served as project coordinator behind the installation of the Buzz Lightyear attraction in Disneyland Paris, and as a producer within Disney's virtual reality technology group.

"On one level, we were creating a fully-functioning simulation for a new attraction, the Radiator Springs Racers based on the Cars movie, to demonstrate the ride to stakeholders," says Ben. "But at the same time, we were creating a design tool for review sessions. In the past, the fine tuning would come after construction, which made changes very expensive. With virtual reality, however, you can evaluate and change design choices earlier in the process."

Merging the creative process with business rigor

The MBA had been on Ben's mind since his days at UCLA. "Long term, I wanted to manage a theater company; I needed to understand how theater functions as a business. My undergraduate education touched on some points, but I recognized there was a different education that would enable me to go in-depth in the management issues. I wanted to merge the creative process with a rigorous business education."

HBS appealed to Ben for many reasons. "I didn't want to specialize. HBS focuses on general management and produces well-rounded business leaders in all areas." But the learning environment was as important as the focus. "I didn't want a two-year hiatus, but to be challenged by the brightest people in the field."

The case method rises to the challenge. "I retain more when I'm engaged in the discussion rather than being told what I should remember," Ben says. "You have to prepare; the experience is based on everyone's collective preparation. I knew this approached worked when it came time for exams. There was no need to cram. If you stay engaged throughout the semester, you're already prepared."

Fitting in

At first, Ben says, "I had no idea how receptive HBS would be to someone with my background. I thought I'd start at a big disadvantage — would I be taken seriously?" Not only was Ben welcomed by his colleagues, he was given additional preparation by the school as well. "Summer Analytics was great, I loved it."

Eventually, Ben intends to return to southern California for "something in media and entertainment," the focus of his internship search as well. "I don't want to be trapped in something that's either business or art," says Ben. "I want to find a place that combines both interests, both educations."