For Frank Mycroft, business management really is rocket science. A self-confessed Star Trek fan, Frank fell in love with "the final frontier" early in life and fulfilled his obsession with not one, but two advanced degrees from Stanford, and NASA stints at both the Kennedy Space Center and the Goddard Space Flight Center. "Early on at Princeton," Frank says, "I got really interested in astrobiology, the study of life on other worlds. If it existed, where would it be and how would it evolve? Are there opportunities for colonizing other worlds, and if we actually did discover life, how would that change societies on earth?"
One obstacle, Frank found, is technology. "We're limited by our ability to engineer advanced telescopes and spaceships, tools that can give us more data. Without those, we can't get anywhere." But another obstacle had to do with mindset, the willingness to look beyond tactical issues. "When I was at NASA," Frank explains, "I realized I was personally more geared toward strategic thinking. I didn't want to be the world's leading expert on designing one little widget." His Boeing experience confirmed his changing approach to science. "The world is full of talented engineers, but the big challenge is long-term planning. I would have a greater impact with a business degree than pursuing a traditional, technical path."
Going where you stand out
For a while, Frank considered fulfilling an MBA at business schools commonly associated with technology. "But to learn more," Frank believes, "you have to go where you're not entirely comfortable, where you stand out a bit. You tend to grow more by not going to places where you share a background similar to everyone else."
"At HBS, there's such a diversity of industries very different from what I'm used to: finance, consulting, clean energy, health care, etcetera," says Frank. "If I can see how these other industries work, I can bring those lessons back to aerospace."
The educational environment itself represents a big change. "I'm definitely challenged. As an engineer, having class participation represent fifty percent of the grade is very new to me. Through the case method, I'm honing new skills. And if I've learned anything at HBS, it's how nebulous and complex leadership and business really are."
"Before I came here," says Frank, "I thought ‘P.E.' meant ‘physical education.' Now I understand what kinds of capital resources are available to entrepreneurs and how the business world works. Before, the idea of starting a business from nothing seemed impossible. The big ‘ah-ha' for me is that you really can build a business from scratch."
As the founder and co-president of the Aerospace and Aviation Club, Frank is bringing the space race — and industry leaders such as George Whitesides of Virgin Galactic — to HBS. Frank's willingness to start something new reflects his increased comfort with risk.
"The school has made me much more excited about the possibility of working with a smaller company or even a start-up in my industry," says Frank. "There are companies, like Virgin Galactic, who are getting involved without government money. I'm more open to working with companies like them because you get more responsibility right off the bat."
Looking beyond graduation, Frank sees himself obtaining more consulting and business experience, "but if my skill set could be applied well, I'd seriously consider a start-up environment."