“What I’ve learned applies whether your business is five guys in a basement or a leading corporation.”

At first glance, studying history at Duke wouldn’t seem a likely way to propel Josh Solera toward a business career. But Josh sees things differently. “History is a way of synthesizing large amounts of data,” he says. “That’s a great way of looking at business challenges; you need to synthesize lots of information in order to arrive at informed answers.”

As a management consultant at The Parthenon Group, Josh had ample opportunity for addressing big problems. “We analyzed a large school district in the South as part of a project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,” he says. “How could we put together a coherent, district-wide structure to turn around eleven schools? It wasn’t easy being only twenty-three, twenty-four and talking to people who had been living with these challenges for years. But in eleven months, we set up a system that began to get results.” From education, Josh then turned to health care. “The government of Dubai wanted the best health care system in the world,” he says. “I spent five months working on a plan with experts from around the globe.”

Learning to communicate

Both of Josh’s parents got MBA degrees from Cornell. “The skills they learned,” says Josh, “were transferable whatever they were doing. I saw a lot of gaps in my own business know-how. I was good at reading financial statements, but not at understanding why things are the way they are.”

Josh chose HBS for its emphasis on leadership. “I was strongly attracted to the case method. I think it’s the best way to analyze a situation and decide how to address a problem. More importantly, it forces you to communicate effectively – in business, that’s half the battle. You can be the smartest guy in the world, but if you can’t communicate your vision, you’re restricted to the sidelines.”

Reflecting on his HBS experiences to date, Josh has been most surprised by what he’s learned in his Entrepreneurship class. “I came in pretty low on the entrepreneurial interest scale,” he says. “But I’ve been fascinated by what we’ve observed from business owners, on how they create companies out of ideas. What I’ve learned applies whether your business is five guys in a basement or a leading corporation. Entrepreneurial ideas aren’t just transferrable – they’re essential for companies that need to grow, develop and innovate.”

Taking flight in Texas

Both short and long-term, Josh has his eye on Texas. His summer internship will be with McKinsey in Houston. “So will my family,” Josh says. In May of 2011, just after graduation, he’ll marry Texas native Jessica Schreiber who is currently pursuing her own MBA at Wharton.

In his EC year, Josh hopes to explore ideas in the airline industry. “The airlines play a pivotal role in our economy, yet the current business model is badly fractured. I want to be one of the people leading change.” After completing his degree, Josh intends to return to consulting with a focus on airlines and with plans for an eventual career move toward a senior management position in the industry.