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From Military to MBA: Insights on Navigating the Transition from U.S. Navy Veteran Ervin Mercado

Ervin at MBA Business Case Competition hosted by The Honest Company
Transitioning from military service to civilian life can be a challenging journey, filled with uncertainties and new opportunities. U.S. Navy Veteran Ervin Mercado knows this path well. In this insightful interview, Ervin shares his personal story of moving from a distinguished military career to pursuing an MBA at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School. With his experience, he offers valuable tips and guidance for fellow veterans who are considering a similar transition. Whether you're a veteran looking to further your education or simply seeking inspiration from a remarkable journey, Ervin's story is sure to provide both practical advice and motivation.

Read Ervin’s Interview:

1. Can you share your journey from military service to pursuing an MBA at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School? What motivated your decision to transition into the business world, and how has your military experience influenced your pursuit of higher education?

My journey from military service to pursuing an MBA at Pepperdine Graziadio is rooted in a desire to make a significant career pivot. After eleven years of serving as a Naval Officer in the U.S. Navy, I recognized the need to develop robust business acumen and financial skills to transition successfully into the business world and become a leader in my own right. My military experience has equipped me with invaluable leadership skills and a strong work ethic, which I aim to leverage in my new career. The decision to pursue an MBA was motivated by a clear vision to arm myself with the necessary knowledge and expertise to navigate the complexities of the business landscape. Pepperdine's MBA program offers the ideal platform to achieve this goal, providing a comprehensive education that aligns with my aspirations. Through this transformative journey, I am committed to fostering a blend of military-honed leadership and advanced business skills, ensuring my success as a future business leader.

2. How have you managed the transition from the military environment to the academic setting of an MBA program, and what resources or support systems have been key in your adaptation to student life?

Transitioning from the structured military environment to the dynamic academic setting of an MBA program was a significant adjustment. I successfully navigated this transition by leveraging various resources and support systems.

Networking with fellow veterans who had made similar shifts was pivotal. I used LinkedIn to conduct informational interviews with veterans who pursued MBAs and excelled in civilian life. These conversations, along with virtual webinars hosted by student-veteran ambassadors, provided invaluable insights.

During these interviews, I asked strategic questions about their career choices, daily roles, long-term visions, and advice for their past selves. This approach expanded my network significantly, often leading to referrals and increased visibility for job applications.

Pepperdine’s MBA Career Professional Development program was also instrumental. A career advisor helped translate my military experience into civilian terms for my resume. Participation in school club activities, MBA conferences, and mock interviews further refined my networking and interview skills.

These efforts ensured a smooth transition, equipping me with the tools needed to thrive both as a student and in civilian life.

3. How have you leveraged your military background to contribute to the MBA program and collaborate with peers from diverse backgrounds? 

Having served in the U.S. Navy for over eleven years, I have developed unique leadership skills and experiences that I have effectively leveraged in the MBA program to contribute meaningfully and collaborate with peers from diverse backgrounds. Throughout my military career, I worked with individuals from all walks of life, fostering an ability to collaborate in diverse, team-oriented settings. This experience has honed my emotional intelligence, enabling me to effectively identify and utilize people’s strengths and weaknesses.

In the MBA program, these skills have been invaluable. When assigned group projects or presentations, my peers naturally gravitated toward me as the leader. I led our team by motivating and inspiring others, identifying each member’s strengths, and assigning tasks that leveraged those strengths to enhance our overall performance. This approach not only ensured that we worked collaboratively but also that we delivered high-quality results.

As a Navy veteran, I bring leadership and program management skills and the ability to work seamlessly in cross-functional teams. These attributes are essential in any MBA environment, where working well with others and adding value to the cohort are paramount. One specific instance where my military experience proved valuable was during a complex group project where I used my program management skills to coordinate tasks, set timelines, and ensure effective communication among team members. This structured approach, combined with the ability to manage diverse perspectives, led to the successful completion of our project, earning us high praise from our professors. My background not only enhances my contributions but also serves as a force multiplier, enriching the overall MBA experience for my peers.

4. What are your career aspirations post-graduation? How do you envision applying your MBA background in your future professional endeavors?

As I progress through the MBA program at Pepperdine Graziadio, my career aspirations post-graduation are centered around becoming a successful leader within the financial sector. With the solid foundation of business acumen and financial expertise gained through my MBA, I envision myself confidently navigating the complexities of the business world to emerge as a successful businessman in my own right. My immediate goal is to excel in a leadership role within a prominent financial firm.

Following an enriching MBA internship at JPMorgan Chase & Co. last summer, I leveraged my experience to secure an offer from Bank of America, where I will enter as an Assistant Vice President within their Leadership Development Program. Armed with an invaluable blend of military leadership and business acumen fostered through Pepperdine's MBA program, my mission is to harness this unique combination to drive Bank of America forward.

My diverse skill set sets me apart in a competitive cohort of dedicated leaders, ranging from analytical prowess to effective communication and my innate ability to thrive amidst ambiguity and pressure. My eleven years of naval leadership, fortified by the rigorous Pepperdine MBA, have equipped me to navigate complex environments and achieve tangible results. I aim to make meaningful contributions, foster authentic connections, and continuously expand my sphere of influence. By embracing diversity, championing innovation, and embodying unwavering integrity, I aspire to leave an indelible mark on Bank of America that resonates with purpose and propels us toward collective excellence. 

5. What advice would you offer fellow military veterans considering pursuing an MBA or transitioning into civilian careers?

Reflecting on my experiences from completing the MBA program at Pepperdine Graziadio Business School, I offer the following advice to fellow military veterans considering an MBA or transitioning into civilian careers:

Conduct informational interviews with veterans who have successfully transitioned into the civilian sector to gain valuable insights and boost your confidence. Network extensively by engaging in student club activities, leveraging connections within your MBA cohort, and attending MBA conferences. This personal interaction can set you apart from others, increasing your chances of getting referrals and job offers. Practice proper time management to create a balanced regimen that includes leisure, physical fitness, and social interactions, maintaining a solid support system with friends and family.

By following these recommendations, you can successfully transition from military service to civilian life, leveraging your unique skills and experiences to thrive in your new career.

Veteran Benefits at Pepperdine University 

Pepperdine Graziadio Business School is committed to providing unparalleled support and opportunities for military veterans transitioning to the business world. With a range of benefits tailored specifically for veterans, including financial aid options, dedicated support services, and a strong alumni network, Graziadio ensures that veterans have the resources they need to succeed. Our Master of Business Administration program not only equips veterans with essential business skills and knowledge but also fosters a community that values their unique experiences and perspectives.

Veterans benefit from services like benefits counseling, veteran student organizations, and the Ahmanson Veteran Scholarship Initiative grant. As a proud participant in the Yellow Ribbon G.I. Education Enhancement Program, Pepperdine offers nearly $3 million annually in tuition support to eligible students, with no limits on the number accepted. This ensures that all qualifying veterans receive 100% tuition coverage through matched contributions from the university and the VA.

For military veterans ready to take the next step in their careers, Pepperdine Graziadio offers a pathway to success, blending rigorous academics with unwavering support.