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Real Humans of Microsoft: Casey Murphy, HBS MBA ’21, Business Planner

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Casey Murphy, HBS MBA ’21, made his way through several pre-conceived notions–what others thought about business school, what others thought about his chances to get in, and even what he initially thought about a particular program–to find the yellow brick road to his dream role. At Harvard Business School, he not only learned the business skills to become a business planner for Microsoft’s Azure division, but also refined his vision and sense of values when it comes to work. Find out more about his journey and what business school can offer below in this Real Humans: Alumni.

Casey Murphy, HBS MBA ’21, Business Planner at Microsoft

Age: 35
Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Undergraduate Institution and MajorUniversity of Georgia – Mathematics
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration: Harvard Business School, MBA ’21
Pre-MBA Work Experience: 8 years, U.S. Navy
Post-MBA Work Experience: 1 year, Microsoft

Why did you choose to attend business school?
This was a tough decision. I had several people telling me that I shouldn’t go, it would be a waste of resources and I could learn everything I needed to on the job. In one particular conversation, an individual said, “Look at the numbers. There is no way you are getting into Harvard, and you shouldn’t bother with any other MBA.” I thought he was right about the first thing and wrong about the second. Ultimately, I decided to apply. Given the feedback I got from people, I decided that I would only go to business school if I got into one of the top schools or if I got into a good school and the tuition was 100% covered. However, I got into HBS, and business school was a game changer for me. 

Why HBS? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
I was actually visiting another school when I visited HBS. I thought since I was in the area I might as well check HBS out. I assumed I would hate the school’s culture. To be completely candid, I thought it was going to be a bunch of dry, stuck-up rich people who wouldn’t give me the time of day. I was shocked by my classroom experience. It was the exact opposite. The students were warm and welcoming. They supported each other. They were thoughtful and considerate. It was a 180-degree turn from my assumptions. Right then, I decided I could see myself there, so I might as well give the application a shot. It also helps that it is the only school I got into. I was actually waitlisted at the other school I mentioned above, and once I got into HBS, I figured I could stop doing applications.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
There is no way I would have been able to get my current job or do it effectively without having gone to business school. It delivered on the promise to equip me with the fundamental business knowledge, to ask the right questions and make the right decisions. Even more importantly, at any moment I have someone I can reach out to discuss any question or issue I might be running into in business, personal or otherwise. I met so many incredible friends while I was at HBS and these people will drop everything to help out. Not only that, but I have cold e-mailed several alumni and have gotten the same result. These relationships have been invaluable.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I worked at a pre-seed tech startup out of the MIT Media Lab for my summer internship. I found relatively quickly that I was in over my head, but I quickly found out that this is the case for every entrepreneur. The task is daunting, but I was amazed at how quickly the team and I were able to learn the technology and chart a path to find a product-market fit. Every day, I got to be a sponge and learn about secure computation and data analytics. I also got to learn how these things apply to a multitude of industries and the requirements for a capital raise. The learning curve was steep and the material was endless. In the summer, I was able to learn the foundational knowledge necessary to enter the technology space. I also gained the confidence necessary to do a job that has a high degree of uncertainty with little to no definition. It had no clean lines or functional rigor. It just required me to show up every day and find a way to make the company succeed. Ultimately, it informed my career choice in two ways. It gave me the confidence to move into the technology space as a non-engineer, and it showed me that I could succeed as an entrepreneur if I chose to go that route.  

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
After working in Washington, D.C., for a few years before business school, I recognized how important it is that we secure our critical infrastructure and how much work needed to be done in the space. I initially decided to go into the cybersecurity space, but I found that working at a vendor only solved a small sliver of the problem. I found that a better option is to go to a company that builds secure digital infrastructure at the enterprise level and places security at the top of the priority list. Hence, my decision to work in the Cloud space. Finding a mission I believed in was important, but I learned another hard lesson before graduating that informed my career decision. I discovered that it is absolutely essential to work with people I both trust and respect. I re-ordered my priorities away from the function of the business and towards the people I worked with. It might be the most important lesson I learned at business school. 

How has COVID–19 impacted your industry/career plans?
As we know, the pandemic itself has proven tragic for so many people; for all of us, really. Everyone knows someone who was impacted in pretty terrible ways by it. But, it also produced some second and third order effects that were extremely positive. It allowed me to come home to Atlanta to be with my family and work for the company I wanted to work for because they allowed fully remote work. Not only so, it produced a massive boost in security and digital infrastructure because it accelerated digital transformation by years. It reinforced my sense of purpose around the field I chose to go into and the company I chose to join. I think it’s commonly known at this point, but any kind of struggle or suffering ultimately refines us; it undoubtedly refined me as I navigated the pandemic. 

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?
Go against the grain. If you know you don’t want to go into consulting or banking after your MBA, don’t give in to the social pressure. The pressure truly is real, and it will make you question whether you are making the right decision to go a less traditional route, but just stay your course. Spend that time talking to anyone and everyone to hone in on what you value in a company and what you get fired up about. Cold e-mail alumni who have been there and done that. Use it to go in a direction that gets you excited rather than spending that time on a career you know you don’t really want.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
I would have the courage to do more due diligence on the companies I chose to work with. I would ask around to weigh the character of the companies’ leaders. I would put the company culture and the integrity of its people equal to or above the mission the company is designed to fulfill. 

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
It surprised me how much they emphasized cultural fit over knowledge. They made up their mind about my qualifications prior to the interview, which freed them up to get to know me in the interview process. I expected it to be about my capabilities, but in hindsight, I think they knew exactly how important it was to find the right fit before hiring rather than trying to fit an individual into the culture after the fact. 

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
This is more advice I wish I followed rather than what I wish I was given – slow down. I packed out so much of my time with events, coffee chats, recruiting, and everything else under the sun. I was exhausted all the time and consistently fell away from my priorities. I should have said no to more, set clear intentions and given myself more ‘nothing-space’ on my calendar. 

Alexandra Markovich
Alexandra (Alex) Markovich was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She attended Florida State University (FSU), where she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in English. After her time at FSU, she has continued to pursue learning more about the writing industry by enrolling herself in editing certificate programs provided by Poynter Institute and the University of Chicago. In her spare time, you can find Alex working out her local gym, perusing local book stores, taking her dogs to the local dog park, and soaking up the Miami sun!