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The following essay was submitted to the Wharton MBA program by our client. The client was accepted to the program.

In my 2nd year in university, my 2 study partners and I were all working for software companies. We frequently discussed ways to make quantum career leaps. One that fascinated us was starting our own company.

One day we came up with an idea that would increase sales for consumer goods retailers and simultaneously decrease monthly consumer expenses. Each day, we polished our idea together for a couple hours.

After 2 weeks, I decided to get outside feedback. I looked for people who had at least 10 years experience in consumer goods. Finally, I convinced a friend, to connect me with a board member of the 2nd largest consumer goods retailer in my country.

I presented our business model to the board member, and he instructed his right-hand to set us meetings with managers who could evaluate our plans. Over the next month, we went to one meeting after another. The responses varied from enthusiasm to skepticism. Each time, we improved our presentation according to the feedback.

Finally, I managed to set a meeting with the previous CEO of the largest consumer goods retailer. He concluded our meeting with: “Guys, in my opinion, it’s not going to work”.

I couldn’t say if it was the pressure from school and work or the CEO’s negative feedback, but since that meeting, I wasn’t able to motivate the team to go on. We consciously gave up.

2 years later, one of my teammates called out of the blue: “check out this link…it works!”. I think he expected me to feel disappointment. Actually, I felt pride – my first business attempt was viable after all.

But, I had failed to push it through.

Looking back, it was an amazing experience. I learned much about myself, but two lessons stand out. The first was that, at the time, I didn’t question what drives each team member. For me, it was primarily an adventure, and losing some money because I was working less hours for a while was a risk I was willing to take. Later, I realized that one teammate, who was already in a long term relationship, was really worried about financial security. Then I understood that that was the core reason for many of our business strategy disagreements. Since then, I have learned to analyze others’ motives. I found out that it not only improves my communication with peers, but it also helps me convince my supervisors.

The second lesson was an eye-opener. I learned that I simply enjoy business. I was excited before each meeting, and had fun analyzing business models and role playing with my friends. I experienced energy levels that I had only ever felt playing soccer. I realized I am not willing to compromise on a career I will just tolerate, I want one that excites me.

This realization completely simplified all my future choices. About 2 years ago, my CEO gave me a choice between a business and a technological position. That was the easiest decision I made in my life.

The following essay was submitted to the Stanford MBA program by our client. The client was accepted to the program.

In 2001, a child forgotten in a car in our city died. This bothered me so much that I decided to invent something that would prevent it from ever happening again.

I came up with the idea of creating a child-secure environment. I felt the idea was simple, inexpensive and essential. However, instead of pushing it immediately, I hesitated and moved slowly. Five years later another company introduced it to the market. I still view my hesitation to move quickly as a failure.

Even though I invented several products for commercial use in the past, such as a mechanism to keep the freshness of food at restaurants, I felt this idea had the greatest potential.

When I first started to develop the idea, I initiated research and collaborated with specialists from different areas, such as car safety and childcare. After 6 months, I realized I had neither money nor business connections in the area, so I decided to wait for an opportunity to attract investors.

Two years later, in 2003, I revived my idea after attending a lecture from a successful local entrepreneur. I initiated a meeting with the manager of our largest patent company and persuaded him to work with me. Next, I began developing the prototype.

I created a business plan and presented it to 5 potential investors. I convinced them the idea had great potential, yet they preferred to start working only after the patent was guaranteed. However, this was a long and expensive process, so as before I hesitated from taking the next step until I had the funds.

In 2006, I read an article in a news website that a product very similar to mine was successfully released by a UK company. The headline was “How didn’t we think about it earlier”. I knew I missed my chance and was very disappointed.

Although I failed, I learned a lot about myself.

I learned that sometimes the fear of failing could stop me from moving forward. Instead of being afraid to fail, I should have considered this experience an important lesson heading up to my next venture. I learned that even a good idea has to be pushed as much as possible and that I cannot succeed if I’m too afraid to risk resources such as money or time.

I also realized that I cannot do everything on my own, and that teamwork is a crucial element in success. Once you picked excellent people, you need to trust them with your ideas and with their work. For example, by cooperating with professionals and even starting a partnership, I could have boosted my idea.

This experience affects me to this day. For example, it reflects in my aspiration for a business career, including my MBA candidacy. I am not afraid to invest as much time or money as needed. I also believe I could leverage my MBA experience to meet partners I can cooperate with in the future. Most importantly, I now look for the opportunity instead of being afraid of it.

The following essay was submitted to the Columbia MBA program by our client. The client was accepted to the program.

In 2007, after challenging negotiations and months of preparations, we obtained a license to operate Ghana’s first Sports Betting operation. Although a new industry to us, management and the board of directors were excited. Professionally researched surveys promised profits. Moreover, we would give the government 25% of revenue to invest in local education and sports infrastructures. As a company board member and manager I felt particularly proud of this aspect.

My involvement in the project was minor at first. I attended management meetings, approved project reports and collaborated on critical marketing and strategy decisions. All seemed to be following our business model. Then after 9 months, numbers started diverging. The earlier expected breakeven point seemed years away and our project investment accumulated to $1.5M.

I was surprised and became more involved to help our Sports Betting Department turn things around. Together with the department team and manager we reexamined the business plan and constructed an elaborate new plan we believed would help bring profit.
When the department manager and I presented this plan to the board and CEO, they expressed concern about prolonging the project. The CEO said he no longer thought it could succeed in Ghana, since the local population seemed not interested in Sports Betting.

However, since our earlier polls indicated otherwise, I was confused and pressed the CEO for a more established reason for his pessimism. But all he said was “after working 15 years in this region, I’ve learned to trust my intuition.” Despite these doubts, I still persuaded management to grant funds to implement our rescue plan and we began changes immediately.

Surprisingly (or not), our new plan was not successful. Although we saw some improvement over months, the loss increased to $2M. Sadly, we had to admit the project failed and consequently it was terminated.

Today, it’s easy to pinpoint our failure. It was not because we entered a new arena of sports betting, since some of our most successful projects were in initially unfamiliar industries. We failed by ignoring advice of those most experienced in this locale. I always had great respect for the CEO, but with so much confidence in our new business plan, neither I nor the department manager gave enough attention to the CEO’s reservations. In fact the entire department team, who were just as overzealous with this project as I was, supported me in my blind enthusiasm. I feel we allowed our excessive faith in the business plan to distort our judgment, and if given a second chance I would have insisted we balance each other’s optimism with more reevaluation and reflection.

Luckily for me, I was given other chances to prove that I’ve learned how to more responsibly lead project teams. Leading later projects, I consulted more than ever with our CEO and other managers with vast experience both in the region and relevant industries. I’ve always appreciated their wisdom and experience as key team contributions but after the Sports Betting incident, I know how to better incorporate these elements with pure numerical factors such as business plans or market surveys. I also have felt myself become less swept up by blind enthusiasm (my own and others’) and feel more grounded with leading our team into well thought out promising endeavors.

The following essay was submitted to the INSEAD MBA program by our client. The client was accepted to the program.

I recently failed in leading negotiations to sell my company’s Enterprise Division to one of the largest industrial groups in my country. This failure directly resulted in the loss of 20 people’s jobs.

During the initial meeting between the parties, we concluded the price and date of transfer. The CEOs left the room and left it up to us, the lawyers, to settle the details.

Throughout the meeting, a rivalry emerged between the legal parties. The situation eventually turned into personal animosity, to a point where the group’s CEO requested that we remove our external counsel. What made the situation even harder was the rising tension amongst the division’s employees. Productivity and morale dropped with rumors of a buy-out circulating.

After a month of discussions, the deal fell through. Twenty of the forty division’s employees were fired immediately with the rest scheduled to be fired within the upcoming weeks.

We failed by feeding off each other’s suspicions leading to spiraling negative dynamics. Most importantly, I failed to consider the extent to which my actions affected the division’s employees. Once the deal became too complex to be executed, I should have gone back to the drawing board or defused the situation by restraining, or even replacing our external counsel.

With this failure resonating in my mind, I have actually been given a second chance with an additional offer from a new party. This time around I’m determined not to allow personal rivalry get in the way of the company’s best interests. I constantly think about the job security of the remaining twenty employees, who have been with the company for over 15 years, people with families, who will have difficulties in finding new jobs.

The following essay was submitted to the INSEAD MBA program by our client. The client was accepted to the program.

I was assigned the lead role for our company’s Singapore IT Department stress management event in 2010 to help colleagues identify and address early signs of stress.

One of my colleagues in another department recommended a trainer who conducted a well received workshop in her department. I went to the trainer’s website and found a long list of amazing titles, including certified therapist and advanced corporate trainer. Impressed, I met up with her to discuss the training objective and review the presentation package. I decided to engage her, after discussing with my team members. Then, I proceeded to coordinate my team members’ efforts to book the venues, cater refreshment, and design advertising communication to attract our colleagues.

Around 130 participants attended this event, which seemed to be engaging and interesting. However, I was surprised and upset when the feedback revealed an average overall satisfaction of only 3 out of 5. Some attendees felt the trainer focused too little on identifying and coping with stress, while others thought she was not knowledgeable enough.

Looking deeper into why the event was unsuccessful, I realized I didn’t study the needs of the participants, especially ignoring the fact that some senior colleagues may have attended similar workshops previously. I wrongly assumed that what I consider useful would be pertinent for all. I had to admit I was overly fascinated by the speaker’s titles when I should have looked for her relevant experience. Finally, I realized I gave the speaker too much control over the presentation, when I should have been more specific about my audience’s needs.

I continued to volunteer for event committees to gain experience and lent my hand for events chaired by my colleagues. I also carefully reviewed feedback and reflected after each event.

This year, I volunteered to chair a “new hires” event for the Women’s Interest Network at work. I sent out a survey to all the new hires to gather questions they had about career progression. I chose senior management panelists and discussion topics based on the most popular questions submitted, in consultation with the HR department.

More than 50 new hires attended this event. As the emcee, I encouraged audience to ask questions and facilitated discussion between the panelists and audience. This time, the average satisfaction rate was 4.5 out of 5, and I was asked to organize additional events in the future.

The following essay was submitted to the Wharton MBA program by our client. The client was accepted to the program.

In mountain climbing there are many uncertain variables (from weather and equipment functioning to rock conditions). In my 10 years of climbing, I’ve learned to outline my route precisely and hope for the best.

During my most recent climb, over a week up “X” mountain in India, and just days from the summit, the expedition reached a hundred meter cliff laced with ice. As a group of 9 experienced (and determined) climbers, we advanced fifty meters towards our goal, but the conditions grew far worse than we’d expected. I went forward alone to check the danger of ice conditions ahead. When I returned all eyes were on me to decide– to go on or step-down (an extremely hard decision at 5,500 meters, with little air in my lungs and months of training behind our eager group). Yet, I saw it was clearly too dangerous to continue.

Making this final call to turn back I felt the failure of the expedition laid in my hands. Rationally, I knew the ice conditions that prevented a successful summit were out of my/our control, but I also knew that if we’d had a higher level of experience we could have made it. The climb was a failure, but we also had failed (I could see the disappointment in my team’s eyes). Yet, turning back felt especially like my own failure since I took the decision to abandon the goal… our dream.

Walking down to base camp was solitary for us all. After 9 days climbing in extreme conditions, months of organizing our team, researching the mountain, training physically and mentally, and then that intense inner drive and anticipation, it was gutting to have it taken away. Worse, it was the first time this core team I’ve been climbing with for years failed to summit a peak.

Back at base camp, a question was raised whether it’d be worth climbing a different (second-choice lesser) peak. For me this introduced an inner struggle– feeling it wasn’t worth compromising, yet knowing giving up completely could feel far worse. This failure made me realize how single-focused my mind was and how resistant I was to let go and “re-set” so quickly onto new goals. Yet, I saw stubbornness was like pouting and would get us nowhere.

Eventually, we climbed another peak, which was ultimately fulfilling and taught me to define failure not as falling down, but staying down. After this experience, I recalled my first major climb in Argentina in 2006 with this same team. The expedition leader lectured us on accidents happening from being blindly ambitious about reaching a peak. He warned us to stay in-tuned with limits of ourselves and the mountain and how far we can push both. I remember thinking then I’d be willing to give up a finger to make it to the top.

So, four years later, I was proud I had foresight to gauge the situation, myself and my team’s abilities and acknowledge that giving up was the right decision. I learned it is important to get over blinding pride, and now I’m proud to feel it actually might have taken more courage to accept our limits and give up initial goals. Importantly, I learned to know and accept my own limits and understand that failure is what we define it as. Because we went on to an alternate peak, this experience taught me failure isn’t an “end” of a path, but rather just a change introducing a new junction. I learned to see failure as something I move through, around or over, rather than letting it be a stopping point.

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” (Confucius)

Ross

Michigan Ross

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