How Successful MBAs Make Their Own Luck

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at 1am

Outsiders looking in on successful businesspeople often mistake hard work for luck. When you closely observe the achievements of others, you’ll find that true champions make their own good fortune.

Instead of merely wishing for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, consider doing the work of the leprechaun yourself. Discover stories of MBAs and learn from them about how to make your own luck: 




For years Fiona Adler, a 2006 graduate of the MBA program at Melbourne Business School, toiled away at her startup, Word of Mouth Online, a site for business reviews. She hand-delivered flyers to create awareness of the company. Often, Adler says she worked around the clock to answer user questions within a reasonable timeframe. For years, she did not draw a salary. Sometimes, she and her fellow co-founder would question whether the market was too full for their contribution. 

“We questioned our sanity of sticking to our vision,” says Adler. “Nevertheless, we kept at it and one by one, our competitors shut down (or ran out of advertising budget), and our business finally became profitable.” 

Indeed, several years after establishing the business and developing a community of supporters, was acquired by a larger company in a trade sale. Today, Adler is working on another startup,, which is a productivity tool for individuals and teams. 

Regardless of the business, perseverance is the key to standing when everyone else has fallen, Adler says.


Hard work is another way to make your luck. You have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty if you want to be a success. There are no shortcuts, warns Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a marketing consulting firm, and a 1991 Harvard Business School MBA. 

Arnof-Fenn says she laughs when people suggest she is an “overnight sensation.” She would rather they recognize that it took a lengthy career, with ups and downs, to get to this point. 

“Luck can give you a break or opportunity, but you have to do the rest the old-fashioned way through blood, sweat, and tears,” she says. “I commuted 56 miles each way to work for more than three years, worked thousands of miles away from my husband for a big job for almost a year, I worked 80+ hours per week on Wall Street in the 1980s and at three successful startups in the 1990s and early 2000s.” 


Having friends serves you well in business, in life. Take Bryanne Leeming, who graduated from the MBA program at Babson College F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business in 2016 and founded Unruly Studios, which teaches kids coding through active, social play. Early on, Leeming made connections with educators and startup mentors. Recently, the company crowdsourced to get pre-orders for users and was quite successful. 

“Though from the outside it may have looked easy and some would call it luck, the successful campaign was a result of years building a strong network within the community of parents, educators, and fans of the Unruly mission,” she adds. 

Get out in the world

One way to make your own luck is to seize upon opportunities. But you’re never going to find opportunities if you don’t step outside of the office once in a while.

 “While I don’t believe in pure luck, I think one can create her own ‘luck’ by putting herself into situations that she believes will yield a positive outcome,” says Kristen Donnino, vice president of Adaptly, a marketing technology and services company, and a 2005 graduate of New York University Stern School of Business. “Said another way, don’t be a wallflower. Luck, or good fortune, will not come find you on your couch.” 

Donnino can herself attest to this. She recently attended a product leadership summit. There, she met someone who works for a company well known for its diversity initiative, something she has been trying to launch at Adaptly. 

“I felt lucky to be connected to someone who could assist in a ‘non-product’ way, despite our having met at a product conference,” says Donnino. “By taking the time to go out and meet people with unique experiences and perspectives, I was able to create my own luck and get help on something that will benefit my company.” 

Talk up your business

You have to believe in whatever it is you’re trying to sell. And then you have to communicate this belief to others. Jennifer Coulombe, a 2015 MBA graduate of Baruch College Zicklin School of Business, founded Sat Nam babe, which sells kids’ yoga clothes. To get crowdfunding to launch the business, Coulombe had to convince family and friends to buy into her dream, she says. More recently, she has turned to Instagram to communicate the company’s purpose to those beyond her immediate network.

“By just commenting, people reach out to me, for wholesale orders, interesting partnerships, and so much more,” she says. “It's about putting yourself out there and seeing what comes back to you.”

Take initiative

Whether you’re working for yourself or someone else, you need to make yourself an influencer. Usually to do that, you have to take on responsibility. Sometimes, leaders make the choice to be a big fish in a little pond. For example, Daniel Fox earned a dual MBA/MS in marketing degree from the University of Colorado Denver Business School in 2011 and now he’s marketing director for Wally’s Natural, which sells ear and skin care products. He says he purposely chose a smaller company, where he could more easily find his voice and have a great impact. 

“By working hard and showing initiative, I was able to climb the ranks much faster than I would at a bigger company,” Fox says. “This gave me lots of experience that I can rely on to slingshot me into bigger and bigger roles.” 

While it may take longer at a larger firm, the same rules apply. You have to take on responsibility, share your good ideas, and put yourself out there among decision makers. The point is to make yourself as useful to the company as possible.


Written by Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website


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