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University of Virginia Darden School of Business Sample Essay

University of Virginia by Daniel-Latorre licensed under CC BY 2.0

Describe the most courageous professional decision you have made or action you have taken. What did you learn from that experience? (500 words maximum)

As Marketing Manager for XYZHealthCare, I led a three-person team to establish an online presence for XYZ, a chain of hip-replacement clinics throughout Japan. My analysis suggested that while the products generated good revenue, their associated marketing expenses were excessive- due in large part to the info-seminars XYZ traditionally used to attract potential patients: each requiring a large upfront investment with no guarantee attendees would sign up. I proposed a one-off investment in creating online content explaining the replacement process, an online payment system to immediately engage prospects and a new marketing strategy. My recommendations were a drastic shift and one that I consider my most professional decision to date.

Although my analysis provided a compelling argument for going digital, I faced an uphill battle. Having used info-seminars for years, my fellow managers and the surgeons involved were hesitant to try something new that could negatively impact their bottom-lines. Furthermore, no Japanese healthcare company had ever tried digital campaigns. A failed initiative for XYZ’s largest product would provide competitors an opportunity to gain market share and cause our CEO to lose face with our Board of Directors.

However, it was also not acceptable for the largest hip replacement equipment in Japan to forego profits due to outdated marketing methods. I felt we had to innovate and assume some risk. I decided to obtain the stakeholder’s buy-in by enabling them to arrive at my idea – on their own. By compiling the cost and revenue of the 2013 Hip Forum, I demonstrated that the event barely broke even. Contrasting this to the cost of a digital campaign, I challenged the assumption that we needed to spend big to sell a premium product. The managers agreed to give a digital campaign a try.

I then led a team of twenty staffers and five managers in running a trial that would minimize the risks of a full-blown digital campaign. It was far from smooth sailing. We developed our pre-launch message, standardizing the order processing method, coordinating staff, and creating promotional materials. The online payment system revealed numerous glitches just days before the launch. However, the results exceeded our expectations. We more than doubled our target numbers, by signing on 130 patients and nearly tripled the net profit compared to using seminars.

When the CEO saw our trial’s success, he agreed to abandon the Hip Forum and apply funding to launch a larger digital campaign, -where again, we achieved double our targeted patients. This experience taught me that we sometimes hold onto a successful framework that worked in the past and fail to realize when changes in our environment call for an innovative approach. Most importantly, this experience reinforced the importance of gentle yet assertive communication in initiating change. My fellow managers with decades of industry experience lent their support when they saw my analysis and the conviction I had in improving XYZ’s profitability. I also learnt that stakeholder management is key to strong leadership, and I intend to further develop these critical skills through Darden’s MBA.