Disney Performer Meets MBA Candidate

How You can Succeed in B-School with an Entertainment Background

By: Arian Shirakhoon, Guest Writer

If the tarot card lady in San Francisco would have predicted that six months ago I would be admitted into the #1 school for international business, I would have laughed, “Me, an MBA? You realize I have been dressing up like a pirate and teaching kids how to sing and dance the last few years right?”

Courtesy of Shirakhoon
Courtesy of Shirakhoon

For years, I thought B-school was for the all-American, Ivy League graduate working as a financial analyst. Never in a million years did I think a five-foot nothing Disney performer could get in. Luckily, the years of experience I had hosting on cruise ships, managing VIP events, and directing motor coach tours around the world helped my application. The interviewers saw my diverse, untraditional resume as an asset to my cohort. Only eight months in, and I am so grateful for it.

For those artsy, creative types who are intimidated by the engineers, computer scientists, and financial analysts, here are five reasons why you WILL be successful in business school:

Presentations? Piece of cake.

This is where we thrive as entertainers. We love the art of working a crowd and telling a story, whether it be through dance, music, or drama. Give me a few calculations and I will fumble my way through. But presentations? My ability to help my classmates deliver a solid message is one of my favorite tasks. It was not until recently that I learned that soft skills are just as important as the hard skills. So if public speaking is NOT your #1 fear, you are starting off in great shape.

Discussions are your time to shine.

Those who work in the arts are thinkers, feelers, and expressionists. Writing and speaking are critical skills needed in graduate school and in life. You are steps ahead if you have them. Since most of our discussions in my program are virtual through online and video conferencing, there is a LOT of writing. For me, I enjoy it because it gives me time to think and respond to posts. And sometimes your classmates might nominate you as an outstanding contributor (thanks Cohort XXI!).

Time Management = Easy Tempo

Performers might get a bad reputation for being lazy but from personal experience I can tell you they are some of the most hard-working people I know. My friend Rob who is a drummer in Orlando has incredible time management for a musician. His gigs usually run from 6:00 PM until 2:00 AM,  four to five times a week, and his days are spent teaching lessons, booking venues, and recording in the studio. As long as you have calendars (including the old-fashioned kind where you –gasp!-write by hand) to keep track of your deadlines, projects, and calls, you are right on track.

You take the pain out of group projects.

Never a dull moment, we like to keep moving. Whether it be a phone call or in-person meeting, you can always count on an entertainer to facilitate a discussion, articulate his or her thoughts, or crack a joke when the conversation goes silent. While the left-brainers are following the Yellow Brick Road, the right-brainers take a turn and head for Tomorrow Land. Take that as a blessing to offer a fresh perspective. Lately I am learning that there are no right answers in school. Everything is grey and your professors want you to think differently.

Your colleagues will appreciate [and remember] you.

Yes, we may stick out like a sore thumb (as the only other entertainment person in my cohort is a film producer) but they will remember you. Maybe not for stellar Excel spreadsheets in data analysis, but certainly for your personality, creativity, and willingness to think outside of the box. On my recent tour to Singapore with 36 of my classmates, I assure you that I was not remembered for intricate stock questions at Dell, but for sticking my selfie-stick in their faces to make a video of our trip:

For prospective students with an entertainment background who are still shy about the coursework, here are my words of wisdom:

  • Managed a budget for headshots, lessons, and equipment?
    • You can handle finance.
  • Exchanged design services for piano lessons?
    • You can handle negotiations.
  • Promoted your website through social media and online videos?
    • You can handle marketing.



Let us truly call it how it is: business school ain’t easy. There are days where you might sit ten hours at Starbucks writing a final paper and studying for exams. Or take a 9:00 PM conference call because most of your team is in South Africa. And possibly work a full-time job with five kids all under the age of ten. But the people you meet, the books you read, and at Thunderbird, the places you travel, will all be worth it in the end.


At least it should be… I will let you know in a year!



Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust,


Arian Shirakhoon

Global MBA, May ‘16

Chief Entertainment Officer


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