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Meet Susan Bach, Career Coach for Poole College Master of Management Program

By Samantha Beavers

“Who is a leader?” That’s the question Susan Bach, executive coach in the Career Management Center for Poole College of Management, asks graduate students on their first day of class. Her goal, she says, is to have students reflect on the essential components of leadership – and to understand, as quickly as possible, that holding a title wasn’t necessarily one of them.

“A handful of students raise their hands, and many others do not. What I want students to realize is that in order to build their careers, they need to be leaders today. That commitment is inherent to leadership development, and it doesn’t require a particular title,” Bach says.

A career coach for Master of Management, Risk and Analytics (MRA) and Master of Management, Marketing Analytics (MMA) students, Bach allows this notion of leadership development to serve as the bedrock of her career coaching approach.

“The ability to work with and through others over whom they have no responsibility nor authority is critical to career success. This includes having confidence in personal and professional strengths, the ability to communicate ideas, a readiness to give and receive feedback, and the willingness to ask for help – a sign of strength,” she says.

In each turn of her career – from teaching high school in inner-city New York to working as a director of HR in the hospitality industry, opening numerous hotels and serving as an administrator and professor in higher education – Bach has learned that every individual has immense capacity for leadership. Through these diverse experiences, plus a master’s degree in cultural communication and a Ph.D. in higher education with a concentration in organizational behavior, she has continually broadened her perspective – allowing her to bring a wealth of knowledge to her role as a career coach.

“My career is like a double helix – with a strand of experience in industry and another in higher education. From a coaching perspective, this has allowed me to bring more to the table with insight into various industries. My focus has always been on helping people accomplish their goals. That’s the constant I bring into my coaching,” she explains.

Prior to joining Poole College of Management as a career coach, Bach built and led the Center for Leadership Development at the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College. Offering a number of programs and opportunities for MBA students to network, enhance their professional skills and gain hands-on experience, the center was ranked No. 1 nationally for four consecutive years. According to Bach, this ranking was achieved through feedback from alumni and students regarding the value of the leadership programs to their career success.

“We introduced coaching at a time when few business schools were providing it – and certainly not small schools like the Crummer Graduate School of Business. Typically, in the business community, coaching was reserved for the C-suite. In my own experience with executives, however, I learned how short-sighted that was,” Bach says. “When I coached executives through the issues they brought to the table, I always thought, ‘If they had received coaching earlier in their career, they likely wouldn’t be dealing with these issues today.’”

She was right. In giving students opportunities to receive career coaching and professional development early on, she observed them exceed their expectations – and keeping up with them over the years, she has witnessed their career advancement. 

In her role at NC State, Bach brings this expertise in coaching with her – with a focus on supplementing the conceptual knowledge and technical skills Master of Management students learn inside the classroom with the soft skills needed to accelerate their career growth.

“My goal is to ensure our MMA and MRA students are as well-rounded as possible by the time they graduate, because no one works in a vacuum. Enhancing interpersonal and leadership skills, in addition to the academic experience, gives graduates a distinct advantage in their career journey,” Bach explains.

With each student, she takes a customized approach.

“I want them to be the best they can be. However, they’re the ones who define what their ‘best’ is, what skills they want to develop and what their goals are. I take my cues from them. When I meet a student for the first time, I ask why they signed up for career coaching, what they hope to achieve and how I can best support them,” she explains. “I work with them to make their goals measurable and attainable, and then help them develop an action plan with strategies to move in the right direction.”

Providing perspective, structure and accountability, Bach helps students make progress toward their individual career goals – and maximize their investment in a graduate education.

“Taking advantage of coaching opportunities enhances their overall educational experience, because they are really investing in themselves. Coaching is an opportunity for students to work with someone experienced who has no agenda other than their best interests. It’s having the support of someone who believes in your success and is committed to helping you become whatever it is that you want to be,” Bach says.

“I often tell students that, as the coach, my job is the easier one – because I’m there to guide them. They have to do the work. I love those moments when I see the light bulb go on – and I hear students verbalize what they’re learning and then watch them go out and apply it. It’s not always easy, and they don’t always get it right the first time. However, seeing students take interest in their own career development and then make progress toward their goals – that’s very gratifying to me.”