November 08, 2019 • By Christine Byrd
By all accounts, Max Lechner, MBA ’19, is a success story: a former Marine who landed his dream job in cybersecurity at Deloitte. Yet this isn’t where he intended to be.
“I consider all of my initial goals to be a complete failure,” he says. “But the experience—I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.”
Far from being bitter, he’s optimistic, curious and determined—that’s what kept him going through tough times.
Marine in the Making
Lechner dreamed of joining the military as a little boy growing up in the shadow of Peterson Airforce Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. After earning a degree in economics at the University of Colorado Boulder, he set his sights on becoming an officer in the Marines. At The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, Lechner placed in the top 5% of his class, earning himself a career designation in the Marines.
“It was a dream to be in the military, but it was a bit of a mystery what I was getting myself into,” says Lechner. “I worked my tail off the whole time I was there.”
Shortly after arriving at Camp Pendleton in California, what he thought was a nagging hip injury from overuse turned into a medical emergency—a serious bone infection.
“Until you’ve lost your health, it’s hard to understand what it’s like not to be healthy,” he says. “The humility you gain from having a big setback or failure is a really important lesson.”
Lechner underwent five surgeries over three years and went from regularly running 6-minute miles to completely relearning how to walk. Slowly, he realized his long-awaited military career was over.
“It taught me so much. You have your goals and objectives, but you have to remain flexible,” he says. “The lessons and skills I learned in the Marines and the people I got to work with—I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”
With his reputation as a hard worker and quick learner, Lechner had no shortage of job offers. But his mentors in the military encouraged him to pursue an MBA to build foundational knowledge in a broad range of business topics.
While exploring business schools across Southern California and in the Ivy League, Lechner built his own methodology to evaluate them. The Paul Merage School of Business, he decided, was the perfect fit.
“The difference between schools really comes down to how accessible the staff are, how talented the faculty are and what the career services are like,” says Lechner. “What I liked about the Merage School is that they had a small school feel and that led to a lot more flexibility and attention on your experience,” he adds.
All of his professors knew him on a first-name basis, and he found class discussions enriched by the perspectives of students from all around the world, including Denmark, Turkey, China and India.
“We have a very diverse student body and Max was able to build so many great relationships with people in the program,” says Taylor Martini, executive director of the Full-Time MBA Program. “He also took full advantage of all the tools and resources that the Merage School provided him, so he really made the most of his time here.”
Building Business Strengths
With the Merage School’s focus on equipping students with the skills to lead in the fast-paced digital world, Lechner leveraged his military experience with cybersecurity and technology to build highly marketable skills. Understanding an emerging technology is one thing but persuading leaders to make the right decisions about implementing a new technology is something else entirely.
“How do you explain to a CEO why you need $1 million per year for something they’ve never heard of and don’t yet understand, like multifactor authentication?” he says. “When preparing case deliveries, the Merage School encouraged us to focus on the strategic value, from a digital perspective, so that we could translate the value of a new technology to decision-makers.”
Lechner says his favorite experience as a student was participating in the New Venture Competition, where he joined a team of doctors and entrepreneurs to pitch a new technology that helps diagnose behavioral issues in patients as young as three months. He and his teammates won $15,000 to advance the project.
“One of the things that stands out about Max is he has executive presence and because of that humble confidence, people look to him as a leader and it allows him to work well with people across a variety of disciplines,” says Martini.
For six months, Lechner studied at the ESSEC Business School in Paris, where he focused on learning about the luxury industry, a concept he says can be applied to any industry.
“I try to bring the lessons of the luxury industry to Deloitte as a consultant,” he says. “I’m a client service professional and the experience clients get should have that luxury feel.”
Sights on Cybersecurity
Lechner credits the Merage School’s Career Center with helping him land his dream job as a cybersecurity consultant at Deloitte.
The school sent Lechner and some of his classmates to the MBA Veterans annual conference in Chicago, where he walked away with more than ten interviews. Despite being 2,000 miles away, the Career Center staff was by his side the whole time, connecting him with alumni at those companies and coaching him through the process.
Through the Career Center Lechner first met a Deloitte consultant, during one of its “Day in the Life” sessions featuring local business practitioners. Speaking with that consultant first set the wheels in motion for Lechner’s eventual internship and full-time job with the firm.
“Max’s career will allow him to apply what he learned in class and through all of his co-curricular activities to analyze problems and identify solutions,” says Martini. “It’s exciting to see him continue to thrive as a leader in the digital economy.”