Lincoln Puffer '13

CFO, United States Coast Guard's Fourteenth District

Alumnus Lincoln Puffer discusses how to balance your personal life with the academic demands of an MBA from the Mason School of Business at William & Mary.

Student Life
What are some activities you were involved with outside of class? How did you balance your time?

The main activity I was involved with outside of class was my family. I am married and at the time of the MBA/MAcc program, our daughter was 1-3 years old. My wife was also in school full-time completing a rigorous program, so I was responsible for a fair amount of parental duties. While time-consuming, I attribute a great deal of my success to having breaks that forced me to put school on the backburner. These much-needed breaks helped me recharge my batteries and allowed me to better focus on school when I was in that mode. Aside from my family I was a member of the Honor Council, I played intramural sports (softball, basketball, and flag football), and I attended every school related activity I was able to attend. I balanced my time by planning and communicating. I was extremely busy during the program, but I wouldn't change a thing. I firmly believe everything I was involved in, outside of the required school activities, has given me the network I have today.

How much are you in touch with the alumni network? Are they helpful in making connections with companies? What did you learn about creating and utilizing networks during your MBA?

I'm constantly in touch with my network. Two examples: one of my former professors reached out to me three weeks ago to see if she could put a current student in touch with me, and I met up with classmates while on a business trip last week. I haven't needed to use my network to make connections with companies...yet. That being said, my network extensively spans the public, private, and non-profit sectors and every region of the US and several countries, and I'm sure the quality relationships I have with classmates/ friends from school will be a tremendous help in the future. Being back in school and learning about different industries and companies reinforced the importance of having a solid network. It hasn't felt like work to cultivate and strengthen my network. It seems to happen naturally. I enjoyed the experience of school with my cohort, so following their successes and staying in touch is just second nature.

Why an MBA?
Why did you choose your MBA program? Do you have advice for students on how to make a decision?

I chose W&M because it is a great program with an extremely close-knit community. I went to a large undergrad university. I enjoyed that experience, but I wanted some diversity with a smaller school and a different type of environment. W&M is on the smaller side and the level of service and attention I received from the first time I contacted Admissions made my decision very easy. I left a message and heard back from Jill within hours. Not only that but the Admissions Team was extremely helpful in providing information for my wife's program when they weren't very responsive. The level of service and family atmosphere carried through the entire two-year program. My advice is to find a program with a great reputation, that places people in industries and careers where you would like to work, and is located in a place you would like to live.

What do you think is your program's greatest asset?

The people; from the faculty and staff of the school to the students, the relationships made during my two years in Williamsburg will be lifelong. These relationships are both personal and professional. The Admissions team did a great job bringing in a diverse group of very smart and talented students, and I was impressed experience outside of academia. Going to a smaller school allowed me to get to know mostly everyone in the program, and also allowed a lot of face time with our professors. Several years later, I still communicate on a regular basis with many of the students and a few of the professors and staff.

How has your cohort/classmates influenced your MBA experience?

I would like to think I'm more open-minded. Getting to know people from different industries, from different countries, and with different viewpoints forced me to think in ways I hadn't before. This new perspective has solidified certain viewpoints and changed others. I've learned a lot from my classmates, and looking at things through a different lens has helped tremendously.

Advice for future applicants
What is it like to transition back to school after being out for a few years? What advice can you offer students returning for their MBA?

Transitioning back to school was surprisingly easy. Having 10+ years of work experience gave me the confidence I didn't have the last time I was in school. The material was challenging, but I found it to be very interesting and much more relevant. In undergrad everything was theoretical; at W&M I had real world experience under my belt that really brought the subjects to life. If you don't pay attention to current events (globally), start now. Also, go to school with an open mind and confident that what you bring to your program is valuable.