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Home  > Insider profile
Aaron Tolson
Engineer

There is no substitute for hard work; and life isn't fair. If you have to work harder than the other guy, then that's just the way it is.

As children, we're all asked the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" How did you answer?

I said that I wanted to be a fighter pilot.

What have been the most defining moments along your career path?

1. Getting accepted to West Point 2. Being a General's Aide and being earmarked for a fast career track. 3. Getting accepted to Stanford GSB.

How did you get your big breaks?

It's a lot of luck, with a little preperation and competence mixed in. For instance, if I had never asked my friend what he was reading one time, I never would have found out about business school, and never would have decided to apply. Likewise, I was lucky enough to be in the right Army unit to get the highest visibility deployments like Bosnia and Iraq. I see myself as a very lucky example of upward mobility - my Dad works for the state of California and my mom works as a teacher's aid. We weren't poor, but even if I could have gotten into an ivy league school, there's no way my parents could have paid for it. West Point was the only way to get a top education, which set me up for a good career in the Army, which set me up for a top business school, etc. I've always worked hard, but I think it's more luck than anything else. Of course, if you haven't put in the hard work, luck will definitely pass you by.

What was the best advice you received when you were first starting out in your career?

1. Don't burn any bridges. 2. Listen more than you talk. 3. Never become conceited or boastful. No matter how good you think you are, there is always somebody better. Besides, nobody likes someone who thinks they're better than everyone else.

What have you learned from your experience?

There is no substitute for hard work; and life isn't fair. If you have to work harder than the other guy, then that's just the way it is. There's no use whining about it. There is a sort of Karma out there too. If you're a jerk, it will come around and bite you eventually. If you like to help people, that will help you out eventually as well.

What most excites you about your job right now?

I'm a business student, and I'm fascinated by both leadership and business. The ability to have a big, significant impact when I succeed or fail excites me, whether that is as a consulting working on a top level Fortune 500 project or a Private Equity associate closing a billion dollar buyout. I don't do any of this yet, but I hope to and I find it very exciting.

What would you like to have achieved by the last day of your career?

Have a measurable and noticeable lasting impact on the world. It doesn't have to be big, but just something I can look at and see the fruits of my labor.

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