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MBA Student Draws On Music Background For Success

HP-story-estel-102x83When Andrew Estel was learning some practical applications for probability theory in his finance classes at the Tepper School, his background as a musician came in surprisingly handy.

A composer and former professor with a doctorate in music theory, Estel has studied the structure of art music, including the work of Iannis Xenakis, an architect and composer who taught at Estel’s alma mater, Indiana University. Xenakis used stochastic processes in his music, something that Estel later ran across while studying his MBA.

“It’s something we talk about a lot in finance class. I knew about stochastic processes already, not because I had any finance background, but because I studied the music of Iannis Xenakis,” he explains. “The point is I had a very different association when we were learning how to value a European call option on a bond.”

For Estel, the crossover between his love for music and his interest in the business world has been fluid. Though he has been a serious student of the former since elementary school, and composing since his teens, he initially planned on majoring in physics as an undergraduate. He soon changed his mind and his major, following his passion all the way through his doctorate.

“I thought music offered an opportunity for me to develop some creative thinking skills,” he says, although he never lost his love for math. “Those are probably my two talents. Is it because the two are linked? I don’t know. Certainly there is some overlap between the two.”

To illustrate his point, he cites Viennese composer Arnold Schoenberg, who applied a rigorous form of matrix algebra method to his work and used an adding machine from an accountant’s office to assist him in composition.

After earning his doctorate, Estel – a native of Morgantown, W.Va. – taught first at Ball State University in Indiana and later at George Washington University. But at 28, feeling that he had pursued music as far as he wanted, he decided to earn an MBA so he could see “what other applications there might be for the skills and interests I’d developed.”

“I’ve always been the kind of person who had a lot of varied interests,” he adds. For example, he studied Italian in Rome, Mandarin in Beijing and once taught English in a small town in Italy.

He was drawn to the Tepper School by the amount of personal contact the staff made with him during the application process. Admissions staff put him in touch with musicians and other students with nontraditional backgrounds; someone with a military background reached out to talk to Estel about his wife, who was in the Army.

“That really stood out to me,” he says.

He worked at H.J. Heinz as a senior financial analyst for his internship, helping to create a statistical forecasting model, and plans to join Alcoa after his May 2012 graduation as a consultant in the company’s internal strategy group.

In the meantime, music continues to be part of his life. In October 2011, noted Israeli conductor Yuri Segal selected one of Estel’s compositions, Summer Fields, for a performance at Indiana University. And Estel’s wife, flutist Alyssa Pysola, is playing part time with the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Estel surmises that he eventually could combine his business acumen and musical background, possibly as the executive director of a symphony orchestra or the dean of a music school.

“Carnegie Mellon has given me exactly the tools that I needed to go from being a music professor to launching a career in business,” Estel says. “The doors that have been opened to me could not have been any better going anywhere else.”

For further links to Estel’s music, visit http://www.andrewestel.com/


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Mark D. Burd

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Tepper School of Business
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