Unlike some young adults, who struggle to decide what field to go into, Stefan Santrach knew what he wanted to do with his life at a young age and began taking steps in that direction. “I knew I wanted to go into business in high school,” he says.
He found himself interested in the problems faced by businesses while participating in case competitions as a member of his high school’s DECA chapter and as a state officer for Michigan DECA. These experiences left him wanting more. Hoping to gain some real-world experience, Santrach and several of his friends launched their own company doing social media marketing and web development for small businesses in their hometown of Novi, Mich. — all while still in high school.
When it came time to think about college, business was a no-brainer. Santrach applied and was accepted to the University of Michigan (UM), and this May, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree from UM’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business. During his time there, he interned at a large mortgage lender, a major investment bank and a startup, gaining experience in marketing and finance before ultimately deciding he wanted to begin his career in consulting.
Last year, Santrach participated in The Consortium’s Competitive Advantage program to gain exposure to an array of companies and ended up connecting with Accenture. He has since accepted a position with the company as a strategy analyst, beginning in September.
Santrach recently took some time to chat with us about his business experiences and goals and where following his interests has gotten him.
It’s impressive that you and your friends started a business while in high school, so what sparked your desire and decision to do this?
We were all competing together [in case competitions], and we thought “OK, we like doing these cases, but it’s not real experience.” During the school year, we were in class most of the day so nobody was going to hire us to come in and work, so we needed to find something where we could work around our own schedule. We [started to] wonder if we could sell our services to get a little experience, just cold call companies to see if they would be willing to have us manage their Facebook page, make an Instagram [account] or something like that?
We were able to rack up a couple clients. We even did a website for [a friend’s] dad because people knew about us from word of mouth and from our website. We were just doing contract work purely out of excitement for learning more, and it was an opportunity that we didn’t really know how else to get.
A lot of your experience thus far seems to have a finance theme. What sparked this interest, and is this the direction you hope to take in your career?
My dad likes to trade a lot with his own money in his free time, and spending time with him kind of spurred my interest in that. I knew that I liked business and marketing; I had done the case competitions, and the business that I ran with friends was mostly marketing based, so I wanted to get some more experience with the hard skills of business. That drove my interest in finance, so that’s where I started with my internships.
After getting that experience, I wanted to go back to a little bit more of a strategy-oriented focus to start my career. That’s why I ended up choosing something in the consulting space because I think it kind of blends hard and soft skills.
You have done everything from guerrilla and social media marketing to investment banking. Was this diversity of experiences intentional, or did it just happen on its own?
I guess you could say it was intentional to an extent, but mostly my strategy wasn’t “I want to do X, Y and Z to set me up for the future.” It was like “I want to try this because it’s interesting to me, and I’ll see if I like it. If I like it, I’ll stick with it. If I don’t like it, then it’s only a couple months.” I wanted to try basically anything that seemed interesting to me … that I thought I could learn from, and then I would take all of that diverse knowledge in to make me a better individual going forward.
Why did you decide to participate in Competitive Advantage, and what did you gain from the experience?
I hoped to gain some more exposure to different companies, especially those that weren’t necessarily coming to my campus. It gave me another opportunity to be with and learn about companies that weren’t already going to be at Michigan.
I think Competitive Advantage did a really good job of catering to your [specific job focus] … and [helping you] develop a search strategy — specifically for seniors. I thought that was useful. It helped me refine my search.
It can be very overwhelming to go out looking for a job, especially as a senior; you’re looking for your first full-time job that you’re going to hopefully make your career for a while, [but] there are so many things out there. How do you narrow it down and put an actual plan in place to figure out what’s a good fit for you? That was something that I was really looking to try to develop, and I thought that Competitive Advantage touched on that well.
Tell me about how you got connected with Accenture through Competitive Advantage and the position you’ve accepted there.
They actually sent out an application even before the event, so I was in their pipeline from the beginning. Quite a while after Competitive Advantage, I ended up getting an email from them inviting me to interview. I had a couple phone interviews with different people, flew to Chicago for an in-person interview and then got the offer.
A couple other people from Accenture, who I had [interacted] with throughout the process, reached out to say “Congratulations, I heard you got the offer. I would love to answer any questions you have.” So I was able to have a couple phone calls with people to discuss any last-minute things that were on my mind in terms of deciding whether or not to accept their offer. That really solidified everything, and … I was ready to accept the offer.
What about the company and position attracted you and led you to accept their offer?
They have a lot of big clients. They’re a big name in this space, so I’m definitely going to be able to work with any type of company that has business in basically every industry. The program itself is generalist for the first year, so that really drew me to it because I knew I would have the opportunity to get exposure to different industries, companies and service lines within the business, allowing me to learn by doing, which is how I like to learn.
I’ll be able to spend that first year doing a lot of different things, finding out where I like the best. That was definitely something that was very exciting to me — and then also just being able to work at a place where the people are really important. Everyone who I’ve met at the company has been super. I just clicked with [them] immediately upon talking to them, and so it felt very natural to be there.
Strategy consulting was definitely something that was on my radar. I was looking for something exciting and fast paced but also diverse and broad.
What skills did you gain at Competitive Advantage that you think will aid you in your first full-time role?
I think it’s going to help me with my strategy for how I’m going to build my reputation in the workforce, continuing to work hard and being able to hit the ground running but also keeping in sight where I want to go — whether that be business school or transitioning to other companies in the future.