Les Gutches excelled in the one-on-one combat that defines wrestling but group dynamics are the hallmark of his dream career as an executive with the sport’s U.S. governing body.
“Relationships are very important, and beyond just in business school,” said Gutches, a two-time national champion at Oregon State, from which he earned an MBA in 2005. “So really go out of your way and get to know the faculty, but even more importantly, your classmates. When you do group projects, your success is contingent on their performance, and that mirrors how it is in the business world.”
When Gutches, the associate executive director for programs and performance, arrived at USA Wrestling in 2010, he was given two primary missions: Increase membership and improve the experience for those members, who range from 4-year-old beginners to Olympians.
As of Aug. 31, 2009, there were 148,767 member athletes and 20,698 member coaches; five years later the numbers were 194,226 and 28,333.
Gutches was a combined 69-0 at 178 pounds during his NCAA title years of 1995 and 1996. After completing a bachelor’s in anthropology in 1997, he was an assistant coach for the Beavers, taking time off to make a run at a second Olympics (he’d placed seventh in 1996) before deciding a career switch and graduate degree were in order.
“I took a variety of different undergraduate classes to explore a few options,” he said. “I had no idea I’d ever have a passion for accounting and kind of the empirical side of business, but I did. It really convinced me to complete the prerequisites and pursue an MBA. And the great thing about the MBA program was that it was truly multidisciplinary. Having that broad-based business education was really valuable.”
He landed a position in commercial lending with Citizens Bank, where he spent five years honing his grasp of key concepts such as cash flow, financing, ownership structures and business cycles.
“In the working world, an MBA becomes a license to learn,” he said. “A lot of people, their first job out of college, they evaluate it based on pay or location or maybe some things that ultimately are not the most important. My advice is to look for jobs that give the experience they need and the knowledge they need to help them grow professionally. Sometimes the highest-paying job isn’t the one that gives you the tools for the job you ultimately want to have.”