Nikolas Lazar is a freshman at Emory University, studying finance and international studies. He graduated from Newton South High School in Newton, MA, and he served as the 2016-17 FBLA National Treasurer. During his time in FBLA, he placed three times (Entrepreneurship in 2014, Global Business in 2015, Banking and Financial Systems in 2016) at the National Leadership Conference, served as chapter president, and served three terms as a state officer. Nikolas agreed to sit down with FBLA National President Eu Ro Wang to share his experience with case competitions in college and his tips for FBLA members looking to get more involved.
So, tell me about your experiences with case study competitions in college, and how are these influenced by your experiences in FBLA?
Through FBLA, Nationals provided a really unique opportunity to get an idea of what case studies are all about, both in terms of content and techniques I learned. These have carried over to the beginning levels of doing cases in college. Also, the raw preparation in terms of working with team members, often on very little hours of sleep and in high pressure situations, really helped me prepare for college-level case study competitions. In college, we all really want to win, and create a lot of interest in team dynamics, so having opportunity to experience that in FBLA and hone those skills then has really helped me a lot in preparing for competitions at the collegiate level.
Tell us about what kind of case study competitions you do in college.
Yeah! What’s really neat about university is that there’s a really wide variety of competitions. Really any interest you have, there is usually a competition for it. Personally, back in the fall, I competed in a competition where we were researching Wal-Mart and trying to figure out how to fend off Amazon’s e-commerce presence. This weekend, I’m working on a sustainability competition where we are pitching a proposal that will help Atlanta reach 100% clean energy by 2050. These are two very different topics which may not have seemed interesting going into but have been really great experiences to learn more about.
What got you into these case study competitions?
One thing I loved in high school was having the opportunity to compete and travel with the folks I had met in FBLA, such as going to Nationals. Having these opportunities really compels you to keep on doing them more and more. Now, doing it at university and having that same camaraderie and solving puzzles for each case has kept me doing it.
What have you learned from these case study competitions in college?
We learn everything! For the Wal-Mart case study, I learned everything from random facts about Wal-Mart to tangible skills that will apply in other fields. Everything from how to work PowerPoint and Excel to how to develop frameworks for organizing your ideas. All of those skills, both hard research skills and soft skills, are useful in further studies.
What skills in college do you notice you use often, which FBLA helped develop?
Especially when you know you can serve and compete at Nationals, it develops a really strong work ethic, both individually and in a team environment. I keep my teammates accountable and keep my classmates accountable, and I think developing that work ethic has really helped a lot in college. Building off that, through FBLA you have a lot of opportunities as a state or national officer to really implement change. When you start over in college, you don’t have the same positions of power, but that desire to create change is still there, and you still find opportunities to do so.
What is something that people should know if they are interested in doing these case study competitions in college?
The most important is to find a group of people that are great teammates, and kind of ride with them the whole way. Even if you don’t win one competition, either in FBLA or in college, stick with that team and know them well instead of jumping from person to person trying to win.
For FBLA students that are entering the college admissions process, what do you believe is the most important message to keep in mind?
I think the biggest area where a lot of students struggle is communicating their message and what they have done in FBLA. Something that I have heard from college admissions officers in my own process, is this: there are nearly a quarter-million FBLA members, so while it is great you are in FBLA, you need to distinguish yourself. It might be great that you achieved the Community Service Awards or the BAA’s (Business Achievement Awards), but really what makes you stand out is to say “as chapter president, I implemented this [specific] program”. They want to see that you took your position and you did something with it, and didn’t just serve in that role for a year. Communicating those experiences, when you learn something from creating new programs and developing them as a team, that’s what college admissions officers really want to hear.
You’re studying finance and international studies in college. In FBLA, did you compete in finance-focused competitions? If so, how did these competitions in your career focus contribute to your college preparedness?
I did. I started competing in Global Business in my first two years, then dove into finance my junior year competing in banking financial systems. I am really glad I did three events from different categories because when you start to do events of similar type you learn a lot of the same information and same skills. This is great, but you’re not really diversifying. Now, when I have class about either comparative politics or political violence, I am able to go in each of these classes and apply my learning from FBLA because I got to learn about so many different topics.
What’s a piece of advice you want to offer to students who are struggling to find the perfect college for them?
I would definitely urge students to focus on finding a school that fits them. Once they narrow it down to 3 or 4 schools, I would encourage them to look up what the employment accounts for those schools are. That tells you a lot about the student body, and if you are making such a big investment (for college) it is important to look at what the return you will get on it is. You can Google ‘Emory employment statistics’ or ‘career outcomes’ and find out where people in your major go to work and can tell you if that is a school that is really focused on people into banking, nonprofits, or your major. You can tailor what you want to get out of your education by looking at that in your college decisions.
Do you have any advice for the common FBLA student looking to get involved on a higher level, from your experience as the former national treasurer?
Yeah, something I looked for in applicants for my national council was not really “were they a state officer?,”“were they a local officer?,” “were they president?” Instead, what was really interesting to me was: “in their applications, were they able to stress that they had used their time in FBLA to do something [impactful]?” I had a few members on my council who weren’t state officers and weren’t national officers, but in their chapter they created a program and were really passionate about the program they created. That, to me, as an interviewer, really stood out and that is what got them into my council over people with much higher positions than them.
What was your overall best memory in FBLA?
It’s hard to pinpoint one specific memory. It’s all of the memories you make over those four years, but since I had such a close-knit chapter, competing with them for four years was such an honor and that’s something I miss in university.
Can you describe your term as national treasurer in 3 words?
Sleepless, but quick!
What is the number one lesson you learned through your work on the national level?
When you have had these opportunities to serve in a position, it is really important to make the most of that year. Your national or state officer year goes by so quickly, and the biggest regret most national and state officer alumni have is that they didn’t do enough with the position they had for a year. There are so many officers that come back with regret. I came in running my campaign and passionate about these things, and you want to get as much done as you can in that year and create tangible programs. The officer teams after you don’t care as much if you increased membership or BAA participation, but will care and will benefit if you create programs and structures to help them succeed.
This is the last question. What do you believe pushed you to be elected national treasurer, and what made you successful once you were there?
The biggest thing that pushed me to get there was the great support system, like our state advisors Mr. Paul and Mr. Reynolds, every step of the way from being sophomore state officer and pushing me to take the next step in my FBLA career. Having a great support system is really crucial to getting elected, especially from such a small state as an officer. Once I was there, the same support system was again crucial. Having a great national officer advisor, Mrs. Smothers, was really crucial and having the encouragement from Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Paul when I had an idea at the state level brought me encouragement to execute my ideas at the national level.
Thank you so much for your time, Nikolas. Much appreciated!