Our Stories

Discovering a World of Opportunities

Clayton goes from teen operations manager to HR leader

Clayton Williams
Analytical Problem Solver, Dropbox

Vanderbilt MBA 2015

Clayton Williams never planned to go to college, much less business school. From an early age, he was groomed to take over the family’s steel business in the Pacific Northwest. He began learning the basics of the business before he had a driver’s license, was production supervisor of a rebar fabrication facility in his native Spokane before his 18th birthday and bought his first house at 19.

After changing his mind about higher education and spending two years at a local community college, Clayton sold his house and paid his way through Washington State University, where he earned a degree (with honors) in International Business. Within two years of graduation, he was a general manager within the food retail industry.

Wanting the opportunity to explore a variety of career paths and a degree with “the flexibility to take on new challenges throughout my professional life,” Clayton chose Vanderbilt from among a number of offers. “Vanderbilt is a prestigious name,” he says. “Even in the Pacific Northwest, it has strong brand name recognition. I knew I wanted a school that was well-ranked and well-known, yet small enough to escape the stadium seating of larger programs.”

Growing up, says Clayton—an avid traveler, drummer, snowboarder, waterskier and rock climber (he attempted his first bungee jump age 8 but was too light for the cord)—“I was ambitious and energetic, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would attend a top university or work for a Fortune 100 company” (he accepted a post-graduate job with GE). Yet at Owen, he and his wife became “part of a close-knit community of talented, ambitious and welcoming high-achievers.” Vanderbilt, he says, looking back, “opened my world to countless new opportunities.”