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Mini golf businesswoman tees up at MIT Sloan

MIT Sloan student Elizabeth McQuillan gets into the spirit of Banana Village, the North Conway, N.H., amusement park she purchased and ran.
MIT Sloan student Elizabeth McQuillan gets into the spirit of Banana Village, the North Conway, N.H., amusement park she purchased and ran.
Photo courtesy / Elizabeth McQuillan
Elizabeth McQuillan
Elizabeth McQuillan

Miniature golf was the start of much bigger things for Elizabeth McQuillan, a second-year graduate student at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

A few years ago, while driving home from a day of snowboarding in New Hampshire, she noticed a "for sale at auction" sign on Banana Village, an amusement park in North Conway. Even though she had never played a full round of miniature golf in her life, McQuillan was interested in owning her first piece of property and excited to take on the challenge of running her own business.

After working at two failed start-ups, McQuillan had settled into a job in investment banking. But, she was ready for something different. She had the winning bid at auction and became the new owner of the miniature golf course, waterslide park and video arcade in June 2003, just weeks before the park's peak season.

Purchasing Banana Village in the summer meant that prime miniature golf season was upon her, so McQuillan quickly set out to clean up and rebuild the course. She attributes the successful two-week turnaround to good luck and a good attitude.

"Attitude is everything," she said. "Employees can sense a manager's emotions. So if you're having a bad day, it's easy for people to read that off of you and that spirals. With the right attitude you can achieve the impossible."

McQuillan said running Banana Village was a "ton of fun," but it was not her ultimate career goal. While she still owns the park, McQuillan turned over the day-to-day operations to a local small business owner so she can pursue her long-term goal, real estate, along with her new passion -- business.

She's pursuing that passion at MIT.

"Without a business background, the hardest thing for me to learn was the accounting at Banana Village. The first year I had an accountant help me with QuickBooks, but the second year I forced myself to understand and learn it and that helped me with projections, etc. One of the beauties of the MIT Sloan is that they are not teaching you to be an accountant. They're teaching you how to understand the numbers in front of you," McQuillan said.

"MIT Sloan is the perfect place to take risks, like I did at Banana Village."

Now beginning her second year at MIT Sloan, McQuillan remains interested in real estate. With the help of her MIT Sloan network, McQuillan has already worked for two real estate companies.

McQuillan is also co-president of the MIT Sloan Real Estate Club, which she says is another great way to gain experience and knowledge about the field. "What's fun about the Real Estate Club is that at some point in their lives everyone is in touch with real estate," she said.

When her lease with the new operator of Banana Village expires, McQuillan may sell the amusement park to him. But owning property and working in real estate is something McQuillan plans to continue. She said she hopes to work for a midsized real estate company in the Boston area when she completes her M.B.A.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 18, 2006 (download PDF).

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