Insights from the Field: The Women of MBA@UNC: Part III

 

The following post is a recap of an MBA@UNC Women in Leadership webinar where current students and alumnae gathered to offer advice and share their experiences navigating today’s business environment.

Executive Director of MBA@UNC Susan Cates moderated the webinar and she was joined by:

  • Student Erica LeBlanc, of Washington D.C., Operations Development Manager at Thomson Reuters.
  • Alumna Lindsay Chason, of Atlanta, GA, Retail Merchant at The Home Depot.
  • Student Michelle Middleton, of Clinton, NJ, Senior Vice President at Chubb Corporation.
  • Alumna Christy Brown, of Raleigh-Durham, NC, District Sales Director at Glaxosmithkline.

You can find more information about the webinar and its participants here, and part two of our recap can be found here.

 

All of you either have completed or are in the middle of getting your MBA while juggling a career, outside interests, and family. How have you managed to think about balancing your life in this process from a professional standpoint, from a personal standpoint, and from an academic standpoint?

Michelle: You have to keep your sense of humor and keep it in perspective. I have an incredible support network. I have two teenage kids. One is going to be a sophomore at Wake Forest, and she’s incredibly supportive and sees this as a “if Mom can do it, I can do it” type of thing. You have to have that support network. The flexibility of the program works with my schedule now. I have the flexibility to study in the morning and night while still keeping my full-time career. My boss has been extremely supportive as well and frankly asked, “Should I be getting my MBA?” It's exciting. The excitement actually helps you balance it, but you need to know where your limits are.

Lindsay: You have to find your touchstone. Something that will keep you sane. For me, I woke up early on Saturday mornings and I did most of my studying on Saturdays. It was a lot of visits to Starbucks alone, a lot of sitting in my sunroom and getting work done. You have to be patient and give yourself some time. Write down what you think your week looks like every Sunday and schedule it out because just having that basic template on where you're going to invest time on what task is very helpful. For me it was worth it.

I was also promoted twice while I was in the program, because I never had to drop everything I was doing for my MBA. I was able to push hard at school, as well as at work. When I did take a promotion that I thought was going to be more challenging, I just knocked down my course load slightly by taking one fewer class. You have the flexibility to do that. I wanted to finish the program in two years and I finished it in two years and one quarter, which is still a lot faster than a lot of part-time programs.

Erica: And it's all about putting things in perspective. You will do, and you should do, what's most important to you. I was in Arizona for a work conference and I excused myself to attend my MBA@UNC class. So right after the class, instead of running back downstairs immediately for dinner with my coworkers, I ended up calling my family and friends who I hadn't spoken to in a long time. Why? Because that's what is important to me.

And I think there at that moment I made a commitment to myself to say, “I need to do what's good for me in the long run.” So every morning I wake up at 6 a.m., I head to the gym because it's important to me to stay healthy. I make sure I get eight hours of sleep. Yes, I get eight hours of sleep every night! But I’ll tell you what I don’t have anymore: cable television. I cut that out. But what I do now, is I will invite at least one friend over a week for just a one-on-one conversation. It’s very old fashioned, but that’s what keeps me going.

Christy: Many people who have heard me talk about this before know that there are several stories about how I was sitting on the sidelines at soccer games over the last couple years. And while my kids were on the field playing, I was purposefully paying attention to everything that they did. But the minute they came out of the game, I would pop up my computer up and watch a video. Or between games I’d read, or whatever else. So just having that flexibility was incredibly important to me and it really afforded me an opportunity to further my education, to be very involved in the program, but not to have to sacrifice on the family end as well.

What concentrations or areas do you think the major corporations are looking for the most from women in 2015 and for the future?

Susan: I don't think there is one correct path and I also don't necessarily think you should shape your career around what the hot topic is. Build your strengths across many cross-functional areas. Figure out where your strengths are and what's best for you and get really good at it, and there's going to be a lot of opportunities for you. My bias is that everyone needs to know more finance. My other bias is that learning about data analytics is an increasingly important thing to know, no matter what field you're in. There are great opportunities across all types of companies in every function, I’d say.

Lindsay: The only other thing I’d say is, really satisfy your curiosity. I think companies are really looking for people that are serious about their business and how to improve it. That's the good thing about MBA@UNC, is that you're going to get a very good general MBA for the first core classes that you take. Then you'll find out where you excel and where you have an opportunity to improve. You can choose to make yourself better at the things that you're bad at, or make yourself an expert at the things that you're good at. For me, I chose the latter of that and tried to really enhance what I knew I was good at and what I wanted to do in the long term. I focused more on entrepreneurship because that's what was important to me, but I think you really have to do some soul searching to find out what you want from your MBA. Is it to keep up the skill set you're already great at or to supplement another core skill set?

Any closing thoughts? Anything that we didn't get to that you would like to share with the women who are thinking about their careers or thinking about an MBA?

Lindsay: For me, it was “don’t be afraid.” I think that early on in my career I was a little scared of how other people would receive me. In essence, you quiet yourself a little bit. So my advice is to find your “shtick” and then relentlessly and energetically preach it to anyone and everyone who will listen. I really feel like when you enter a room, when you enter a conversation, people need to come away with a sense of who you are, what you’re capable of, and come away feeling inspired about you. So for me it's “find your message, preach the heck out of it, and do it with vigor and a ton of energy.”

Michelle: I think that your passion has to be invested in what you're doing next, whether that be family, career, or MBA. My latest thing is getting my adrenaline going. If it gets you nervous and anxious, do it. That has been the key to some of the success I have had. It's taking on challenges and doing things that other people didn't want to do or even working in contrast to some of the naysayers that were saying I couldn't do it. It's very rewarding. The flexibility that we have in the program is great and it's really exceeded my expectations. I think it will enhance my career options going forward.

Lindsay: Specifically on getting an MBA, I think a lot of times women are asking for permission to put themselves first and better themselves. Don't wait for someone to tell you, “This is something you need to do.” If you know this is something that you want to do, don't wait for permission for it. Just go crazy, go for it.

Erica: Kenan-Flagler has proven that you can actually obtain an MBA from anywhere in the world, receive a high quality education and it can blend with your current life if you are dedicated. Consider what you're actually going to be learning and how it will impact your professional and personal life. I don’t like to overuse the word, “world-class”, but it really is a world-class program. People have noticed around the office and they have seen that change. A lot of executives say, “Erica, wherever you're getting this new found information, we can see it.”

To read the introduction and Part II of the webinar, click the links to the blog posts below.

Women in Leadership Webinar: Part I

Women in Leadership Webinar: Recap Part II