How a Recruiter Became a Leader: One MBA@UNC Student's Journey

As a recruitment manager at Democracy Prep Charter Schools, Jonathan Howard was eager to gain hands-on leadership skills by earning an MBA. But when he started researching different MBA programs, he was faced with a dilemma. “I really loved my job,” Howard said. “I couldn’t leave. I didn’t want to drop everything and leave New York and leave Democracy Prep and take two years to pursue my MBA.” In his search for MBA programs, however, Howard came across MBA@UNC—and realized that he may not have to give up his current job after all. He was excited by the idea of being able to both stay in New York and continue working with Democracy Prep while pursuing a high-quality education. “I really liked the idea of being one of the first people to enroll in a new program,” Howard explained. “I had done my research, and there were a few other programs, but none of the others matched MBA@UNC in terms of the personal interaction there.”

Growth Amid Change

When Howard entered MBA@UNC in January of 2012, Democracy Prep was growing rapidly. The organization had approximately 20 employees when he started working there, but by next year, it should have more than 600 staff members and 5,000 students across 13 different schools. For Howard, this growth meant that his role was also rapidly evolving. He had started on the ground floor, recruiting roughly 30 people a year. Now, Howard had moved into a senior position, recruiting nearly 200 people annually. Democracy Prep had gone from a startup to a large, complex organization, and Howard was trying to keep up with these transitions and adapt to them. Strategically delegating tasks on a larger scale was a challenge—one that Howard knew an MBA would help him overcome.

“As Democracy Prep grew, literally recruiting hundreds of teachers every year, I was struggling to make the transition from a one-man show into having a team,” Howard said. “That was actually my primary reason for pursuing my MBA from Kenan-Flagler—I wanted to become a better leader.”

A primary piece of feedback that Howard had received from his boss was the importance of critical thinking—his ability to identify a problem, come up with a solution, devise a plan of action and implement it. Through MBA@UNC, Howard was able to take knowledge and expertise that he learned in class and apply it to his job to help solve key challenges within his organization. “As a recruiter, there were metrics I wasn’t looking at before,” Howard said. “How many people have we offered jobs to? How many of those people are accepting jobs? How many people are applying? In class, I started thinking about how I could break this down and apply it to my role at Democracy Prep.”

A Focus on Leadership

One class that stands out to Howard is Professor Ted Zoller’s New Venture Discovery. The course, which allows students to test the waters of entrepreneurship, defined the concept of a minimum viable product. By reviewing different case studies each week, Howard learned that it doesn’t matter how good or bad an idea is—it’s about testing that idea to figure out how to best implement it. Zoller’s class also inspired Howard to develop a concept for a talent recruitment company—a venture that he’s now in the beginning stages of developing. In class discussions, Howard learned to apply different models to analyze the financial health of his organization and define metrics for its success. Through MBA@UNC, Howard was able to explore his own entrepreneurial vision while applying strategic skills to his current role as the senior director of talent at Democracy Prep. “I feel like I entered the program as a fledgling leader. I struggled to manage my team,” Howard said. “When you’re in a job for so long you just get focused on what’s in your bucket, but my experience at MBA@UNC helped me to stretch that out and analyze what’s going on across different teams. Not only am I able to run the talent team and handle our recruitment leads, but I’m also able to contribute ideas to our CEO.”