The Lives of Leaders: After Class with MBA@UNC Graduate Candice Brown

MBA@UNC attracts a diverse group of busy professionals from across the country. One quality they all share is their deep commitment to professional and personal development. Candice Brown, senior director, HR strategic partner at RAI Services Company, is a prime example of this development-minded spirit and was chosen as the October cohort’s student commencement speaker. Brown recently assumed responsibility for the majority of the company’s commercial functions, including consumer marketing and research and development. “Previously I had accountability for a number of our services functions, including law, public affairs and HR,” she says, “so a shift to the commercial functions is significant, and the MBA prepares me to be better able to interface with these functions and provide strategic guidance.” In addition to earning her MBA from UNC, she also holds a law degree and an undergraduate degree in American history, both from UNC.

The MBA@UNC blog recently spoke with Brown about how the program has helped her grow professionally, where she completed some of her coursework (hint: it required a passport), and what she plans to do next. Excerpts follow.


What is the return on investment of working at a demanding job while pursuing your MBA?

By going to class at night and then working in the day, I’m able to really see in real-time how these concepts work. I’m also able to take some of the tactics that I’ve learned in my program and apply them in my day to day. I’m able to slowly become a better employee as I learn just a little bit more and figure out how I can be useful to my organization.


Is there anything you learned and were immediately able to apply to your job?

I remember learning about pension funding and how that all works in class. Then I walk into a meeting a day or so later, and I’m able to have an intelligent conversation about the status of our pension. Because I’m in human resources, there’s really a significant people aspect to what we do, but there’s also a critical need to understand the business in order to make decisions about the people. An MBA allows me to make more strategic decisions about how we manage our human capital, because now I truly understand what that is.


Have the networks you’ve gained from MBA@UNC or the UNC network at large helped you personally or professionally?

Professionally, it’s been quite helpful. I’m interested in what other companies do, and it’s been very insightful to me as I think about our people and their development. There’s a course that we take at MBA@UNC, Leading and Managing, and during that course you spend a lot of time talking about the development of people. The discussion with my peers across their various businesses is very, very helpful.


Are there any stories from your MBA program that illustrate the human elements of the program or show the connected nature of the student body?

I think we were all surprised with the challenging nature of the program. We all worked much, much harder than we ever expected, but looking back I’m thrilled by that because I know that the degree I’ve got is absolutely top notch. I’ve got a relatively demanding job, and I lost my father during my first year of the program and my grandfather six months later, so I had to go back to my professors on several occasions to simply say, “I’m drowning here. How can you help me? Can I reschedule these exams? Can I turn in this project at this time?” Without question, at each of those moments it was the most supportive and most cooperative program I could imagine being a part of. It made me want to work harder. When I was able to turn my attention back to it, I wanted to do well because they had been so supportive of me during my difficult times. As your life changes and things pop up, the flexible nature of the program allows you to be an active part of the UNC community wherever you are. I’ve gone to class in airports. I’ve gone to class in my car. You can’t do that with a program that’s traditional brick and mortar.


Since MBA@UNC doesn’t have a concentration in human resources, how did you integrate your MBA with your human resources background?

While it may not have a concentration in human resources, there are a lot of things in the MBA@UNC program that are very, very relevant for what I do. I think HR is probably much more analytically driven than people might give it credit for. Just learning to hone my analytical skills was important.


It sounds like you’re very committed to the concept of lifelong learning. Any plans to take additional courses?

No more degrees, but I have actually thought about taking some additional courses in the program. There’s some neat things coming down the pipeline that are going to be more focused on the organizational behavior part of the program that I would like to go back and take.


Is there anything else that you would like readers to know about the program?

It’s probably one of the most amazing MBA programs you could ever run across. I was continually blown away every time I interacted with the faculty or staff. It was just an amazing experience. You get to attend two immersions, and there are always two domestic and two international immersions each year. I went to Brazil and Singapore for mine. We were able to explore the business and industry in Singapore and talk about some of the amazing things that they do to develop and cultivate talent, which particularly struck home for me. I was able to bring some of that discussion back here.