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Alumni Profile: Julie Harris '95

A funny thing happened to Julie Harris '95 on the way to Kellogg

By Aaron Mays

"You do improv comedy! Say something funny."

Julie Harris '95, a managing director at Goldman Sachs, is often confronted by that request once people learn about her improvisational theater background. But she knows that success in comedy, as in business, demands expert timing and an understanding of the big picture.

"Many people don't know this, but improv has rules and boundaries. The magic comes in how you connect [to people]," she says. "The whole is worth more than the sum of the parts. The best teams I had at Kellogg were ones where people not only brought their own experiences, but brought out the best in others."

That lesson still resonates with Harris in her current role working with co-chief administrators to provide strategic counseling. She and her team manage a portfolio of projects that spans the organization, with the goal of breaking functional silos.

"Because of the business strategies we employ globally, we have a mix of 'growth' versus 'efficiency and effectiveness' projects. That mix varies based on the economic environment, but the work is always guaranteed to be interesting due to its cross-functional nature," she says, adding that doing her job well means that her network at the firm is always expanding. Harris credits the collaborative environment at Kellogg — she initially enrolled in the Part-Time MBA Program then transferred to the full-time curriculum — as contributing to her success.  

Though Kellogg students all have exceptional GMAT scores and great credentials, the school is still a melting pot, its community drawn from around the world. “The diversity at Kellogg was a part of the challenge,” Harris says. “Learning how to work with people from entirely different backgrounds, different perspectives can be tough when you don’t speak a common language…figuratively or literally,” Harris says. Similarly, the Player’s Workshop program was diverse, with actors ranging in age from 22 to 63, but all were connected by a shared desire to create and perform something new.

"Improv is a team sport; it's not stand-up," Harris says. "And Kellogg is a team sport too."

Harris later recognized that her improv techniques were transferrable and unexpectedly complemented her Kellogg and professional experience. "I realized that the concepts about 'teamwork' applied to all," she says. Eventually she melded all these talents by becoming the founder, marketing director and a performer for the Chicago-based improvisational theater group The 44th Floor. Formed with colleagues from her training group, the group quickly became known for its unique and diverse qualities. "We were out there having fun, depending on each other, connecting in real time," Harris recalls.

Assets like being confident, thinking on your feet and learning to trust others were reinforced by both places. "You won't learn if you don't try," she says. The school's teamwork culture and experiential learning focus pushed her to experiment. Harris jokes that her Kellogg education not only gave her an MBA but a "PhD in group dynamics," a life skill she considers valuable.

After joining Accenture (formerly Arthur Andersen) in 1987 with a computer science degree, Harris felt she lacked certain business skills, which prompted her to pursue her MBA. "Business school provides you with the toolkit and a chance to practice in a safe environment," she says.

For Harris, the Kellogg experience extended beyond the classroom though. The school has also contributed to her personal relationships: "Going in, you think it's about the education — which of course it is — but it's also about the lifelong connections."

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