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In this series, we celebrate the truly impressive and diverse students who recently joined Kellogg’s Evening & Weekend Program. Today, we’re excited to introduce (from left): Tony Zhu (Venture Associate, Clean Energy Trust); Colby Pendley (Finance Director, Business Development at Walgreens); and Monica Martens (Manager, The Chicago Public Education Fund). 

What are you most proud of in your professional journey? How did it shape who you are as a leader? 

Tony Zhu: Having gotten a relatively traditional undergraduate business degree in finance and economics, I came out of college stuck in a mindset of following a well-trodden career path on Wall Street. After a year of trying and failing to reconcile this with my personal interests and passions, I did a lot of self-reflection and realized I needed to cast aside the predispositions I had and create my own success by leveraging what I genuinely cared about. I’m proud to have gone through this process, and to have found my passion and career fit in my current role at venture capital firm working with early stage cleantech entrepreneurs. Breaking free of my biased career expectations has led me to appreciate and build connections with others who are genuinely passionate about what they do, which in turn makes my job of identifying worthwhile investment prospects much easier and more fun.

Colby Pendley: Throughout my career, I’ve continued to get feedback that one of my biggest strengths is building and leading highly engaged teams and I’m incredibly proud of that. There is a lot of focus on building relationships in the workplace, but compassion is genuinely caring for those around you and acting upon it. I have always been taught that you never fully understand or appreciate the impact that you have on others. My most treasured times in my career are when I have been able to coach direct reports and champion them, even when that meant they would ultimately outgrow my team. Having a role in someone else’s development and success is often far more rewarding than my own journey.

Monica Martens: One of my proudest moments was when I launched a public-private partnership to provide over 500 students in Chicago Public Schools with the resources to earn a livable wage by the age of 25. This first-of-its-kind initiative launched a series of city-wide policies and grants for workforce development in Chicago. Not only did this project expose me to the world of education and corporate responsibility, but this initiative helped solidify my love of making a real social impact with my career.

As an incredibly accomplished and very busy professional, why was now the right time to get your MBA? Why was Kellogg the right school? 

TZ: I was lucky to have been exposed to enough people and companies early on in my career that I was able to quickly identify that my passion for working with early-stage entrepreneurs on climate solutions would be the primary driver for my career going forward. An MBA was the natural next step for me in honing my skills and developing as a leader within this space, and I was drawn to Kellogg in particular because of its world-class community of faculty, students and alumni. I did a lot of networking within this community before applying and the learning environment that I heard about from these connections was exactly what I was looking for.

CP: Getting my MBA has been a goal of mine since early on in my career. While there is never a perfect time to take on an additional challenge, I am pursuing my MBA now to focus on my personal growth. Through becoming a CFA charterholder, I was able to refine my technical skills, but I believe an MBA can help round out my leadership and management skills. Kellogg’s mission is focused on developing brave leaders and the emphasis it places on inspiring growth in both the people and the organization aligned with my personal values.

MM: Honestly, there was probably never going to be the perfect time to get an MBA, especially while managing work, extracurriculars and everyday life.  But when confronted with the realities of being trapped at home during a global pandemic, I saw it as perfect time to stop making excuses and submit my application. Kellogg, however, was always an easy choice. I think I started attending information sessions over five years ago and continued to fuel my obsession through networking breakfasts, coffee dates, meet and greets and class visits. Kellogg students always felt like those super smart friends you could build genuine relationships with and who would always be looking out for your professional and personal development.

In your short time at Kellogg, how has your experience so far impacted your professional and/or personal growth?  

TZ: It’s been a bit of an adjustment getting back to a school setting while balancing a full-time job, but being in the Kellogg learning environment has taught me a lot about keeping my eyes and ears open and treating every opportunity as a learning opportunity. I’ve met many others within Kellogg in my first quarter, be it through a formal class setting, group work, or informal (virtual) coffee chats. I have learned something new from each of these interactions. I’ve been able to build an incredibly diverse network through these connections and I’m looking forward to meeting everyone else!

CP: Although it is early on in my Kellogg experience, I’ve already had the opportunity to build and expand my network. Every classmate has a unique background and experience that adds to the class discussion. No one approaches a problem or case the same way or with the same rationale. Hearing their differing perspectives and examples has already impacted how I view and approach situations at work.

MM: Kellogg has been amazing so far (even virtually!). To my surprise, I have built some meaningful friendships even in my first quarter and we’ve only met on Zoom (the in-person happy hour is coming!). All my professors have done a great job of adjusting content for the virtual space and clubs have gone above and beyond to make you feel welcome. Though it goes without saying, I am excited to eventually be back on campus and meet my Summer Knights 2020 cohort in person.

COVID-19 has changed how we learn, engage and grow. What have you learned or gained –that you might not have otherwise – during this time? 

TZ: COVID-19 has led me to discover for myself that there is a highly inverse correlation between stress level and the amount of time spent enriching my day-to-day with hobbies, family interactions and other personal interests. Being in a pandemic environment and working from home has opened up a lot of time previously spent on relatively low-productivity tasks (like being stuck in traffic on public transportation) in exchange for spending time on myself and with loved ones. In tough times like this, I think it’s more important than ever to be productive and proactive towards mental health.

CP: COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives in many different ways. For me, I’ve learned that dealing with ambiguity is a strength of mine. As a people leader, I haven’t had all the answers for my team. However, I’ve been focused on listening to their questions and concerns and having an open dialogue. We’ve been able to overcome and adapt to the different challenges thrown our way. COVID-19 also reinforced the importance of maintaining connections. It’s easy to get lost in email and endless conference calls and forget the importance of the informal hallway run-ins and lunches added to overall engagement. At work, we use virtual social gatherings to ensure we’re checking in on a personal level and have some fun each week. At Kellogg, the breakout rooms during virtual lectures and group projects have allowed us to meet new people and build relationships quickly despite the remote learning environment.

MM: I agree, COVID really has impacted us all in profound ways. However, when I reflect on the past six months, I really think about COVID-19’s disproportional effects on Black and Brown communities. Throughout the past few months, the Black Lives Matter movement has challenged my thinking and has taught me more about myself and the ways I want to lead others, both at Kellogg and in my career. Through these experiences, I’ve learned and seen how the power of both people and corporations can work towards real, systemic change through intentional investments, programs and practices.