An MBAi student combines business, design/UX & tech to approach innovation
Alfredo Sone ’23 MBAi is one of the 45 students who make up the inaugural class of the MBAi Program. Ahead of his graduation in December, he shares what about the program appealed to him the most, how the program is supporting his upcoming career plans and imparts advice to incoming Kellogg students.
Tell us a little bit about your professional background and what motivated you to get an MBA at this point in your career.
I graduated from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (PUC) with a bachelor’s degree in engineering. I started my professional career at Copec, a company that operates gas stations and convenience stores in Chile, Central America and the United States.
At Copec, I was part of the Digital Innovation team where I worked first as a software engineer designing and developing products and services, and then as a zero-to-one product manager. In this role, I led a team in finding, building and launching new products and business units.
I enjoyed bringing these concepts to reality but felt that to increase my impact, I needed to learn more about the business side of innovation. It takes more than just creativity to make a successful product: you need strategy to know when there is too much risk or too little synergy, operations to get the execution right, finance to know if the numbers don't add up, and so on.
I thought business school was the place to learn some of these skills and to understand how companies beyond the fuel industry approach innovation. That is what motivated me to get an MBA.
Why did you apply to the MBAi program rather than the more conventional two-year?
When I was researching business schools, I looked for programs that would allow me to develop my strategic and leadership skills but that wouldn’t get me too far away from the tech environment I was working in. I think digital tools are providing and will continue to provide the toolkit to solve not only business problems but also the big challenges we face like climate, health, and education, so it’s crucial to understand how they work and how to build them.
The MBAi Program offered exactly that. Being a program from both the Kellogg School of Management and McCormick School of Engineering, it had courses on business and management like strategy and marketing, and technical courses like machine learning and computational thinking as part of the core curriculum. If I wanted to dive deeper into a certain topic, I could also take electives like blockchain fundamentals or robotics.
Another thing that motivated me is that, in my opinion, artificial intelligence will be one of the most impactful of these tools. No one knows this for sure, but the fact that Northwestern took a risk and launched this MBA + AI program shows that the school is convinced that AI is going to change critical facets of our economy and society. I liked this and thought it was a great opportunity to learn as much as I can about interacting in this space while at the same time getting my MBA degree.
What are the things you liked the most about the program?
The first is that I had the chance to develop other interests. At Kellogg, you can definitely learn more about topics you are interested in. For me, one of them is cognitive sciences.
I became interested in artificial intelligence because it combines brain science and computer science. From electives to in-class discussions, I got to learn more about the state of AI in simulating human memory, knowledge representation and emotions. Some of my favorite conversations were on how people make decisions with Professor Steven Franconeri and how biased models can lead to discriminatory outputs with Professor Adam Waytz.
The second is the people I met. This you might find in almost all the blog posts about business schools’ programs, but believe me, the MBAi was different. It may have been because we were the inaugural MBAi class or because of the niche feeling you get when you’re a group of 45 within the 500+ people class, but we formed a great group of amazing and very accomplished friends with whom I shared most of the best moments of my MBA journey.
What other activities did you engage in while in your program?
I participated as a director in the Innovation and Design Association (IDEA), and in The Garage @ Northwestern. Both were great resources and provided experiential opportunities in the innovation field. Other clubs that I liked a lot being part of were the tennis and the soccer teams. They were a fun way to keep me active, meet some cool people and even travel representing the school in MBA tournaments.
Outside of school, I think the “extracurriculars” I most enjoyed were “Tech Thursdays” held with a few of my other MBAi friends. We met once every week for breakfast, and one of us had to make a presentation about a topic of interest.
It was a great way to catch up, practice our presentation skills, learn and get one or two chocolate croissants at Cupitol. Some of the highlights include Katie asking us the hard questions on ethics in AI, Lincoln making us a live demo of his AI-based FOREX trading engine, and Kunaal giving us the full scoop about Elon’s acquisition of Twitter.
What are your plans post-MBA and how do you plan to leverage your Kellogg MBA in your career?
After graduation, I will be moving to New York City to work in product at BCG Digital Ventures, the business-building firm of Boston Consulting Group (BCG) where I interned this past summer.
As a product manager, you work at the intersection of business, design/UX and tech; the three things I focused my program on. I am looking forward to connecting key learning moments to experiences while we help the organizations invent, launch and scale visionary businesses.
I think my classmates and faculty will be a great asset to my career. All the connections you make during your MBA add up, and I think the whole Northwestern and Kellogg community that has supported me along the way so far will continue to be an important part of my professional journey.
What advice do you have for incoming Kellogg students?
This is a hard one. I feel that when you’re starting school you get too much advice. This makes you think that there are a lot of things “you should do,” which is overwhelming. It also makes you lose attention to your own purpose.
So first, I would say be intentional. Set your goals and the things you want to achieve, and go for them. I think self-reflection is key to happiness, and the whole business school journey from application to graduation gives you a lot of moments where you can define how personal and professional success looks for you, so take advantage of that.
Second, while it might sound counterintuitive to the first one, be present. During business school, you have a lot of “mini-goals” like applying to clubs, getting an internship, then a full-time job and so on. It’s easy to get lost in goals and 15 months go by so fast, so try to enjoy the journey too.
And third, build relationships. While professional networking is extremely important, being back on campus means that you’re immersed in an environment where a lot of people come seeking to make a difference and where a lot of ideas flow. It’s a great time to make friends, learn from them and be curious together.