Equipping business leaders for success in AI
The MBAi joint degree program between Kellogg and the McCormick School of Engineering is where business innovation and technology meet. Courses are geared toward deepening knowledge between the disciplines and allow forward-thinking leaders to gain hands-on experience through its unique, blended approach curriculum. In 15 months, students can earn an MBA in addition to immersing themselves in a full-time summer internship. Jake Reiner ’23 MBAi and Katie Williamson ’23 MBAi are students from the program’s inaugural cohort, and they recently shared their experiences ahead of their convocation ceremony this December, why it’s important to ask the right questions and career plans upon graduation.
What motivated you to take your career to the next level with MBAi Program?
Jake Reiner (JR): The timing just felt right for me. I had only been in the workforce for three years (a short time for a prospective MBA student), but I had already seen multiple instances of the disconnect between business and technology. I had always been technical and wanted to build out the business side of my professional skills and was excited by the opportunity to do so back in Evanston and as a part of the first cohort!
Katie Williamson (KW): In my previous role, I had the opportunity to explore the power that advanced analytics could have in solving business – or even societal – challenges, and I was looking for a way to complement my real-world experience with an academic foundation. I considered a master’s in data science, but it didn’t seem like quite the right fit since I knew I still wanted to stay on the “business” side of the equation. When I saw the MBAi Program at Kellogg, it felt like it was made for me. It focused on exactly the skillsets I wanted to develop and seemed to prepare students for the roles I wanted to play in at the intersection of tech and business. I applied right away!
Over these last five quarters, what knowledge gained have you found to be most useful and why?
JR: I think the best knowledge I’ve gained is a better ability to ask the right questions at the right time. Gaining a better understanding of AI/ML applications that I might encounter in my career has given me valuable skills in asking the right questions to ensure the right problem is being solved the correct way. The core Kellogg courses and my electives in marketing and strategy have given me similar knowledge from an overall business point-of-view, making me a more well-rounded critical and strategic thinker.
KW: I wish I could steal Jake’s answer! Building on his point about asking questions, my biggest takeaway has been to really start with the problem you’re trying to solve and to ask yourself—what's the simplest way to do this? Do we even need AI? Often times the answer is no, and it can be easy to get distracted by the “shiny new toy” allure of advanced technology. That said, the program has also given me a breadth of awareness of the different tools available. So, when the answer to the “do we need AI question” is yes, I’ll know where to turn.
What did you do during your internship and what was one of the most interesting parts of it?
JR: I was an intern with the Customer Analytics and Executive Reporting team at HBO Max. I wasn’t expecting to pivot into media and entertainment when I came to Kellogg, so being in a new industry that I’m so personally passionate about was exciting. It was especially interesting being there during Warner Media’s merger with Discovery and trying to navigate working with stakeholders from two different parent companies.
KW: I worked for an early-stage start-up called Ahura AI. Ahura has developed an “AI virtual tutor” to personalize the online learning process and make upskilling more effective for employers and more accessible to employees. My background is in management consulting for large corporations, so working for such a small, early-stage company was a totally new and exciting experience. While there were many interesting moments, I’d say my biggest learning, especially when you’re working with nascent technology, was the importance of being able to explain what it does in simple terms to attract investors, customers and potential employees.
What advice would you give to someone else wanting to pursue a career in your industry?
JR: Use your networks (Kellogg and otherwise) and don’t be afraid to cold LinkedIn-connect/cold-email! The happiest surprise for me was that individuals in media and entertainment were incredibly kind and helpful and loved to talk about their journeys and roles and the industry, so they were very open to connecting and passing you along to someone else if they felt they were a better connection for me. Also, don’t just stay up to date on the business happenings in the industry; have an opinion about events, news and strategies. This will help separate you from the people who want to work in this industry just because they like movies.
KW: Imposter syndrome is very real, but don’t let it stop you from speaking up. Both in my role before Kellogg and during school, I’ve realized that we often assume people know far more than they do. While expertise is important, many of the best insights don’t come from the person who knows the most in the room—they come from questions and conversation between people. Whether it’s in an interview or on the job, if you have an idea, share it! You never know what you might be missing because you assumed someone else had already thought of it.
Your internship culminated with a one-week immersion in San Francisco. What were some of the most beneficial aspects of this experience?
JR: It was a great trip for several reasons. For one, the group of individuals and companies that we met exceeded expectations. There was great diversity of stage and product that kept each visit interesting. It was also great to see how excited companies like Deloitte, Apple, and Crowdstrike were about the MBAi program and welcome us. And of course, it was really fun getting to see everyone after the summer and get to take this trip together!
KW: To me, one of the most interesting parts about the MBAi program is that there’s no one single role or industry that it’s preparing you for. All the companies we visited are using different AI methods to solve different problems, and their teams are structured in unique ways to reflect that. It was exciting to me to see that, and to really start to imagine how widely applicable the skillsets I’ve developed in the MBAi program will be regardless of where my career takes me.
How do you feel Kellogg prepared you for your post-graduation career plans or goals?
JR: Kellogg opened my eyes to the possibility of a career in M&E and gave me the network to do so successfully. I’m not sure I would’ve even thought of entering the space and definitely would not have had the tools to do so on my own. In terms of my goals, Kellogg has made me a more complete professional and leader. I now feel much more equipped to understand industries and organizations from top to bottom and how to lead effective teams within them.
KW: Kellogg gave me an opportunity to step back from the workforce day-to-day and reflect on the impact I want to have over the course of my career. Taking classes on topics I wouldn’t normally study and attending lunch and learns about industries I have little familiarity with expanding my horizons about what that impact could look like. While I’m returning to my pre-Kellogg company after graduation, I’m doing so with a renewed sense of confidence in how I want to approach my career, and with a network that I’ll be able to turn to with questions when that journey inevitably doesn’t go as planned.
If there’s one thing you could tell yourself at the start of your program a year ago, what would it be?
JR: Be patient! The program is fast and trying to take advantage of all that Kellogg has to offer can seem overwhelming, but after some time you’re better at prioritizing and things tend to fall into place. Recruiting for something that was just-in-time forced me to be patient and keep my eyes on the prize that I cared about, but I was anxious early on to find my social circle and the right clubs and my place in the ecosystem – it all happened soon enough, and being patient was the trick.
KW: Carve out time before the program starts—create various checkpoints along the way— to ask yourself what you specifically want to get out of your time in business school. There are so many things to do at Kellogg, and it’s simply not possible to do them all. First, give yourself some grace for that, and then be relentless in prioritizing what’s important to you, not what’s important to everyone else. Your answer will inevitably change over the course of the 15 months and that’s ok (it’s actually good, because isn’t that why you came?), but it’s critical to take ownership over how you spend your time.