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There are times when you know what you want but are not sure how you’ll get there. Audrey Kohout ‘20 MBA and Jessica Palfrey ‘20 MBA are key examples of this. Both women are natural-born leaders with the drive and knowledge to steer a company to success, but the path to lead a company as CEOs was not as clear. Upon graduation, the friends went their separate ways not knowing that their careers would soon intersect as a result of a remarkable opportunity. 

The newly minted CEOs talk in-depth about how their MBAs provided them with the knowledge and relationship to work together to acquire and build an existing brand.
Kellogg: What can you share about your experiences at Kellogg that prepared you for the C-suite?
Jessica Palfrey (JP): Being a CEO means being able to wear many different hats at the drop of a dime — all while supporting your team. Even when things get hard, the company looks to you to remain calm, make logical decisions and guide those around you. Kellogg provided us with many frameworks and experiences to help us lead.

As a Zell Fellow, I received hands-on mentorship and learned the ins and outs of entrepreneurship even before I graduated which was an incredible experience! Beyond learning basic business tactics, I’ve found that the life skills I discovered from my time at Kellogg are really what elevates my leadership thinking. 

Kellogg provides the space and time to reflect and develop our own skills as leaders. The program makes it easy to identify personal strengths and weaknesses in order to grow into a strong manager even before entering the workforce. Having a solid foundation and understanding of my motivators and limitations, as well as how they show up in my values and actions, has completely changed the way I approach leadership. It’s also why Audrey and I work so well together as co-CEOs — we recognize our individual strengths yet have similar values that allow us to complement each other’s work.
Audrey Kohout (AK): I completely agree with Jessica. Being a good leader is something that can’t necessarily be taught from a textbook but the approach at Kellogg helped develop my leadership style as I was able to learn from my professors and my peers. The school does an excellent job of combining coursework with real life examples. One of the most impactful courses I took was Organizational Growth and Transformation with Dean Sally Blount, who discussed leading change in organizations. I draw on this class nearly every day as Jessica and I lead the company forward.
Luggage Forward is at the intersection of logistics, technology and consumer travel. We have to take a multidisciplinary approach to our short and long-term planning. Thankfully, my path at Kellogg was also very multidisciplinary, even though I didn’t fully understand how these varied courses would necessarily help me at that time. At Kellogg, I gravitated towards courses that blended strategy, finance and marketing – all of which have been instrumental in helping me climb the learning curve in a new industry and lead Luggage Forward.
“Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition is an incredibly rewarding and unique journey where you can find a company; an industry; a team and investors whose approach and goals align with your own.”
jessica  Palfrey ’20 MBA
Two-Year MBA Program

How did you come across Luggage Forward and what are some lessons learned from your experiences in Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition (ETA)?

JP: I always considered ETA a really interesting and effective way into leadership. Kellogg fostered that spark even further through the Zell Fellows Program and with the resources they provided. We got to see the multiple approaches to entrepreneurship (venture-based and acquisition-based) and evaluate how each fits with our personal and professional strengths and needs.  

ETA is an incredibly rewarding and unique journey where you can find a company; an industry; a team and investors whose approach and goals align with your own and sets you up for success as a first-time CEO.
AK: Prior to grad school and meeting each other, Jessica and I were both gaining experience in different industries, figuring out what we liked and what we didn’t and making connections. I was working at Target and Jessica was climbing her way up the ladder at a private equity firm. We were on completely different paths and neither of us ever expected to end up in the luggage shipping industry, but life has a funny way of working itself out.
While I was researching companies that support the growing interest in adventure travel, I connected with the founders of Luggage Forward, who had successfully built and led the company for 17 years. What began as a casual conversation quickly became a formal acquisition offer. After learning more about the company and the tremendous opportunities it had, I was all in. While I don’t have a background in travel, I knew my experience in the consumer and technology industries would lend nicely to the evolution we saw ahead.

Once you are all in on ETA, embrace the journey, be curious and be open to surprises along the way. Your skill set, background and interests may lead you somewhere you never knew existed. That was our journey. We are still learning every day, but I’m so excited about what lies ahead.

What are your aspirations for Luggage Forward as you begin as co-CEOs?

AK: One of the reasons we were drawn to Luggage Forward is that it has a solid and successful foundation. We are lucky to join an experienced team, a loyal client base and existing partnerships with leading travel brands such as Vail and Viking. 

The basic mission of the company is to provide convenience and reliability for our client’s travel. Building and strengthening partnerships with leading travel providers is a big focus of mine.   

Longer term, Luggage Forward is a market leader in the global luggage shipping space. We are excited to continue to innovate in our industry with new technology and service offerings for our partners and clients.
What excites you about the fast-changing travel industry as it continues to transform post-pandemic?

JP: The industry is defined by people who want to share the joy of travel, and we are all working together to provide the traveler the best possible experience. Moreover, we are already shipping all over the world and I love inspiring travelers to enjoy unique experiences. This process lets us tap into our creativity and solve new challenges while working with diverse people and cultures. 

In addition, support of these travelers also means new jobs in local communities which is extremely rewarding. Bringing on new inbound tour operators to help plan authentic travel experiences for our clients is one of our favorite parts of the job so far.
“I loved my time in the classroom, but the Kellogg community opened doors and exposed us to even greater opportunities after school.”
Audrey  Kohout ’20 MBA
Two-Year MBA Program

 Any advice for business professionals considering an MBA and Kellogg in particular?

JP: Spend time learning about and reflecting on different paths that are out there. It’s okay to scout out options and decide what works best for you. You’ll never have a better time set aside to ask questions and learn about new opportunities. Take advantage of the school’s network and all of the diverse experiences they have to offer!

I loved my time in the classroom, but the Kellogg community opened doors and exposed us to even greater opportunities after school. Jessica and I had wonderful support from the Kellogg community in setting up our initial searches and in ultimately acquiring Luggage Forward. And we might even have gained a few new Luggage Forward clients along the way!

Read next: My passion, my path: Pursuing entrepreneurship through acquisition