Leadership unmasked: How a carefully crafted course load is transforming one MBA student
The Venn diagram between what makes a good distance runner and what makes a successful MBA student has a lot of overlap — and John is sitting right there in the middle. For both endeavors, you have to be focused on both the journey and the goal. You have to be willing to adjust to change. You have to be resilient in the face of obstacles. Most importantly, you have to be able to set your mind, and your choices, to an objective.
John, who expects to graduate in 2024, signed up for his MBA to become a leader. He wanted to learn how to communicate more clearly, share his ideas more effectively and convey his business ideas more convincingly. He wanted to understand how to build an executive presence. It turns out, leadership was already in him. He just needed the opportunity and guidance to hone those skills.
At Kellogg, he found both.
Driving a winning team
John knew he needed to find ways to explore what would come next in his career, and when he found out about the Kellogg Biotech and Healthcare Case Competition, he jumped at the opportunity. He approached four friends who started the program with him and, together, they built a team. They held a mix of healthcare, IT, strategy and marketing experience — and they brought their expertise together to analyze the launch of two effective cholesterol-lowering medications.
It wasn’t easy to fit the competition into their busy schedules, but they made it work. “We all approached this as professionals. We knew how to meet our deliverables and goals in a precise timeframe. We did it during our off hours. Ultimately, it resonated really well with the judging panel,” explained John. Their efforts paid off in a second-prize award.
Buoyed by that experience, John brought a team together again in 2023 to answer the question of how Pfizer should bring its new RSV vaccines to market. It was a clear test for him of how much he’d grown. “Almost a year later, I learned so much about how to effectively present, convey a story, and captivate and engage your audience,” he said. With those skills in hand, the team placed again, beating out teams of full-time students from across the county for a third-place award.
These competitions aren’t just a fleeting moment and a chance to brag. They’re a welcome space for applying classroom lessons to real-world business quandaries, and they’re a chance to grow these skills into expertise. John has used the competition process to develop business savvy that he’s applied to his career.
“The school has really given me a tremendous opportunity to start thinking through and evaluating those opportunities — and actually act upon them,” he said.
That growth didn’t happen by accident. John has been carefully selecting his electives to push his journey forward. He started his MBA with a foundation in what many people call “hard” business skills. He had experience working in finance, analytics and strategy in the healthcare field — and he was good at it. Still, he wanted to grow and improve.
He jumped into the lessons of “Finance II,” which covers the financial knowledge needed to run a firm of any size and pushed him to dig deeper into questions of capital structure, funding decisions, budgeting, project investments and dividend decisions. He took marketing classes to better understand addressable markets and the full-scale process. Most impactful, however, were the classes he chose to build his leadership and real-world business skills.
“Coming into Kellogg, I wanted to develop my ability to communicate, articulate a point and really understand what it means to have an executive presence,” he said. He wanted to gain higher-level strategy and assessment perspectives, having been focused on operations, product development and analytics. At the core, he was searching for a full picture of the biomedical pipeline.
For John, that meant tackling courses like Selling Yourself and Your Ideas with Professor Suzanne Muchin, Medical Technology Financing and Commercialization with Professors Katie Arnold and Evan Norton and Public Economics for Business Leaders: Federal Policy with Professor David Besanko.
“I’ve really been able to learn from Kellogg how to craft an effective story,” John said, citing Selling Yourself and Your Ideas course as the foundation of that development. He had experience evaluating data, analyzing a business strategy and doing due diligence, but he wanted to know how to better develop a point of view around a topic and tailor his messaging in a way that resonated with his peers and leadership. The course taught him how to show up, stand out and break through in the business world. John took those lessons to heart — and he did so well in the class, he’s now a TA.
He found more real-world lessons in the Medical Technology Financing and Commercialization course. There, he worked closely with a company building an app designed to facilitate the NICU-to-home transition for babies. He and his team developed a pitch presentation, took executive meetings and shared tools to help the business evolve. “It’s great because you’re able to pressure test different ideas that you have and think them through in a relatively low-stakes environment,” he explained. Even with the low stakes, the work is high impact. The app will empower parents to get their babies home thriving, and John and his team helped the business on its path to true viability.
Finally, John stepped out of his comfort zone and signed up for Public Economics for Business Leaders: Federal Policy, a course that ended up being one of his favorites in his MBA course load. There, he and a small group of students were pushed to critically analyze policy decisions and get to their roots. “It gave me a lot of the tools necessary to strip away the complexity and really understand what’s at the heart of a public policy initiative,” he said. The course changed his entire evaluative framework — a lesson he never expected to take away from it.
A schedule that fits
None of this could have happened, however, if John couldn’t fit it into his life. Like most part-time MBA students, he understands all too well the balance he needs to strike as he navigates his personal, professional and academic responsibilities. The customizable program at Kellogg, where he can choose where, when, how and what he’s studying makes it all work.
“It’s just been phenomenal because it’s allowed me to figure out strategically how my schedule might look in a given quarter and what classes I should take to complement that schedule,” he explained.
He’s changed as he’s gone along, sometimes sacrificing his weekends to make space for other needs in his life, sometimes taking one class during the day and one class during the evening. During a season of global strategy planning at his work, he shifted his courses to better accommodate the needs of his colleagues around the world. When he knows he’ll have to be in closer contact with his West Coast colleagues, he moves his classes to morning sessions.
“Kellogg has been really flexible for me, and I’ve had very few conflicts. It just requires more foresight and planning,” said John. “It’s almost like a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book.”
John came to Kellogg to grow — grow his business communication skills, grow his ability to strategize and grow into an impactful leader. He wasn’t sure where he would end up when he started — and he still isn’t. He’s been bringing the lessons he’s learned from his MBA program into his current role, and he’s expanding his experience there just as he’s expanding it in his academic journey.
“My time at Kellogg has been about self-discovery,” he said. “Being tapped into the thought leaders, professors and the things I’m learning from my classmates has really colored what I might want to accomplish long term. It’s also given me an avenue to start pursuing those things.”
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