Growing as a CEO: How one student is pulling Kellogg lessons into the real world
Some might think that CEOs have no need to pursue an MBA, that CEOs know what they need to know already and don’t have time for academic pursuits. Some might think that if you’ve reached the top of an organization, there’s no place to go.
Not Paul Hilsen. He knows better than that.
Paul, who expects to graduate with his Evening & Weekend MBA in 2023, is the CEO of Compoze Labs, an organization that builds technology solutions for various firms. He came to Kellogg to focus on business strategy and marketing, to become the best CEO for his company and to improve his business along with his education. He knew he had to find the perfect fit to make that happen.
“It couldn’t just be an MBA from anywhere,” he explained. “I had to get it from somewhere that I knew was going to give me the insights, give me the actionable frameworks and lessons learned, that I could use to take our firm to the next level.”
After researching programs, he knew he’d find that at Kellogg.
A schedule that works
There’s a myth that anyone further along in their career — or working hard to develop it — won’t have time for an MBA. Paul believes he’s proof that the thought is, in fact, a myth. He lives in Chicago so he can pursue his MBA, and he runs his company in Minneapolis. He goes back and forth between the cities according to his schedule, and luckily, he can create a schedule that works for him.
“I’m able to schedule my classes around when it’s going to work for me,” Paul said. “I need to be there for my company. I need to be back here for classes.” During times when work is busier, he focuses solely on his coursework and class attendance. During times when work lets up a bit, he dives into the Kellogg experience more deeply, turning it into a program that looks more like a typical full-time program, with added clubs, competitions and social events. He shifts his Kellogg experience to what works for him at the moment, and that looks different depending on the season of his life.
Even with his tight schedule, many obligations and changing business needs, Paul makes it work. “I’m the example that you can make time,” he said.
Paul Hilsen ’23 MBA is leading his own firm, commuting from Minneapolis to Chicago, running regularly and he’s doing it all while in the Kellogg Evening & Weekend MBA Program. Watch Paul’s Kellogg Candids video on his leadership journey: https://t.co/4khbSMVYjw #KelloggLeader pic.twitter.com/1Bvn8Dkax4— Kellogg School (@KelloggSchool) May 8, 2023
Learning from the best
The biggest surprise for Paul, once he started at Kellogg, was just how much he didn’t know.
There was a point when he felt his firm was stagnant and he turned to his professors to get advice. After his past chats in their offices, over coffee and on the phone, he knew they’d be able to help. Paul asked his professors what he was missing — and he discovered that his team was trying to do too much. When he took that advice to heart and started to focus on what his company does best, the business took off.
He’s grateful to gain this knowledge from such expert faculty. “It’s hard not to be blown away from the experience and the backgrounds that these professors bring to Kellogg,” Paul said. These professors are leaders in their fields and they’re bringing their experience, whether that’s setting product pricing for Amazon to capture maximum value or managing tremendous teams at Google, to their Kellogg classrooms. In every class session, every conversation, every question answered, they’re passing along their expertise, and Paul has set out to soak it all in.
Applying the lessons
Kellogg faculty are sharing powerful lessons on business subjects, and Paul knows he’s benefiting tremendously from that instruction. Still, he recognizes that his success is based on so much more than that. He’s gaining insights into approaches that facilitate actual and substantial change in the real world. “It’s not just theory,” he said of his class topics. “It’s not just ‘you should think about this.’ It is frameworks, strategy and concepts that you can apply in your daily job immediately.”
And apply them he has. Since he’s taken the advice of his professors and implemented the strategies he’s learned in his classes, his company has boomed. “It’s been really pivotal in helping us explosively grow as a company,” he said. “When I first started at Kellogg, I had a team of about 15 people, and after two years of being here, that has grown to over 50 people.”
He now sees the value of a Kellogg MBA every day in his work. He only wishes he would have jumped into this endeavor earlier.
“The best time to get an MBA might have been a few years ago, might have been five years ago,” he said. “The second best time to get an MBA is right now.”