Beyond the Classroom: How I’ve Applied SOM Learnings Throughout My Career
It’s been 21 years since I got my MBA from the Yale School of Management, where I finished with concentrations in strategy and marketing (because we had concentrations back then!). Since then, I’ve stayed connected to the school through meetings, judging a business case competition, and most recently through Yale’s Women on Boards executive education program.
Over the past two decades, I have applied my education to a rewarding career. After leaving SOM, I spent five years in credit card product strategy and marketing at American Express, thanks to a SOM summer internship. I then spent 10 years at Mastercard, where I developed and launched small business credit card products in the United States, Latin America and Asia.
In 2015, I left the payments industry to join a fertility company as Managing Director of Financial Services. I then moved back into payments, and in my most recent position was senior vice president of payment networks and strategic partnerships at Synchrony, a financial services company. And along the way, I learned to fly, becoming a private pilot with over 350 hours, which I’ve used to explore 12 states from the air…so far.
Of course, my SOM classes contributed to my success. But beyond that, my experiences at Yale taught me three life lessons that I have applied throughout my career:
- Never stop learning: At SOM, I learned the importance of keeping an eye on the future, anticipating change and driving innovation to grow a business and beat the competition. This mindset has been crucial in product development. For example, at Mastercard, I developed various products, some of which monetized Mastercard’s vast data reserves. It was innovative and unusual in 2011, way ahead of its time. And it paid off: we grew a product suite’s revenue by 100% year-on-year.
Learning can come from many sources. When I returned to campus in 2018 with a fellow Synchrony executive and Yale alumnus to judge a SOM business competition, I was inspired by the teams’ creativity and professional presentations. And I learned by playing the role of a potential investor how to evaluate potential products and businesses from their point of view. Plus, it was rewarding to give back to the students and the school.
I also continued to learn as a pilot, not just in the sky, but lessons that translate into corporate leadership: Develop a plan, but consider possible obstacles and challenges that might mean you need of a plan B. Keep a vision in mind, but don’t forget the details. Stay focused, but aware of your surroundings and other people in them. Manage multiple activities, but know at a glance which are crucial and which are not. Keep your goal in mind, but be flexible about how to achieve it. Don’t let fear hold you back. Everything applicable in the cockpit and in leadership positions!
- Say yes to new opportunities: While my MBA focused on marketing and strategy, over the past two decades I’ve worked for six different companies in multiple roles with different goals. In some cases, I jumped into new areas. But each time I made a change, I found the benefits outweighed the risks. I gained experience and expanded my expertise by immersing myself in small business products; leading the ideation, development, commercialization and launch of numerous products; and the creation of strategic partnerships with major customers to generate orders of magnitude increase in profitability. All because I said yes!
Here’s a great example: In 2015, when my career was focused on payments, I embarked on what would become one of my most rewarding experiences: leading the financial services business unit at Integremed Fertility, the most large network of fertility centers in North America. Compared to other industries, fertility can be deeply emotionally fulfilling: new parents would bring their babies to the office and we would cry together over the miracle of this new little life! So far no one has come into my office to thank me and cry over an innovative new credit card. I guess there is still time…! But beyond the emotional fulfillment, I learned how to manage a business unit, including everything from customer service to product operations to accounts payable. And I managed a P&L of $300 million. I will never regret taking on this role and the opportunities and ideas it gave me.
- Stay connected and make connections for others: This is one of the many things I learned from Senior Associate Dean Jeff Sonnenfeld when I took his course in 2001, and he reinforced both of these points when he hosted the recent Women on Boards program, drawing leveraged the insights gained through its strong network to ask some of the deepest questions our country, our economy, and our world need. The Board course involved women from multiple countries, industries and backgrounds, all eager to contribute through service on boards. We learned from Jeff and other instructors and speakers, including one of my idols, Indra Nooyi ’80. The connections we made were meaningful and lasting.
Finally, while at Yale, I co-led an MBA for Women group that allowed me to build relationships and help open doors for other female students, and ignited my passion for advocacy. diversity, especially for women in the workplace. I applied that experience to Mastercard, where I founded and co-led the company’s first employee resource group, the Women’s Leadership Network. In eight years, the network has spread to several countries with more than 1,600 members. It has been an honor to play a role in connecting so many great women leaders.