Tell us about yourself—job title, company, and current hometown—and what you do in your current job. I graduated from Kelley this past August with my MBA and I work for Nokia (yes, that cell phone company is still around ). They acquired the technology start-up I was at in 2018 to expand their Internet of Things software capabilities. My background is engineering, and I gradually moved from technical engineering to sales engineering, and it was at this point that I wanted to step further into the business world. An MBA was the next logical step. Armed with my MBA and the expansive education it provided, I have completed my journey and I am now a Product Manager at Nokia responsible for cutting-edge software analytics applications.
Why did you pursue an online MBA? Being late to the game (I’m in my mid-30s), with a good job, and with an expecting wife, a full-time program was too big of a disruption to my life. So naturally, I started to look for part-time programs at the local schools in the Denver area. However, a close friend pointed me to Kelley Direct specifically because of his experience with graduates and their rave reviews.
I realized I wouldn’t have to commute to class, after a long day at work, and I could get a better education from a more reputable university online. My research showed that online programs required occasional in-person experiences as well as small classes, over webcam, with the “real” professors at that business school. That sold me.
I said to myself, “hey, I already work remote and spend my meetings over webcam…why not do the same for school too?” So, at this point, I narrowed my school search to just online programs.
Why did you choose Kelley Direct? I have had this conversation with a dozen people already! I chose Kelley because it was the leader in the three requirements I set: overall reputation, quality of online education, and price. Kelley is a top business school, and they are the best at delivering an online curriculum. And being a large, public school, they are also more affordable that many of their comparable competitors. Nokia gives employees a generous stipend for continuing education, but it is a fixed amount. I am responsible for anything above their limit, so this decision factored in financial ROI too.
How would you describe your experience in the program? Immersive, rewarding, and perhaps the best investment of time and resources that I have ever made. I went into the program with the mindset that adding this degree to my resume would open doors and qualify me for more roles purely because “MBA” was listed. Instead, this degree has qualified me for more roles because of the knowledge I now have. KD has enabled me to question the status quo and contribute to crucial company decisions on a daily basis. This program established the foundation I needed to advance professionally and personally.
Besides the professional aspect, the bonds that I have built also surprised me. The new relationships with the many like-minded people in my cohort has been far better than I ever expected.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far? The most valuable thing is probably the collective understanding of how and why the first priority of any business is to deliver value to the customer. It’s the transformation of my thought process to first consider the business implications (why) of every decision, before my engineering mind thinks only about how something could be done, irrespective of why you would even do it.
The valuable items that I use at work are the pricing tools and the strategy tools that I am now armed with. These are critical for shaping me into an effective Product Manager.
What have been some of your favorite courses and faculty members? Why? My favorite content tended to be during the latter parts of the curriculum where we have some choices over electives. Also, you start applying the learnings of the foundational courses to these electives which shows how connected the different business topics can be.
The three that come to mind are the ones that align the most with my product management role because I immediately applied what I learned:
- Performance Driven Pricing with Rockney Walters provides incredible insight into how to price products. In fact, I used Rock’s teaching to re-price my product entirely for which I received a lot of praise from management.
- Developing Strategic Capabilities with Trent Williams taught vital strategy crucial to developing new products. At work, I get to start a new product line from scratch, and I will use every bit of Trent’s content in this effort.
- Business Marketing Strategy and Management with Josh Gildea is an end-to-end “how to be a product manager course.” If you have any interest in product management, THIS is the course to take!
These three courses are tops in my book, not only for their content, but because of how excellent Rock, Trent and Josh are at instructing. I cannot give enough praise for the combination of content and instruction they provided. I reference their course material week after week.
What experiences (Kelley Connect Week, global and domestic immersions, online classes, etc.) have you enjoyed most? I enjoyed the entire experience, especially since many classes are so interactive. However, the highlights are the in-person events where you are face-to-face with your peers. Both Kelley Connect Weeks were a never-ending rush of work, fun, and definitely a little stress. We formed bonds that will last a lifetime. In addition, I also went on an Entrepreneurial and Innovation Immersion course to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) with Prof Regan Stevenson. We took a focused look at disruptive technology in consumer markets. This was a wonderful combination of (virtual) in-class preparatory work, almost a week of in-person time in Las Vegas, and an atypical course experience as we worked with start-ups to create ideas to improve their CES experience for the Consumer Technology Association. It was an innovative and rewarding way to complete an elective.
How are you building your network in a virtual setting? Staying in close contact with ongoing group chats, having occasional Zoom happy hours just to see each other’s’ faces again, and even promoting each other on platforms like LinkedIn. It’s a natural continuation of our already virtual class setting, where we substitute in-person interactions with webcam interactions.
How are you balancing your coursework with working, family, etc.? It was a challenge from a time perspective, and I was fortunate to have a supporting wife! We actually had our first child during my time in the program and I remember watching an Accounting class recording in our hospital room. The key is to plan, plan, and plan some more! Time is a scarce resource already for many of us.
Fortunately, I work remote, so I didn’t have 1-2 hours of my time devoted to commuting. A typical day was often work, class, family time, and then homework time after the family went to bed…and then repeat the next day.
How has Kelley Direct impacted your career? Have you advanced or changed jobs? I was promoted; not because I had an MBA now on my resume, but because I applied my Kelley education to my work and our leadership recognized this and gave me more control over our products. Specifically, my experience with KD allowed me to home in and focus on specific gaps in our flagship product and succinctly strategize on what, how, and when to fix these gaps. Inspired and driven by my Kelley education, I spoke up and presented my opinions professionally, in a way that would not be possible without the MBA. With this, I was instantly promoted to manage this product. This has set me up for a bright future in Product Management!
What sets the Kelley Direct Online MBA apart from other programs? KD stands out because of the emphasis on the student experience and how Kelley strives to create an environment that parallels an in-person experience. With the same professors, the same curriculum, the same degree, and many in-person opportunities, it is truly a better alternative for many of us than a normal night school program. You don’t sacrifice a thing by having it “online.” I think this pandemic has shown that we can be just as effective and productive in a virtual setting; and KD is the archetype of this.