Changing cities and careers: Q&A with Barbara Lee, MBA 2020

Why did you choose the Full-time MBA program at the UW Foster School of Business?

Barbara LeeI chose to come to Foster for a mix of practical and experiential reasons. Practically, I thought the program offered tremendous value.  The tuition is affordable, and the program has one of the best job placement rates compared to nearly all the top 20 programs in the country.  The school’s connection with the regional business community also runs wide and deep, which surprisingly is not always the case for other programs in major metropolitan areas. More experientially, however, I could see myself being a part of the city and community. I chose to pursue my MBA a bit later than the average MBA student (9 years work experience vs. 5 years). I am also married and have two dogs, so it was very important that I end up somewhere my family also saw themselves living in.  Lucky for me, my husband and dogs loved Seattle. What sealed the deal was Welcome Weekend.  My husband joined me for the visit, and we hit it off so well with the other admitted students that a group of us went out after the 90’s party to hang out in Capitol Hill (a popular night-life area in Seattle). The students I met then are still my closest friends in the program.

Student Experience

Are you a member of any student organizations?

The most formative experiences I’ve had so far are thanks to my involvement in the diversity student organizations such as Diversity in Business, Out in Business, and Women in Business.  When I started the MBA journey, it was important for me to place a growth goal for myself not only professionally, but personally.  Diversity and inclusion in business is a particular passion of mine, so I wanted to put myself in contexts where I could develop myself as a leader with an inclusionary mindset.  By serving as a first-year rep for Diversity in Business and Out in Business, I was able to learn so much about active allyship through our annual ally training, panel/speaker events and by attending the Reaching Out MBA Conference (ROMBA).  Through these clubs, I was also able to connect with great organizations doing diversity work in Seattle.  For instance, while volunteering at the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA) annual gala, I helped (as an auction runner) the organization raise over $1M in a span of two hours for its LGBTQ scholarship fund!

Curriculum

What has surprised you about the MBA experience?

Before I started my MBA, I thought students in MBA programs all knew what they wanted in terms of career and were all a certain archetype (driven, type A, ambitious, etc.).  This made the pre-MBA journey a bit intimidating because when I was applying to schools, there were many aspects of my career goals and life that I was still unsure about.  I was surprised to find that more people were like me in that they were hoping to learn and discover new skills and aspects about themselves they did not know existed.  I think many people considering MBAs want something more than what they are getting in their current career/industry.  In that sense, the MBA is more like a launching pad for you to find out what you’re made of, what you want, and where you want to go.  I was also surprised to find how different everyone in the MBA program truly was. We are all certainly driven and ambitious, but so many of my classmates have a hunger to learn and develop themselves.  As talented as we may be with skills we gained from our previous careers, I’m convinced deep inside all of us know there are more things we can learn–and that we can be better.  To that end, I was pleasantly surprised to realize how open and receptive we all are to feedback, not because we feel deficient, but because we all want to grow.

Describe your experience with the team aspect MBA program.

Your first quarter team will always be the most impactful.  At Foster, the first fall quarter team assignment is something you as a student have no control over. I still remember vividly when I found the missing puzzle pieces (literally) to my fall quarter team during orientation. We had almost nothing in common as a group! This posed challenges and opportunities for us as we went through the quarter, but overall, by the end of the quarter, I had tremendous respect for my teammates.  It’s easy working together with people you naturally get along with. However, learning how to work together with people different from you in every way is when you truly grow as a team player and leader.  If it wasn’t for this team, I would not appreciate and enjoy nearly as much the differences that make all of my classmates unique.

Faculty

What are your impressions of the faculty?

The faculty so far have been amazing! I knew coming in that the business school was known for its research, but I was pleased to learn how much each professor cared about our learning. Even if you are not interested in every single subject taught, the professors put in a lot of effort to make the material engaging and accessible to students from all backgrounds. There are also opportunities to get to know our faculty off-line. For instance, some of my classmates had the chance to grab drinks with our economics professor, Philip Bond, and do crossfit with our accounting professor, Ed deHaan. We also have a tradition of doing potluck dinners with our fall quarter core faculty. This quarter, I’m hosting an Island-themed potluck for Dan Turner, who is both our marketing professor and assistant dean.

Career Impact

What are you planning to pursue post MBA?

This summer, I’ll be joining the global investment banking division of RBC Capital Markets as a summer associate. My goal is to go into investment banking full time post-MBA.  Foster is not a traditional IB school, but the career management center helped me tremendously in honing my story and many of the behavioral questions to prepare me for my interviews.  The big picture “why” questions are often the hardest to answer in a compelling and understandable way, particularly for a career switcher like me.  All the reps I put in doing mock interviews early in the summer and fall paid dividends when I was talking to recruiters at conferences and my interviewers. For more technical questions, I was able to leverage second year students who recruited for IB. Because there are not that many of us, those in the group were very helpful by volunteering time, practice and support.

Are you planning on changing industries or job functions?

Career changing even in an MBA program takes a lot of hard work.  Many people underestimate this. The key to doing this successfully, at least based on my own experience, is to understand what your brand is and networking early with alumni, recruiters, and employees in roles and at companies you want to end up. It’s one thing to sit in your room alone and develop your brand, but does your story and brand jive in an engaging way for others too? This is where the MBA program, and particularly, career management comes in.  By beta testing my stories, brand essence examples with my career coaches, I was able to refine and improve them to get them ready for the recruiting market. Most recruiters know that MBA students are in school to develop hard skills, so lacking in technical expertise is not so much of an issue as knowing who you are and why you’d add value to a specific role. It doesn’t have to be linear, but it must make sense and be compelling. The best analogy I can think of is every admitted student is a great slab of marble and the MBA program chisels you down to become a beautiful sculpture.  However, it is up to you to decide whether you want to be a Michelangelo or Jeff Koons.

Work / Life / School Balance

What’s your #1 tip for someone considering an MBA?

Go when you’re ready and with the right expectations.  If you’re not sure, talk to more people. Prepare and apply early.

Social Life

What is the most fun or enjoyable aspect of the program?

One of the first social events I went to after joining the Foster community was this amazing boat party hosted by the class of 2019 during the summer.  Seattle summers are truly extraordinary; the days are long, and it doesn’t get too hot. We grilled on the boat and swam/floated around Lake Washington with Mt. Rainer in the backdrop. Also, part of the perks of going to a school with a Division 1 football team is going to sailgates, which I learned is a uniquely Seattle thing.  I also had a chance to watch the Huskies play in the Rose Bowl this year, which was really fun!

Seattle

Describe your interactions with the Seattle business community.

Foster has great ties with the Seattle business community, and I was surprised to encounter so many alumni either from the MBA program, or even undergraduate program, wanting to give back to the school and students.  I am part of the executive mentorship program, and one of my mentors is the CEO of a pet food/product company based in Seattle. Learning about his experience working in financial services and eventually pivoting to run his own company offers inspiration and practical insight that you can’t get in a classroom.  Also, Foster is very intentional about providing an experiential learning environment through the applied strategy program that’s offered Winter and Spring quarter. Many of the clients participating in this program are firms headquartered in Seattle; some are as large as Amazon and others are smaller family-owned firms with a 100+ year history working in the Pacific Northwest.