Author: Brooke Van Groningen

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About Brooke Van Groningen

Brooke Van Groningen has been a part of the WashU community since 2016 and is apart of the Olin Marketing and Communications team as an Assistant Brand Manager. She is constantly inspired by the alumni in the Olin community and all that they do to impact the business world. When she is not working, you can find her walking her labradoodle in Tower Grove Park with her husband, exploring new restaurants in the city, or taking a yoga class.


Part of a series of Q&As with Olin BSBA alumni. Today we hear from Elisabeth Conrad, BSBA ’16. Elisabeth has been with Anheuser-Busch InBev in New York City since her graduation.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career? 

I’m the Global Director of Sustainable Brands and Innovation for AB InBev, the world’s leading brewer. I help our brands, including Budweiser, Stella Artois, and Corona, design and communicate sustainable programs. Sustainability is critical to our business and increasingly important to consumers, so we have major opportunities to bring consumers into all the work we do—like when we used this year’s Budweiser Super Bowl ad to promote our commitment to renewable electricity.

My Olin education is critical, especially the strategic thinking. Everything I do now is cross-functional, spanning procurement and supply, to marketing and sales. It’s really system design. I could never have done my role without a holistic foundation.

What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

John Horn was one of the best teachers of my life. His infuriating and enigmatic signature response – “It depends” – is the only constant in an ever-changing corporate landscape. He really taught me how to think about business problems in a holistic way. 

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

I try to keep up with OWIB and with the WCC, especially when they recruit in New York where I live now. It’s very important to me that Olin continues to recruit the best talent, especially women and diverse candidates.

Why is an MBA important?

More than skills training or business knowledge, my MBA taught me how to cope and thrive in challenging, ambiguous climates. It grew my confidence and taught me to focus on adding value, rather than getting the “right” answer and being “perfect.”

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

Your cases put you in the shoes of a CEO. But that doesn’t mean you are a CEO or should be. Let go of the hashtag approach to work and business: focus on learning and striving to be a little bit better every day.




Part of a series of Q&As with Olin BSBA alumni. Today we hear from Joe Piganelli, MBA ’18. Joe now serves as a management consultant with Accenture in St. Louis. Prior to Olin, Joe was a nuclear submarine officer with the US Navy.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

I am a Management Consultant at Accenture in St. Louis.  My Olin MBA opened the pathway to Accenture.  I knew I wanted a career change from the Operations Management in steel fabrication that I was previously involved in.  I didn’t know when I started at Olin, that I would be so strongly interested in consulting.  But, through the experiences of the Platform Speaker Series, and Professor Elfenbein’s Introduction to Business Strategy – I found a new direction.  I was fortunate along with a few other classmates of mine to have the opportunity of an internship with Accenture the summer between academic years.  That internship confirmed that consulting was the career path I wanted to pursue, and that Accenture would be a perfect place for me to be.

What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

My entire second year of the MBA was one big influential moment in my life.  So many people gave of their time and efforts to help me develop as a leader and a person.  Whether it was a professor in the classroom, a fellow student in study groups or an extra-curricular organization, or a community leader outside of the Olin School – the year was absolutely full of growth opportunities.  Three experiences make that year especially memorable: 

1) In the classroom:  Kurt Dirks’ classes – “Power & Politics” and “Defining Moments”.  If any prospective student or 1st year student contemplating next year’s courses is reading this: build your schedule around these two.  The new perspective I have from both of those classes is something I value and can continue to refer back to throughout my career as it progresses. 

2) Participating in Student Led Groups: Having the opportunity to be a member of the Olin Veterans Association (OVA) is an experience that I’ll always be thankful for.  It was highly rewarding and beneficial for all of us military veterans to be part of this organization with such strong links to a supportive alumni network and the St. Louis business community.  The OVA helped us hit the ground running in the classroom with a ‘bootcamp’ before coursework began – and helped us get introduced quickly to different career path opportunities through business leaders in the community. 

3) Experiential Learning – Participating in a Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) project was immensely beneficial and I learned a great deal from that.  Working with community leaders, fellow students, and civic leaders to drill into a deeper level of data and root causes surrounding Veterans in Missouri was a powerful experience that I grew from both personally and professionally.  I recommend anyone who has the opportunity to participate in a CEL project.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

We get together for happy hours every so often.  We also have a class Whatsapp chat that’s still alive.  It’s fun to see posts on Facebook or in that chat when classmates happen to find themselves in different cities for a weekend – or for work – and have the chance to meet up with those of us who have spread to different areas of the country.

Why is an MBA important?

An MBA gives you the information, tools, and most importantly the thinking style to be a leader in business.  If I had to say sum it up into one phrase that would be it.  It means utilizing data to make decisions – being data driven.  But also realizing that the quality of your data needs to be a factor as well.  You also need to appreciate that there can be more to critical decisions than data alone.  Compassion for people that will be affected by decisions is also critical.  Olin teaches all of that and more.  I think differently and approach my work differently because of what I learned at Olin.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

Aside from the couple of things I’ve mentioned above – Don’t spread yourself too thin.  Find the things you are passionate about and devote yourself to those.  The more quickly you find the type of career path you want to pursue – the sooner you’ll be able to focus your time and your energy into building your experience and customizing your preparation for that. 




Part of a series of Q&As with Olin alumni. Today we hear from Nina Gerson, BSBA ’17. Nina works as an investment banking analyst at Union Square Advisors.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

I am currently in my second year as an investment banking analyst at Union Square Advisors, a boutique investment bank that advises technology companies on M&A and late-stage private capital raising. Upon completion of the analyst program this summer, I will be joining CapitalG (formerly known as Google Capital) as an investor on their growth equity team.

I believe having an undergraduate BSBA from Olin helped set me apart from other candidates during recruiting for investment banking. Moreover, Olin’s supportive, close-knit community provided me with the resources to explore and prepare for a career in finance.

Olin has a very entrepreneurial environment. While at Olin, faculty supported me and my peers in our efforts to build out the Washington University Investment Banking Club (WUIB), WUIBWomen and bringing Adventis to campus to teach financial modeling. I cannot stress enough how important it is to take advantage of the opportunity to tap the bright network of students, faculty and staff within Olin for support, ideas and collaboration.

What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

The first class I took at Olin, Management 100, was a defining moment in my college journey. I vividly remember working in a group on a HBS case study on Southwest’s business model. I was drawn to the applied nature of the case study method and the collaborative, group work environment that is present in most of Olin’s classes. Once I was exposed to this method of education, I quickly switched from a pre-law track into the business school.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

Since I graduated two years ago, I have lived in both SF and NYC. Both cities are hubs for Wash U grads and have a great community – both professionally and socially. Olin and its associated professional clubs do a great job of encouraging students to reach out to alumni and I love to hear from current students and stay involved via their outreach.

Why is business education important?

Graduating with a BSBA prepared me for the technical, conceptual and applied aspects of financial concepts that we work with on a daily basis in investment banking. In addition, my classmates and I received the gift of a national professional network that we can tap post-graduation, an opportunity most students only have after earning an MBA.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

Seize the years you have at Wash U and in Olin. Olin’s students, faculty and staff are eager to mentor, advise, collaborate and support each of you. This is a special moment where you have an incubated environment of striving individuals with similar goals and hopes as your own. I encourage you to use this time to explore your personal and professional ambitions to the fullest.




Suzana Deng

Part of a series of Q&As with Olin alumni. Today we hear from Suzana Deng, BSBA ’17. Suzana is an eCommerce Analyst at Nestle, the world’s largest food and beverage company.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

I am an eCommerce Analyst at Nestle, helping to grow and optimize the online channel for the world’s largest food and beverage company. This includes evaluating marketing activations, identifying opportunities in organic search/share of voice, and analyzing business performance. All while trying to resist the freshly baked Toll House cookies. My Olin education has provided me with a foundational understanding of business and opened the door to many exciting opportunities.

What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

I first discovered my love of marketing in Professor Sawhill’s Principles of Marketing class, and it was reinforced later when I took his Marketing Strategy course. A defining moment was when Professor Sawhill held up a box of Cheerios and said they’re just little oat circles that taste like cardboard – the added value comes from the emotional connection the brand evokes in customers. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by brand management and hope to make it a part of my career someday.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

I’ve been back on campus recruiting for Jet and also have several people from Olin on my team at work – best of all, I met my boyfriend at WashU (we were both marketing/operation supply chain management majors at Olin) and we’ve been experiencing East Coast life together.

Why is business education important?

Business education gives you a very holistic understanding of how organizations effectively leverage their strengths and resources to meet their objectives – whether it’s a corporation or non-profit – so it’s a great base for any career path.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

As a student it was never fun to hear, but I can confirm that networking / forming connections is extremely important to have a successful career. In the workplace, be sure you’re building and maintaining good relationships every day – you never know when these can come in handy. In addition, be a resource to others when you can – it’s all about give and take.




Part of a series of Q&As with Olin BSBA alumni. Today we hear from Laira Torres-Ruiz, BSBA ’17. Laira works for Guggenheim Partners in New York City as an investment banking analyst.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

I’m an investment banker at Guggenheim Partners, mainly working on Retail M&A transactions. Olin gave me access to the most inquisitive and inspiring people – from distinguished professors to fellow peers – whose perspective, mentorship and encouragement helped me find the intersection of my passions and abilities in financial services. Finance is broader and more applicable than I could’ve ever imagined. I owe my interest in the field (and success in recruiting into it) to those that took the time to share their perspective and give me much needed advice.

What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

Staci Thomas – without a doubt (so much that the BSBA 2017 class gave her the teaching award at Commencement). We spend so much of our undergraduate years focusing on aggregating skills that we lose perspective on how these form part of a greater story – be it a week-long project, a client relationship, a personal brand or a career. Staci’s Management Communication helps students gain invaluable managerial perspectives, transforming us from experts in skills to well-rounded business strategists (that also have hard skills as part of their toolkit). She also does this in the most engaging of ways too. I still remember one of the projects was pitching a product I really disliked and receiving peer feedback on it. Those skills – thinking quickly on my feet, adapting to an audience, articulating a message concisely, speaking confidently – are the ones that have really made a difference in my career.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

I’m thankful that I’ve kept in touch with those that made WashU so special. Olin does community very well, and that does not end after graduation. Alumni keep the spirit of collaboration alive, engaging with both the network and the University itself. I know I can call on any of my fellow alumni for advice or a referral. For example, fellow alumni guided me through the private equity recruiting process, which helped me succeed in securing my next position at Thomas H. Lee Partners in Boston. We also have a commitment to giving back to the school, which I live out by donating to scholarships and prioritizing campus recruiting for Guggenheim.

Why is business education important?

Someone once told me that “business is the art of getting things done”. While that’s too simple to capture the true relevance and importance of an undergraduate business education, I like what it’s conveying. Business education provides a framework to organize, tackle and solve problems. It’s more than financial modeling and marketing plans: it’s also communication skills, leading efficient meetings and a basic professional skillset. Some of my classmates went to less traditional fields like teaching and non-profit; they’re building thriving careers, part of which they to their business foundation. Many of my peers from other academic divisions regret not having been more exposed to business, but none of my Olin classmates has regretted being fully immersed in the experience.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

WashU is a safe place, so take more risks. Sign up for classes that will actually teach you something new (they’re often harder and not required). Go for that internship with notoriously challenging interviews (the worst thing they can say is no). Pick up a minor just because it’s interesting. Study abroad. Run for a position. Not everything has to have a “resume purpose”, so don’t get caught up with what others tell you you’re supposed to be doing. It’s often the most well-rounded and open-minded people that get ahead. Pass-fail is always an option, but going back in time isn’t.