Tag: Alumni

Elisabeth Conrad, BSBA ’16.

Part of a series of Q&As with Olin alumni. Today we hear from Elisabeth Conrad, MBA ’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.

An earlier version of this post referred to Elisabeth as a BSBA. This has been corrected and the Olin Blog regrets the error.

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 Ellen He. Ellen completed her master of science in supply chain management in 2014 before earning her MBA in 2016.  She now lives in New York where she works at Deloitte & Touche LLP.

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

I’m currently working at Deloitte & Touche LLP New York City Office serving financial services industry. I’m a Financial and Risk Advisory Consultant under the regulatory and operations umbrella serving client needs in Finance, Operations, and Compliance area.

Olin education impacted me in numerous ways. I actually learned of the Deloitte opportunity via a 2008 Olin MBA Graduate. Academically, the organizational change and communication lessons were used in day to day work.

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

Professor Sergio Chayet has always been my mentor since I joined Olin as an MS supply chain management student. His advice regarding choices with my Practicum Consulting projects at that time, and later advised me to take the opportunity and join Olin MBA Class of 2016, no single word can express how I appreciate Sergio’s class style and his mentorship to me.

Additionally, Dean Kurt Dirks’s Corporate Strategy class also left deep impression on me. Via different angels from peers and also from movies such as “Twelve Angry Men” I started to look into the huge impact corporate strategy has towards firm growth for different industries. Corporate strategy has been an area I really want to invest more time in and hope to continuously pursue at my career.

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

I have attended Olin MBA Admission activity with Associate Director in the Graduate Admission office Ashley Lautzenheiser in New York City 2016. I have also met with Molly Mulligan from Wash U Alumni and Development a couple times when she travelled to New York City. The most recent face to face lunch meeting with Molly I also got to meet the Associate Dean and Director for Western Career Center Jen Whitten and was glad to learn of some changes that Western Career Center is embracing now.

Why is an MBA important?

To me it is not so much about different Business areas that I got to know via the MBA program, because I triple majored in Accounting, Finance and Supply Chain when I attended Kelley School of Business, Indiana University Bloomington for undergrad. However, the most important value the Olin MBA program brought to me was via different practicum projects, CEL projects, the amazing professors, and all the wonderful classmates that you can form a relationship. I got to touch real life consulting projects for both Fortune 500 companies and local non profit organizations; I got to be impacted by rich experienced professors’ thinking process; I formed relationships that can last lifelong.

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

I would say definitely try new things, including new areas that you were not familiar with prior to MBA, new friends with diverse backgrounds and/or ethnicity, and organize new events. Besides the academics, I personally involved in many things that Olin had to offer: President of Olin Women in Business, 2015-2016; Co-president of Supply Chain and Operations Association, term 2015-2016; MC for Chinese New Year Gala; XMBA Case Competition 2015 (Olin Team got 2nd Place). I was also Chair for the Olin Follies in April 2014 which demonstrated a fun and conclusive event for the year to Olin faculty and students with 300 attendees. Those events and roles completed me more as a person and set me ready for professional growth in the future.

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.

In early 2017, WashU Olin marketing alum Diana Zeng decided to launch the greatest rebranding campaign of her young career.

The product was Diana Zeng.

Until that January day, the “Diana Zeng brand” was about developing marketing strategies for startup organizations and nonprofits. By the end of the process, the brand was about a new career in the fine arts. The new Diana Zeng was all-in as a painter.

In between, she retooled the product and, for a time, even identified herself by a riff on her Chinese name—Zen She—to separate the “old” Diana from the new. She devoured biographies of fine artists and plunged herself into developing her studio practice so she could unleash the artist she knew had always been inside.

“I’d been working with startups since graduating. I saw that they often built something from nothing. That’s essentially what being an artist is: starting something from nothing,” said Zeng, BSBA ’14. “I took it seriously.”

The business of the arts

Two years in—with the confidence that she can support herself as an artist—Zeng is returning to Olin to speak to some of the first students in WashU Olin’s minor in the business of the arts. The genesis of the new business minor was a $1 million donation from Richard Ritholz, BSBA ’84, and his wife, Linda, inspired by their daughter’s experience as a fine arts student.

The new program targets students in the creative arts who want to make a career of their talent, but need to understand how to run their careers like a small business—complete with a grasp of marketing and branding, pricing, customer relationship management and finances.

“Don’t Mind Us in the West Wing,” by Diana Zeng

Glenn MacDonald, John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and Strategy, will teach one of the foundational courses of the minor — “the business of art” — and invited Zeng to speak to his students on October 3.

“Diana is an Olin graduate who used her business skills to fashion a visual art business that allows her to make the art she loves while paying the bills,” MacDonald said. “She is an excellent example of the outcome we anticipate for the students who complete our class.”

In some ways, Zeng is the mirror image of the students targeted for the business of the arts minor. Instead of an artist needing business acumen, she was a business student who had never met an artist or visited an art museum growing up. The closest she’d come as a child to making art was learning Chinese calligraphy and ink painting in Chinese school.

She had harbored an interest in art, however, and she took her father’s advice as an undergraduate: major in business, but use every elective to explore other interests. She took courses in queer theory, poetry and nature, and art classes at the Sam Fox School—enough, in fact, to earn a minor in fine art.

A day of reckoning

"I Shouldn't Be Here," by Diana Zeng
“I Shouldn’t Be Here,” by Diana Zeng

A year before Zeng’s graduation, while seriously involved with Sam Coster, the WashU 2012 grad she’d met in her freshman year, he was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. A year of treatments forced the disease into remission—for a bit.

By the fall of 2016, the lymphoma had returned and, once again, been beaten back. Zeng and Coster had begun a New Year tradition, asking each other: If you had a year to live, what would you do?

By then, Zeng had held several marketing positions with St. Louis-area nonprofits and startups. The pair had married in October. A month later, the presidential election made them consider drastic changes. In January, as 2017 began, Coster asked Zeng: “If you had a year to live, what would you do?”

“I’d paint,” Zeng blurted out.

And thus began the process—outlined thoroughly on Zeng’s own website—that led her to remake her career and pursue her passion.

“The first year and the second year of my art career have looked drastically different. The first year wasn’t so much focused on making art. It was very difficult and very dark and it wasn’t great,” Zeng said. “The second year has really been about challenging myself and the creation of art. It’s been fulfilling in a really great way. It hasn’t been a very linear progression.”

Sharing the experience

"Finding Solace," by Diana Zeng
“Finding Solace,” by Diana Zeng

Today, she’s grateful for the business background she gained and can draw a direct line from that experience to her early success as a professional painter, supporting herself in the fine arts. In fact, her first solo exhibition opens Aug. 23 at St. Louis’s Bonsack Gallery.

With that experience comes an appreciation for branding and marketing, for telling her story and finding an audience for that story. It also taught her how to value the work.

“The intrinsic value of my work is important. Understand the value of your work: I say that over and over again to artists,” Zeng said. She has benchmarked herself against other artists at her career stage—and those whose career trajectory she aspires to emulate. Assigning value—a sticker price—to her work is difficult, but necessary.

Under-price it and you cast doubt on whether the work has value. Overprice it and—well, you don’t make the rent. And yet, Zeng said, “It’s the hardest thing to let go of a piece of work and sell it. I genuinely love it and hate it. I want to keep all my work.”

Though hard, it’s not impossible, of course, and a business approach to her career is key. Zeng said artists must not shy away from viewing their work as a business or approaching art as a career.

“It does not interfere with the integrity of your work,” she said. “Connecting how art and business are aligned—I didn’t have that experience in school. This minor wasn’t available. It definitely would have made the possibility of going into art feel more feasible.”

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.