Category Archives: MBA

MBA transformers: Stacie Johnson

Once: Personnel Officer, US Army

Now: Senior Consultant, PwC Consulting

Stacie JohnsonOh, the places she’s gone.

In the years leading to her Foster MBA, Stacie Gowdy Johnson (MBA 2012) studied chemistry and nuclear engineering at the US Military Academy, served as postal platoon leader in Korea and executive officer to the commanding general at Fort Bliss, founded the first medical school on the US-Mexico border (for Texas Tech), and led a strategic overhaul of Washington state’s Employment Security Department.

Such a varied suite of formative experiences gave Johnson reason to think that consulting might be a good fit. “But I wasn’t qualified,” she says. “They all wanted 10 years of experience or an MBA.”

So she came to Foster. Johnson made the most of her classmate collaborations and coursework, especially in strategy, project management, market research and quantitative analysis. Plus an internship in customer strategy and operations at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Now in her first full-time assignment at PwC Consulting, Johnson is mapping processes for a new organization within Microsoft.

Where to next? Johnson says that consulting is a great place to learn, the nexus of many possibilities. “I’m not sure if I see myself in consulting forever,” she says. “But who knows?”

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Lisa Henke

Once: Philanthropy Director, The Nature Conservancy

Now: Vendor Management,

Lisa HenkeExperiencing the fragile natural splendor of Ecuador and Costa Rica during her college years, Lisa Henke (MBA 2010) couldn’t help but become an environmental advocate.

She joined the Nature Conservancy’s Latin American programs, initially handling marketing, fundraising and business development. Eventually, Henke rose to associate director of philanthropy, forging relationships with wealthy individuals and corporations with a conscience.

“I was inspired by the people I met on the advisory board,” Henke says. “I began to see the power of combining business and environmental management.”

She came to Foster to learn how to harness the market to do good. She says her classes and classmates really helped.

And now that free-market education continues at Amazon, where Henke began as a senior product manager on the books team and now oversees vendor management on the home improvement team.

“I’ve learned so much here, working with smart people from so many different backgrounds,” she says. “It’s like an extension of the Foster School.”

Henke also remains active on the board of EarthCorps, a Seattle-based organization she first served through the Foster Board Fellows Program. “That’s how I get my environmental fix,” she says.

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Seth Eisner

Once: Chef, Etta’s, Dahlia, Harvest Vine

Now: General Manager, Microsoft Financing

Seth EisnerFood to finance. This odd trajectory is the story of Seth Eisner’s (MBA 2001) professional life.

His epicurean nature activated by a stint teaching English in Paris, Eisner returned to the States to attend the New England Culinary Institute. Then, in the late 90s, he worked at the newly opened Etta’s Seafood, Dahlia Lounge, and Harvest Vine, cooking alongside some of Seattle’s top young chefs.

But Eisner, who studied history at Washington University, also harbored feelings for financial markets. Faculty in the Foster MBA Program helped him explore this growing interest, and an internship at Microsoft proved that his perfect job exists in the corporate world. In fact, it exists at Microsoft.

So out of the frying pan and into the fire. In his decade-plus at Microsoft, Eisner has directed foreign exchange, capital markets, and investments and acquisitions units. Today he leads the complex enterprise of Microsoft Financing.

He still cooks whenever possible, and carves out a few weekends to make duck confit, cure meats or pickle vegetables. And lessons from the professional kitchen are seared in his psyche.

“That experience helped me find order in chaos, develop productive working relationships under pressure,” he says. “The parallels to what I do now are striking.”

Update: Eisner’s passion for Microsoft continues. Today he has moved from Microsoft Financing to Worldwide Licensing and Pricing, managing company financial decisions that have a global impact.

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Benjamin Pierson

Once: Emergency Management Planner, Pierce County

Now: Director, Alvarez & Marsal

Emergency managemenBen Piersont may not be the most obvious prelude to an MBA. But Ben Pierson (MBA 2009) found the complexity of his work with Pierce County Emergency Management to be growing rapidly beyond his skill set. After four years, he was leading the agency’s countywide planning for disaster response and economic recovery, an endeavor that demanded system-wide coordination of public and private sector.

Pierson sought a Foster MBA to understand the business end of such partnerships. “I just came to learn,” he says. “And I trusted that something good would come from it.”

He emerged a fixer of the highest order.

His first contribution was to develop a green economy jobs strategy for Seattle/ King County with its Workforce Development Council. Now he’s with the consulting firm of Alvarez & Marsal, advising philanthropic clients on their efforts to solve wide-scale social, economic and health ills.

“To solve these complicated, systemic problems, we ultimately need to find market-based solutions that don’t rely solely on public funding or philanthropy,” Pierson says. “I have to know all the levers to pull, understand how to coax stakeholders out of their comfort zones. I wouldn’t have been in this position without the Foster School.”

Update: Pierson has moved from advising philanthropic clients on tough problems to working for philanthropy organizations directly. He is now the principal technical adviser for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and serves on the board of the Seattle Jobs Initiative.

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Todd Dennett

Once: Advance man, The White House

Now: Consultant, Tiller/Dennett & Company

Todd DennettTodd Dennett (MBA 2004) has always made things happen.

So it was no coincidence when the go-to guy landed an internship in the White House press room while studying international affairs and communications at George Washington University. This kicked off a dizzying five years orchestrating events and travel for Vice President Al Gore, followed by a job as protocol officer at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and, later, heading operations for Howard Dean’s meteoric presidential campaign.

But Dennett felt he needed to strengthen his management skills. So, home to the Puget Sound and the Foster School he went.

His unique organizational experience and expanded management portfolio got the attention of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which hired him to organize its founders’ activities and maximize their influence. It was a job that took him around the world.

Still globetrotting today, Dennett runs a niche consulting firm, with clients that include the Gateses, the Obamas and the Olympic Games. As ever, he’s the consummate organizer, making things happen to perfection. “It’s always been my passion,” he says. “The work is not so different, but the Foster MBA helped me do it on my own.”

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Teresa Demel

Once: Traveling Science Teacher, Pacific Science Center

Now: Product Marketing Manager, Adobe Systems

Teresa DemelTeresa Demel (MBA 2011) rocks. Literally.

She plays guitar and sings with “Another Perfect Crime,” a band that formed shortly after she moved to Seattle seven years ago.

Not that she’s quit her day job(s). At first, Demel put her biology degree to work as a traveling educator in the Pacific Science Center’s renowned Science on Wheels Program, followed by a gig managing heart health outreach through UW Bioengineering.

Then her destiny turned on a reading of What Color is your Parachute. “I realized that what I had been doing—and loving— was really product development and marketing,” she says.

She wanted to learn more. The Foster MBA provided “a combination of great professors who gave me strategic frameworks that I use every day, and fabulous career counselors who shaped my transformation.”

Unsure of where she’d fit in the for-profit world, Demel embraced their advice to view a first job like a medical residence—a skills-building step toward a dream career.

“As an avid user of Photoshop, I had always had a crush on Adobe,” she says. “Now here I am, product marketing manager for Adobe Digital Publishing Suite.”

And rocking it.

Update: After two years at Adobe, Demel moved on from her long-time crush to take on a larger role as Director of Marketing at A.R.O., Inc, a technology company dedicated to leveraging the power of context. Her band continues to rock on.

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

MBA transformers: Charlie Berg

Once: pro skier, the Rockies, Alps, Sierra Nevadas, Cascades

Now: associate product line merchandiser, Eddie Bauer

Charlie BergCharlie Berg (MBA 2011) downplays his characterization as a former professional skier. “Aspiring,” he qualifies.

Sure, he worked seasonal jobs and as a mortgage broker to pay the bills. But for eight years he lived to ski, in the mountains of Washington, Colorado, California and Switzerland. He notched several first descents in the Cascades, competed in extreme skiing competitions across North America, was featured in several skiing films.

But the dream was unsustainable. Berg needed a career, preferably within a business that shared his passions. Entering the Foster MBA Program, he identified outdoor apparel as a potential target.

“Foster is a jumping off point,” he says. “It gives you time to plan, puts you in a great position to try new things. And the internships are totally designed for that purpose.”

Berg fit right in at Eddie Bauer, an apparel company reconnecting with its roots as an outfitter for extreme endeavors. He manages the firm’s technical product line, deciding what clothes and accessories to make and how to market them to people like him.

Good work. And he still skis, “every chance I get.”

Find out about the other alumni who transformed their careers via the MBA Program.

Learning with – and from – Classmates

Often new Evening MBA students are surprised how much they learn from their classmates in the program. At the start, the program’s staff takes care to form study groups that allow students with diverse strengths to share their knowledge and get each other through challenging course material. Fellow students often develop strong and lasting friendships as well, and form a whole new career network for each other, representing most of the Seattle area’s major employers. Evening MBA students Olga Shapiro, Etta Mends and Tom Clendenin describe how their fellow students add value to the Evening MBA Program.​​​

Is it Time to Go for a Part-time MBA?

So you’ve started your career and you’ve landed a good job. Work is satisfying, but you know there are other opportunities out there and your options are limited by the scope of your job and the industry you’re working in. You know you’ll need to build your knowledge and skills to compete for those opportunities. Is it time to earn a part-time MBA? For Evening MBA students Tom Clendenin, Etta Mends and Olga Shapiro, the answer was “Yes!” They describe how they reached the decision to go back to school for an MBA while they continued working. Is it time to make your move?

Foster Idea Lab participants brainstorm sustainable solutions

Looking for a challenge? How about trying to cut total emissions from the global commercial aviation fleet in half—even as it doubles from 20,000 to a projected 40,000 planes—by 2050.

That tall order is the very real pledge of the world’s aviation industry.

And leading the quixotic charge is the Boeing Company, whose Bill Glover provided the keynote for the 2013 Foster Idea Lab, a kind of high-level sustainability brainstorming session hosted by Net Impact at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

Glover, the vice president of global business development and policy at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, offered a portal into his firm’s efforts to produce more efficient, lower-emitting aircraft through innovative on-board technologies, smarter materials and an all-out push to develop a jet-worthy renewable fuel.

He recounted Boeing’s catalytic effort to drive the first successful biofuel-powered commercial airplane flight, and its legacy in thousands of subsequent test, demonstration and commercial biofueled flights in the past few years.

“Now we need to industrialize it,” Glover said. “Make this work on an industry-wide scale to drive down the carbon footprint of aviation. That’s one of the great opportunities that we have. We’re at the beginning, and we have a long way to go.”

High-level brainstorm

Facing the big challenges of sustainability was the theme of the Idea Lab. Some 40 senior sustainability officers from a wide range of companies huddled with each other and with Foster MBA students to cross-pollinate solutions to the challenges of their organizations to operate more sustainably. Among the organizations participating were Microsoft (the Idea Lab sponsor), Boeing, Starbucks, Amazon, T-Mobile, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and many others.

The event was organized by the Foster School’s chapter of Net Impact, the international MBA organization devoted to inspiring a new generation to use their careers to tackle the world’s toughest social and environmental problems.

National Champs

Foster MBAs won the national Net Impact Case Competition in 2011 and 2013, and reached the finals in 2012. At the Idea Lab, Gabe Jones, Ryan Scott and Chris Walker of the winning team reported on the school’s most recent victory this past February at the University of Colorado.

The case challenged student teams to navigate Newmont Mining’s efforts to begin mining gold in a fictional African nation. The Foster team’s winning solution was centered on the creation of a Trusted Partners Program—a kind of independent escrow account managed by Newmont executives, stakeholders from local and national government, and NGO partners—that would manage profit sharing to benefit both company shareholders and local residents in the areas of environmental, social and educational.

The plan was simple, feasible and implementable. Said Scott: “The question we kept asking ourselves was, what will the board do next week? After we finish our presentation, can the board actually act on this? I think that’s what earned us the win.”

Water, plastics, and dirty data

Foster Net Impact’s faculty advisor Elizabeth Stearns closed the event with a bracing reminder of our rampant overuse of water, plastics and “dirty” data.

The senior lecturer pointed out the tens of gallons of water it takes to produce a cup of coffee or glass of wine, the hundreds of gallons to produce a t-shirt or can of beer, and the thousands to produce a pair of blue jeans or a bar of chocolate.

And she challenged anyone who produces packaging to consider the effect of plastics—300 million tons produced annually, 90 percent of which can be recycled but only 10 percent that is recycled.

Stearns called for a new paradigm. “It’s not enough to recycle,” she said. “We should be focusing on upcycling—the cradle-to-cradle creation of something for the expressed purpose of later being reused, perhaps as something else.”

As for dirty data, Stearns reported that the computing industry and the “cloud” are consuming 623 billion kilowatts of energy and 5.5 billion gallons of water annually, producing 50 million tons of toxic e-waste, and emitting 680 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions—2-3 percent of the world’s total emissions.

“We have to start rethinking our business processes in every industry,” she said. “If we don’t, we won’t have a business.”

But Stearns also pointed out that there are “lots of wonderful solutions out there.” As exemplars, she cited Singapore’s successful gray-water-to-drinking-water company NEWater, the collapsible, upcyclable container used by Japan’s I LOHAS, and the comprehensively sustainable Belgium-based cleaning products company Ecover.

“When you work in sustainability, it’s easy to feel that there isn’t a way out, that the situation is hopeless,” Stearns said. “But the people in the room are already convinced that we have to do things more sustainably. We just have to know that we can do things more sustainably.