My Story: From Sesame Street to Berkeley

Nancy Unsworth at Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

Nancy Unsworth isn’t your cookie cutter MBA. While 32% of her 240 classmates at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business hail from consulting and another 18% from banking and financial services, she turned up on campus fresh from the creative world of Sesame Workshop (Sesame Street), where she was most recently vice-president of business planning. During the two years before she joined the child-centric nonprofit, she worked at Oliver Wyman (formerly Mercer Management Consulting).

She adored her work at Sesame Workshop. “It was such a contrast to consulting, but also such a great opportunity for all of these different experiences,” she says. “I didn’t forfeit any variety.” Yet, as she dived deeper into the media and educational company, she realized she wanted to learn more about digital media and technology than the company could teach her. So she set her sights on the tech-rich West Coast, and the mild weather she was denied as a child growing up in Toronto and a student at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. She applied in the eleventh hour to Haas, and became a member of their MBA class of 2012.

Her story:

I wasn’t sure that business school was for me. I thought of myself as less corporate than that. I was weary of the stereotypical MBA – money-hungry, wed to the consulting or banking track, and self-centered.

It’s silly to think of now that I’m in it, but that’s the stereotype. About two years into Sesame Workshop, I was really happy in my role. There wasn’t a clear reason to leave. But I felt this pressure to apply. It was very typical to do two years of consulting and then to go to an MBA. Others (left consulting and) did two years somewhere else, and then went to B-school. I had that track in the back of my mind. So I applied to Harvard, Wharton and Stanford. I interviewed with all the schools. After each interview, I felt that my explanation of ‘why an MBA?’ seemed off. I didn’t really know ‘why,’ and that was apparent.

Two years later, I had a lot more experience. I was still loving my role, (because) it plays in a lot of different spaces… and allowed me a lot of independent direction. I could work in any area of the company, so I worked in all areas of the company, and I got to work with the senior leadership team. But it had been four years, and my experiences were starting to plateau. I’d just been promoted, things were going well by the book, but I needed a new environment and exposure to digital media and technology.

It wasn’t until February 2010, that I decided to apply. One of the only schools left to apply to was Haas, (in the) fourth round. In those two years, when I was contemplating B-school, I had thought of Haas a lot, because of the people, its focus on innovation, its strength internationally, and its location near Silicon Valley–a half-hour drive away. The school is particularly strong in technology, entrepreneurship and innovation. When I read more, I realized it was exactly what I wanted to be doing.

If I could sum up Haas with three adjectives, they would be tight-knit, innovative, and rewarding. It’s giving me exposure to everything I wanted. There’s a big focus on leading through innovation, and using design strategically. They encourage cross-disciplinary thinking to lead business in a new way. This is a good focus for the school.

Haas is a small school with a tight community. There isn’t a single person that I’ve come across that I haven’t liked, which is amazing given my initial concerns about business school.

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