2016 MBAs To Watch: Erin Crawford, Iowa (Tippie)

Erin Crawford-Iowa-PoetsAndQuants_MBAsToWatch2016Erin Crawford


University of Iowa, Tippie College of Business

Age: 37

Hometown: Des Moines, IA

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Iowa, BA in English and Journalism


Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Senior Staff Writer, MXM; Associate Editor, Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications, Meredith Corp.; Staff Writer, The Des Moines Register

Where did you intern during the summer of 2015? Bayer Corporation, New Jersey

Where will you be working after graduation? Associate Brand Manager, The Hershey Company

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: MBA Consulting Project Leader, Strategic Marketing Project for a Fortune 500 agricultural manufacturing company; second-year coach to first-year MBAs

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Polaris consulting project — This demanding inventory management project pushed me to accelerate my acquisition of Excel skills and learn supply chain principles and formulas, as well as how to successfully structure a consulting project and work with a high-achieving team. And the end result was quite satisfying — we delivered a high-impact tool that empowered our client to optimize inventory levels.  

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? It was digital-edition editing at MXM. I was able to create and lead on innovative digital deliverables for a client. These interactive publications leveraged new technology to improve engagement and boosted social media interaction. And these projects gave me the opportunity to lead teams of absurdly talented producers and designers.  

Who is your favorite professor? Mark Winkler, Business Solutions Center director. The Iowa MBA program’s student consulting projects are the most demanding and challenging learning opportunities available to students, utilizing much of the knowledge and skills acquired in the classroom. Plus, it requires a few extras: client management, project management, and team leadership. Mark Winkler organizes these projects and provides constant mentorship. Having that level of experienced guidance on a real-world application? There’s no better way to hone your execution and do great work.

Favorite MBA Courses? Applied Market Research, Professor Thomas Gruca: This class delivered a complete toolbox to planning and managing market research. And it answered what so often goes wrong with market research — unclear direction at the start. Also, Strategic Brand Positioning, Professor John Murry: Murry’s class is a deep-dive into all things brand, from organizing brand hierarchy to developing value propositions to reviving faltering brands.

Why did you choose this business school? It was convenience and quality. I started part-time classes in the Des Moines PM program. This allowed me to take classes from a top-rated university while still working full-time. After having a great experience in my first two classes, I transitioned to the full-time program. The school was two hours away from my home, so I could commute and my husband and oldest child didn’t have to reorganize their lives and switch jobs while I was in school.

What did you enjoy most about business school? It was the nonstop focus on development and learning. Having stayed in the working world a little longer than most of the other students, I was at a point in my career where I knew the industry, the job, and how to talk content. It was comfy. Pursuing an MBA put me way outside my comfort zone. I had no background in any class, and everything felt like a stretch — success was not guaranteed. Pursuing an MBA gave me 21 months to test myself, create constant stretch goals, and expand my capabilities. It can often be difficult in your career to get learning opportunities that push into new areas, so — having been away from school for so long — I was incredibly grateful for it, even if I was a few more years out from all the foundational math classes than everyone else.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? Always know your priorities. Early on in the program, when people talked about being “analytical,” I thought they meant supporting assumptions with data. While that’s part of it, the more important element is always having your priorities defined and being able to support that — quantitatively and qualitatively. Prioritizing was also fairly important for me on a personal level, as I was balancing raising my kids with learning new subjects and job hunting. There were a lot of things I wanted to do, but I had to realistically define time commitments and what I was capable of executing well in the time I had.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? It was the focus on self-knowledge and improvement. I expected skill- and knowledge-building. But there were a few times during the first year where I said: “I feel like I’m in therapy.” While doing StrengthsFinder and EQ tests and receiving team feedback, you’re immersed in this rich analysis of your performance and behavior and how you’re perceived. You leave with a much better understanding of how to use your own unique skill set and are more strategic about focusing your efforts on self-improvement.

What was the hardest part of business school? The hardest part was balancing family. Because my home and school were too far apart for a daily commute, we took a rather unusual approach. I rented an apartment at school and took the toddler to live with me and my husband tackled our school-age child. So I was apart from family and, at the same time, raising a toddler alone a lot. We made it work — I put my child in daycare, 8-5. I’d focus on parenting until she went to bed. And then I did homework until I fell asleep on my calculator. But it was quite hard being away from my other child four days a week.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your school? What do you need to show to get the job you want? Coming in to school, I had specific goals about the sort of projects I wanted to be on and what I needed to learn and that allowed me to target roles on some great projects that plugged the weaknesses in my skill set. Those projects were the stories that helped me land job offers.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when… I took an analytics class — the first math course I’d taken in more than 10 years — and, not only was I capable, I had fun.”

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be… editing and writing — and worrying a lot about what the next five years would bring.”

Which executive or entrepreneur do you most admire? Jessica Alba of The Honest Company. She’s pioneered a new model that gives parents peace of mind about the safety and quality of products they’re using on their children. The subscription model delivers convenience and creates loyalty, so that’s a win-win for the company and customers. And the company’s communication and image feels modern, fresh, and direct. She’s definitely not trying to be anyone else’s idea of an executive.

What are your long-term professional goals? I don’t have a specific position. I want growth, increasing responsibility and ownership, and opportunities for learning across different functional areas and brands. But I’m not hunting for a title.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My husband. He singlehandedly parented both kids for three months, while I was doing my summer internship halfway across the country. And he worked a very demanding job while doing it. We definitely haven’t made it easy on ourselves by doing this.

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve been in seven different sketch and/or improv comedy troupes.

Favorite book: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Favorite movie: About Schmidt

Favorite musical performer: Animal Collective

Favorite television show: “Catastrophe”

Favorite vacation spot: The U.K.

What made Erin such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

“Erin lives ‘work-life’ balance daily as she completes a very rigorous full-time MBA program and single-parents her toddler while living apart from her husband, who is single-parenting their elementary-aged child two hours away. This posed both a challenge and an opportunity for Erin — it made her laser-focused on her goals and priorities. She didn’t have the luxury of participating in many of the extracurricular activities available, but she made the most of her academic choices and earned the respect of her peers and program staff for her hard work, sharpness, and wit.

“Erin is an amazing role model to her classmates, providing an example for all her fellow students — and prospective MBA students — that successful studies, work, and personal life can and should be balanced. Her engagement, insightful perspectives, and sense of humor make her a natural leader in her project work within our program. The consulting project team that she is currently leading is the largest to date, with eight first-year students. Erin always asks questions in class, which not everyone chooses to do. Her classmates seek her opinion as they contemplate career offers and balancing priorities.

“Her classmates have strong praise for her and say it best:

“’Erin brings to the table a quite a few unique qualities. She has the ability to think through problems and consider multiple perspectives. As my second-year coach, she has given me the much-needed, regular doses of equal parts encouragement and truth-bombs. She has played a very important role in my professional development. AND she’s funny. And as a fellow consulting project group leader, she has displayed immense leadership qualities. She is faced with a very complicated, multi-stage project for a huge firm. Despite this daunting challenge, she has managed to create a fun team which people are itching to join (some actually jumped ship to her team). I wouldn’t be surprised if most of us (Class of 2017) ended up working for her one day.’ — First-year MBA student

“’She is one of my favorite people to be on teams with as she is insanely hardworking and efficient — and she does it all as a mom! She provides years of experience and insight into working as a woman and mother that I’ve found invaluable. You can always count on Erin for new ideas, encouragement when those rejection letters are coming in, and to go above and beyond on anything she is assigned. She’s also a really fun person to be around and some of my favorite times in the program have been when we were just hanging out. Erin does the work of 10 people and she does it all with her fantastic sense of humor intact.’ — Second-year MBA student”

Dave Deyak

Assistant Dean

University of Iowa, Tippie College of Business




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