Meet The MBA Class Of 2020: Profiles In Courage

Kory Li

Rice University, Jesse H Jones Graduate School of Business

Loves tough challenges and attacks it with passion and a smile. Former athlete.”

Hometown: Buffalo Grove, IL, but I’ve been traveling the country since graduation

Fun Fact About Yourself: In 2015, I oversaw the production of and taste approved one in three Bud Lights sold in Texas.

Undergraduate School and Major: Washington University in St. Louis – Chemical Engineering and Finance

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Anheuser-Busch Inbev – Senior Key Account Manager

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: After some early successes working with our innovations and brewery management teams, all on the supply side of the business, I was offered a promotion into another business unit – commercial sales, leading a team within our National Retail Sales division. My time up to this point was either at our headquarters in St. Louis or at our brewery in Houston – both very well-structured positions with daily access to all my direct reports. My new position was not only out of a home office, but also my team was scattered throughout Northern California, Nevada, and Hawaii. I was tasked with creating and implementing a business strategy to turn around the largest and worst performing retail chain in an extremely hostile business environment for big beer.

Coming in with no sales experience, my first six months was like drinking water from a fire hose.  However, after multiple deep dives into the market and meetings with the retailer’s senior management, I was able to identify key levers that drove both our businesses and create a targeted approach to maximize exposure of our brands while simultaneously maximizing the retailer’s return on investment across their entire beer portfolio.

Within 13 months, I was successful in my mission. In fact, the retailer’s performance led the West Coast for an entire quarter. In addition, my “playbook” has since been taken and implemented in other struggling chains with strong initial results.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? The energy that my classmates bring makes the program seem less like an MBA program and more like a unicorn startup about to IPO. From successful entrepreneurs to consultants for NATIONS to former professional athletes, everyone here has already accomplished what most people would be happy with in an entire career, and they’re just getting started!

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? After spending the first five years of my professional career jumping from city-to-city (I still have boxes from my first move somewhere in my closet), I knew that I wanted to settle down in Texas. When looking at graduate programs, I wanted one that was both academically rigorous and offered a strong alumni network. Rice had the perfect combination. Not only is Rice indisputably the premiere learning institution in Texas, but also it has one of the strongest alumni networks nation-wide. I know that what I will learn in these next two years will be able to propel me into a great second career and that my network will allow me to prosper for many decades to come.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Outside of the amazing professional clubs at Rice, I’m excited to represent Rice as a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Committee Member (largest rodeo in the world!).

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I feel like I’ve learned as much as I can in my current position and want to take my learning to the next level. I believe that an MBA exists to fulfill that exact need. A Rice MBA will “fill in the gaps” to allow me to take my learning and apply them to a larger challenge.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? Getting an MBA is no small investment. Between the costs of attendance and the opportunity costs associated with missing two prime income earning years, the total cost of an MBA can balloon into well over a half million dollars. However, if you consider the post-graduation salaries of Rice MBA grads and the expansive network that comes with attendance, the 5-year ROI is almost certainly positive.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Texas A&M Mays School of Business, Harvard University

How did you determine your fit at various schools?

  • Current student engagement – speaking with students outside of the admissions office and seeing how many are actively engaged. This is typically a good indication of future engagement as alumni
  • Backgrounds of matriculating students – how many engineers, consultants, etc. – and their desired post-graduation career.
  • Poets and Quants posts.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? The most defining moment in my life was when I made the leap of faith and accepted the position in sales. Up until that point, even though I always thought I pushed the boundaries, I followed a rigid career progression – graduated college with an engineering degree, got a job at a big company, and followed the typical career track for an engineer there. I never branched out or took big bets on myself.

However, this changed when I decided to take on the new, intimidating challenge of not only moving business units, but to one that came with a giant target on my back. A key driver of this change came from three key questions I asked myself:

  • Will I learn something new?
  • Is this challenge worthwhile?
  • Will I have fun?

This mentality shaped how I perceive everything from that point forward form training for a marathon to applying for an MBA program.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I plan on making a career switch into investment banking or private equity.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Trying to learn as much as I can about the financial world and leverage it in advising companies on how to best meet their short- and long-term goals. And of course, making new friends.

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