Meet Yale SOM’s MBA Class Of 2020

Courtney Miller

Yale School of Management

Old-school believer in the power of story, making a career alongside superheroes and Jedi knights.”

Hometown: Santa Cruz, California

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have credits on a few films, including Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Southern California, International Relations

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Lucasfilm, Marketing Associate

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I worked in business development for a few years at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Lucasfilm’s visual effects division. Essentially, I worked on the team responsible for bringing films into the visual effects studio. This would often involve producing CG tests for filmmakers, sort of an exercise in proof of concept. One such test I oversaw was for Steven Spielberg, which was an incredible honor and really a master class in filmmaking, as you can imagine. When we showed him the finished test, he was thrilled, and gave us some stellar feedback I will never forget. That test really took a village to put together and required the exceptional outside-the-box thinking and never-say-die attitude that made ILM the true powerhouse it is. To have been a part of that, and to have that moment with Mr. Spielberg be the payoff…well, it’s the sort of thing you see in the movies.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Infectious. Every single person I’ve met at SOM has a certain spirit that’s just impossible not to be taken in by. These are people who, at their core, have the most genuine passion for having a positive impact on their world, and you can feel it in every interaction you have with the students here. Even when they’re exhausted from classwork and are in the midst of brutal recruitment cycles, there’s a spark in SOMers that simply can’t be extinguished, and you can’t help but be lifted up and inspired by it.

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? SOM is a mission-driven place. Educating leaders for business and society isn’t just a catchy slogan, it’s really the lifeblood of the school. I was looking for a program with a conscience, for a school that believes that business has a positive role to play in society. After speaking with staff, faculty, students, and graduates at SOM, I knew that this was a program that talked the talk and walked the walk. For me, and I think for most all of us applying to business school now, long gone are the “greed is good” days—I want to be a part of a generation of businesspeople who thoughtfully and purposefully advance causes like sustainability and equality through truly elevated thinking, and it became very clear to me that SOM is a place that does just that every single day.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Does taking a picture with Handsome Dan count? Because that is at the very top of my list. Beyond adorable dogs, this lifelong Californian is looking forward to the annual ski trip to Killington, Vermont, among countless other things.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I had gotten to a place in my career where I was starting to look for the next opportunity. My husband is a big reader of Harvard Business Review, and that had got me thinking about an MBA. I knew I was ready for something that would challenge me both personally and professionally, and business school offered that perfect amalgam. The program I was looking for was one that would help me refine and push myself as a leader, while giving me the solid foundation in business I would need to reach the upper levels I wanted to go. I knew I could continue working and keep climbing that ladder, but the more I researched MBA programs, the more I realized this would really help to catapult me to where I wanted to be. I had worked for several years and had a strong network in place that I knew would be there in two years’ time, so it felt like the right moment to make a big investment in my future.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? It involved a lot of long nights and second-guessing, if I’m being completely honest. An MBA represents a huge amount of money, and it can be scary to step away from the working world for two years, especially in an industry like entertainment where so much of it is about, as the saying goes, who you know. But I did have a gut feeling it was the right move, and I was able to speak with several senior executives in entertainment who have MBAs, and they all pretty much echoed the same sentiment—that it’s an incredibly worthwhile investment in your future that will truly pay dividends for decades to come. A good friend of mine loves the quote “Be bold and the mighty forces will come to your aid,” and that perpetually echoed in my head for a year as I decided that pursuing an MBA would be my next bold move.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Booth, Kellogg, Columbia, Stern, Haas, Anderson, and Marshall.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? You can do all the research in the world (and trust me, I did), but unless you visit the schools, it can be difficult to know how “fit” will really stack up. There were some programs that I fell in love with online, but when I visited I was really disappointed in the culture. There were also programs where I didn’t think I would be a good fit, but when I had the chance to sit in on classes and see the students and faculty in action, I realized it was a place where I could succeed. So my number one piece of advice is—visit, visit, visit. It’ll make your applications stronger, and it will help you to focus on where you really want to go. While you’re visiting, take notes! I brought a notebook with me to every place I visited, and wrote down notes on pretty much every interaction and experience I had. It helped highlight the pros and cons of each program for me. Beyond that, I wrote down some adjectives that described my “perfect” program, then I made a spreadsheet (I know, I know) of all the schools I was interested in applying to and, after said exhaustive research, wrote 3 to 5 characteristics that I felt described each program. When I compared that to my “perfect” description, it was easy to see what aligned and what didn’t.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? It’s difficult for me to say that there was one single defining moment in my life upon which everything hinged, but a moment that was certainly significant was accepting the job with ILM and moving up to San Francisco. I had been living in L.A. for several years and working in digital marketing for Disney. I had a great team and got to work on some really exciting projects, but I knew the time was coming for that next step up. Accepting the job with ILM meant leaving an entire life behind, not to mention the fact that I knew absolutely nothing about visual effects, and ILM was the place that invented the entire industry and is home to such heavyweights as Dennis Muren and John Knoll. But I had faith in myself— faith that even though I would feel like a complete idiot at times (and boy, did I), I would get up to speed; faith that taking a chance on yourself is never the wrong move. And because of all that, I got to work with some of the most incredible filmmakers in Hollywood and really live the stuff of dreams. How did it shape who I am? It reiterated for me that imagination is just as applicable in the boardroom as it is on a movie set.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? Take a long trip somewhere with white sand beaches and bad cell service. Then head to work for an entertainment company in franchise strategy.

Where do you see yourself in five years? I hope to be working in entertainment in a city like Los Angeles, New York, or London, doing meaningful work that has a positive impact on my corner of the world (and maybe even beyond), tending to a backyard garden, and fighting with my husband over what we should have for dinner each night.

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