Meet Vanderbilt Owen’s MBA Class Of 2020

Mackenzie Craig

Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management

Dive bar loving book nerd with a penchant for string cheese and Friday Night Lights.

Hometown: New Canaan, Connecticut, USA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I’m kind of an Eric Church groupie. I once drove 8 hours both ways in one weekend to see him play his hometown, and I usually go to his shows by myself so I can concentrate! I actually wrote him a fan letter once, and his team called me on the phone—I think I stopped breathing.

Undergraduate School and Major: Cornell University, majoring in English

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Time Inc. (Meredith Corporation) / Food & Wine and Cooking Light Magazines / Photography Director

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Last summer, Food & Wine magazine moved out of New York City and hubbed a portion of the editorial operations with Cooking Light, an existing Time Inc. publication based in Birmingham. I was asked to be the Photography Director across both brands, and the transition was the single most challenging experience I have ever been a part of.  Everything—and I mean everything—felt impossible in those first few months. We started with three people on staff at Food & Wine and none of the technology or software lined up across the two brands.  The content was not only unplanned but also a month behind schedule at the time of the transition. This kind of hub had never been created before, so we were figuring out every process from scratch. We worked until midnight and every weekend, recruited, brainstormed, tried some new things, failed a few times, and stepped into roles that were far beyond our job descriptions. I’m still amazed by this, but we actually got that first issue out the door—and it was good! Through all of this, I was working for a second brand at the same time. I’d say my biggest professional accomplishment is surviving this past year. But seriously, I’m proud of what we accomplished as a team, and I’m proud of the critical role I was able to play in it.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Supportive. I had the privilege of meeting some students in the class ahead of me last summer. In the last year, each and every one of them has reached out and made a concerted effort not only to offer support and guidance with regard to school, but to just say hi, what’s up, and how are you. Let me offer one example of the above-and-beyond nature of Owen students. I recently moved to Nashville, and I was posting silly Instagram stories about the struggles of settling into a new place.  A girl in the class ahead of me reached out and offered to send a classmate to help me hang curtains!  It was such a thoughtful gesture, and the thing is…she really meant it. To me, that sums up the Owen spirit.

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? I know this is a buzzword, but it’s very real: community. I looked at a lot of different programs across the country, and no other school came close to making me feel as comfortable, supported, and valued as I felt at Owen, by the admissions team members, faculty, and students I met. I don’t have a traditional business background, and I saw Owen as a place where that would be celebrated and encouraged.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I’ve always been fascinated by gender roles in the workplace, and I’m all about that #girlboss movement—even though I find the phrase annoying! I’m really looking forward to getting involved with the Women’s Business Association at Owen.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career?  The print publishing industry is having a tough time. I have loved my career in magazines. I have also loved the opportunity to be both creative and practical in my role, so it was a difficult decision to leave.  I’ve spent almost 10 years doing this thing that I love, but as I looked forward to the next 10 years, I couldn’t see where I would go next. I’d reached the top of my career, and I needed to build a bridge to the next chapter.  Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how to do that on my own. I hope that an MBA will help me pivot my skill set from one industry to another.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? I’ve always planned on pursuing a graduate degree, and an MBA made the most sense for me. I think education is always worth the investment!

What other MBA programs did you apply to? McCombs, Ross, Kenan-Flagler, McDonough, Foster, Haas, Stanford, Fuqua, Columbia

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I’m a pretty practical, measured person. I like pro-con lists, and I like explanations. But the truth is that for me, choosing an MBA program came down to a gut feeling. Of course, I considered all the big questions: location, strength of specific programs, class size, culture, curriculum, etc. Most of all, I was looking for a program that would see me as an individual and help me shape a career path based on my strengths.  A lot of the programs had very similar selling points on paper, but I found that taking a step back from the B-school jargon and just paying attention to the people I met and talked to during the application process and on visits was far more helpful than comparing pros and cons on a list. I was lucky to have a bunch of great options, but in the end, I picked Owen because it just felt like the place I couldn’t live without.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? I think everyone has lots of little defining moments, and maybe a couple of big ones. A big one for me was an autoimmune disease diagnosis at a young age. I had to grow up pretty fast, and I learned a lot about myself as I went through the various stages of wanting to be perfect, realizing I wasn’t. I felt angry at the world, but eventually accepted this thing that was going to be a part of my life whether I dealt with it or not. The experience helped me recognize that people are often much more complicated than they appear at first glance. That being said, I’ve actively chosen not to let this part of my life be the one thing that defines me. I think I am who I am because of the smaller, less serious defining moments—like that time I went to Paris by myself after a bad breakup!

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I’m trying to go into school with an open mind! I’d like to find a way to continue my career in a creative space. I’ve toyed with the idea of starting a business (my best friend and I have an idea that I think is so fun), but I’m also interested in brand management. Or who knows, maybe I’ll realize I love finance!

Where do you see yourself in five years? This is a hard question! Ruling the world? Retired?

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