Meet Harvard Business School’s MBA Class Of 2020

Nicole Koski

Harvard Business School

Wisconsin Badger. Animal lover. Curious traveler and language-learner. Hopelessly addicted to Ken-Ken number puzzles.”

Hometown: I grew up in Pewaukee, WI, a small suburb of Milwaukee.

Fun Fact About Yourself: I love everything about food; I love growing vegetables in my garden; I love planning meals and ingredients; I love eating, but when it comes to successfully cooking the food, I struggle mightily.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Wisconsin-Madison, BBA: Marketing & International Business

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Walgreens Boots Alliance; Associate Manager, Customer & Market Insights (Beauty).

Before joining Customer & Market Insights, I spent two years in a rotational leadership development program at Walgreens, comprising four roles across various merchandising divisions.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I oversaw the design and launch process for two limited-edition cosmetics collections priced between $4 and $10 that were distributed to 5,000 stores. I managed all parts of the process, which included partnering with suppliers to co-create licensed beauty products and negotiating terms, including product assortment, margin, pricing, and exit strategy. The program broke sales records, but my favorite part was that it got featured on a few popular beauty blogs, where I was able to read customers’ comments and discover that the items were often being given as gifts to friends or family members who had wanted the items, but couldn’t justify spending money on themselves at the moment. The realization that my products were building relationships between people and making hardworking women feel special was immensely rewarding and continues to be a motivator for me.

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? There are two factors that are equally important to me.

The first is the general management curriculum. While my background is in marketing, and I plan to continue to pursue marketing after graduation, I also recognize that I need to expand my general business knowledge in order to become a more effective leader. I wanted a curriculum that would push me out of my comfort zone and give me a holistic understanding of business management that will prove valuable in the long term.

The second, equally important factor is the vast amount of support and the number of financial resources that HBS has to offer. Business school is an incredible and exciting opportunity, but the reality is that MBA programs cost money. The high sticker price can be a major obstacle for many people, including me. HBS’s need-based aid approach combined with further efforts to increase socioeconomic diversity like the School’s Forward Fellowship—which helps students from lower-income families or with family financial obligations—made the idea of a Harvard MBA more accessible to me. HBS always made me feel comfortable discussing financial concerns with them, and this feeling of belonging and support was a key influence in my decision to enroll.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I have great retail experience from my time with Walgreens, but I became interested in switching over to the brand side in order to get closer to product development and brand strategy. An MBA was the clear transitional vehicle for entering brand and product management. When I researched jobs I was interested in, I found that the majority of people in those roles had an MBA. Additionally, as I advanced in my career, I found myself wanting to improve my general management acumen in order to better understand the “big picture” related to high-level decision-making at a large corporation. 

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? This was a huge consideration for me. I come from a lower-income family and still have a fair amount of undergraduate debt, so the thought of not having a salary for two years and taking on more debt was, frankly, terrifying. It was easy to get caught up in the short-term financial view of things as I tried to calculate the ROI of the degree, but I eventually came to realize that there is no precise answer because each person’s long-term path is so different. I knew that I would regret not pursuing my MBA, and that knowledge was enough to make me realize the experience would be worth it. There are a tremendous number of intangibles that you can’t put a dollar amount on, including personal development, network, global experiences, and friendships. I do believe that an MBA will end up being financially “worth it” for me, but I also believe that life experiences are equally (if not more) important to consider. My advice to anyone considering an MBA would be to think carefully about things that make you feel happy and fulfilled in your life and career – will an MBA program provide those things or at least help you get on that path? If the answer is yes, then I think it’s worth making an investment in your happiness.

How did you determine your fit at various schools?  If you have the means to travel and do campus visits, I highly recommend it. I was not able to travel to most schools until interview days, but those visits painted a much clearer picture for me than any online research could have. Most schools also publish career reports that are useful in understanding which industries and companies hire students from each school.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? I like to think that I am not defined by one moment, but rather a lifelong collection of actions and impact. That being said, I have certainly faced obstacles that have shaped my values and motivations. During my undergraduate years, I worked three jobs while simultaneously maintaining a full-time course load in order to pay my way through school. This was a challenging time, full of financial uncertainty, but I discovered a lot about myself and my work ethic in the process. I learned how to be resourceful, and I learned that a disruptive environment can inspire growth. I became comfortable with the uncomfortable, and that is a mindset that I try to bring with me when approaching any new adventure.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I have a passion for connecting with people through products, so I’d like to for a company that specializes in creating high-quality, aspirational products or services that make people happy.

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