Meet Washington Foster’s MBA Class Of 2020

Natalie Sullivan

University of Washington, Foster School of Business

Strategic hustler and teammate doing whatever it takes to get good things done.”

Hometown: Santa Cruz, California

Fun Fact About Yourself: Despite being a not great singer, karaoke is one of my favorite activities.

Undergraduate School and Major: Smith College, Study of Women & Gender

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Figgins Family Wine Estates, Enologist

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: What I’m most proud is how I’ve used my passion and curiosity to find success in two industries thus far in my career. My career started in anti-violence philanthropy in NYC and pivoted to winemaking in Walla Walla, WA. Through both these experiences, what’s ignited me is the work to understand the broader landscape in which one does their work, tackling complex problems, and developing strategies for change. I’ve done both these things in each industry and look forward to expanding my skillset to do so at a greater scale.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Grounded and smart. I realize those are two qualities, but it’s the balance between these two qualities in my classmates that has so impressed me. My Foster classmates lead with their wit and humility, and leave bravado to their LinkedIn profiles.

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? The key factor was Seattle. The why is two primary reasons: 1) Seattle is an incredible city with a diverse range of industries from social impact orgs, to start-ups, to some of the most coveted employers in the world. As such, I was extremely compelled by the range of companies that would be at my fingertips during recruiting in Seattle. 2) Given Seattle’s eclectic range of industries, it attracts a student body reflective of that breadth, from social impact gurus to policy wonks to data analytics geniuses, you can find someone cut from each type of cloth at Foster.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I’m looking forward to two activities: 1) I’m very excited to join the Consulting Society. Hearing current Foster students rave about the extent to which students teach, support, and coach one another in preparing for consulting recruiting was a top reason for choosing Foster. 2) I will also be taking on a role to support and advance issues of diversity, equity & inclusion at Foster.  This is especially exciting as Foster recently became the 20th school to join Consortium for Graduate Study in Management (CGSM). This follows on the heels of another recent partnership with the Management Leadership for Tomorrow, an organization that helped me establish personal and career clarity. I’m so excited that Foster, in addition to being a Forté school, will be joining and strengthening its connection to these national networks committed to supporting underrepresented minorities in business.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I knew I wanted my MBA in 2011 when a colleague who had recently attained her MBA consistently asked brilliant questions. It was then that I realized I wanted to integrate strong business frameworks into my strategy development and thinking at work. For many reasons, the timeline for actually submitting applications continued to be delayed. When I pivoted from philanthropy to the wine industry, I noticed that although these two industries were about as different as they come, the same strategy questions applied in both settings, and I knew it was finally time to do this thing. Some of my fears – like being too old, too late, lacking sufficient traditional business experience – were quickly put to rest as soon as I began researching and talking to MBA students and grads about their experiences and career trajectories.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? What enabled me to build confidence in taking this risk was looking at worst and best case scenarios, alongside short- and long-term potential outcomes. Worst case: I accumulate massive debt, don’t get that dream job, and take myself out of the job market for two years at an age when I should be at the peak of my career. Even if all those things happen, I asked myself what would still be true…and would that be enough: content knowledge of finance, accounting, data analytics, marketing, enhanced problem solving skills, and an invaluable network. I also analyzed as much data as possible. What roles are grads getting upon graduation from my target schools? What are their salaries and roles immediately out, five years out, ten years? Can I get there without this degree? Can I grow in the way that I’d like without this degree?

Finally, when I decided to go for it, I hustled like wild to ensure admission at my top choice schools with the best possible scholarship package, which meant removing myself from the social circuit throughout GMAT studies, taking that test more times than desired, enrolling in classes at my local community college to fill gaps in my undergrad transcript, calling yet another current student to continue to learn about schools, participating in that admissions event even though I’d already been to dozens, and exercising those negotiation skills as soon as the offers came.

What other MBA programs did you apply to?  I only applied to CGSM schools. They included (In alphabetical order): Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business, Cornell University Johnson School of Business, University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of Rochester Simon School of Business, and the Yale University School of Management.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Since I only applied to CGSM schools or schools about to become CGSM schools, this narrowed my list down to 20 potential schools. From there, as a graduate of a small liberal arts college, I know that I learn best in smaller communities, so I primarily only applied to smaller programs known for collaboration and strong community. I also knew that I wanted to minimize potential debt, so I narrowed my search to schools in areas with a lower cost of living or lower tuition. I then got on the phone with as many current students and alums as possible, attended every webinar I could, called admissions officers, read Poets & Quants profiles, and perused school blogs (which were all excellent tools in helping me determine cultural fit).

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? In looking back, the moments that have been the most defining have always involved a mentor who deeply believed in my ability to think and do. When I think about my experience at Smith College, even more than the curriculum, it was the professors and peers who I engaged with beyond the classroom that propelled me forward. Similarly, in my work environments, it’s been the mentors who have gone above-and-beyond to take me under their wing and teach me what they know. One of the reasons I’m most looking forward to Foster is because I know that our small class size and stellar faculty will allow for similar experiences. For me, it has always been those deeper interpersonal connections that’s created a sense of what’s possible in the future.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I have one dream job I’m going after, three companies and roles that would be utterly amazing, and a long list of organizations I really need to get to know better. I’ll be more specific publicly once I land that dream job.

Where do you see yourself in five years? In five years, I will hopefully be three years post-MBA, employing my vast business knowledge and network to thrive in my organization and industry, learning something new every day, asking hard questions to inform strategy, working as part of a rock star team, and making positive impact in my organization and community.

Meet the Class of 2020 Series

Harvard Business School

London Business School

IESE Business School

University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management

University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business

MIT Sloan School of Management

Columbia Business School

UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business

Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business

Yale School of Mnnagement

University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

New York University’s Stern School of Business

University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business

Emory’s Goizueta School of Business

Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business

University of Washington’s Foster School of Business

Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management

Washington University’s Olin Business School

Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business

Babson College’s Olin Graduate School of Business



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