2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Elizabeth Hailand, Washington University (Olin)

Elizabeth Hailand

Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis

Describe yourself in 15 words or less:

  1. Adventurous
  2. Approachable
  3. Critical thinker
  4. Energetic
  5. Empathetic
  6. Engaging
  7. Flexible
  8. Hardworking
  9. Humble
  10. Loyal
  11. Others-centric
  12. Patient
  13. Quiet leader
  14. Philanthropic
  15. Team Player

Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri

Fun fact about yourself: I was a D1 swimmer.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Richmond, BA, Major: Sociology, Minor: French

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? North Chicago Community Partners, Director of Strategic Partnerships

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Edward Jones, St. Louis, Missouri

Where will you be working after graduation? Edward Jones, Accelerated Leadership Program (2-year Rotational Program). St. Louis, Missouri

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

In-School:

  • Co-Director, Olin Student Ambassador Program
  • Project Manager, Communication@Olin Program
  • VP Admissions, Olin Women In Business
  • Team Lead, CEL Practicum
  • Peer Coach, Weston Career Center
  • Bauer Leadership Fellow
  • Forte Fellow

Community:

  • World Pediatric Project, Rock N’ Heal Planning Committee, Committee Member (2018) and Co-Chair (2019)
  • University of Richmond, Alumni Association Board of Directors (2013–19)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?

I am most proud of my leadership role and the successful completion of my Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) Data Analytics practicum project. One of the reasons Olin was so appealing to me was the opportunity offered through the CEL to engage in hands-on, experiential work where I could immediately apply what I was learning in the classroom to real-world challenges. From a skill solidification, as well as a confidence-building perspective, this was important to me to prove to myself what I was capable of tackling.

The project I led was a Data Analytics project with a local financial services firm. My team was comprised of me, one additional MBA classmate and four Master in Customer Analytics students. I knew going into the project that I had a lot to learn, but I had no idea just how much this experience would shape me.

In addition to growing comfortable with how to manage a team with a collective skillset much stronger than mine in the area of our project, I had the opportunity to become adept enough in data analytics project management to ask the right questions and thoroughly and efficiently guide our project forward. Through this experience, I got the chance to know and develop my team; help identify their different learning and participation styles, strengths, and opportunities for growth; ensure they felt a part of the team; and understand what was mission-critical. This helped maintain engagement in the project while balancing other work and the stress of the job/internship search occupying everyone’s minds.

Additionally, I had the chance to grow in my client management skills by liaising between our client and my team to deliver not only a successful final project but also a positive customer experience.

The feedback from the client, my team and my advisors were overwhelmingly positive, affirming what I set out to prove to myself all along—that I am capable of more than I give myself credit for, and that my internal and external constituent-management skills will take me a long way post-MBA.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of successfully co-managing the consolidation of the school district in which my organization worked, prior to pursuing my MBA. It was a significant undertaking and, by all metrics, a success. I am especially proud of this because it was one of the most challenging projects I have managed from a sheer scope perspective and it involved a large number of diverse constituents. I was able to gain the trust and respect of all involved, while also making people feel valued, heard and invested in the project.

A bit of context: In the summer of 2014, the school district in which my organization worked was forced to consolidate. Given the financial state and lack of operational capacity of the district, my organization took on the role of the project manager of the consolidation. Just a few months into my job, and right as the consolidation launched, the director internally overseeing the project left my organization and I was put in charge alongside my executive director. As a young female employee new to the team and to the school district, I had a lot to learn and to prove in order to position myself and our organization for success. In addition to facing the political challenges on a local and state level, I was thrust into a world of distrust, communicative nuances, technical processes, and people management to which I had never been exposed.

Recognizing I was building the plane while flying it, my initial thought was to mimic the leadership of my predecessor. After a week of feeling out of place, I learned that authenticity was key and that to move forward with confidence, I needed to stick to what I knew best: namely, managing people and team dynamics.

After surveying the landscape populated by maintenance and facilities teams, curriculum specialists, administrators, teachers, and families, I realized that the only things binding everyone together were frustration and an intense feeling of disempowerment. Rather than pulling rank and ignoring the issues paralyzing us from moving forward, I identified areas of the project that could be “owned” by each constituent, based on their strengths, and held them accountable for their communication and measurable progress. As a result, each group no longer had time to focus on what others ‘should’ be doing, and instead, worked harder to complete their own jobs to avoid being the weak link.

At the same time as I was putting fires out in the schools, my own team was starting to buckle under the weight of physical exhaustion and the frustration with uncontrollable inefficiencies in the process. Rather than join in the lament of everything holding us back, I remained positive and never asked anyone to do a task I wasn’t willing to do myself. By working alongside my team members and redirecting the “culture killers” to tasks they might find fulfilling, I created an environment where my employees found value in their work and were able to connect it to our organization’s mission.

Not without a few hitches, the consolidation was a success. The school-to-school furniture and people transitions were completed; the culture and climate of the schools remained relatively high, given the circumstances; and, most importantly, I gained respect as a leader from my team and the district, and our organization established a positive reputation, giving us leverage in our model and opening doors for more impactful collaboration alongside the district.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor was Cathy Dunkin. Coming to WashU Olin with a non-business background and having never taken a class in a business-related field during undergrad, I was intimidated by the majority of my classes, and lacking in confidence about the value of the skills I brought to the table.

While I quickly learned that a lot of my classmates were in the same boat and that all of my professors appreciated my questions and contributions in class, Cathy took the time to get to get to know me and to show me the value of my strengths by engaging me at a higher level in her communications work at Olin. In addition to getting to know me in the classroom, Cathy shared significant time with me, helping to generate ideas around industries, companies, and roles that would be a good avenue for me, given my strengths and the skills I was looking to develop. She was even willing to help me network in the St. Louis area, connecting me to multiple points of contact, opening my eyes to interesting initiatives taking place in St. Louis and aiding me in narrowing down what it was I was looking for to kick off my post-MBA career.

I am incredibly grateful to Cathy for the important work in which she has involved me, and for investing in me and making me feel valued in a program where I initially felt intimidated and lacking in relevant skills.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose WashU Olin for a number of reasons, namely; location, the opportunity to engage in the local community through the Center for Experiential Learning (CEL), the smaller class size, and the tight-knit community the school fostered. Being a native St. Louisan, having lived elsewhere for ten years, I was excited for the opportunity to return home and learn about my community through the eyes of businesses and nonprofits like I had in other cities in which I lived and worked.

Given the deep ties Washington University and Olin Business School have within the community, I knew that that learning would happen naturally, but I was particularly excited about the CEL, which offered many programs aimed at launching students into local and global communities to engage in hands-on, game-changing projects with organizations.

Finally, I was lucky to attend a K-12 school and undergraduate university that centered themselves around relationships and the community they built, and the experience I had at those institutions was significantly richer for that approach. It creates a safer environment for making mistakes and learning from them, and it allows you to get to know incredibly accomplished people in your classmates, faculty, and administration at a deeper level; a valuable complement to what you glean in the classroom. I remember visiting Olin during both prospective and admitted student weekends and hearing stories of the student-centric atmosphere on campus, the tight connections formed between students, faculty and administration and the resultant, and a loyal alumni network both in St. Louis and beyond. I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Olin Business School is a program rooted in values and based on strategic pillars, all of which truly guide the way we learn and interact inside and outside of the classroom. While I am sure there are aspects of our program that feel similar to the experience one would have at other schools, our values and pillars aren’t just words and because of this, our program is unique.

So, to applicants hoping to get into our school’s MBA program, take the time to get to know us, to understand what we are all about and how our values and pillars shape our day-to-day. Determine what they individually and collectively mean to you and decide if you are excited about and ready to embrace the experience they create. Demonstrate your open-mindedness and empathy, your ability to work with others and be curious and understanding, and your humility and willingness to learn. These skillsets far surpass technical expertise when it comes to what will make you a valuable member of the Olin community and determining whether you will thrive in our culture.

Values

  • Integrity
  • Collaboration
  • Diversity
  • Excellence
  • Leadership

Pillars

  • Values-Based and Data Driven
  • Global Outlook
  • Experiential
  • Entrepreneurial

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish I’d known how quickly it would go. I know it sounds cliché, and that everyone tells you to enjoy the moment and soak up your two years because they will go by fast. However, nothing prepared me for just how quickly I would be getting ready to graduate. While I took it upon myself to get to know my classmates and to get involved early, as I reflect back I wish I could have done so much more. I wish someone would have said, “You have already made the commitment to yourself to pursue an MBA. You have quit your job, moved, etc. The decision is made, you are here, so let yourself be all the way in and take advantage of everything the program has to offer: every THING, the speakers on campus to which you will have access; the informal get-togethers with members of your class; the ability to take courses across schools; the challenging courses that you would normally shy away from; relationship building with the amazing faculty – ALL of it. Figure out what’s important to you in this MBA and dive right in.”

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? The WashU Olin MBA has been a wonderfully transformative program. First and foremost, my time in the MBA program has reminded me of the value the qualities that make me strong bring to a project, team, and organization. Coming into business school, I had a lot of insecurities about the fact that I did my undergraduate studies in Sociology and French, or that I had a “nontraditional background.” I so incorrectly thought that because I hadn’t majored in business or worked in a big company, that I would be far behind my classmates with regards to what I could immediately bring to the table. I was unnecessarily worried that in my internship at Edward Jones, they would “find out that I wasn’t qualified to be there.” Flash forward to now, and both the success I have seen at Olin and at Edward Jones have dispelled most of those insecurities and encouraged me to be “boldly me” in both life and my career.

During my time at Olin, I have also been introduced to entirely new and important perspectives and a body of knowledge that has transformed the way I think about and approach problems and business experiences. Subsequently, my confidence in both my technical and managerial expertise has grown equally through the knowledge gained in the classroom, as well as through my experiential learning opportunities. This outlook and skill set make me proud of what I have to contribute and will guide me in all future endeavors.

Finally, but most importantly, the relationships I have built at this school have all shaped me in different ways and are life-long. The diversity in the friends I have made and staff with whom I have connected has opened my eyes to different cultures and perspectives and reminded me of the importance of maintaining an open mind. I have significantly expanded my “external mirror” of people from whom I seek honest feedback about my areas of strength and growth. And, I have formed some of my strongest life friendships during these short two years: All the things for which I am incredibly grateful to Olin.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I thought long and hard about this and tried to narrow it down to one peer, but honestly could not. There are so many students in my class for whom I have great admiration and respect. And, as cliché as it sounds, the collective of our class is incredibly impressive and has led to a strong legacy that we will leave behind upon graduation.

Being such a small class, you get to know people well, and with that come their stories. Something I have learned over time is that context matters. Peoples’ stories matter. Our backgrounds significantly shape how we show up to the table, with what we show up to the table, and why, to others, we may appear to be greater or lesser than who they thought we were. To say that one student over another is more impressive, would be to identify certain characteristics that define success in business school, but as I have learned at Olin, coming together across diversity in story is what makes our community so strong and has created 135 definitions of success in the class of 2019, all of which are worthy of admiration.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? It is less of a who than a what, when it comes to this question.

Working in the nonprofit sector helped me to cultivate some my strongest characteristics—grit, the ability to create something out of nothing, the capacity to work and thrive in diverse teams, tolerance and empathy. Having been in the nonprofit sector since serving an AmeriCorps term of service out of college, I was intimately aware of the critical role the social sector plays in the success of our global society. I was also attuned to the dire need for the focus, time, and talents of smart, adaptable and socially-conscious minds to lead the charge in our ever-changing and increasingly diverse world.

And, while my undergraduate liberal arts degree equipped me with a broad-based skill set in the social sciences, I was eager to acquire more focused training in the technical knowledge of business, specifically, the areas of strategic people and resource management and cultivation. I believed that coursework—coupled with internships, workshops, networking and other experiential forms of learning—would provide me with the ability to be more effective in any role I held in the future, be it in the public or private sector, and would help me to continue to find and strengthen my voice as a leader.

In the end, I suppose it was my most recent executive director, who most influenced my decision to pursue an MBA. Not only did she give me the final nudge, recognizing both my potential and yearning to have a greater impact, but she inspired me to be better. With an MBA from Harvard and a former career at Goldman Sachs under her belt, her relative efficacy in the nonprofit sector was unparalleled and our community was better for it. Knowing there were tools I could add to my belt through an MBA to be a better leader and more effectively serve whatever clients my future organizations served, was motivation enough to tackle the application process and commit the next two years of my life to what would become one of the most “pleasantly fatiguing” (a term coined by our former dean of students) challenges to date.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? PPPICACC: Point of View, Purpose, Problems, Information, Concepts, Assumptions, Conclusions, Consequences.

To preface, this is actually an incredibly helpful acronym and one that serves as an important reminder of the steps that must go into effective problem-solving in order to be both comprehensive and to offer a usable solution to the end-client. That said, between the number of concepts it encompasses, which become challenging to recall in full, (I had to check what the acronym stood for a total of five times, while writing this) and the imagery of a pickaxe, our poor PPPICACC never failed to land itself as the butt of a joke.

As far as the number of letters, whether it was the three Ps in a row and trying to figure out what they were and which came first, or remember any of the other five letters, without fail, this truly meaningful acronym was inevitably reduced to something like… “problem solving, point of view… something about context and, yea, just make sure we think of the various points of view and get at the root of the problem.”

And, as far as the imagery this acronym evokes, yep, you got it, it’s a pickaxe! So, conversations around serious challenges typically unfolded in an iteration of the following:

“What’s the real problem we are trying to solve?”

“I don’t know, but let’s take a pickaxe to it….”

“Before we start thinking of solutions, let me whip out my pickaxe…”

The puns continue.

Laughs and potential misinterpretations of this acronym aside, PPPICACC served its purpose as a constant reminder of the importance of being comprehensive and looking at problems from all points of view before diving into solution-generation.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…I would be a professional mover, or start a flier making business, or become a poet, or form an insulation installation company, or potentially be an interior designer, or maybe a life coach or strategic planner, or a construction manager or master gardener…the list goes on. They say you wear many hats when working for a nonprofit. In my six years of nonprofit work prior to my MBA, in addition to my actual roles in volunteer management, project management, and strategic partner development, I have worn and grown to love each of the hats above, and many more.

In all seriousness though, given the constant variety and challenge to which I was exposed in my most recent role, I would definitely still be at North Chicago Community Partners, marrying my passion for the social sector to my talent for capacity building in individuals and in teams. Attracting, building and retaining talent is a known challenge in nonprofits, particularly with the lack of capacity to compensate at the level of private sector companies, the inability to implement effective professional development initiatives and the rate of burn out.

However, in building people capacity well, you are building more sustainable organizational capacity, and therefore saving financially in the long-term. These dots connect intuitively for me, (and I have experienced firsthand the repercussions of not having the right team on the bus and supporting them), but how to invest in people sufficiently without the conventional resources to do so is still a challenge. I would, therefore, excitedly be growing in my former role and continuing to find better ways to invest in my people, preparing myself to someday work toward supporting the infrastructure behind stronger people management and development in the sector more broadly.”

What dollar value would you placed on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? Priceless: I know, cliché again. However, the opportunities to which I have been exposed are invaluable and have positioned me strongly for whatever comes my way. So, it was worth WAY more than what I paid.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  • Indulge my Scandinavian heritage and visit Norway and Sweden
  • Complete a Half-Ironman Triathlon

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Elizabeth brought energy to the class, made others feel valued and important and made a positive impact on the Olin community in her two years as a student.

Hobbies?

Running, swimming, exercising in general

Volunteering

Reading

What made Elizabeth such an invaluable member of the Class of 2019?

“Elizabeth Hailand combines natural talent and leadership ability with hard work and commitment to create success in everything she does. She demonstrates rare humility, always crediting her teammates and collaborators for their contributions.

Elizabeth energizes classmates by bringing an invariably positive attitude and engaging approach to the opportunities and challenges the MBA journey presents. It didn’t take long after her arrival for faculty, administration, and other students to recognize her as an exceptional woman who makes everyone and everything around her better.

Elizabeth contributes to many aspects of the Olin community. Despite an impressive list of commitments, she never misses an assignment or deadline, consistently delivering results beyond expectations.

I am honored Elizabeth has served as my project manager for the Communication@Olin Ambassadors program, managing diverse courses and projects. She added innovations that improved our communication courses, special events and the overall student participant experience. It has been my particular pleasure to see her growth in confidence and influence during her time at Olin.

Elizabeth delights us and makes us proud; we will miss her warm smile, creative ideas, and willingness to contribute in any way she can.”

Cathy Dunkin, APR, Fellow PRSA
Lecturer in Management
Olin Business School

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