2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Allison Howard, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Allison Howard

Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

Energetic, outgoing, and enthusiastic, I enjoy doing interesting things in unusual places with fascinating people.”

Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin

Fun fact about yourself: I am a classically-trained pianist and, throughout my childhood and teenage years, performed at many venues including The White House, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Capitol Hill, and over 20 different Embassies in Washington D.C.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, BA in Economics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I was the first junior hire on the business team at STX Entertainment, which was an entertainment/media unicorn start-up.  It was a start-up so I wore a lot of different hats.  For example, my first year I worked on strategy plans, budgets, created processes with marketing and distribution team, and organized other various projects with the creative department.  My main focus became helping build out processes and operations within the marketing, distribution and digital departments, and this was what sparked my interest in business school.  The more I worked on growing the company from the inside out, the more I realized that I had gaps in my education in terms of business knowledge and application.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? McKinsey – Toronto, Summer Associate

Where will you be working after graduation? McKinsey – Chicago, Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Career Management Center Peer Coach
  • Content Director, Private Equity/Venture Capital Conference
  • Director of Venture Capital, Entrepreneurship Club

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During the 2019 spring quarter, I ended up designing an independent study with a Kellogg Global Management professor on the rise of artificial intelligence in China, and how this would play on the international landscape, especially with the current American dominance in the big data and artificial intelligence sector.

This culminated into a six-week research placement in Shanghai and Shenzhen, which I did after my McKinsey summer.  It was incredibly humbling and reminded me of the complexity of a globalized economy and businesses trying to become specialized for local ecosystems.  I left with more questions than answers, especially trying to understand the conflicting interests of policy, politics, data, and technology especially in two countries as multifaceted as America and China.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I spent six years in the entertainment industry, right when the intersection between tech and media was growing.  During my tenure at MGM, the company decided to enter the television market, mostly due to interest in streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.  I ended up being the person on my team to help create a process with various different departments including sales, finance, creative, strategy, business affairs, and physical production. It was an incredibly interesting time because there wasn’t a playbook for online streaming.  I learned a lot about code-switching between departments, how to translate industry-specific jargon and the highs-and-lows of being a lynchpin for a process. I left a sizable impact on my company in terms of creating a television strategy process and started to think in terms of internal company viewpoints and external industry trends. It’s a big reason why I decided to join a start-up, as I discovered I liked executing ideas.

What was your favorite MBA Course? I think the most practical course I had was Selling Yourself and Your Ideas, which was taught by Craig Wortmann. The class has a hands-on aspect to it, in terms of actual application in the real world.  Craig encouraged us to e-mail and present in a way that was more reflective of the real world, and get us comfortable with being uncomfortable. This class has a sales-based view of the world, which is more grounded in the reality of everyday business, as opposed to some other classes, which are more theory-driven.  The other thing I enjoyed about this class is that Craig encourages an iterative process. Sales and networking are not done in one way; Craig very much promoted a trial and error process to find a way that was comfortable for each person.

Why did you choose this business school? Kellogg has a reputation for being very collaborative and groupwork-focused. I wanted more experience in this, as much of my career pre-Kellogg was more solo. The other big thing that really spoke to me was the alumni engagement. In general, I found Kellogg alumni so open and engaging when I would reach out for advice and perspective. Many of them gave honest and robust feedback, and it assured me that when I graduated Kellogg I would be part of a very loyal community.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Understand what you’re trying to get out of Kellogg and how you can lend a unique perspective to your cohort. Kellogg values cultural standards like soft skills and teamwork. Understand that your application is a part of a mosaic that Kellogg is trying to create, and make sure that the admissions team can see you can fit in and enrichen your classmates’ experience and vice versa. I was initially a little nervous applying to business school because I have non-traditional experience. Now, I realize that Kellogg specifically looks for that, as unique perspectives in class tend to open and diversify perspective and conversations.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That we are purely a consulting and marketing school. The vast majority of my friends were extremely successful in obtaining finance and tech internships and full-time offers.  Kellogg is a tech powerhouse in terms of recruiting, but our consulting and marketing legacy is older, which is why people tend to put Kellogg in a box.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? I do not have a traditional background for business school, as I worked in entertainment before I came to study for an MBA degree. As a result, I think meeting a lot of different perspectives has opened my ideas on all the different ecosystems in the business world. However, the more things change, the more things stay the same, so it’s been fascinating to see similar patterns within different industries that my classmates worked in. I think the other powerful experience has been meeting really amazing people. My peers are often very driven, interesting, and engaging people. It’s not often that you aggregate so many high-quality people who want to meet you as much as you want to meet them.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? In general, I really admire my international classmates whose time at Kellogg is their first serious time spent in the USA. It’s not particularly easy to learn and study in an entirely new foreign environment. On top of that, they must also deal with the exhaustion of professional recruiting. It can be exhausting, not only because you might be navigating in your second or third language, but you have to also adjust to an entirely different business culture and structure. Add to that, a lot of them don’t necessarily have their friends and family structure in the way a domestic student might. It can be a lot to manage and handle. A lot of them do it with grace and positivity.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Slightly cliché, but both of my parents. My mom was an immigrant who came from mainland China in her late 30s; my father is a first-generation college graduate who worked as a carpenter before going to college and graduate school later in life. Both of them highly value education as well as the necessity of ownership and autonomy. Business was a path to meld the two.  I see having business acumen as a way to have some control over your career path.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? KWEST is the most popular acronym you will hear around Kellogg.  There are even spin-off words for it: KWESTIES, BESTKWEST, but I don’t think anyone, even the executive team running it, can actually tell you what it stands for: it’s Kellogg Worldwide Experiences & Service Trips (and yes, I did just google that).

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…a television showrunner or writer on an HBO or Netflix show.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? I think it is difficult to place a dollar value on this because of the amount of time someone puts into a full-time MBA. You have to take the GMAT, you apply, and then you spend two years of your life in school again. Because of this time commitment, I really do think your MBA education is priceless because you can never get this time back. I came in wanting to do consulting, and I got the post-graduation job I wanted; I met various amazing people and I had time to reflect on what direction I want my life and career to go. In this sense, I think the MBA was absolutely worth it.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. I would like to replicate Che Guevara’s motorcycle route that he wrote about in The Motorcycle Diaries (I’ve had my motorcycle license since I was 17)
  2. I would like to ride the entirety of the Russian Trans-Siberian Railway.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? That I was thoughtful and reflective; that I enjoyed getting to know and building genuine friendships with as many fellow classmates as I could through memorable coffees, dinners, and nights out and that I look forward to continuing and deepening these relationships as we all transition to new beginnings.

Hobbies? Learning languages, fitness/running/marathons, writing, and road trips/travel.

What made Allison such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“Allison Howard is definitely a valuable addition to the Class of 2019. I know Allison well even though I (sadly) never had her as a student in one of my classes. She sought me out and met with me multiple times across her two years at Kellogg.  I was immediately impressed by Allison’s energetic personality and her deep curiosity. She has a unique background that is different from many of our other students with an exceptionally strong track-record in the entertainment industry. I am confident that Allison will start an entertainment company in the future and that she will be incredibly successful. She has a clear sense of what she wants to do and a plan for doing it. Evidence of this is the summer research project she completed after finishing her summer internship at McKinsey. She ended the summer with an offer to return to McKinsey for a full-time job and a great piece of research completed on artificial intelligence in China. Allison’s industrious, ambitious, can-do attitude makes her a great leader at Kellogg and valuable addition to the Class of 2019.”

Victoria Medvec
Professor of Management and Organizations
Kellogg School of Management

“What made Allison invaluable to the class is her presence and willingness to be uncomfortable.  She brought insights into the room that helped us all build on a difficult, and sometimes hard-to-nail-down topic. In her assignments, she stretched and tried many ways to stand out.  And stand out, she did.”

Craig Wortmann
Clinical Professor of Innovation & Entrepreneurship
Kellogg School of Management

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