Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Caroline Peterson, University of Texas (McCombs)

Caroline Peterson

The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business

“I’m an optimizer; I strive to make the most of each day.”

Hometown: Escondido, CA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I taught beginning horseback riding lessons for graduates and undergraduates at Stanford.

Undergraduate School and Major: Stanford University, B.A. in Economics, Minor in Psychology 

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Pared, Chief of Staff to the CEO

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? Austin is a special city that sits at the intersection of many different industries and attracts companies of all sizes. McCombs does a phenomenal job connecting students with local organizations through fellowship programs and MBA+ projects. For me, the ability to interact directly with business leaders and gain hands-on experience throughout the academic year offered a huge advantage in building a robust network and skill set. I’m also thrilled to be among the first classes to participate in McCombs’ Leading for Impact, a two-year leadership development course that culminates in a capstone project supporting local non-profits. I believe the coaching we gain through that program will pay dividends for decades to come as we embark to lead teams and organizations around the world.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? I’m incredibly excited about Operations Fellows. Though I’m coming from an operational background, I’m eager to explore the world of operations across different industries. Through intimate speaker series and site visits, the fellowship program offers glimpses into the lives of business leaders and their organizations. I’m also excited to expand my expertise through micro-consulting projects and to explore real business challenges for organizations around the country, from expanding production capacity for a local CPG company to increasing fulfillment efficiency for one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I led the development and national rollout of Instacart’s first extreme weather automation and procedures that saved the company an average of $3 million in annual operational costs.

Four months into my role as logistics team lead, Hurricane Irma pummeled the East Coast. My job was to orchestrate our internal teams through the storm, minimizing service downtime while maintaining on-time delivery metrics, and keeping shoppers safe. Instacart had recently expanded to cover 60% of the US, but our backend systems were not scaled to conduct bulk changes. As a result, my team and I had to reroute and update orders manually for each city.

As soon as the dust settled, I mobilized a task force of engineers, customer care experts, and field operations leaders to develop a standard operating procedure that could be deployed quickly and effectively in the event of a major weather event or other natural disasters. I then managed the rollout of the system nationwide.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I’ve always had an MBA on my horizon. As an ambitious young college graduate working in tech, I gained tremendous responsibility incredibly early in my career. I quickly realized that the most effective leaders didn’t just command exceptional business acumen, but also commanded a room and inspired teams to execute on a vision.

My most recent role as Chief of Staff to the CEO helped me develop an appreciation for the complexity of managing a growing organization on the executive level. With an eye toward an eventual role as COO of a global organization, I’m excited to finally pursue my MBA, with a focus on corporate innovation, operations strategy, and building world-class teams.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I also applied to Stanford GSB and UCLA Anderson.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? Stanford’s “What matters most to you and why?” is excruciating, but so important. That question forced me to examine so many aspects of my life – the joy, the grief, and all the unique experiences that shaped who I am today. I believe my answer will – and should – evolve over the course of my lifetime, but it’s a humbling question that I will continue to revisit.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I attended multiple information sessions and coffee chats all throughout the application process. Each session inevitably revealed something unique about the program experience. I paid close attention to the values and key experiences admissions teams highlighted throughout their presentations: Did those values resonate with my own? Did those program highlights align with what I aspired to achieve through my MBA?

Ultimately, the admit weekends and class visits were the most critical elements of my decision-making process. There is no substitute for walking the halls with your potential future classmates and experiencing life around campus. In my class visit at McCombs, students offered me their textbooks so I could follow along as they engaged in a lively discussion about corporate restructuring, joking with the professor throughout. That was precisely the environment I was looking for in an MBA program. McCombs is a small, yet dynamic, group of approximately 260 full-time students each year. Coming to McCombs, I knew I would not only have tremendous support, but I’d have a great time along the way.

What have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school? I engaged a career coach this past spring to help me hone my career goals. I knew recruiting season would hit hard and fast, so I wanted to arrive laser-focused on the roles and activities I wanted to pursue. My coach helped me reflect on my prior experience, identify my strengths, define my values, and roadmap the next few chapters of my professional (and personal) life. These exercises have already proven invaluable as I prep for interviews and fill out my schedule with extracurriculars. I also took about two months off over the summer to recharge. I used that free time to volunteer, settle into my new home in Austin, and start networking before the wave of core classes hit.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? After two years as Area Manager for Instacart in Austin, I sat down with my shift lead for her last performance review before I moved to San Francisco and assumed the role as Team Lead for Instacart’s Logistics Team. We reflected on the monstrous growth – launching new delivery areas all across Texas and increasing weekly delivery volume tenfold from the time we first met in 2015. A former waitress, she started as a contracted shopper, but quickly earned the role of Shift Lead. She was my right-hand in countless initiatives to increase operational efficiency and support the ever-expanding fleet of personal shoppers. With a tearful goodbye, she said, “Thank you for everything.” To me, that moment serves a constant reminder that great leadership is not just about metrics, it’s about people. The success of the teams and organizations I lead hold the potential to transform lives. McCombs, with a human-centered and future-focused mentality, is a wonderful place to continue growing into the leader I strive to be.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? Whole Foods is one of my favorite companies to watch. I come from a family that loves food, so I’ve always enjoyed trips to the grocery store. Whole Foods consistently delivers an exceptional shopping experience. From a business perspective, Whole Foods is a wonderful study in branding. Each store skillfully balances the corporate brand image with local names and imagery to support the surrounding community. Through tremendous success over the past 40-some years, they have never relinquished their commitment to quality. They hold suppliers to the highest quality standards in the industry and lead the way toward sustainability in the grocery space, which has contributed to an extremely loyal following (myself included).

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