Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Rachel Garforth-Bles, Rice University (Jones)

Rachel Garforth-Bles

Rice University, Jones Graduate School of Business

“Artist and entrepreneur. Motivator and Collaborator. Excited about building community, creating compelling narratives, and Tex-Mex.”

Hometown: Sherman, TX

Fun Fact About Yourself: I played Glinda the Good Witch in the Broadway National Tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Wizard of Oz. We traveled all over North America and performed eight times a week! Job highlights included flying from the rafters into Munchkinland, exploring new cities every week, and chatting with kids at the stage door.

Undergraduate School and Major: Rice University, Vocal Performance

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: I just wrapped a movie for The Hallmark Channel. It certainly wasn’t your typical last role prior to beginning an MBA, but it was a great send off into a new adventure.

Aside from your classmates, 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? I am what is fondly known as a Rice Twicer. I attended Rice as an undergrad, and when I decided to pursue my MBA, Rice was at the top of my list. I think that the combination of exceptional academics and focus on maintaining a supportive and kind community is what makes Rice so unique compared to other peer schools. I wanted a program where asking questions is encouraged, and succeeding is a collaborative undertaking. I knew from experience that Rice was that kind of place.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? During my first conversation with the Rice Admissions team I learned about the Board Fellows program. It is a program that matches current MBA students with local non-profits, and allows them to serve as board members. When I worked in the arts, I saw the amount of man-power it takes to sustain non-profits, and I wanted to help! I never imagined myself having the power to impact organizations at the board level, and I am thrilled at the thought of what is possible. I also have recently begun playing golf (after a very lucky purchase of some great clubs on Facebook Marketplace for $20), and I hope to pick-up a few pointers from my fellow classmates in the Golf Club.

What makes you most excited about getting your MBA at Rice? What makes you most nervous about starting business school? The thing that excites me most about pursuing an MBA is also what makes me most nervous. I am embarking on a completely new chapter of my life and career by transitioning from the performing arts into the business world. I am confident that Rice is the kind of place that can support a shift of this magnitude, and I look forward to getting started!

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My favorite career accomplishment was the first time I went behind the camera, and created a project from start-to-finish. I worked with a small team to create, write, produce, and perform in a web series designed for Instagram. (This was before IGTV, and it was one of the first scripted series created for the platform.) The inspiration for the show came from our own experiences trying to break into the entertainment business. It explored the idea that appearances aren’t always what they seem, especially on social media.

Soon, what began as a purely artistic endeavor turned into a crash course in social media marketing and brand management. We aggregated 10,000+ followers in under eight months, and received hundreds of messages from young women who were inspired by our story.

It was very fulfilling to grow something from nothing, and to see the impact it had on people’s lives. Authentic story-telling and a willingness to adapt were the hallmarks of our success, and I am proud of the community we were able to build in such a short time.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? In the last few years, I started exploring my skills outside of the performing arts. The experience of building a brand around my web series was the first of these explorations. I also co-founded a distribution company, and began importing fine spirits to Canada. These first ventures into entrepreneurship were exciting and gave me confidence in my current skill set. However, they also showed me where I had room to grow, and made me want to learn more. When I realized I was more excited about my entrepreneurial efforts than my next acting gig, I knew I was ready to focus my attention on business full time.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? UT Dallas, UT McCombs, Vanderbilt (but I knew Rice was the place for me!)

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? It was challenging for me to reframe my experience as an artist into something that was relevant to business school. Fortunately, Rice connected me to a current MBA student from a similar background who generously helped me navigate the process (“Rice is nice” is not just a saying!). Overall, I found that the admissions process encouraged me to dig deeper into why I wanted my career to change, in what ways, and how I was going to make it happen. The questions asked in the interviews and on the applications helped me to define my goals, and gave me a lot of clarity moving forward.

What have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school? I have been working through several Coursera courses on Excel and Finance. I have also reached out to people in my network who have strong careers in business, especially those in my desired post-graduate industry. Given my background in the arts, I am working to learn as much as possible about different industries and careers prior to beginning the program.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? One of the most defining moments of my life was when I left the small, Texas town I grew up in to attend Interlochen, an arts boarding school in Michigan. My classmates were diverse and eclectic, and we all came together in this tiny, remote place to practice, study, and be immersed in our chosen art form.  It was an immense period of growth for me, and an experience that changed the course of my life. The courage to seek out new opportunities, ability to adapt to new circumstances, and focus on building strong relationships were a few of the skills I developed at Interlochen that I hope will continue to serve me at business school.

What is the most important attribute that you are seeking in an MBA employer? Why? I hope to work for a company that prioritizes people. During the current pandemic, it has been enlightening to see how different companies have interacted with their employees and customers. I want to be proud of the company I work for. I also want to feel confident that, while they are successful as a business, they aren’t doing it at the expense of their communities, customers, or employees.

Pretend you have just graduated from business school. What will you need to have done to make your experience successful? Being a full-time student is an amazing opportunity to take stock of your life, skills, and career, and decide what comes next. I hope to take advantage of this time, and enthusiastically explore every opportunity that presents itself. When I am finished with my degree, I want to have investigated every option, talked to everyone I can find, and found a new role that values the combination of creativity and technical skills I will have developed as an artist and an MBA graduate.


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