Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Kathryn Allen, University of Virginia (Darden)

Kathryn (Kate) Allen

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

“A small-town girl who loves building relationships and helping others reach their full potential.”

Hometown: Garden Prairie, IL

Fun Fact About Yourself: I love ballroom dancing! I convinced my husband to take ballroom lessons for two years after our wedding, and we even competed in an amateur ballroom competition.

Undergraduate School and Major: Butler University; Finance and Marketing double major

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Associate Consultant, Finance at Eli Lilly & Co.

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? The engagement and applicability of the case method is what attracted me to it most. In undergrad, I was taught the fundamentals of business through a layer of real-life examples; however, it wasn’t until I began my career that I fully grasped the complexities and interconnectivity of every-day business issues. The case method allows you to bring those real experiences into the classroom to help educate your class while also seeing the same problems through their eyes. It allows you to learn business concepts outside of the rigid structure of a syllabus. I cannot think of a more immersive experience than that, and I am so excited to learn from my classmates!

Aside from your classmates and the case method, 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 was really struck by Darden and UVA’s dedication to student-led leadership within their communities. I have been involved with student government-type work since middle school and have seen the power in an administration that is in tune with its students (or customers, if you will) versus one that is not. I love that Darden’s administration, faculty, and staff care about our experience enough to allow us to be involved in making the decisions that affect that experience.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? “Natural” is the first word that comes to mind when I think about my Darden classmates. Through every interaction, virtually or in person (pre-quarantine), I have walked away feeling as though I’d known the person for years because of how natural our conversation was. The Class of 2022 has already faced a number of barriers and uncertainties, and I have been humbled and comforted by the vulnerability and resilience of my classmates. People aren’t trying to go out of their way to impress people, but rather we have been focused on banding together to determine how to best navigate the crazy period in front of us. I already feel incredibly lucky to have my classmates, and it has consistently confirmed my choice to come to Darden.

What makes you most excited about starting business school here? What makes you most nervous? I am most excited to get to know my classmates and the journeys they have taken to get here. I am also excited to see how various business concepts and issues have played out through their experiences, especially those who do not have traditional business backgrounds, as that is so different from my own past.

Frankly, I am most nervous about how accomplishing that interconnectivity with my classmates is going to play out during the pandemic. I think the relationships formed in the MBA program are among the most important pieces of the experience, and I hope we are still able to find ways to forge as tight of a bond as classes before us.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Throughout each of my three roles at Eli Lilly, I have strived to implement process improvements and build stronger team cohesion. I have also faced extensive team turnover in each role, which has required me to step into a team leadership position, even though I wasn’t the manager. I am very proud of how I have been able to support my teams in this way.

In one particular instance, when I was in my Investor Relations role, a few investors wanted follow-up calls regarding one of our older, much smaller products. It was one that we rarely ever get asked about and is not covered in our normal prep materials. The only other experienced person on my team was extremely busy, essentially covering three roles while people were in transition, so she asked me to prepare a prep document to study and lead the call. This is the first time that an analyst has ever led a meeting with outside investors. I was incredibly proud of my team’s trust in me to represent the company to Wall Street, and I was pleased that I could create capacity and take something off my co-worker’s plate.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Since graduating from undergrad, I have had three different roles across the value chain of Eli Lilly, which has given me a great foundation in business fundamentals and the problems that businesses face. However, I felt really stuck in the day-to-day execution. I was ready to challenge myself to think and contribute at a more strategic level, and I felt that an MBA was the right catalyst to train myself to do so.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Anderson, GSB, Fuqua

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “What is most important to you, and why?” I really struggled to narrow my answer down to one thing, and I felt that I couldn’t convey all of who I was through that one answer.

Since being accepted, what have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school? Outside of all of the logistical items to keep up with, you mean? I honestly have been trying to take the past few weeks to relax and get back into some hobbies that I haven’t dedicated time to in a while, such as reading and playing tennis. I’ve also been trying to get in the mindset of searching for perspectives different than my own by reading articles or sources that I would typically not have reviewed in the past.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? In my first role out of undergrad, I was doing top-line revenue forecasting for my company’s fastest-growing product. Not only was there a lot of attention from leadership on this product due to its growth trajectory, but demand forecasting requires comfort with ambiguity and assumption creation…things in which I was very inexperienced. After only a few months in the role, I was in meetings with senior-level leaders and answering questions in conjunction with the brand leader, with my bosses on the sidelines. Two things struck me in those meetings: 1. I was empowered by the trust and support I felt from my bosses, who put a brand new hire in front of senior executives and didn’t hesitate to let me hold my own. I knew then that that was the type of leader and manager that I wanted to be…one that vigorously trained their employees but then trusted them to leverage their strengths and execute; and 2. I was astounded at the leaders’ ability to see the entire marketplace, anticipate barriers, and create contingency plans. It was a display of higher-level business strategy like nothing I’d seen before, and I knew I wanted to be able to think at that level.

When I reflect on how I want to grow during my MBA, it is in those two areas. I want to learn how to be a leader who builds the team’s success around the strengths of the individual members, no matter their experience level, and I want to be challenged to think at an upper echelon of business strategy.

What is your favorite company and why? I love the concept and mission of The Skimm. For a society that has more access to information and technology than ever before, it sometimes feels as though were as uninformed as ever. The Skimm actively combats this, while delivering the information in a fun, easy-to-read, and consumable fashion. I also love that it’s a female-run business, with two founders who, at a very young age, recognized the shortfalls of their industry and set out to do something about it. They have expertly paired their unique skills and backgrounds to create a highly successful source of media and continue to evolve The Skimm’s offerings.



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