Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Christianne Johnson, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Christianne Johnson

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

“Giving the best of myself, personally, professionally and through community involvement, is central to who I am.”

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Fun Fact About Yourself: I speak Chinese and studied abroad in Guilin and Shanghai, China during my undergrad.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Pennsylvania, East Asian Languages & Civilizations and Business Economics and Public Policy

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: BlackRock, Product Marketing Strategy Associate

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? My long-term goal, and one of the reasons I am pursuing a business school education, is to establish my own social impact investment fund that offers honest money management coupled with community impact. I came into my MBA journey knowing that I wanted to challenge traditional views of investing (one being that impact investing generates subpar returns – which is a proven falsehood).

So, with that in mind, I was looking for in an MBA program where faculty and students had an openness to new ideas. I found that at Kellogg through its curriculum, social impact and entrepreneurial offerings. Finance and social impact courses like Entrepreneurial Finance & Venture Capital and Impact Investing & Sustainable Finance were exactly what I was looking for. In my second year, I am planning on enrolling in the Asset Management Lab, an experiential course that will provide me with investing experience thanks to its built-in internship at an asset management firm.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Driven. To come through the other end of the MBA application process, you really need to be focused and driven. So, by virtue of having been admitted to Kellogg, I would say that all my classmates could be qualified in that way.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? Giving back to the Kellogg community is what excites me the most. I plan to promote diversity through involvement with Kellogg’s Black Management Association and by becoming a mentor in my second year to minority students who are beginning their MBA journey. Kellogg has a very outgoing and active student body that drives the many clubs and extracurricular activities at Kellogg. Everyone is involved! It’s funny because before coming to Kellogg, I spoke with several current students and alumni. One thing they always related about their time at Kellogg was the leadership roles they had in the community. It’s a small detail but also one that speaks volumes about the Kellogg culture.

As someone who has always felt at home teaching and mentoring, I have used education as a tool to effectuate change and increase social mobility. In college, I worked with pre-teens through Big Brothers Big Sisters in Philadelphia. As a working professional, I gave back to the community by spearheading initiatives at two nonprofits: BoardAssist, where I have encouraged young adults and working professionals to join nonprofit boards, and Homefront, where I’ve worked with people struggling with homelessness. I will continue the work I am doing with BoardAssist and HomeFront while at Kellogg and also join clubs like Kellogg Cares and Net Impact and share what I have learned from volunteering at both non-profits.

Kellogg is often described as “team-driven.” In your experience, what is the most important quality of a team member? How do you intend to bring that into Kellogg? In any top MBA program, like Kellogg, you are bound to find yourself in class with people who have excelled in their past endeavors. My classmates at Kellogg are all smart, articulate, and highly motivated to make an impact on the world around them; it is a given that they are full of ideas. I am the same way. In a team environment, I make a concerted effort to listen first and for a good while, weighing peoples’ input before voicing my own. That way I am able to really focus my attention on what my teammate is saying instead of thinking about myself. As a result, team members feel heard and I feel that I am able to contribute more valuable insights to the discussion than I might have otherwise.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: One type of career accomplishment is the one that is highly visible and publicly acknowledged (like a promotion). The other type of accomplishment is a lesson quietly learned and applied innumerable times in one’s working life. What I see as my biggest accomplishment to date has been learning to listen to and act on my inner voice.

During my first year as an Investment Management Associate at BlackRock, my job was to inform and convince outside financial advisors to use BlackRock’s products – a classic sales job. Instead of using a typical sales strategy, I focused on doing what came naturally to me: building relationships. I’d get on the phone and learn about my clients’ dogs, jot down notes on their kids’ birthdays, send them emails sharing interesting articles or tools to help grow their business.

My unique approach was successful. In my first year as an associate, I was consistently the top-ranked performer in my cohort. I ended up mentoring analysts and teaching them my client relationship building techniques. One of my favorite mentees in San Francisco has done so well that she beat me in sales 2 years ago. I joked that the student had surpassed the teacher!

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied to both Michigan Ross and Kellogg because I felt a real connection with the student body at both schools.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “What do you think will be your biggest challenge at Kellogg?” I was not expecting that question, so I paused to think before answering. I believed my biggest challenge at Kellogg would be defining what personal success looked like and then holding myself accountable for achieving that. At Kellogg, deepening my ability to communicate, persuade, and lead others is one of my core focus areas.

I think that when you are in undergrad or at work, there are lots of predetermined markers of success (good grades, a positive annual review, etc.). However, grades are not the only measure of success for an MBA student. You must think about how you want to allocate your time, not just to reach your professional goals but also to continue growing as a person, a team member, a mentor and a leader.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I visited Kellogg’s campus twice before deciding to join the class of 2022. The first time happened during Diversity Preview Days when I was able to connect with current students and alumni. Later on, I came to Admitted Students Weekend, when I got a snapshot of who my actual classmates would be. During both of my visits, I really felt at ease and at home. I’d start chatting with someone and learning more about their Kellogg experience and would totally lose track of the time!

The campus was a huge selling point as well. I wasn’t familiar with Chicago and Evanston, but I was blown away by the Kellogg campus with and the Global Hub, which sits on Lake Michigan. The building is open and modern but with lots of convivial spaces. You can see downtown Chicago from the Hub but you have the benefit of tons of green space (I love to run) on the Northwestern campus.

I know what you’re wondering, “But Christianne, how will I know if Kellogg is the right school for me?” My answer is that I think in life, that the personal decisions we make boil down to one part logic and one part intuition. Because Kellogg is such a friendly place to be, I’ll end my answer with some food for thought. When the French philosopher Montaigne was asked about why he had been such good friends with Etienne de La Boétie, he explained, “Because it was him; because it was me.” In other words, there are choices in life that we can’t analyze or fully explain and yet we can know that they are the right ones for us. Kellogg was the right choice for me and I encourage you to learn more about the school!

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? My father played and coached in the NBA for over 20 years. Growing up I met many NBA players who, more often than not, came from disadvantaged or working-class backgrounds. One player I met made over $200 million during his career but is now near destitute. Why? He lacked a general financial education. It made him vulnerable to the very people he had hired to manage his money.

This realization was a defining moment for me and has motivated me to pursue a business education so that I can use what I have learned to inspire the generation behind me to learn about generational wealth. In the long-term, I would like to establish my own social impact investment fund that offers honest money management coupled with community impact. My fund will focus on investing in communities of color, minority-owned businesses and affordable housing developments around the country.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? I am inspired by people like Mitch and Freada Kapor who are the founders of the Kapor Fund and also early pioneers in impact investing, where they funded companies like LendUp (an alternative to payday loans) and Pigeonly (which helps the incarcerated maintain family ties.) The Kapor Fund is proof that impact investing generates positive returns and real impacts on citizen’s lives.

As my peers begin to assess companies, I would point students to the recent announcement from the esteemed CEO think tank Business Roundtable, which rescinded its 20+ year-old definition of corporate purpose as being to ‘create shareholder wealth first and foremost’. In its new statement, the Business Roundtable emphasizes concepts like ‘creating value for customers, investing in employees, fostering diversity and inclusion, dealing fairly and ethically with suppliers, supporting the communities in which we work and protecting the environment’. I am convinced that we are on the precipice of a different way of running companies and investing in them and I’m excited to be a part of it.