2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Samantha Clute, University of Minnesota (Carlson)

Samantha Clute

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

“Motivated by challenge, I am a life-long learner with a disposition toward action.”

Hometown: Vancouver, Washington

Fun fact about yourself: I worked as a whitewater raft guide through college and am licensed in swift water rescue and as a wilderness first responder.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Whitman College, B.A. Biology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Brook & Bull Cellars and Vital Winery, General Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Piper Sandler, Minneapolis MN

Where will you be working after graduation? Fortive Corporation, General Management Development Program

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I serve as the representative to the Universities Professional Student Government as a board member of our MBA Association, VP of Finance for our Outdoor Adventure Club, and Board Member for our LGBTQIA++ Club (COMPASS). I work with student affairs as a DE&I graduate assistant, and also hold leadership positions as a Portfolio Manager in the Carlson Funds Enterprise and work for Gopher Angels, a local early-stage investment network.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My volunteer work with Gopher Angels has been a highly educational and rewarding component of my business school experience. When I started this project in the first semester of my MBA, I felt more kinship with the bright-eyed founders eager to learn about the process than with the experienced investors. As my competence and experience in early-stage investing grew, I took on increasingly larger roles in the firm. By fall 2020, I was leading my own diligence processes and had successfully closed my first investment deal. This felt like a full-circle moment for my professional growth: pre-MBA coming from a cash-strapped start-up looking for investors, all the way around the table, successfully facilitating the early-stage angel financing of an up-and-coming business. As I look back on my MBA career, that closing Zoom call of my first deal will stand out as one of my most meaningful achievements and will be a feeling and experience I will strive to replicate throughout my career.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Working at an early-stage start-up gave me many opportunities to make a lasting impact on the trajectory and success (or failure) of the company. Often, the winners and losers aren’t immediately obvious in these situations – so when I spent six weeks cataloging a box full of invoices into a functioning cost of goods sold model, I didn’t know for sure whether it would serve the business need. As it turns out, our investors, including CPAs and the founder, still use my original model for the basis of P&L forecasting. While the work wasn’t glamorous, creating something from scratch that’s been functional enough to outlast me by several years is certainly a highlight of my professional career so far.

Why did you choose this business school? One of my early hesitations about going to business school was that I thought I might wind up sitting in the back of a giant lecture hall listening to the historical story of Toyota’s invention of just-in-time manufacturing without getting practice solving real-world business problems. As such, I went looking for a school that emphasized three major things: high-quality professors with real-world business backgrounds, experiential hands-on learning, and small discussion-based classes that would allow me to live out my business-as-a-liberal art dream to its fullest.

The Carlson School’s focus and dedication to its year-long enterprise program, where students get hands-on experience working with real clients and managing real investor’s money, was the perfect fit for my learning style and provided the foundation for a highly experiential program. I particularly was interested in the Carlson Funds Enterprise, which boasts the largest student-managed independent investment fund in the country. As a Portfolio Manager for this fund over the past year, I have gotten significant hands-on client and investment management experience and felt that I learned way more than I could have from a theoretical discussion alone.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? The first couple of months of the MBA program feels like drinking from a fire hose. Between starting classes, learning how to network, recruiting, new clubs and activities, and adjusting to life in a new city, there are a lot of balls to keep in the air. All of that seemed extra challenging as I came into the program with a concrete set of expectations for what my life would look like after I graduated. I had a narrow focus, somewhat derived from my own interests. I was afraid of not knowing what I wanted and getting left behind while everyone charged forward on their prescribed plans: consultants were practicing casing, investment bankers were doing technical prep, and marketing and corporate finance seekers were networking with their desired companies. I charged down the I-banking path because I thought I was better off choosing any path, even one I wasn’t sure about, than embracing uncertainty. Looking back, I’m glad I interned in banking, but I wish I’d taken more time to explore options and get a better picture of the breadth of opportunities across fields.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I think the biggest myth about Carlson is that Carlson Students are exclusively Minnesota-born or bound. Coming from Eastern Washington, I fully expected to feel some Midwest culture shock and thought I would be one of only a couple of people with no Midwest connections. Well, my first silver-clad catering tray full of tater tots at a professional networking event was a surprise. However, I quickly discovered that Carlson caters to the worldwide business community and has amazing connections across state and national lines, making it easier than I expected to find alumni and opportunities anywhere I wanted to go post-grad.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was most surprised by the diversity of backgrounds and experiences of my peers, and the applicability of my own experiences in entrepreneurship. I came into the program expecting that I would be playing catch up and that everyone around me would have been working for years for Fortune 500 companies or as consultants and have a head start on business function, jargon, and expectations. Instead, I discovered that my peers came from all kinds of backgrounds, from middle school math teachers to military veterans.

I also found that my experiences in start-ups gave me a holistic birds-eye view of business, which turned out to be invaluable in drawing connections between classes and contextualizing the concepts we learned early on in the program. I realized that succeeding in business school (and in business) wasn’t necessarily about having the most impressive resume or the most prestigious undergraduate degree, but that the breadth of backgrounds created more impactful and productive discussions in the classroom and in the conference room.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? The application process can be stressful and overwhelming, particularly when coming from a non-traditional background (I certainly didn’t work with anyone who had their MBA!). I think that the most impactful thing that I did throughout the process was staying true to my goals and motivations. I knew what I wanted out of an MBA, even if I didn’t have the jargon to describe it nailed down yet. Telling my story—not the one I thought recruiters might want to hear, but my authentic impassioned journey to business – helped give my voice credence and made my application uniquely my own.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Leah Battin has been an inspiration to me throughout the MBA program. She lives her values to the fullest and challenges those around her to consider their implicit biases and motivators in and out of the classroom every day. She has worked tirelessly to improve student outcomes and experiences across the university and truly embodies the Carlson motto “business as a force for good.” Her tenacity, dedication to her goals, and grounded sense of self are qualities that I hope to embody throughout my career.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? COVID stripped a lot of the networking opportunities and joy out of a full-time MBA program, but I think the education and the value of the degree were not significantly disrupted. While there were certainly minor hiccups adjusting to the online class environment, in many cases I found more opportunity to connect to people in the program and business community that I otherwise would not have met. I have been amazed by the agility of professors, students, and administration in adjusting to such rapid changes and feel like I still got everything I could have hoped for out of my MBA.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I didn’t consider business school seriously until my first job after undergraduate, where I worked for a set of small start-up wineries in Washington owned and founded by my boss, Ashley Trout. Ashley has an astonishingly infectious and catalytic entrepreneurial spirit, and the breakneck expansion of the business created opportunities for me to challenge myself with new business problems every day. Ashley encouraged and supported my exploration, from handing over financial records and Excel spreadsheets when I offered to re-work our business plan for a new investor pitch to supporting and encouraging my selection and implementation of a new CRM system even when it wasn’t immediately obvious why we needed one. Her willingness to give me the flexibility and opportunity to learn by trial and error at such a high level so early on in my career helped me realize that I wanted to work in an environment where I could continue to solve big problems every day and inspired me to pursue my MBA.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Live and work abroad, and lead a cross-functional team through a turn-around or merger.

What made Sammi such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Sammi has been a fantastic addition to my program, in part because of her willingness to jump into the unknown with such enthusiasm, bringing everyone else along for the ride. We are involved in managing two student-run investment funds, and she joined us with no background in this business but has developed into one of the key leaders in the program.

She is innately curious about the world, and that spirit has had an incredibly positive impact on everybody around her. She has helped to create a culture of asking questions, and of investigating better ways of doing things. She demonstrates every day the importance of bringing all of one’s experiences to bear on solving problems—she knows how to combine her past expertise with new-found knowledge, and in doing so comes up with really unique insights.

She does not check her creativity at the door—one of the issues she set out to address this year was the fact that instruction around finance is so technical that it can leave career-switchers in the dark about this important area of business. She wanted to use her new-found knowledge from the Funds Enterprise to demystify the field for other students. So naturally, she decided to create a podcast series (search for “The Salvage Value” wherever you get your podcasts). In short, Sammi is smart, curious, creative, and enthusiastic—a combination of talents that have made her absolutely invaluable.”

Susanna Gibbons
Managing Director
David S. Kidwell Funds Enterprise


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