Meet The MBA Class Of 2023: Cheney Holbrook, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Cheney Holbrook

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

I’m on a mission to prove conservation is more than just good for the planet.”

Hometown: New Orleans, Louisiana

Fun Fact About Yourself:

I received a grant as an undergraduate to travel to Patagonia to study the world’s largest bee, the Bombus dahlbomii, which is threatened by the introduction of non-native bees and disease. I tracked the bee, also known as the flying mouse, from the high desert of the Atacama, where I learned about honey production in Chile, to the labs of Santiago’s top universities and the windy, unpredictable slopes of Torres del Paine. In the end, I only found one B. dahlbomii, but that experience catalyzed my career in conservation.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Morehead-Cain Scholar), journalism (reporting) and international studies

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: (Ted) Turner Endangered Species Fund, Media and Outreach Director

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of Kenan-Flagler’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I chose UNC Kenan-Flagler because I wanted to be part of a community that celebrates the unconventional. As someone looking to work at the intersection of finance and conservation, I knew I needed a program that not only made space for but empowered career development outside of more traditional MBA tracks. From the programming at the Center for Sustainable Enterprise to the opportunity to be part of the dual-degree program with Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, UNC Kenan-Flagler has made me feel supported.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Kenan-Flagler? As a dual-degree student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, I served as the career chair for the Net Impact Chapter. In that role, I planned a winter break career series, which involved weekly to-do lists and conversations with leaders in business and the environment – from Microsoft to 1% for the Planet. I’m excited to develop a partnership between UNC Kenan-Flagler and the Nicholas School Net Impact chapters and broaden access to top career planning in the environment.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: While at the Turner Endangered Species Fund, I developed a conservation arts fund to support artists in Colorado who were telling the stories of wild places and wild things. In the first two years, we supported a mural series, three award-winning films and statewide concert tour. Perhaps the greatest success, though, is that the fund continues to grow since I’ve left TESF. The last round of funded projects included sculpture, poetry and stop-motion film.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? Working in conservation can be discouraging – we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction and rocketing toward a 2 degrees Celsius increase in temperature. But COVID-19 reminded me that, even in the darkest hours, there is hope. In just a few months, greenhouse gas emissions fell; wildlife reclaimed their habitat; and people were reminded of the incomparable wonder of nature. We are running out of time, but we can turn this around: harness the power of renewable energy, protect wild places and wild things, and end the illegal wildlife trade. I’m ready to get started.

What is the most important quality of a leader…and why is it so important to success? I’ve been lucky to work with and for extraordinary leaders as a part of Ted Turner’s Endangered Species Fund. I believe a great leader sets themselves apart by living their mission every day. If you don’t believe that what you’re doing really matters, why would anyone else?

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? Nature has the potential to provide more than a third of the climate solution by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide. It also represents big business, as the world’s largest companies make pledges to offset their carbon footprint. I’m pursuing an MBA because the degree, along with my ecosystem sciences experience, will enable me to build a career in nature-based solutions. Last year (through the Master of Environmental Management dual-degree program), I worked on carbon offset development with Shell and built out a new natural infrastructure program at the Environmental Defense Fund. I’m looking forward to continuing to find opportunities to engage in the voluntary carbon market and ensure that it remains both a viable solution to climate change and a conduit for protecting biodiversity.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Yale School of Management (accepted)

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Kenan-Flagler’s MBA program? Visit campus! You will set yourself apart by introducing yourself to the UNC Kenan-Flagler leadership team, but you will also fall in love with Chapel Hill. That’s true whether you’re watching the Tar Heels play basketball, exploring the restaurants on Franklin Street, sitting on the porch at the Carolina Inn, or just soaking up the beauty of the oldest public university in the United States.


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