2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Olivia Koziol, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Olivia Koziol

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

“Former professional ballroom dancer turned strategy consultant, passionate about making opportunities for other career switchers.”

Hometown: Sandy Hook, Connecticut

Fun fact about yourself: I’m the oldest of six kids!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Boston College, Bachelor’s in Applied Psychology and Theater

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? MIT, Program Support – MIT Bootcamps

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? McKinsey & Company, Stamford, Connecticut

Where will you be working after graduation? Associate – McKinsey & Company, Stamford, Connecticut

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?

In January 2021, my team won the national Deloitte Case Competition, the most prestigious consulting case competition in the U.S. Coming into business school, I knew my learning curve would be higher than most, but I was committed to signing up for every opportunity that would grow my skills. I was nervous because the first round occurred only two months into business school, so I joined a team with completely different skillsets and backgrounds than my own, none of whom I knew particularly well. I assumed a team as diverse as ours would lead to a great learning experience, regardless of competition outcomes. Not only did we win the local and national rounds, I learned so much from each member of the team, and they are now my closest friends at business school. I could not be more grateful for my teammates and what we were able to accomplish.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? While working at MIT, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Jordan working with Syrian and Palestinian refugees who were retraining for careers in data science. (Shoutout to MIT ReACT and all its students!) I was chosen to work with this program, despite it being outside the scope of my responsibilities, because I had a reputation for adapting quickly to new situations, making order out of chaos, and bringing a positive energy to work. That reputation, and the learning opportunities it has afforded me, is a more important achievement than anything else.

Why did you choose this business school? My first visit to UNC Kenan-Flagler was in February 2020 for Inclusive Blue Leadership Weekend, an event for prospective and admitted students. I hadn’t yet been admitted or met anyone from the school, and only two weeks before my mom had passed away after suffering from ALS. Despite being in a difficult place, I wanted to attend the event because I was seeking a sense of community and belonging.

During the weekend, a facilitator ran an event that asked each of us to identify the aspects of our identity we felt most impacted a certain scenario. For example, did we feel that our gender identity, biological sex, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic class, military status, family background, or nationality had a greater impact on our educational experience, our career choices, and how we were perceived by others? It started with simple situations and progressed to more and more complex ones. The group of attendees began opening up to each other, expressing ourselves, and connecting on a much deeper level than any of us had expected in the short hour the exercise ran. At a time when I felt my most vulnerable, I found a community where vulnerability was being fostered and encouraged. That is what makes a community great, and that was when I knew I wanted to be a UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA Pride Club hosts an annual drag brunch featuring performances by the top professional drag artists of the Raleigh-Durham community. This is my favorite event of the year, because it is a standout opportunity for a very professional group of MBAs to celebrate sides of their identity that may not always be valued in their work environments. In fact, pre-pandemic, the event was focused on students performing in drag!

One of the alumni I connected with who helped me end up at McKinsey actually mentioned during our first conversation that he performed in drag during the event. I loved how open he could be about that experience, even during a professional coffee chat. I’m a big proponent of bringing your “whole self” to work whenever possible, and this becomes easier as we all educate ourselves on how the “whole self” may look different for others than it does for us.

What is the biggest myth about your school? There’s a myth than UNC Kenan-Flagler is full of white men who used to work in banking and want to go into real estate. Sure, we have students with that background, but our MBA program is full of career switchers of every industry, every work experience, every demographic, and every personal journey. The reason UNC Kenan-Flagler is so collaborative is because many of us have a background different than the subjects we are learning about, so we aren’t afraid to ask questions and push our boundaries. In the end, this helps us grow from each other’s experiences.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I was honest. Applicants sometimes get so wrapped up in showing the perfect version of themselves that they lose sight of the purpose of the MBA. We are applying to these programs in pursuit of growth opportunities, which means we should acknowledge the areas in which we want to grow, not just the achievements we have already attained. Of course, show your best self, but show your best real self.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The classmate I most admire is Shawn Reid, the MBA Consulting Club president. He went into the consulting recruitment process with a nearly unparalleled sense of energy our first year, and we decided to work together to achieve our recruitment goals. His drive and intensity are extremely motivating to those around him, and I am grateful for the part he played in pushing me through the difficult moments of recruitment prep. Without him, achieving my MBA goals would have been much more difficult.

Our working relationship was strong, so we chose to work together to improve the Consulting Club’s recruitment process for the next generation of UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA students.

He firmly believes any individual is capable of achieving lofty goals if they make the choice to do so and can rally others around their cause, and this is reflected in his leadership style. What I most admire about his leadership is his ability to balance his vision for an organization with the visions and input of members of his team. Working with him as leaders of Consulting Club has taught me so much about how brainstorming and challenging ideas, when used respectfully and combined with passion for a mission, can lead to incredible outcomes.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Because I was raised by immigrants who weren’t involved in the corporate world and didn’t pursue traditional education, my first exposure to “the business world” was my role at MIT. When I took that role, I hadn’t even heard of an MBA, much less considered applying.

When I was thinking about my career path, my mentor sat me down and said, “I have two masters degrees. One of them, I use in every role I’ve taken, every single day.” She was referring to how her MBA had prepared her to problem-solve in any work environment. This conversation sold me on applying to MBA programs.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. Lead an international project in the Middle East (and learn conversational Arabic or Farsi/Persian in preparation)
  2. Be elected to a position in education leadership for public schools (ex. Board of Education) so I can fight to expand the information students are exposed to at a younger age. More young women (especially from low-income communities) need information about all their career options, not just those career paths they see the women around them participating in.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? The pandemic has shown me that the world craves thinkers who thrive in the unfamiliar. My background, unusual though it seems to some, has made me more adaptable than some of my peers, which means I’m more prepared to handle the disconnect between the theory of business and messy reality. Careers are long and not always linear, but learning and adapting in a new environment are timeless skills.

What made Olivia Koziol such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“I have been a consulting professor at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School for five years after working almost 30 years in the consulting profession. I have worked closely with Olivia over the past two years as a student, Consulting Club leader, teaching assistant, and as a sponsor for her Vetter Dean’s Fellows project.

Olivia is one of the best examples of the type of unique and exceptional student in our program. While she comes from a non-traditional background , she has all the “tools” – high energy, passion, commitment, curiosity, strong analytical skills – that make her both an exceptional student and future business leader.

During all my experiences with Olivia, I have been struck by the fact that if I were still working as a consulting partner, she would be exactly the kind of candidate I would be looking for. McKinsey is getting a good one.

What makes Olivia so invaluable can be summed up in one word: stewardship.  Stewardship was one of the core values I grew up with at Andersen Consulting and   was core to who I was as a partner – and it is core to who Olivia is as an MBA student.

In every situation and role over the past two years, Olivia has done everything in her power to coach and mentor her second-year peers and first-year students (including over 100 individual coffee chats and cases) to be the best they can be. More importantly, she led an effort (Vetter Dean’s Fellows Project) that defined how all aspects (faculty, career and Leadership, Consulting Club, etc.) of the Consulting Concentration should evolve in the future to better support students interested in consulting careers.

To Olivia, this wasn’t just a project, it was a passion. She has worked closely with me and my team to push the recommendations forward. We have made significant progress this year, and she is currently working to hand off the execution of the remaining ideas to next year’s leadership team. Olivia’s efforts have been invaluable to the current class of students – resulting in the highest number of full-time and internship consulting offers ever for our program. More importantly, the efforts she initiated will be transformative to the next generation of students.

I have worked closely with a lot of high-performing students at UNC Kenan-Flagler.  Many of them have made significant contributions during their time in the program.  What makes Olivia unique is the passion and commitment to make the program better for years to come.  To me, that is the definition of stewardship.”

Alex Dickey
Professor of the Practice of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and STAR Faculty Advisor


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