That’s what every recruiter who has interviewed any MBA has thought. ‘Show me that you’ve operated in real time serving real clients solving real problems under real time constraints.’ No, recruiters aren’t looking for passive sponges who absorb lectures or transients who jump from case-to-case. Recruiters want MBAs who’ve lived their roles — students who’ve seen how everything works together. These are students who’ve faced dilemmas, squeezed resources, and made decisions. They don’t just talk innovation and problem-solving: they execute because they know how systems work.
That’s how recruiters know they can bring value and make a difference right when they start.
Business schools may gush about reflection, self-discovery, and transformation. In the end, MBAs need to learn a trade to thrive. That’s what separates the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School: Experience. Since the 1960s, Carlson has been an innovator in hands-on, project-driven programming. Partnering with real companies, Carlson MBAs tackle everything from supply chain bottlenecks to new product rollouts. That way, they develop what employers covet most: known-how and confidence. Early on, this translates to more trust, more opportunities, and more responsibilities for Carlson MBAs — and more money, more autonomy, and more say-so down the road.
AS REAL AS IT GETS
You could call experiential learning a living case study. The difference: the students really are the protagonists — and the consequences of their choices are very real. At Carlson, the proving grounds are called Enterprise programs. Lasting two semesters, Enterprises are a series of projects divided into four specializations: Consulting, Brands, Funds, and Ventures. Here, students apply what they’ve learned in class. At the same time, they practice, over-and-over, the most difficult skills to master: communication, and teamwork, resolving conflicts and delivering on expectations.
And they do that while learning from the top companies. In the past, Carlson MBAs have partnered with Twin Cities royalty: Target, 3M, Land O’Lakes, and Medtronic — not to mention global powerhouses like Microsoft, McKinsey, Amazon, and Delta. And the expertise available is stunning. Siddharth Chandramouli, managing director for the Consulting Enterprise is a former senior executive with IBM and the UnitedHealth Group who spent five years at McKinsey. And Toby Nord, who runs the Venture Enterprise, boasts a career that runs from advising TechStars to heading up innovation, strategy, and business development at Best Buy.
The best part: MBAs enjoy the flexibility to take part in more than one Enterprise.
Not surprisingly, Carlson alumni consider their Enterprise program to be the most memorable and valuable part of business school. Kevin Bubolz, a 2021 grad and P&Q Best & Brightest MBA, participated in several projects during his Venture Enterprise. These included working for an AgTech drone firm and economic development institution. He also started his firm, where the Enterprise showed him how to research and test concepts and apply various startup methodologies to his operations. Bailey Webster, a first-year MBA who studied horticultural science as an undergrad, plans to follow in Bubolz’s footsteps.
“I was drawn to the Enterprise programs,” she tells P&Q. “I loved that the Carlson School promotes a lot of hands-on learning. I’m a very experiential learner; the more I do, the better I understand.”
A SAFE WAY TO TEST YOUR LIMITS
In particular, Webster joined the Funds Enterprise, which has $50 million dollars of client money available to students through equity and fixed income funds. You can think of this enterprise as more of a business, as the fund has grown by up to $5 million dollars over the past year. For Webster, the Funds Enterprise provides a way to try her hand at something new.
“I came to the Carlson School without any finance background. In fact, it wasn’t even on my radar,” she admits. “As I have learned more about the role that finance plays in every aspect of business, I realized I wanted to learn as much as possible about it. I’m most excited to work with Susanna Gibbons, the director of the Funds Enterprise. She is passionate about sustainable finance and ESG (environmental, social, and governance) finance. I believe learning the language of finance will open up a lot of possibilities for my career path.”
Her classmate, Jeremy Bovan, brings a similar profile to Carlson. A Military Intelligence Major in the U.S. Army, Bovan believes rising to a challenge and tackling a weakness will give him the biggest return on his MBA investment. “The great thing about the Funds Enterprise,” he observes, “is that you are managing a real business with a massive portfolio and with actual investors to answer to. I cannot think of a better motivator to learn than when the stakes are real!”
EXPLORING DIFFERENT INDUSTRIES
Several members of the Class of 2023 intend to join the Consulting Enterprise. Here, student teams learn to define problems, conduct research, develop stories and slides, and communicate at a c-suite level. Ikram Khan, who studied physical therapy and public health before starting a company, has enrolled in the Carlson Consulting Enterprise to teach himself how to think effectively so he can act decisively.
“As a part of CCE program, I would get the opportunity to learn the best practices, frameworks, and methodologies crucial for structured problem-solving and managerial skills,” Khan writes. “Expertise gained through exposures in the CCE would help me develop as a future global leader who is solving complex health problems to create a business as a force for good for billions who still do not have access to healthcare.”
Thiago Nunes is joining Khan in the Consulting Enterprise — just for a very different reason. “The most exciting part of the Enterprise program is that it is a real opportunity to assist local and Fortune 500 companies to solve one of their most challenging problems which could be related to operations, strategy, or go-to-market. One of my main goals during the MBA is to explore different industries and the Consulting Enterprise really appealed to me in that sense.
A DIVERSE GROUP
Nunes himself hails from Brazil, where he followed a traditional career path in management. His claim to fame is hitting 400% year-over-year sales growth after closing a deal with one of Latin America’s largest food and beverage companies. Of course, the class also features many students who don’t fit the so-called MBA profile. Exhibit A: Patrick Hines. He earned a Doctor of Musical Arts before moving college teaching. Before that, he worked as a performer.
“The biggest accomplishment of my career has been living in China for five years where I played French horn in the Guiyang Symphony Orchestra,” he tells P&Q. “I have always wanted to experience living in a different country and do something not everyone is doing. I am forever grateful to have experienced the thrills, challenges, and lifelong relationships that have come with living abroad.”
Several class members gravitated to the non-profit and social sectors. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Bailey Webster became a food hub director for the Hmong American Farmers Association, where her team helped Hmong families get their produce to Twin Cities customers. In contrast, Lucia Madero Murillo has been involved in the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation movements since high school. Two years ago, her disarmament group was tapped to present policy recommendationd before member of the United Nations’ Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).
“Three months of meetings, brainstorm sessions, and many drafts later, my group was able to produce a paper examining the differences between the NPT [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons ] and the TPNW (Treaty on the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons), and how NATO’s non-nuclear weapon states can mitigate concerns and bridge the gap between TPNW signatories and nuclear allies. The paper was published by the British American Security Information Council as part of the EVN collection, and I hope to continue working with disarmament affairs in the future.”
Ikram Khan left his mark in India. Here, he started a health center in an isolated area of India. Logistics alone, that would be a painful difficult task. In Khan’s case, you had to add dense forest and insurgents — plus “poor power supply, unsafe drinking water, political pushback, and security threats.” He calls it a “near-impossible task.” Thankfully, Khan focused on the “near” part.
“My senior management was reluctant, and we were considering even dropping the center. However, I was determined to bring health care to the people of Chatra. Within a year, we touched more than 10,000 lives, creating a meaningful impact on both the community and the organization.”
Silvy Kalra experienced a similar calling. In her case, it was empowering women that became her cause. “Being from Delhi, India, I have witnessed women from lower economic backgrounds struggle and hide in their houses witnessing the rising rape cases in the capital. To cater to my passion for women’s safety, I founded FightHer in 2018, a non-profit to teach girls, women, and domestic workers basic self-defense techniques to help them be their own protector. Since then, FightHer has impacted the lives of more than 300 women to date and strives to scale its impact through partnerships.”
Before Carson, Emma Foster racked up an impressive list of achievements. She earned a CPA and made senior associate at PwC in less than two years. She was fast-tracked to running a large global restructuring project too. Still, she considers her work in PwC’s Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN) to be her most important work.
“I grew up hearing about the lack of women in the then “Big Eight” accounting firms during the early days of my dad’s public accounting career, so I took this as a challenge when applying to PwC,” she explains. “Although gender equality has improved significantly in this industry, there is still a lot of progress to be made. At PwC, I committed myself to exposing new hires to women in leadership roles early on in their careers. This served as a driving force during my involvement in WIN, where I have planned over nine networking and career enhancement events for the women in our office. Most recently, I moderated the Partner Panel discussion, which had over 130 virtual attendees. Other events I’ve planned include the Avivo Charity Drive and Holiday Luncheon, the Women’s Wellness Series, and the Wine Tasting Networking Social.”
AN INDY 500 WINNER
Of course, you don’t always need to be out front to make a major difference. Most auto racing fans will remember Takuma Sato as the winner of the Indianapolis 500. In reality, it was Sato’s Honda Performance Development team who enabled him to take a victory lab. And one of the team’s most valuable members was first-year Aditi Biswas.
“As a design engineer, I worked on the valvetrain and camshaft development for Honda’s IndyCar series engines. I enjoyed interacting with talented engineers in a fast-paced and challenging environment. I closely witnessed the impact of decisive leadership on the team spirit and how we went from losing the race by 0.21 seconds in the prior year to dominating the racetrack in 2020’s Indy 500 race! I am proud of my contributions to the team’s victory. I learned a valuable lesson on how a synergistic mix of effective leadership, innovative strategy, motivated employees, and a robust execution plan brings success to an organization.”
This past year, MBAs like Biswas have brought such lessons to their classmates. Bailey Webster, for one, has received a social venturing fellowship, so she can help local garlic growers sell online to local customers. Since arriving on campus, Lucia Madero Murillo has volunteered at the Phillips Neighborhood Clinic, while Emma Foster has organized Lunch & Learns, a Toys 4 Tots gift drive, and a Trivia Night for her classmates. That said, some of the class’ achievements have been more personal in nature…though no less daunting. Take Silvy Kalra.
“Being a career switcher, I am proud to share that I have been able to cope up with the pressure of various core business courses along with connecting with various alumnus,” she tells P&Q. “A little background, I was not even familiar with basic statistics or finance when I joined the MBA program and during the first few weeks I ended up studying 10+ hours daily in addition to attending classes just to understand the basics and keep moving forward. I am still a work in progress but my biggest accomplishment is that I didn’t give up despite the innumerable challenges.”
Next Page: Profiles From Carlson’s MBA Class of 2023