2022 MBA To Watch: Renita Clayton, Wisconsin School of Business

Renita Clayton

University of Wisconsin – Madison (Wisconsin School of Business)

Determined to address systemic inequalities that create disparities in pay, promotion, and access to resources.”

Hometown: Milwaukee, WI, USA

Fun fact about yourself: I am a pretty good dancer like Michael Jackson. I love his music and iconic blazers with the extreme shoulder pads. I also collect globes and coins. I enjoy traveling and I get inspired by the places I have yet to experience. I started collecting coins with my grandpa and I enjoy saving currency from every country I visit.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Notre Dame College of Ohio, where I studied Business Marketing and Multimedia Design.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I worked at FAST as a Business Unit Manager. This was a manufacturing company where I led marketing initiatives to launch new products and programs. I also traveled to tradeshows to grow our domestic and international business partnerships for adhesive tapes and commodity personalization product sales. I started out as a Marketing Coordinator and following a successful launch of a separate business segment for the umbrella of companies, I was promoted to Business Unit Manager, reporting to the Vice President of the company.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Edward Jones Investments, which is located in St. Louis Missouri, however, my internship was remote last summer.

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be returning to Edward Jones as an Associate in their Accelerated Leadership Program.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Community Work:

  • Urban League Greater Madison Young Professionals member, where I held a Social/Cultural Co-Chair position
  • TEMPO Madison member

Business School Memberships:

  • Forte’ member
  • Graduate Women in Business (GWiB)- Vice President position
  • Graduate Multicultural Business Association (GMBA)- Communications Chair position

Business School Participation:

  • Diversity in Business (DiB)
  • Tech Product Club
  • International Student Mentorship Program
  • Graduate Marketing Network (GMN) Case Competition Coach

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I chose to conduct an independent study and my focus was on incorporating dimensions of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into the Wisconsin School of Business core curriculum and co-curricular activities. This topic was especially important to me as an African American woman and a Consortium fellow. I also saw the need to address disparities that impact a number of classes of people and the disabilities that some students have to navigate around to learn and comprehend material at such a fast pace.

Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is a subject matter that I felt was important in evaluating the Wisconsin School of Business (WSB) core objectives and syllabi (at the core level minimally) for DEI reference or representation. It was inspiring to interview so many leaders across the campus with diverse perspectives and gain information on the experiences of inclusion from the WSB Consortium Fellows. I am very proud of completing this independent study under the supervision of the Assistant Dean, Blair Nelson Sanford, because I was able to highlight the many ways that WSB has incorporated DEI into the curriculum and provide additional ways to continue the work for a diverse academic experience for all. Our differences make the difference, and they should be celebrated and merged within and outside of the classroom. I am proud of the opportunity through this independent study to tell stories that reflect diverse perspectives and celebrate the DEI success at WSB.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of landing an internship with Edward Jones Investments, a renowned financial services firm. I never imagined going into the financial industry, but from the moment I connected with the University recruiting team and other leaders within the firm, I felt a connection that couldn’t be explained. I just knew that everything I was looking for in terms of being able to show up authentically, having unique paths of career growth, psychological safety, and continued learning would be found at Edward Jones. I was very strategic during my 10-week internship in understanding my team, the project that I was tasked to complete, and the corporate culture. I made networking a priority to get to know the leaders within my division and cross-functionally.

I worked on a project to create a dashboard that funneled and prioritized changes that needed to be communicated to the Branch offices. This required me to connect with Branch Development associates and create an illustrative way to champion change and gain buy in throughout the various stages of transformation. Some of the steps that I took to complete this project were to assess the current tools and resources being utilized to look for any overlapping work and confirm consistency in reporting methods. I also looked at the intended audience of each resource developed to communicate change to ensure that the context was easy to understand, and the right amount of information was presented to help leaders across the division see and support change. My project was challenging and rewarding to build recommendations that would equip leaders to share and measure the impact of upcoming and ongoing change.

On the last day of my internship, I was excited to receive an offer to return to the firm post-graduation as an associate in their Accelerated Leadership Program (ALP). The internship experience was a great achievement because it paved the way for what I believe will be an incredible career in the near future. I completed the internship remotely which came with its own challenges to build connections, establish credibility, and seek mentorship from leaders within the firm. I pushed past all obstacles to make the most of the 10-week internship and I built relationships that have only grown stronger over the last six months. The leaders and associates that I connected with over the summer have not left my side and have continued to invest in my MBA experience and do everything within their power to make sure that I have a great transition back into full-time work. Receiving an offer from Edward Jones was life-changing for myself and my family and it was a reminder that resilience and tenacity pays off when you are determined to win. Not only did I return to school for my MBA, but I came with the mindset to select an internship with a company that valued my performance, and curiosity to learn and excel. I am very proud to say that I accomplished both and I look forward to joining the firm in a full-time capacity.

Why did you choose this business school? I sought a Human Resource program that would combine industry-focused curriculum aligned with the Society for Human Resource Management. There are so many soft skills, such as adaptability, work ethic, and problem-solving skills, that are needed in the workplace; I felt that this was the best program to help me strategically better understand how to impact the bottom line through effectively influencing an organization’s culture, human capital, and morale. I was happy to see that this program has such a strong alumni network and prominent connections with top employers that have hired Wisconsin School of Business graduates. The Wisconsin School of Business and the Strategic Human Resources Management program are ranked high; many of the faculty are expert researchers and textbook authors, and the small program size made this an easy decision. Merging business strategy with high impact elements of people management made this program perfect.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor would be Hart Posen. He taught our Business Strategy course. Throughout this course, Hart gave us permission to think differently while considering the bigger picture of every strategic decision that a business or business leaders make. We were required to conduct SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, review case studies, articulate our thoughts on business decisions using Porter’s Five Forces, and consider all innovative approaches from analytical frameworks for creating sustainable competitive advantage.

Hart’s class was engaging, and he made it a point to make us answer the question “why” in terms of our belief or answers to ideas we opposed. This course was important because we were taught to look at competition, performance, stakeholder analyses, and the logic behind corporation business strategies. I am also particularly thankful for Hart because of his stance on embracing the need for diversity and his knack for creating empowering environments for learning. “DEI is not only a moral imperative but also a business imperative. I ask students to consider the conditions under which DEI can be a source of competitive advantage” states Hart. He is my favorite MBA professor because of his dedication to teaching us to think independently and for his stance on diversity being a non-negotiable ingredient in a favorable or superior business position.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite event at the Wisconsin School of Business was International Night, where we celebrated many cultures and traditions around the world. The Graduate Multicultural Business Association (GMBA), of which I was the Communications Chair, hosted this event in the Fall of 2021. I was one of the masters of ceremony for this event and I worked on the planning and logistics of bringing this in-person event to life. We had so many students and family members of students gather to celebrate diversity. There were live performances from students who volunteered to showcase their instrument skills, dancing and singing abilities, and we had students volunteer to present PowerPoint presentations highlighting fun and interesting facts about their home country. There was representation from India, Colombia, Vietnam, and Japan, to name a few. This MBA event provided a platform where students could share their cultural differences in a safe space, and everyone left having learned something new. Many of the students dressed in their countries traditional clothing. It was an awesome experience to bring together so many people from all over the world and pay homage to our cultural differences. This is an event that I hope will continue for years to come at the Wisconsin School of Business.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? If there was anything to change or do differently, I would be more present. While I was actively engaged in various programs and student organizations, I would have spent more time at school, in Grainger Hall, to connect with my classmates, grab dinner, and do other non-school related activities.

During the first year of school, I found myself being so consumed with homework and stressing over deadlines that I didn’t prioritize scheduling time to just be present and have fun. At the start of the second year of school, I blocked off time on my calendar to relax and connect with family and friends and I know this will be just as important when I move away for my full-time job opportunity to ensure that I am making time for those I hold dear to my heart. When I recognized that I was always busy and missing out on creating memories, I began to manage my time differently. If I could start all over again, I would have put more emphasis on being in the moment and releasing the things that I could not control. My advice to future students would be to stress less and network more. This program goes by so quickly, so spend more time in the present, being present.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was unsure if I would fit in or make friends that I could be open and honest with. As a mature adult learner, with a lot of work experience in-between undergrad and the MBA program, I didn’t know how I would relate with others and if it would be obvious to spot out the differences in experience and education. Although I knew the program was small in comparison to undergraduate school admission, I still had the impression that it would be difficult to make meaningful connections with my classmates.

I was pleasantly surprised that no one cared how old I was nor questioned my reason for returning to school. I was immediately accepted and made a lot of friends that I hope to keep close for life. Some of my MBA friends have learned more about me in less time than it took other friendships in past years. I think a lot of it is due to the intensity of the program: attending school during a pandemic and leaning on one another when those outside of the program didn’t understand parts of the MBA journey that were difficult to explain. It was surprising to know that my classmates wanted the best for each other and there was this unspoken theme of “If one fails, we all fail”. As a result, I always had someone to go to for homework help, talk about my day, or sit on someone’s couch just to be in community with others.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I shared my story about resigning from my job three weeks before the pandemic and stepping out on faith to return to school a decade post my undergraduate degree. I knew there was risk as well as opportunity and I chose to face the unknown and step down from the corporate world to pursue my academic goals. I was the first in my family to return the school after a long gap in academia and fulfill my MBA in a full-time program. I did not have monetary support and I knew I would take on some debt to afford school, but it was the necessary next step for my future. Moving away, unemployed and preparing to be a student again, was a big challenge. However, I communicated all of the reasons why this was the best decision for me to make. Being vulnerable and expressing my apprehensions along with my short-term and long-term vision gave me an edge at the school I chose.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Jorge Tefel the most. He was the first friend I made in the program, and it was easy to be transparent with him. He holds me accountable to my goals and he reminds me to remove my “filter” if he notices that I am rewording my true thoughts. Jorge is a genuine and consistent friend and my experience in this MBA program is richer because of his investment in our friendship.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Tom Parham, the former Vice President at my last employer influenced my decision to pursue business in college. During my 360 reviews and our one-on-one conversations he would remind me of my greatness, and he would question my 3–5-year plan often. He always told me that going back to school for an MBA would widen my net of career opportunities and he knew that I was seeking a new challenge. Tom was so committed in my growth; he wrote one of my letters of recommendation for my admission into the school. Tom has always supported me and continues to be a part of my journey to success.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I hope to serve as a board member for a non-profit organization that focuses on women or underserved communities. I will also work on publishing a book that will encourage young girls to embrace their inner beauty and break societal standards on gender roles.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? The pandemic has taught me that it’s never too late to start over or change the trajectory of your career. I knew I wanted to do something different with my life before the world shut down due to COVID-19. However, my reason for change became more evident when I was forced to sit with my thoughts and determine my next steps in life. The pandemic was a wake-up call to so many people that life is short, but it’s also what you make of it. I wanted to do more things that brought me joy, that helped me fulfill my purpose in life, and be around people who challenged my growth.

In terms of my career, I initially thought I wanted to seek a Human Resources degree to pursue a position in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, but over the course of the pandemic, it became clearer that I was interested in Human Resources to be a better leader to the teams that I am a part of and for the future employees that I will manage. The pandemic gave me permission to take risks and step outside of my comfort zone. Things were no longer “normal” so embarking on the chance to grow and evolve as a person and in my career, the pandemic was perfect timing for such evolution. Pivoting careers is not an easy task. However, as I reassessed the work that I did, I wanted to choose a career path where I would make an impact, have work/life balance, and work for an employer where I was both heard and seen. I began to see the shift in the importance that I initially placed on compensation and role titles and redirect my attention to corporate culture and a sense of belonging. The pandemic was simply a magnifying glass that exposed all of the missing pieces in my career happiness, and I sought to fill those gaps by starting my academic journey for my MBA and seeking organizations that allowed me to be my true self.

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

“A powerhouse of energy and drive, Renita Clayton inspires others, and committed herself to empowering under-represented voices during her time at the Wisconsin School of Business.

Renita will graduate in May, having earned the respect of many. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Renita took an independent study class from me, which allowed her to dive into issues of diversity and inclusion. Her research findings and recommendations culminated in a paper: Our Differences Make the Difference: Incorporating Dimensions of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion into the Wisconsin School of Business Core Curriculum and Co-Curricular Activities.The paper will be used to improve the experience for future classes. While her focus was primarily on co-curricular opportunities, her work included numerous examples that professors can consider to create a more inclusive atmosphere in the classroom.

Known as an influencer by several in the class, as an officer of the Graduate Multicultural Business Association, she organized events, mentored students and even engaged in helping international students with career resources. Her leadership inspired others to believe in themselves.

She is thoughtful, smart, and articulate and her voice carries weight. Considered as a “compassionate connector” by some, she looked out for the needs of others, while she transformed herself into a leader with impact. Renita’s influence included active participation in the Graduate Women in Business and Out for Business student organizations. She was also a Fellow of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management.

A classmate commented, Renita is a true collaborator, “with the noble ambition to change something if not everything.” She is a role model for inspiring people to be their best, and to appreciate and listen to a myriad of voices. I look forward to following her exciting career.”

Blair Nelson Sanford
Assistant. Dean, MBA & Master’s Programs
Wisconsin School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Madison


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