Earning a Kelley MBA is more than just strengthening business expertise and earning a title; it’s also gaining the confidence and breadth of experience to tackle any challenge that arises in your career.
Tiffany Shaw, MBA’08, experienced this wraparound benefit firsthand. After earning her Evening MBA at the Kelley School of Business on the IUPUI campus, Shaw led commercial operations at a clinical and forensic laboratory. While there, the company experienced a drastic reduction in Medicare reimbursements and her work – and workload – changed unexpectedly.
“Overnight we saw a drastic decrease in revenue for the same specimen volume and over the next five years, the company reduced its workforce by over 60 percent. Departments were consolidated under me and with my new responsibilities, I gained a tremendous breadth of experience,” said Shaw. “The reason I was able to succeed was in part due to the skills I gained in the Kelley Evening MBA Program. During my studies, I had taken every opportunity to do extra case work, consultancy work, externships, special projects – I had gained a wealth of experience that I could immediately put to use.”
This variety offered throughout the Kelley Evening MBA did more for Shaw than simply provide her with a wealth of applicable skills. It also helped her gain a greater understanding of herself and what she wanted in a career. After years in marketing, Shaw thought she wanted to become a brand manager. She enrolled in Kelley’s top-ranked part-time MBA program with the goal of doing just that.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but eventually I realized I would not have been fulfilled in a brand management position,” said Shaw. “Without the diverse experience that I had in the MBA program and complexities I encountered leading operations, I don’t think I would’ve understood that it wasn’t the right route for me.”
Having earned her bachelor’s degree in marketing at the Kelley School in Bloomington, Shaw was no stranger to the principles of this field. But she found the ideas that were abstract during her undergraduate studies years before suddenly came into sharper focus while in the Evening MBA Program.
“The textbooks could’ve been the exact same, but I viewed the information with completely fresh eyes. The diversity of knowledge you gain from the Evening MBA Program allows you to approach any role differently because you’re evaluating it through a different lens,” she said. “When I graduated and entered a medical marketing director role, I understood what was being discussed when company leaders talked about financials. I understood how my budget fit into the overall organization and how my teams impacted the top and bottom line.”
Shaw points out that her Kelley MBA has applications far beyond the board room where deals are made. She says the well-rounded body of knowledge has allowed her to be in the room with business leaders, politicians or executives and feel comfortable leaning into the conversation.
“Being successful means having a seat at the table, being comfortable with that seat and being confident enough to speak up,” she said.
The Kelley Evening MBA Program creates this wraparound learning and confidence boost through its hands-on consultancy projects. Students partner with local companies to solve challenging business problems. Shaw completed two supply chain management consultant projects under the guidance of Mohan Tatikonda, a professor of operations management at the Kelley School. The projects provided expert business insight to two major Indianapolis-based corporations, and the standards were very high.
“These were meaty business problems,” said Shaw of her consulting projects. “And Professor Tatikonda would not allow us to be mediocre in our work. He asked the right questions to challenge us to improve the deliverable. It was a huge learning lesson.”
“At the end of the consulting project, we presented our recommendations to senior leadership, who planned to implement our ideas. These projects provided a safe place to kick the tires and present in front of executives, which prepared me to do the same in front of my own leadership team.”
Today, Shaw is the chief operating officer at Force Communications, where she wears a number of hats managing operations, business development and customer relations, among other things.
“I realize now that I enjoy having diverse responsibility that touches all aspects of the business. I would be bored as a brand manager. In fact, I don’t think I could ever go back into as focused of a role anymore.”
Shaw says earning a Kelley MBA was a great decision for her career, but not one that came easily at the time. Years before she was married with children, Shaw was a busy professional who wasn’t sure she had time to invest in going back to school, particularly for a rigorous MBA program like Kelley’s.
“I always knew I wanted an MBA, but I was going to wait. I was still paying off undergraduate loans. But Kim Saxton [clinical associate professor of marketing at the Kelley School] told me if I waited I’d never do it,” said Shaw. “Kim said, ‘If you wait, there will always be a reason why you can’t do it. So do it now.’ Truly, it was the best advice. You will more than make up your investment; if you do it right, you can demand a salary when you walk out of Kelley.”
In fact, in her first job after the Evening MBA Program, Shaw was offered a salary below what she expected. Instead of accepting it, she re-wrote the job description to match the salary she wanted.
“You can’t ask for something before you deserve it or before you can validate why it’s an appropriate request,” she said.
That confidence is another important attribute earned from the Kelley Evening MBA. Because she stepped up and took advantage of each opportunity her professors offered during her time at Kelley, Shaw felt comfortable later asking to be compensated for the high-caliber skills she knew she brought to the table. Plus, she says networking among classmates, professors and alumni was another priceless tool she leveraged while earning her MBA part time at the Kelley School, home to the largest business school alumni network in the world.
“The job I earned after graduation came about only because of a networking event I was invited to during my elective consulting project at Kelley,” she said. “One thing led to another. During my job search, the sheer number of people I spoke to in such a short time could not have been accomplished on my own. It was all thanks to networking during my MBA.”
The networking goes beyond job references to also include mentorships. Whenever she’s considered changing jobs or negotiating salaries, Shaw knows she has an entire network of expert faculty and experienced alumni she can reach out to for advice.
“You can lean on Kelleys beyond what you’re getting in the classroom. I’ve never had anyone say no to me when I offer to buy them coffee and chat.”
Today, as a working mother of two children, Shaw knows firsthand that having both a successful career and a quality family life is a difficult balance.
“It’s increasingly difficult to know when to say no. That’s something I’ve had to do consciously—to decide where to put the guardrails,” she said. “It’s a daily struggle.”
But Shaw says the Kelley Evening MBA is ideal for women like herself because of the support structure available for anyone willing to ask for help.
“The caliber and dedication of the Kelley faculty—both male and female—is incredible, and they have such pride in the program and their students,” said Shaw. “The support was huge. Kim Saxton pushed me to do something big, and I accomplished it. She remains a huge advocate for women. If you doubt yourself, sit down with Kim. She’s encouraging for women to achieve the same things men can in business, and I know she gave me the confidence to do it.”
Shaw says a Kelley MBA provides credibility. While a bachelor’s degree is a requirement to get a job in business, she says having an MBA will get someone to look at a résumé or take a coffee meeting to talk about an opportunity.
“An MBA is like the key you need to open the door,” said Shaw. “It’s not going to get you a job, but it will open the door for opportunity. And your career outcomes will be vastly different if you take advantage of this opportunity.”