Kelly Blair, MBA’17, enjoys learning. Several years after graduating from Cornell, she discovered she missed the classroom, and she knew she wanted to earn an MBA. But as a full-time HR analyst, Blair also knew she didn’t want to pause her accelerating career.
“I was serious about pursuing a part-time MBA program because I didn’t want to sacrifice career momentum to expand my education,” she says. “When I looked around Indianapolis, I didn’t seriously consider any other programs. If I’m going to get my MBA, there’s only one school I’m going to: Kelley. I didn’t know if would stay in Indy long-term, but if I left, I knew the prominence of the Kelley name would stay with me.”
Like many professionals who enroll in the top-ranked Kelley School of Business Evening MBA Program, Blair sought to add greater depth to her professional knowledge. She certainly understood human resources, but she noticed most of her leaders held MBAs. While she considered earning a master’s in HR, Blair decided an MBA would give her a more applicable and broader understanding of her organization and how HR plays a role.
“HR professionals are often pigeonholed as the party planners or just the hirers and firers. I wanted to be more of a business partner,” she says. “To do that, I needed to understand business better. I knew an MBA would make me more versatile and help me to understand more than just how to hire people or handle employee issues. Even if my future deviates from HR, having that overall business background would be helpful wherever I go.”
Blair says the hybrid online and in-person nature of the Kelley Evening MBA Program added flexibility that allowed her studies to fit into her life. It had been some years since she was enrolled in school, and back then, she wasn’t doing it alongside a full-time job.
“Flexibility was really important because I had a life, work, friends and family who needed my attention. The hybrid concept of the Kelley Evening MBA assured me I could be successful while also getting the one-on-one faculty interaction that would help me learn better.”
During her studies, Blair took a number of immersive, experiential learning and professional development courses that simulated actual business challenges and projects. She completed a Six Sigma process improvement project and used what she learned with data from her job.
During a managerial simulation program in which students spend a weekend assuming the executive leadership roles of a corporation, while receiving feedback and coaching from faculty and local business leaders, Blair interacted with Bob Grimm, clinical associate professor emeritus at Kelley and an HR expert. The two bonded over their HR backgrounds, and Blair received useful feedback, as well as a career-changing tip.
“One day, I received an email from Bob and one of the panelists who’d given me the feedback. It was followed by a call letting me know that a Kelley alum was hiring for a position at Eli Lilly and Company,” she says. “Opportunities like this don’t come around often, but they’d thought of me and recommended me for the role.”
In the midst of her Kelley MBA, Blair hadn’t been looking to make a move, but she knew it was wise to be open to opportunities. After some exploratory conversations with the hiring manager, Blair thought the role would be a great fit. She participated in the formal interviews and was invited to join the team. Blair now works in HR Strategy and Transformation at Lilly.
“Obviously, my skills and ability earned me the job, but l wouldn’t have known about it or have been able to network with the hiring manger without those connections at Kelley,” she says. “Connecting with peers, professors and alumni was invaluable. I would have missed what’s turned out to be a great career at Lilly if I hadn’t made those contacts at Kelley.”
Change didn’t have to wait for Blair to finish her degree; the connections and opportunities opened up throughout her studies. She graduated in 2017 and continues to put her lessons into practice each day in her new role.
“It frustrates me when people say, ‘You’re done with your MBA, what are you going to do now?’ I’m going to do a lot,” she says. “We’re working on a project currently that involves communications, and I thought back to my consumer marketing course and how they used tactics for engagement. Those lessons helped me to build a plan. Clearly, I’m going to continue applying my Kelley MBA.”
Similarly, the network that helped Blair maneuver and move her career forward continues to be available. Aside from the alumni network—one of the largest business school networks in the world—Blair’s contacts right here in Indianapolis continue to be a resource for her.
“Kelley faculty continue to support you, especially here in Indianapolis. Many of my friends are working with them now to find jobs,” she explains. “I know if you need something in marketing you go to professor Kim Saxton; for entrepreneurship, professor Todd Saxton, and for supply chain management, ask professor Mark Frohlich. Whatever you need, Kelley professors have connections to help you.”
Aside from the experiential learning and core business lessons, Blair says one of her greatest takeaways was in personal development. It was meaningful to learn about herself so she can become an even better leader. To do that, she says she had to understand how she operates.
“I’m social. I enjoy talking with people, but I never saw myself as a leader. I learned at the end of the management simulation that people saw me as someone in charge,” she says. “They said, ‘You weren’t the president of the organization, but when the president needed something, he went to you.’ It was a quality I didn’t realize I have. I couldn’t grow something I didn’t recognize, and this experience opened my eyes and built my confidence about who I can be and the impact I can have on an organization.”
Blair tells others that earning a Kelley MBA can open up doors—if they are open to examining who they are and where they want to go.
“You’ve got to find where you are and learn what works for you,” she says. “My path worked for me, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t gone through the Kelley Evening MBA Program.”