Human resource professionals are the experts in talent acquisition, management and development. While they make decisions that impact entire organizations, it’s easy for some to feel isolated within the HR world.
Garrett Johnson, MBA’20, is an HR professional who considered pursing an MBA to expand his knowledge beyond human resources.
“I kept debating the idea and asked other professionals in HR whether I should go back to school to earn my MBA,” he said. “They told me an MBA would diversify my skill set and provide me with knowledge that expands beyond HR. Additional HR skills can always be gained through on-the-job experiences, and they suggested I shouldn’t silo myself into just one area.”
At the time, Garrett was an HR generalist who’d recently relocated from Atlanta to Indianapolis. He’d heard about the Kelley School of Business from colleagues who are alumni, and he selected the Evening MBA Program to earn his degree.
“The rigor of the program is a grind while you’re in it, but I believe that it will be worth it when you’re done,” he said. “I definitely wanted to be surrounded by the best of the best so I could be challenged, learn and improve my skill sets while meeting great people.”
Garrett knew he wanted to go back to school to gain a greater understanding of business as a whole: the challenges, the opportunities, how goals are created and how strategies are developed and executed. He felt he could be a better partner at his company if he acquired that complete understanding.
“Having a seat at the table, having the respect of leaders across the organization and understanding the core competencies of the business – these can take you far in positioning yourself,” he said. “Also, I wanted to set myself apart amongst others I’d be competing against for future roles, and having an MBA is a great start.”
Garrett applied for graduate school while pursuing his next role. He met Mary Johnson, director of the Kelley Evening MBA Program, when he was researching the degree and found they shared several connections. Garrett and Mary networked together, and a mutual contact helped get his résumé into the right hands to interview for the role he eventually earned: HR business partner at Roche Diagnostics.
“Mary’s been integral in my professional development throughout my journey here in Indiana,” said Garrett. “Despite not knowing me for long, she recognized what I wanted and was 100% supportive, even before I enrolled at Kelley. That sold me on the Evening MBA Program – it’s a great school with great people who care about you as an individual and want you to succeed.”
Garrett said the relationship building continued as soon as he began his MBA. At times, the course work was challenging, but he says it is complemented by supportive guidance from Kelley faculty.
While human resource managers aren’t as common as other fields in the top-ranked part-time MBA program, it is a growing population of experienced professionals pursuing this degree. As a result, the Kelley School has added new Executive Skills courses on managing and supporting employees while developing executive presence. This is complemented by experiential learning opportunities for students to gain hands-on exposure in a variety of different business settings and organizations. By relating the classroom work to real-life situations, students can apply their learnings directly at their jobs.
“You’re learning the good and the bad, best practices and worst. Through impact classes and the corporate consulting projects, you’re able to see what is occurring in the industry right now and understand what other businesses are doing. This is insight you can apply in your own role,” said Garrett.
Throughout his core courses, Garrett took a business law class. A project in that course outlined the ways in which business law affects an organization, and Garrett saw how laws can affect a business.
“We sell a test that is run in a lab located in another state. Understanding the laws that apply there and the legal criteria that we have to meet here before selling or delivering to the market was helpful and very much inspired by that class,” he said.
Perhaps Garrett’s greatest takeaway from the program is one that he uses in his job every day at Roche. It came from a plant tour that opened up his mind to the concept of process improvement that was underway at his own company.
“Our operations class visited the Toyota plant in Columbus, Indiana, and it was a total ‘aha’ moment for me. I gained a greater understanding of the company’s renowned culture built around the continuous improvement, Lean Six Sigma mindset,” he said. “Hearing a leader at Toyota discuss how they do things, how they treat their people and how they work together to achieve success really clicked for me and made the lean and Agile goals we’re trying to achieve at Roche seem possible. I understand what it’s all about.”
Along with the lessons he’s learned in finance, operations, marketing and accounting, Garrett says some of the biggest takeaways have come from networking with his classmates. Traditionally the “people person” due to his role in HR, Garrett says Kelley has reemphasized the value of developing relationships, which may be as important to his success as the degree itself.
“In many situations, it is who you know that will take you far in your career, and those people are willing to help if you ask,” he said. “In the future, my classmates are people I can always reach out to because we have the Kelley bond. When you’ve had a shared experience and the same failures and successes, you’re willing to help someone down the line.
“The courses and networking created connections that have been – and will continue to be – extremely valuable to me. Maybe more valuable than I even realize just yet.”