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Navigating a career is as much about being open to change and making adjustments along the way as about pursuing a passion and developing the right skill set. By Charla Stevens Kucko

Not so long ago, a traditional career path meant going to work for a company, rising to one or more management-level positions, perhaps even becoming the CEO, and stepping away into a comfortable retirement. Over the past decade, however, the job market and career prospects have changed dramatically. Shifting cultural norms and changing economic realities have developed a new mindset driven by adaptability to change and an entrepreneurial approach. Today’s career trajectory looks completely different from previous generations, and for both hiring employers and job seekers, that may not be so bad.

By the Numbers

The MBA Employment Report shows more than 60 percent of graduates change careers after earning their degree. Gauging the average number of career changes over the course of a career is more difficult. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has not attempted an estimate because there is no consensus on what constitutes a career change. A March 2015 study, however, shows baby boomers held an average of 11.7 jobs during their careers. Of the same group, men held slightly more jobs (11.8) than women (11.5), 27 percent held 15 or more jobs, while 10 percent held zero to four jobs. For millennials, the number of job changes compared to their baby boomer parents rises, but only slightly. Young adults ages 18 to 26 held an average of 6.2 jobs from 1998 to 2011, with women slightly ahead of men, while the youngest baby boomers worked an average 5.5 jobs by age 25.

Karen Dowd
Career switching and job-hopping are now “the new normal,” according to Karen Dowd, assistant dean for career management and corporate engagement. In a September 4, 2015, Rochester Business Journal story on the topic, Dowd said there are several factors at play. “Companies have done away with their training programs and are running so lean now that they’re treating people more like portable skill sets than like individuals who need to be cultivated and can grow a career over time at their organization,” she noted. As a result, career switching and job-hopping are no longer viewed negatively, Dowd says. “You find people with really strong credentials job-hopping because they haven’t found the right niche yet.?.?. They gain skills in being adaptable and flexible, in learning new cultures, and adapting to new organizations and people. Suddenly, you’ve got a huge knowledge base that can be helpful once you do get situated.”

Putting the Pieces Together

Louis Mistretta
It was never going to be a linear career path for Louis Mistretta ’15S (MBA); he says he was interested in too many things. During his undergraduate studies at the University of Rochester, Mistretta initially majored in molecular genetics and biomedical engineering, but then realized he didn’t want to pursue a career in that field. So, he took a break from school to figure out what he wanted to do and started working in retail, managing Rochester boutique shopping icon Parkleigh. While working there for several years, he went back to school and majored in business. After taking a required psychology course, he followed his passion and again shifted majors, earning two degrees—one in social and behavioral science and one in clinical and social psychology. During his senior year, Mistretta worked part time for the Inn on Broadway, a downtown Rochester hotel, where he rose from banquet server to general manager, restructured the business and created a cohesive business plan. From there, he started a restaurant consulting company, working with struggling restaurants to bring them back to profitability.

After a few years, Mistretta discovered he wanted to do something on more of a national and global scale, and he loved marketing and brand management. “I knew if I wanted to be a brand manager on a global scale, the MBA was the cost of entry,” he says. “Simon felt like the correct choice for me.” With concentrations in Marketing, the Brand Management track, and Competitive and Organizational strategy, Mistretta landed an internship at Johnson & Johnson (J&J), where he completed a competitive strategy project for Tylenol Cold & Sinus. While there, he received a job offer, came back and finished his MBA, and is now an associate brand manager, focusing on financial forecasting and analytics for Tylenol’s adult pain portfolio in the US market.

“Simon prepared me directly for the heavy analytics necessary to really dig into the meat of what’s going on with such a big brand,” he says. Looking back on his career so far, Mistretta says there were always surprises along the way. “It was always a game of what’s the next puzzle piece going to be,” he notes. “The time of the linear career path is over; that was our parents’ generation.”

Instead of thinking what the next step will be, Mistretta advises keeping the end game in mind and figuring out what is needed to get there. As for what the rest of his path will look like, he doesn’t know, and that’s fine with him. “The great thing about working for a company like J&J is that there are so many different divisions, so there are all sorts of career path opportunities. Was going back for my MBA easy? Not at all. I left a stable income, and that’s not an easy transition to make. It can be scary, but was it worth it? Absolutely.”

A Global Perspective

C.H. Huang
Having a global perspective is the key to a successful career in any industry, according to C. H. Huang ’78 (MA), ’80S (MBA, PhD). A native of Taiwan, Huang came to the US in 1975, when he was admitted to the University of Rochester’s PhD program in Political Science. His father was a professor and had worked for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “I wanted to be a professor and make a difference in the world,” he says. “I thought it would be through political science, with the goal of doing good for the most people.” While Huang was working on his PhD dissertation at the University of Rochester, he started to take economics and finance courses at Simon. He ended up earning an MBA at the same time he was awarded his PhD.

Huang went on to teach at the University of Oregon in 1979 for two years, before an executive from Citi whom he worked with in Rochester called and offered him a job in Citi’s private label card business. “The rest, as they say, is history,” Huang says. “I started with Citi based in Los Angeles. When we merged with New York, I moved back.” In the years that followed, he left Citi three times: first, for Deutsche Bank, to run its New York-based global trading platform, DB Trader; then for Prudential Home Mortgage, to lead and support the nation’s first branchless mortgage origination operation; and then for American Express, to manage corporate function technology and CRM implementation. Between jobs, he returned to Citi, where he most recently served as managing director, head of Global Function Technology Services (GFTS) International.

“Anybody who goes into the workforce nowadays thinking they will hold a job for the rest of their life is not going to be very successful because you are basically restricting yourself from something that could potentially be bigger and better,” Huang says. “Things change, and the most important thing is you have to be prepared with some fundamental technical skill like financial analysis and accounting that is tied to a particular industry. ” Other crucial skills on his must-have list are effective communication, emotional maturity, and cultural sensitivity. “Of course, you can never stop learning,” he says. “Remember the Dunkin Donuts ad where the guy wakes up every morning and says, ‘Time to make the donuts’? If you have a ‘Time to Make the Donuts’ mentality, you’re not going to succeed in today’s competitive world.”

Huang recently retired from Citi but is unlikely to “fade into the sunset.” His next role will combine his passion for education and business. Starting this spring, he will begin teaching at Simon. The first course he is teaching for MBA and MS students is Finance Technology—or the intersection of finance and technology, including the regulatory changes making senior roles in finance much more complex. “There is a huge demand for people who know how to deal with vast amounts of data and run global projects,” he says. “That’s just one area where I hope my background and experience will be helpful.”

From Human Resources to Assistant Dean

Carin Cole
Carin Cole ’99S (MBA) graduated from Williams College with a BA in American Studies, which gave Cole excellent critical thinking and writing skills that made her “ready for anything.” Growing up in a family of attorneys, Cole says law and languages were key areas of focus, but her interests shifted during and after college, when she landed a position as an employee relations manager at Xerox Corporation, where she served as a line management strategic partner and human resources professional across the organization. “I was lucky,” she says. “My job was to help the organization reach its business goals, and as it became clear that I wanted to do more on the business side, I was sponsored for the Executive MBA Program at the Simon School.”

After graduation, Cole became assistant to the general manager of a business unit, however, she decided to stay home with her family and run a small nanny placement business on the side. When her daughters got a bit older, Carin decided to reenter the workforce. “My first job after my girls went to school was as an HR manager at VirtualScopics, a small entrepreneurial venture,” she says. “They had just gone public and were hitting that crucial size where they needed process and systems to be successful.”

After two years, an opportunity emerged to lead the Executive MBA Program at Simon. “With so much change going on in Rochester at the time, it was clear the program had to operate very differently from when I went through,” Cole says. “The faculty had already made changes in the curriculum and schedule, and my role was to implement this new plan.”

Although she lacked experience in higher education, she credits her team for teaching her everything she needed to know to be successful. Since then, she has overseen the growth and management of several new part-time and specialized programs at Simon.

Cole was recently appointed assistant dean of students with oversight of student engagement across all programs in addition to her existing duties. “Our academics are first rate,” she says. “It’s about looking at everything else that goes into the student experience to help them be successful, so the new piece for me is doing this for the full-time MBA students. We will take the same approach to planning and customer service in the Executive MBA program and implement them in the full-time program, working with a dedicated team to make that happen.”

Cole looks forward to the challenge. As for switching careers, she has no regrets. “Taking a core skill, engineering or IT or medical background, for example, and combining it with our business education opens up a whole array of opportunities,” she says. “Whether it’s in a new industry or a consulting role, that combination provides an ability to solve problems and successfully execute new initiatives. This is valuable anywhere you go in your career.”

Engineering Leads to Consumer and Market Research

Unsure of what to major in as an undergraduate, Lydia Perez-Poole ’06S (MBA) first thought she would pursue something creative that would give her ample career opportunities. She ultimately decided to major in environmental engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, something she thought would give her an even wider span of career options. While at school, she worked for Unilever in research and development, then interviewed for a variety of other positions, including consulting firms and the federal government. Her ultimate choice was with the New York State Energy and Resource Development Authority (NYSERDA) as a project manager on energy-efficiency programs. Around this time, she thought of working for a big consumer products company on the business side. “I realized if I wanted to change careers, I needed to go to business school,” she says.

Perez-Poole spent the next four years working for NYSERDA and the Maine Public Utilities Commission while researching business schools. And she didn’t have to look very far, as her brother is a 1994 graduate of Simon, and also an engineer who successfully switched careers. She liked Simon’s smaller size and reputation, and decided to concentrate in Marketing and Competitive and Organizational Strategy.

“I knew I wanted to get into marketing, but even within marketing, there’s a whole world of opportunities,” Perez-Poole says. “What helped me to narrow my focus was my experience with The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management. Their orientation program ends with a career fair, where I first met a representative from Procter & Gamble. I realized I was interested in market research or the data insights and strategy behind the marketing.” Perez-Poole was offered a position as an associate manager in consumer and market knowledge, overseeing consumer research on upstream innovation and, later, in-store research to determine the best way to bring the Covergirl brand to life in stores.

After working in cosmetics for four years, Perez-Poole took on a corporate assignment studying how various research techniques were applied around the globe and ensuring strong quality standards were maintained. Most recently, she was promoted to shopper insights leader for the P&G Rite Aid Customer Team. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to stay in my preferred home base of Maryland throughout my career with P&G, traveling to company headquarters in Cincinnati and abroad when necessary,” she says. “Having two small children under the age of four, that flexibility has been invaluable.”

When it comes to career switching, the Simon MBA helped make it happen for Perez-Poole. “Overall, the key is to continue learning and taking on roles and opportunities to help you understand what you truly want to do,” she says. “And, if you want to switch careers, I would also say take advantage of the Simon network. People love to talk about what they do for a living and share with others their experiences. It is a great way to learn about what you want to do and make new friends!”

Staying Open Brings New Opportunities

Kate Washington
As a child of two military parents, Kate Washington ’04S (MBA) has lived all over the world. “I never really viewed my life as having any limitations because I was exposed to so much growing up,” she says. Her passion for performing arts led her to Syracuse University, where she majored in music. After graduating, she forged a career as a singer and a violinist. Her career took her to the Virgin Islands, Europe, and Puerto Rico.

Washington came to Rochester in the late ’80s, hoping to continue her career as a musician. When she found it difficult to make a living, she put other skills to work, writing about classical music for the Democrat & Chronicle, and later working as a music director and actor for a theater company.

Leveraging her passion for the performing arts and teaching, she started a venture focused on corporate training for businesses nationwide. “We worked with companies like Nextel, PBS, and Rochester’s ‘Big Three’—Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch+Lomb,” she says. “We worked primarily on problem-solving skills, applying both qualitative and quantitative analysis to issues facing companies.”

After a while, Washington yearned for something more and decided to enroll in the Simon Executive MBA program. She says she wanted to cultivate a different way of thinking that would lead to new opportunities. “It was challenging. I was running a business while simultaneously doing this rigorous academic program,” she says.

Within a year of graduating, Washington sold her business and co-founded Enterprise Solutions. In 2014, she was offered the position of deputy commissioner of neighborhood and business development for the City of Rochester. She says the job required someone efficient, innovative, and entrepreneurial with a strong business sense. “That was key for me,” she says. “We’re transforming from a city that has been plagued by [in many cases] neglect. We’re working very hard to make that happen.”

Throughout her career, Washington has followed her instincts. “My advice,” she says, “is to stay open, be willing to work hard, be prepared, and above all, say yes.”

Two Very Different Careers Share a Common Thread

The power of the MBA put the Simon leaders on their professional paths.

Like most young people growing up in the British education system, Dean Andrew Ainslie and David Tilson, associate dean of the full-time MBA program, had to choose their college major at age 16. Tilson followed his curiosity and chose electrical engineering at Queen’s University of Belfast. Ainslie opted for English, French, and math with the goal of becoming an English teacher. But, halfway through serving in the military in Rhodesia, he shifted paths and completed an extra course in physics, which led him to change his major to electrical engineering at the University of Cape Town. “I started career switching long before I had a career, I suppose,” he says.

Dean Andrew Ainslie
After earning his undergraduate degree, Ainslie went to work for two years at AECI, a large South African chemical company, where he was an engineering project leader in the consulting group. Then he worked for two computer tech companies before landing his dream job at Hewlett-Packard, starting on the tech support side and eventually moving into sales. “I realized sales was where I excelled and it really helped me to understand marketing, pricing, new product launches, and all the aspects of running a business at a very young age,” he says. From there, he moved into mixed sales and marketing and by his late 20s, was running a large portion of HP’s dealer network in South Africa.

Tilson continued to follow his curiosity about technology and started out at British Telecom’s research labs, where he solved technical problems using hardware and software, designed satellite communication systems, participated in international standards committees, and managed projects. “As my responsibilities increased, my curiosity expanded beyond the purely technical,” he says. “That’s when I became interested in business and management.”

Both not yet 30 and managing large groups, Ainslie and Tilson reached a turning point: Each decided to pursue an MBA. “I went to a small, fairly parochial school,” Ainslie says. “I made some amazing friends and good contacts, but it wasn’t all that challenging.” Ainslie graduated at the top of his class, and had completed a research paper with faculty member Leyland Pitt, who urged him to pursue a PhD. First, he accepted an offer from Standard Merchant Bank in investment banking. “I knew nothing about banking and I hated it,” Ainslie recalls. Within a year, he moved on to one of his HP customers, Compustat (unrelated to the US company), where he led a software project to computerize all of the real estate agents in South Africa. “It was the highlight of my pre-university career,” he says. “It really was like running my own mini-business.”

David Tilson
When Tilson decided to pursue his MBA, he was well into his second job as a project manager for a subsidiary of News Corp. and had met his wife, Vera. “With our first child on the way, I wasn’t sure if it was the right time to pursue an MBA,” he recalls thinking. Family encouragement, however, and a scholarship from the University of Texas at Austin convinced him that it was. “When I started, I thought I would go back to technology, maybe in Silicon Valley, to manage bigger projects,” he says. “Instead, I interviewed with consulting firms to learn more about problem solving in a wide range of industries.” After the MBA, he worked for two years as a consultant for McKinsey & Company, and moved to Ohio, where Vera began working on her PhD at Case Western Reserve University. With two small children, and attracted by the flexibility of a professor’s life, Tilson decided to leave consulting and pursue his PhD in Information Systems. The Tilsons needed to find teaching positions in the same city. Vera was hired first at the Simon School, and Tilson secured a visiting professorship. He soon rose to clinical associate professor and was recently appointed associate dean for the full-time MBA program. “For me, the common thread was curiosity,” he says. “There were always pivot points where I could leverage my education or what I’d done before to break into something new.”

Ainslie’s original love for academia is something that never left him. “I still had that itch related to writing that research paper with Leyland Pitt, and he encouraged me to pursue a PhD at a world-class institution,” Ainslie says. At age 33, Ainslie started his PhD at the University of Chicago. “I didn’t think I would last the first year, I was so ill prepared, but I worked harder than I’ve ever worked in my life,” he recalls. “It was the most challenging, intellectually stimulating four years of my life.”

From there, Ainslie became an assistant professor at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, where he taught marketing analytics for three years. Then, he moved to the UCLA Anderson School of Management, where he continued to teach, and rose to senior associate dean for the full-time MBA program. After 14 years at Anderson, Ainslie became dean of the Simon School in 2014.

“In a perfect world, it makes sense to go on a relatively straight career trajectory,” Ainslie says. “While I really enjoyed my varied career, it was an incredibly inefficient way to get to the end point.” Ainslie says getting an MBA is a great way to switch careers—but isn’t easy. “One of the great things about an MBA is that it gives you a set of skills that last an entire lifetime,” he says. “In some sense, we’re all career switchers in that our careers change over time, and at some point, most of us aspire to manage an organization. On that day, you need to understand the product the company sells, how to manage the people in it, how the books work, and how to be a generalist. That is what an MBA prepares you to be.”


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