The IGNITE Career Accelerator, a leadership week for first-year MBA students, kicked off on March 9 with an alumni panel. Featuring WAVE alumni Joe Nick (2015) and Angie Peltzer (2016) as well as MBA alumna Amber Porter (2016), the trio shared their perspectives on how to make a positive impact throughout a business career. Natalie Marinello, a first-year brand and product management student, moderated the panel and highlighted how students can incorporate their values in their job search.
Joe is the Chief Financial Officer AmeriLux International and serves as the Treasurer on the Board of Directors for Wisconsin Literacy, Inc. Angie works at Kohler as a Product and Brand Manager for Innovation for Good, Stewardship and Sustainability. Amber is a Venture Capital Associate for American Family Insurance Institute for Corporate and Social Impact.
After Natalie shared a story about how she identified her personal values at a young age, she introduced the panel and facilitated a discussion. Below are excerpts from the panel discussion.
Natalie: What is your advice to students regarding making a sustainability impact at companies post-MBA?
Joe: “People want to help but it needs to be a win,” said Joe. Sustainability is becoming more of a win-win for companies because consumers and employees care about being a part of organizations that make an impact. Joe added that a company’s values is what really matters, not what the company produces or what industry it’s in.
Angie: “Every specialization has an important impact on the sustainability efforts for a company.” While people tend to think about supply chain and sourcing, every department can have an impact according to Angie. Pressure to do business sustainability can come from any internal department, from partners, or from your customers.
Amber: “There is financial justification for corporate social responsibility but in companies it matters too, you don’t need the financial backing because it’s just important.” She added with updates coming from powerful groups like the Business Roundtable, if companies don’t get on board with sustainability efforts, they will be left behind.
Natalie: Did you enter the MBA program expecting to align your career with your personal values?
Joe: “No, to get a job;” Joe joked about his motivation for getting an MBA. He explained finding a job that aligned with his values happened by luck and by talking about culture, people and development with potential employers. He advised that students check what the company says they are doing and understanding how it’s being lived out through the business. What are the company’s values and how do they fit with everything that the company does?
Angie: “Yes, the affordability of the program lifts the burden for what you can do in the future,” said Angie. The diversity of UW-Madison gives you access to expertise in all fields. From the beginning of her MBA, Angie knew she wanted to make an impact at a mission-driven company or at a company that was just starting to craft their efforts.
Amber: “I wanted to work for a company that impacted things that felt more urgent so that I’m driven to do my job,” said Amber.
Natalie: Do you have any tips for us on how to evaluate perspective employers?
Joe: Joe recommended finding someone in human resources and seeing how they talk about people in the company. If HR is value adding and about culture, you are in the right place but if it is administration and transactional you may want to keep looking. “Ask tough questions about the culture,” said Joe; and, “make sure you find out what’s important to you.”
Angie: Angie advised, look for sustainability and impact reports which shows how embedded the sustainability program is within the company. You can also reach out to the sustainability department. She also suggested thinking about whether you want to be at a private or public company because they have different demands and thus different abilities to invest in their programs.
Amber: Looking at 10-Ks and annual reports shows the spirit of the company, said Amber. Internships offer a great opportunity to test out a company and ask questions about their programs like corporate matching. “Don’t stop asking questions when you are at a company full time,” Amber added.
Natalie: Do you have advice for working cross functionally in sustainability efforts?
Joe: “Remember the magic of momentum. If you get stagnant, you’ll fall behind so it’s important to rack up small wins.”
Angie: The best way to influence others to join in, is to appeal with what is in it for them. “You have to understand what drives people and speak in those terms.”
Amber: “Keep your digital career portal updated so you can get tapped for opportunities when they come up.” Talk and network with other departments, you capitalize the most on CSR efforts when you talk about it.
Natalie: What is the most important thing students can do to be CSR champions?
Joe: “Get to know yourself and take time to reflect on each experience.” Joe suggested writing down one takeaway from each speaker or session. The takeaways that stand out to you will indicate your core values. Doing this exercise won’t be a waste of time, it’s helpful in your career and for interviews, Joe added.
Angie: “Be the best at your specialization and bring sustainability into your work.”
Amber: Get comfortable asking questions and work to understand what’s possible; if you don’t ask the answer is always, “no”.
Following the panel, students participated in a “Share Tank” Case Challenge sponsored by American Family Insurance to put some of the advice from the panel into action. This session was inspiring and surely a benefit to students as they start internships in the coming months. Thank you Joe, Angie, and Amber for sharing your time and experience with the Wisconsin MBA program.