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Update | Spring/Summer 2024

8 to Watch: Alumni on the Rise

Meet Business Badgers who are making an impact

Chris Malina and Haley Tollison

Photography by Lexi Webster, Paul L. Newby II, and Boris Zharkov

Charlotte Du

Charlotte Du

MBA ’19

Senior Associate, Alternative and Strategic Transactions


View Charlotte’s story
Kevin Pickett

Kevin Pickett

BBA ’14

Strategy and Operations Manager


View Kevin’s story
Kelly Goldthorpe

Kelly Goldthorpe

MBA ’15

Lead Product Manager


View Kelly’s story
Marcus Alston

Marcus Alston

MBA ’19

Leader, Senior People Partner


View Marcus’s story
Aleja Ross

Aleja Ross

BBA ’16

Manager, People Consulting Practice


View Aleja’s story
Keith Agoada

Keith Agoada

BBA ’08

Founder and CEO

Producers Trust

View Keith’s story
Jenna Herr

Jenna Herr

MBA ’19

Senior Director, Risk Management and Insurance

Equity Residential

View Jenna’s story
Anders Larsen

Anders Larsen

BBA ’19

Product Marketing Manager of Podcasts, Video, and Audiobooks


View Anders’s story

Charlotte Du (MBA ’19)

Title: Senior associate, alternative and strategic transactions, Nuveen
Location: New York
Previous jobs: Development associate, Hudson Capital Properties; corporate revenue and sales analyst, Marcus Hotels and Resorts

Why she’s among the 8 to Watch: At Nuveen, Du oversees investments in alternative real estate sectors such as manufactured housing. She played a key role in creating a partnership between Nuveen—an investment subsidiary of TIAA—and a prominent real estate investment trust. The joint venture builds high-quality, attainable housing for families across the country, while generating investment returns for fund investors and TIAA participants.

A global mindset: Du grew up and attended college in China, where she studied hospitality management. Her American dream took her to Wisconsin in 2016, and since then, she’s traveled to over half of the United States and has lived in eight of them. “My experiences have sharpened my skills as an investor, enabling me to connect with diverse groups of people and understand their perspectives.”

From passion to profession: Working on acquisition deals at Marcus Hotels and Resorts sparked Du’s scholarly interest in real estate investment. After researching business schools and MBA programs, she discovered WSB’s nationally renowned real estate program—just 80 miles west from where she was living in Milwaukee.

Impact of a WSB degree: Participating in three case competitions built analytical skills that Du has carried into her career. She also made strong industry connections at WSB, thanks to the vast network of real estate Badgers and the relationships fostered by Sharon McCabe, who served as the associate director of the James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate.

Kevin Pickett (BBA ’14)

Title: Strategy and operations manager, Google
Location: Chicago
Previous jobs: Analytical lead for Travel, Google; various roles in operations/supply chain management, AbbVie

Why he’s among the 8 to Watch: Pickett’s diverse business background has made him a rapid riser at Google. He previously helped grow the company’s travel division, driving partnerships with global hospitality and entertainment firms, and now develops market strategies for some of Google’s most well-known products, including the popular Chrome browser.

The winning formula: The Onalaska, Wisconsin, native initially pursued premed and business paths at UW–Madison. While organic chemistry and operations management classes might seem anything but similar, Pickett saw an overlap. “Both felt like big puzzles to solve with patterns to discover.”

Impact of a WSB degree: Coursework infused with real-life scenarios—including a supply-chain exercise focused on placing a new warehouse—prepared Pickett for nearly identical situations at AbbVie, where he launched his career and later worked as a global warehouse analyst. His international business experience through WSB also came in handy when he took on a yearlong stint for the company in Sligo, Ireland.

Race to the top: When he’s not running strategy meetings, you’ll find Pickett doing a different kind of running. He’s competing in his ninth marathon later this year and is already eyeing number 10.

I’m feeling lucky: Pickett says achieving career success and getting to Google required a combination of hard work and luck—but stresses that the former frequently begets the latter. “Adding that extra 10% of work and taking on everything from seemingly mundane tasks to complex projects can put you in a position to be luckier in many situations. When you work hard and create opportunities for yourself, you’re going to go a long way.”

Kelly Goldthorpe (MBA ’15)

Title: Lead product manager, Peloton
Location: Minneapolis
Previous jobs: Various roles in product management, Peloton; bike and scooter marketing positions, Lyft

Why she’s among the 8 to Watch: As a leader in product management for the company’s app strategy, Goldthorpe champions growth at Peloton by introducing new features and product offerings. Her work with Peloton Corporate Wellness, a program that allows businesses to offer Peloton services to their employees at a discounted rate, has resulted in immense growth for the company—yielding over 100,000 new members.

Bike ride, anyone?: Outside of her day job, Goldthorpe uses the biking and fitness spaces to positively impact her community. She’s a coach for Girls on the Run—a program that teaches life and running skills to girls in elementary school—and has served on transportation advocacy boards to make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians. By partnering with adult learn-to-ride programs, she’s also on a mission to teach 1,000 people how to ride a bike.

“The benefit of school isn’t just what you learn in the classroom, it’s the people in the classroom.”

Kelly Goldthorpe (MBA ’15)

Impact of a WSB degree: Goldthorpe says the powerful network she honed during her MBA program empowered her to make successful career changes—like pivoting from consulting to marketing, and now product management. “Every time I’ve made a change, I’ve had someone from my MBA program who I could call and ask questions. The relationships we built extend far beyond our graduation ceremony.”

‘Relishing’ the opportunity: Before driving product innovation at Peloton, Goldthorpe found herself driving something else: Oscar Mayer’s Wienermobile. During her tenure as an official “Hotdogger,” she visited 22 states, appeared on news outlets like The Weather Channel, and even drove the 27-foot-long vehicle through an unforgiving blizzard.

Advice to students: “Close your books and start talking to people. The benefit of school isn’t just what you learn in the classroom, it’s the people in the classroom.”

Marcus Alston (MBA ’19)

Title: Leader, senior people partner, Cisco
Location: San Jose, California
Previous jobs: Chief of staff, Cisco; underwriter, Auto-Owners Insurance; personal banker and assistant branch manager, Chase

Why he’s among the 8 to Watch: With HR leaders like Alston, it’s no wonder why Fortune consistently ranks Cisco as one of the top workplaces in the U.S. Leveraging his unique background and experiences, he empowers individuals to bring their complete selves to work. “My strength is accelerating team performance through building thriving cultures of belonging—with business growth as the outcome.”

Low and high notes: A classically trained clarinet player, Alston studied music in college before pausing his studies. After moving back home and detouring into banking, he battled feelings of shame for not graduating. But while working full time at Chase, he began putting in long, grueling days to finish his music degree while playing in an orchestra at night—and couldn’t figure out why his employer was being so supportive. “They understood that when their people thrive, the business thrives. That’s when the synapses in my brain fired and I realized HR can be transformative.”

“Wisconsin put rocket boosters on the vision I had for myself.”

Marcus Alston (MBA ’19)

Impact of a WSB degree: Alston came to WSB with a new career goal of becoming a chief HR officer. Attracted by the specialization in strategic human resources management, he threw himself into the coursework. “Wisconsin put rocket boosters on the vision I had for myself.”

Leadership calls: After WSB, Alston joined Cisco’s three-year HR leadership program and hit the ground running. He graduated from the program early and took an offer to become chief of staff for one of Cisco’s HR executives to better understand the company’s inner workings.

Culture add, not culture fit: Alston proudly shares his unique path into business—and encourages students and prospective employees to follow his lead. “Bring your unique gifts to the table and watch your wildest dreams become your truest reality. The world is waiting for what you have to offer.”

Aleja Ross (BBA ’16)

Title: Manager, people consulting practice, EY
Location: Chicago
Previous jobs: Financial consultant, Divine Wellness & Counseling; workforce planning manager, Cushman & Wakefield; consultant, Accenture

Why she’s among the 8 to Watch: As a leader in consulting at one of the world’s largest professional services networks, Ross helps companies redesign and transform their workforces to promote employee growth and success. In addition to leading sales and delivery for EY’s generative AI efforts, Ross is spearheading Skills Foundry, a tool in the firm’s energy sector that helps clients upskill their teams. “By looking at what skills and jobs are trending in the market, we can help companies get their workforce from where it is to where it needs to be.”

Turning passion into progress: Seeing the economic and racial disparities in her hometown of Milwaukee was an eye-opening experience for Ross that sparked a lifelong pursuit: improving financial literacy among disenfranchised populations in her community. When she’s not serving on Hope Chicago’s Young Professionals board—which helps high school graduates from marginalized backgrounds pursue four-year college degrees—Ross is partnering with the state of Wisconsin to help social security recipients manage their benefits.

“The interpersonal skills I developed [at WSB] have allowed me to carry myself in a way that is unique from my peers.”

Aleja Ross (BBA ’16)

Impact of a WSB degree: For Ross, it was the soft skills she honed at WSB—like critical thinking and networking—that impacted her the most. “The interpersonal skills I developed have allowed me to carry myself in a way that is unique from my peers.”

Stop and smell the roses: As someone who creates floral arrangements in her free time, Ross not only takes this advice literally, but encourages others to pause and appreciate their successes as well. “Know how to celebrate your small wins. Take a look around and appreciate that you’ve taken thousands of steps from where you used to be.”

Keith Agoada (BBA ’08)

Title: Founder and CEO, Producers Trust
Location: Ibiza, Spain
Previous jobs: Procurement specialist, Veg-Fresh Farms and Albert’s Organics; CEO, Sky Vegetables

Why he’s among the 8 to Watch: Agoada is working to fundamentally reshape the global agricultural supply chain, with justice and sustainability at the forefront. At Producers Trust, he aligns diverse stakeholders—from growers to governments—to increase access to direct upstream markets, while providing farmer networks with data services and marketing tools to command better prices for their goods. “We’re in service to real human beings on the ground and we always keep their livelihoods front and center.”

Sky’s the limit: Working with tropical plants and produce in a campus greenhouse near Grainger Hall initially ignited Agoada’s curiosity about food systems. Combining his interests in horticulture and business, he wrote a feasibility study on rooftop farming and developed a business plan around commercializing urban agriculture—which ultimately won WSB’s business plan competition and became his first company, Sky Vegetables.

“We’re in service to real human beings on the ground.”

Keith Agoada (BBA ’08)

Going global: Working in agricultural jobs across Latin America, Agoada met stakeholders across the supply chain and saw both challenges and opportunities. One big win came during his time working with a small family farm in Mexico. There, he helped get the family’s avocados—and personal story—into the hands of Whole Foods shoppers in the U.S. That ability to boost a family’s economic situation spawned the idea for Producers Trust, which Agoada launched in 2017. The company now partners with thousands of organizations across the globe representing over 4 million farmers.

Impact of a WSB degree: Agoada has gone all in on entrepreneurship—something the Boston native says he never saw coming when he first arrived at UW–Madison. He credits WSB for giving him direction and support along his entrepreneurial journey, as well as honing the professional communication skills needed to be the best leader possible. “I can’t speak highly enough of my Wisconsin experience and what it’s brought me.”

Jenna Herr (MBA ’19)

Title: Senior director, risk management and insurance, Equity Residential
Location: Chicago
Previous jobs: Senior risk and compliance specialist, Kearney; technical services specialist, City of Waukee, Iowa

Why she’s among the 8 to Watch: Herr coordinates insurance purchases and implements risk management policies for one of the nation’s largest owners and operators of apartments—and with nearly 80,000 residential units, it’s no small task. But her most meaningful project since joining Equity Residential in 2021 was revamping the company’s crisis response program. “When you’re responsible for people in their homes, you want everybody to feel safe and secure and to have a plan.”

Mentorship matters: At her first job waiting tables in rural Iowa, Herr’s boss immersed her in the restaurant’s business operations and finances—then encouraged her to apply for scholarships and attend college. She’d go on to learn from many more mentors as a first-generation student at the University of Iowa and WSB, and now does mentoring of her own through several organizations and programs.

“You’re allowed here and you belong here, shaping the future of business.”

Jenna Herr (MBA ’19)

Impact of a WSB degree: In addition to learning from WSB professors like Joan Schmit and Tyler Leverty, Herr says working alongside other professionals in her MBA program helped develop leadership skills and had direct applications in the working world. “Every room you’re in, you have an opportunity to learn from somebody and an opportunity to teach people.”

A sense of belonging: Herr has garnered media attention for her personal story of overcoming hardship, from having an incarcerated parent to tackling college and grad school while raising her daughter. She tells her story to send a message of belonging—especially to students and young professionals who’ve faced similar life circumstances or have struggled with acceptance. “Business leaders come from all over. No matter your background, you’re allowed here and you belong here, shaping the future of business.”

Anders Larsen (BBA ’19)

Title: Product marketing manager of podcasts, video, and audiobooks, Spotify
Location: New York
Previous jobs: Various product marketing roles, Intuit

Why he’s among the 8 to Watch: Larsen is on the forefront of technological disruption at Spotify, leveraging his passion for product innovation and global impact to benefit both creators and consumers in the developing age of artificial intelligence (AI). During his first year on the job, he successfully scaled the company’s video podcast format to a global level—a daunting challenge for the world’s largest audio platform. Now, there’s more than 100,000 creators publishing video podcasts on the platform. Most recently, Larsen has turned his attention to Spotify’s fast-growing audiobooks business.

From boats to business: Growing up in marina-rich Door County, Wisconsin, Larsen turned his skills for boat maintenance into an entrepreneurial pursuit. As he traversed the area on his bike, cleaning people’s boats and fixing their computers, his interest in business was ignited.

“I’m a firm believer that everyone should embrace a little Midwest nice in their life.”

Anders Larsen (BBA ’19)

Impact of a WSB degree: Thanks to his cross-functional education at WSB, Larsen possesses a well-rounded understanding of analytics, finance, and operations. That allows him to skillfully partner with Spotify functional experts around the globe.

The podcast heard around the world: Larsen launched AI voice translation, a new offering that replicates a podcaster’s voice and translates content to other languages—something he says is a rare win-win-win. “It helps podcasters grow their audience. It helps fans around the world discover and engage with new content they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and it helps Spotify grow podcast consumption globally.”

The power of Midwest nice: As he continues to cultivate meaningful relationships at Spotify, Larsen’s grateful for his Wisconsin roots. “Whether it’s watching out for people, checking in, or helping them find success, I’m a firm believer that everyone should embrace a little Midwest nice in their life.”