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Lauren Smith on the flexible, international Kelley-Manchester MBA

Deciding which MBA is right for you is not easy and in a crowded market, every programme has unique draws. Lauren Smith is a Field Marketing Manager for the Burger King Corporation who wanted a rigorous, international degree but needed the flexibility to accommodate starting a family. We spoke to Lauren about her experience as part of the first Kelley-Manchester MBA cohort, which started in 2016. This innovative MBA combines online and in-person study, allowing candidates to continue working while studying at both the Kelley School of Business in the US and Alliance Manchester Business School.

To start, when did you graduate?

I extended by two semesters and I just graduated in May. I finished my last exam six days after my daughter was born. I loved the flexibility of the programme. With my pregnancy and work, it was great that I could take one class here, a couple of classes later and still finish on schedule, even with everything happening in life

When did you first start thinking about doing an MBA?

I knew coming out of my undergraduate degree that I was interested in pursuing a career in education. I also knew that if I wanted to teach in the US I needed an MBA or a PhD. One of my first positions out of university was with a start-up in New York called Birchbox and I was placed on an international team early on. I had the chance to work with our counterparts in France and I absolutely loved the international component of my work. When I took a job with Burger King Corporation I knew that an MBA would propel my success in corporate America so it was a twofold decision. On one hand, I thought ‘at some point I’d like to teach’ and secondly, I wanted to continue to climb in the company that I was in.

How did you find the Kelley-Manchester MBA?

My story is somewhat complex, my husband is in medical school but originally we were going to take a year off and move to Ireland. I applied to and was accepted onto a full-time MBA, which I chose because I really wanted an internationally-focused programme. It was a year-long course and it would have been a great gap year for my husband, but he was unexpectedly accepted to medical school in the United States a few months before we were scheduled to move to Ireland. I knew I needed to find an MBA that still met those needs for me because I was so interested in an international programme, but I also knew I wanted to support him and stay with him. I searched online and the Kelley MBA partnered with Manchester came up. It had a really unique positioning as it was primarily remote but still had the international component which I was really interested in. I have to say, I’m thrilled that Ireland fell through. I can now boast that I have an American MBA when I’m running in circles where that’s more important and I can boast that I have a UK MBA when I’m in those circles.

Did you travel to any of our overseas centres?

I travelled to Manchester and Dubai. We were considering having children and I thought “You know, I’m going to do something that really interests me” and I wanted to go to a place where I knew I would be in the minority. So many times, I was the only American in the room and I found that to be an incredible immersion experience.

How did you find Manchester?

I loved Manchester! In the US we don’t have the history that Manchester has and I loved that the buildings had so much historical context. There was still technology, but you could just tell that there was heritage and character and I so respected that. The new business school was not completed yet so they were in transition mode but I loved the experience in Manchester.

How about Dubai?

Dubai presented a totally different set of challenges - just being one of the only Americans in the building at all times, it was just so unique. I loved the facilities, they were great. Dubai is so interesting, there’s a knowledge park where all of the institutions are grouped together. We just have no concept of that dynamic in the States, everything together in one community. I loved the professors; Malcolm Smith taught Negotiation Skills and just blew me away. The style, in my mind, was so very British and we just didn’t have that style of education in the US so I feel like I got the best of both worlds with every educator.

What were the main differences are between the British and American programme components?

One difference is that in the US you are given a syllabus - a document outlining everything that will happen during every week, during every class. In the UK, I found that educators were more likely to provide the information, the documentation and say “Here’s what we want to achieve in this class - do it.” That was completely different, but I would say one of the biggest benefits of this programme was that we all had to work in both ways. I have found that in corporate America I am often grateful for pursuing a partly British education because I’m given large projects with no detailed direction. I’m essentially told, “Go do it and get it done: find the resources that you need.” So that aspect of the programme definitely helped me.

Was there anything from your time overseas which has changed how you operate professionally?

I would say yes, specifically in Dubai. I didn’t go with anyone and I was really challenged to think in different ways because I didn’t have the crutch of being with my American classmates. There were definitely some comments that made me realise I was not surrounded by what I am familiar with. I appreciated that and I think it helped me in communicating with people. It helped me see that there are definitely certain behaviours that are quintessentially American that aren’t necessarily positive, or negative really, but it’s not the way that everyone thinks, acts and behaves. I’ve implemented that in my daily work because at Burger King Corporation, we are not just dealing with the United States, it’s an international brand so it comes in handy when communicating with different parts of the world.

You’ve changed roles twice since you started the MBA – do you think the programme gave you the confidence to ask for professional opportunities?

Just knowing that I have the letters MBA behind my name gave me the confidence to think “I’m capable, I’m worth it and I’m just going to ask. The worst thing they can say is no.” The beauty of the ask for me has been that every time I’ve asked I’ve been given. There’s an extra ounce of confidence that comes from being more educated. I’ve also benefitted from interacting with lots of different types of people and being given projects that I wouldn’t have been able to dig into had I not had the experience of the MBA.

You mentioned your favourite memory was the connections that you made, do you think you’ll stay in touch with a lot of the people you met during your MBA?

Yes. A lot of my classmates are from different industries and have different perspectives and we all have a group chat that we continue to comment in. I’m also still in touch with some of the teams that were formed in different classes. If the industry is in need of someone that I know of that has the experience, I feel comfortable reaching out. That’s the beauty of doing an MBA with others by your side.