2018 Best EMBA: Rachel (Rae) Parent, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Rachel (Rae) Parent

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

Mother of two, radically candid technology executive, EMBA student, fierce friend, feminist and intersectional ally.”

Age: 42

Hometown: Suffield, CT

Family Members: Husband (Chris), Daughter (Maya 9), Son (Lucas 8), Dog (Duncan 3)

Fun fact about yourself: I learned a lot about myself when I polled my EMBA colleagues for the best way to describe myself in 15 words. Apparently, there are some fun facts about me that are not on my radar screen. I am sarcastic, concise, . . .and I need better friends.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Villanova University Major in English Minor in Communications

Where are you currently working? MassMutual / Corporate Chief Information Officer

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Director – MassMutual Foundation Board
  • Director – Young Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts Board
  • Podcast Co Host – Office Baggage, available on iTunes, is a weekly podcast in which two corporate women candidly unpack our week in business.
  • Mother
  • Fitness – specifically boxing.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As someone who has always been more ‘right brained’ than left, I was a bit nervous about the quantitative elements of business school. From the first statistics class, I dove in, worked hard, worked late, worked a lot but left each of those quant classes with top grades and, more importantly, confidence that I can be successful in this new space.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? About a year ago I saw an article in Fortune that started with “At a snail’s pace – that’s the measure of progress we are seeing when it comes to increasing the number of women CIOs.” I’ve never been motivated by title or level, but I am most proud to be one of the few female CIOs at a Fortune 100 company. Though we have a divisional model at MassMutual and I am still one seat away from the “top job,” my current position allows me to directly impact how we promote diverse talent in technology.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? One of the reasons I came to business school was to polish my financial acumen. After brushing up on the basics of (time value of money, discounted cash flow analysis, IRR etc.) in Finance 1 and 2, I thought Finance 3 would be more of the same. I. Was. So. Wrong.

Professor Petersen’s Finance 3 class served as a kind of Capstone for the program and solidified my biggest learning from business school. None of the elements we have learned in school can be applied in a vacuum. The complexity of business lies in how interconnected things are. Professor Petersen consistently pushed the dialogue beyond the formulas and the math of finance forcing us to think critically about the implications that marketing decisions, sales cycles, even the political environment had on the financial decision facing the companies we analyzed.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? When I spoke with others who had been through EMBA programs, they talked mostly about the rigorous curriculum, the time commitment, and the travel. They asked if I was sure that I wanted to take this on. When I spoke with people from Kellogg, the dialogue was different. They consistently started with something about their classmates, their network, and how much the enjoyed the experience. Then they moved on to reminded me about the rigorous curriculum, time commitment, etc. Kellogg alum never said, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Instead, they expressed jealously that I get to do it and a desire to do it again.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The most enjoyable thing about this experience has been the business and personal relationships that I have developed with professionals from different backgrounds. While the curriculum cultivated and delivered by top-tier professors has been invaluable, I have grown just as much from my interactions with my classmates. They have provided diverse professional perspective, helped me sharpen my skills in my areas for development and serve as an army of supporters when challenges arise.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? As I made meaningful contributions to dialogues in classes that are outside of my area of expertise (Finance, Marketing and Statistics come to mind), I gained the confidence I needed to speak up at work in topic areas where I would have previously remained silent. At work, I am much less reticent now to ask questions about topic areas that are outside of Technology.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education?   There is no one single story of this and I am so glad that you used the word ‘juggle’ instead of balance. I don’t believe there is truly balance. We are all working toward spinning multiple plates better than before. The moment that I remember most was about three days after returning from Kellogg launch week. I had never been away from my kids for that long. I stopped into my daughter’s gymnastics practice to surprise her. While watching her practice, my phone rang and I took a call from a Kellogg teammate about our statistics assignment. While walking through some equations in the noisy practice gym, my assistant started to exchange a series of text messages about preparing for a critical series of meetings set to kick off the following afternoon. In that moment, I realized that I would be taking multi-tasking to a new level for the next 24 months. Over the last two years I have had a few moments of doubt “How am I going to do this all?” “What have I done to myself?” “Have I taken on too much?” In moments of stress, I remind myself of what a champagne-soaked, first-world, temporary problem this is. Then I drink a cup of coffee, put on some music and get to work.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? The richness of your experience expands in proportion to the effort you put in. If you are going to do it, you need to be all in. Not just on the classes and assignments, that is critical and will be career changing. Were it becomes life changing is the cultivation of relationships with your professors, administrators and classmates.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Much of the dialogue before I started was about how challenging and competitive business school is. Perhaps it is a function of the program that I chose, but I did not find that to be the case at all. Getting in to Kellogg is competitive. Once here, however, the competition ceases. My classmates are vested in supporting each other’s success in the classroom as well as outside.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I am answering this question last. The application has been done for a week but this space is still empty. I came to this program knowing it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I embraced every moment of it. I have no regrets. I have no ‘I wish I would haves’ or ‘I should haves.’ This program made it safe for me to set my introversion aside and experience everything.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Erin Linnehan is the Chief of Staff to the CEO of General Dynamics. Prior to that role, she was the head of Investor Relations for the same firm. Effortlessly cool and exceptionally sharp, Erin has a natural ability to drive problems to solutions in a manner that resonates across stakeholder groups. She is the type of high impact, zero ego leader that makes others comfortable enough to drive their own value in discussions. She serves as a trusted advisor to many including myself. I seek Erin’s counsel often when faced with professional challenges and am so very grateful to call her a lifelong friend.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that, to date, I have been very successful doing what people have asked me to do. Twenty years of doing a job for 12 -18 months, receiving a phone call from someone with them saying, “There’s an opportunity here that we think you would be great for” and moving on to do that. The cycle kept repeating itself and though the roles were always bigger and more challenging and I was building excellent skills, I knew that it was time to take a step back, reflect on my experiences, and determine what my own objectives are so that I can be more self-directed in the latter half of my career.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…meaningfully less reliant on caffeine, dry shampoo and under eye concealer in order to resemble a functioning human. All kidding aside, I think people can get a typecast in our careers. Even those of us that are very successful, can be placed in a box by our organizations. If I had not gone to business school, I would have fewer choices with what I decide to take on next.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I have watched the workplace change for women and minorities over the last 20 years. It is not until the last five years that I have felt comfortable using my influence to drive deeper dialogue about gender and racial equality. My goal is not about title, level or compensation. My goal is to (1) be a part of a company that understands the value of diversity; and (2) in a role that allows me to drive directly to a point of gender and racial parity for my team as well as across all levels of the organization.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Fundamentally, it comes to this: It is possible to take your work seriously, to be very successful and to have a mission or a cause that you are passionate about WITHOUT taking yourself too seriously. There is great power in laughter, being silly and not caring how you look. It brings people to safe, vulnerable space and so much more good work progresses when people are in that space instead of one where they are trying to look perfect.

Favorite book: John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Favorite movie or television show: No time for TV unless it’s football season (Go EAGLES!) I love movies so this is a tough one. Typically, I struggle to list a top 10. As I think about graduating from Kellogg, nothing makes me happier than the idea of ditching my responsibilities for a day and handing out in Chicago with my friends so I’m going to go with Ferris Buller’s Day Off.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Kellogg’s approach to global electives have reignited a passion for travel and experiencing other cultures that has been dormant for this last 10 years as I focused on my kids, career, and school. After spending time with classmates in India, Israel and Jordon, two additional trips have made their way to the top of my bucket list: Africa (safari) and Egypt (pyramids)

What made Rachel such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“Rae Parent is a force. She has a wickedly fast mind, is incredibly perceptive of others and is generous to a fault. She made teaching both easy and challenging.

Rae was a student in my Strategic Financial Management class, and she was relentless in questioning me inside and outside of the classroom. When she didn’t think I was right, she challenged me, and sometimes she was right. She has this incredible ability to brutally challenge you intellectually while making you feel engaged, not challenged. Her style isn’t adversarial, even though she is tough, but a joint search for truth. I left class exhilarated and exhausted. I was better, and the other students were better, for her efforts.

Watching Rae work in class was fascinating and instructive. The way she uses word choice, tone, body language, and the words and ideas of others to inform and empower others is impressive. I was so impressed that I asked her, and her classmate to come speak to the women in the Full-Time MBA program on how to effectively acquire and assert power. The room was packed with both men and women, and there was rapt attention for the full hour. The students wouldn’t leave when it was over. Overall, Rae’s generosity of mind and heart make an enormous contribution to the Kellogg community and to the world beyond.”

Professor Mitchell Petersen
Glen Vasel Professor of Finance
Director of the Heizer Center for Private Equity and Venture Capital
Kellogg School of Management

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