2018 Best EMBAs: Keely Richardson Goodwin, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Keely Richardson Goodwin

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

I am a tiny woman of indomitable will, inspired by challenge & unlocking potential in others.”

Age: 32

Hometown: Elizabethton, Tennessee

Family Members: Daughters Jovie, 4; and Lindy, 2

Fun fact about yourself:  I once “Uber’d” 10 hours to campus (in Miami) from Atlanta after multiple flight cancellations.I knew I had to make it to class the next morning, and my options were limited. This perhaps not the safest decision of my life, but one of my best stories. My driver, Dwayne, and I chatted about Burkina Faso, Chick-fil-A, listened to his favorite West African music and shared all sorts of life stories. I’ll never forget it!

Undergraduate School and Degree: B.B.A. in Marketing and Economics (2006) – East Tennessee State University

Where are you currently working? Director of Corporate Strategy, Eastman Chemical Company, Kingsport, Tennessee

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

At Eastman, I chair the steering committee for our Catalyst ERG (Women’s Resource Group). I am also highly involved in our mentor network and have led the creation of several commercial training classes for our Executives and upcoming managers. I currently serve as a Board Member for Girls on the Run, the Pine Chemicals Association (trade association), and I am on the Steering Committee for East Tennessee State University’s Roan Scholarship, a distinguished award for outstanding high school leaders.

While in college, I received the Outstanding Marketing Major award from the ETSU College of Business and Technology, and graduated as salutatorian of my 2006 class. Professionally, I was named to the Tri Cities “40 Under Forty,” named Sales Representative of the Quarter at Eastman, and have presented at numerous “lunch and learns” across the company, generally with a theme on personal development and branding for newer employees. I also have a passion for mentoring inside and outside my organization, generally for those new to the workforce and struggling to understand how to unlock their passion and potential.

One of my favorite community events was a community Thanksgiving meal I helped launch at my local church – the Feast of Sharing. I live in a small, poor, rural community, and it was amazing that year after year, the event grew tremendously. By my fifth year leading it, we served well over 1,200 people, and had added a coat closet, which provided much-needed warm winter wear as well as toiletry items. I learned how important it is to serve at an early age, and I can’t wait to involve my two daughters in this project in coming years!

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? In early March (of 2018), I was able to introduce a Kellogg professor, Dr. Victoria Medvec, to my company during International Women’s Day. Dr. Medvec’s negotiation course had a profound impact on me when studying with her the prior year, and I wanted to bring her expertise to our commercial leaders at Eastman to explore gaps and create pathways for improvement in our daily operations. And we did just that. The class was outstanding, and we have several sub-teams across the organization working on improvement areas, stemming from just her one-day class.

However, the most impactful part of the day, for me personally, was the start of the day before our training class. Dr. Medvec was kind enough to spend an hour with our Catalyst ERG and other employees for a breakfast Q&A session called “Why Don’t Women Ask?” As part of my role as a leader within my company and with this ERG, it was tremendous to have an audience of 300 people and the opportunity to share the stage with Dr. Medvec. She spoke so eloquently about the hesitancies women have to ask for themselves, and the timid approach we often take in the pursuit of personal or career growth. As I sat on the stage, I could see so many heads nodding in agreement, and others, deep in thought as they absorbed new ideas. It was a surreal moment, seeing those I had worked for, those I have/am mentoring, and many others, all listening to and learning about such an important topic for our company and employees.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of becoming a Director within Eastman Chemical Company. I am humbled to be part of our leadership community – and excited about the future!

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Dr. David Schonthal was a favorite due to his ability to relate to the students in his classroom and discuss the incredible importance of a network. I think that his kickoff in my cohort’s first week at Kellogg was a critical step in the cohesive tendency of our group. He opened us up, helped us advance our own thoughts of assumption, and challenged us to really develop friendships – not acquaintances – with our cohort peers. He was so impactful that I chose to take an elective he taught in San Francisco and was equally impressed with the session – we pitched to a panel of successful entrepreneurs, learned first-hand market research and connectivity, and held sessions with IDEO’s Tom Kelley and Steve Blank – at his home!  As a result, I have developed such impactful relationships that I will carry them with me the rest of my life. I am so grateful for his perspective!

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite MBA course was also the most challenging course I’ve had to date: Dr. José Maria Liberti’s course on Global Corporate Restructuring. I love all things business and strategy related — it is a sickness, really — but understanding complex financial exchanges and the world of investment banking were still very intimidating to me before the course. Dr. Liberti pushed us hard to work through our insecurities and rely on our own logic and the collective knowledge of our teams to help us attack the balance sheets, cash flows, etc. I walked out of that classroom with the confidence that I could work my way through similar future deals with my colleagues.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I’ve always known that I wanted to pursue my MBA at a Top 10 school, but I knew with a demanding job and two young girls, I would need a schedule that would allow me to balance work and life. The Kellogg EMBA’s Miami schedule minimized the impact of travel on both my personal and professional life by allowing us to attend classes in longer blocks of time less frequently.

Kellogg’s team-centered approach — evident from the moment I stepped onto Northwestern’s campus — was critical as well. I am grateful for the program’s collaborative and non-competitive culture, allowing me to learn independently as well as through interaction with my peers. We are truly there to learn from both our professors and from each other.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Each time I step on campus, I feel energized because I know the richness of the environment I am entering. Kellogg’s professors have been nothing short of spectacular, which I expected. However, I have most thoroughly enjoyed being in such an experienced cohort and listening to such a wide array of expertise from discipline, region, race, industry, etc. I cherish the discussion and debates we’ve had inside and outside the classroom because those interactions are priceless. I’ve challenged, and had my own stereotypes, assumptions, and knowledge challenged, in ways I never knew possible — by a beloved set of friends and mentors.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? My biggest lesson learned was empowering my ‘team.’ Midway through my EMBA, I went through a challenging personal period and had to rely on my family members, friends, my teammates, etc. – more heavily than ever before in my life. In some ways, it made me feel weak; in other ways, I felt liberated. Regardless, I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it as I juggled work, international travel, school, being a mother to two young girls, a household, etc.

I had to empower my team at work, too. I asked two junior managers to step in and step up as I backed away temporarily. I gave them responsibility but also the freedom to make mistakes as they learned, with my personal brand at stake if things went awry. It was a forced gamble, and it made me feel nervous. I felt like I was risking my team, despite knowing they had the capability of doing what I was asking them to do.

My family, friends and team kept me afloat during that period of drowning. I knew they would. What was incredible was watching those two managers, whom I had to throw out without a lifesaver, tread water and learn to swim incredibly well. They mastered the breaststroke and set records while doing it! Both earned promotions soon thereafter.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I don’t think I can define a single time during the program that I didn’t have to balance. As a single working mom of two young daughters, there has been a constant need to juggle. Although the EMBA was an incredibly exciting opportunity, it was a heavy ball to add to the mix. Constant and careful planning, having a strong support team at home, as well as an understanding and helpful group team at Kellogg have been critical elements of the mix.

Pursuing the MBA has taken me to a new level of flexibility and resourcefulness. I’ve done grocery runs with my kids while on group calls. I’ve studied statistics during gymnastics lessons. I’ve used work scenarios as the basis for game theory study and have shamelessly used my internal work teams for feedback or market research! I most recently scheduled a Disney cruise out of Miami. As part of that process, I arranged for my daughters to fly down with their grandparents to campus on Saturday, I finished classes on Sunday, and we boarded the ship later that afternoon, equipped with snacks (and extra pull-ups!) provided by my teammates on campus.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program?I would tell the student interested in the EMBA to prepare for the most challenging and exhilarating season of his or her life! I would also advise that individual that there is no perfect time to do this; life will get messy despite his or her best attempts to keep things aligned or in control. I would encourage anyone planning to embark on this journey to be humble, to listen and learn from his or her team and cohort from day one, and to think of the EMBA as an invaluable crash course in management, leadership, empathy and coaching.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I was warned that going back for my EMBA could be a very cutthroat experience, which was something I work hard to avoid. (I have more than enough stress in my daily life, thank you!) I wanted to focus primarily on learning instead of leveraging. Kellogg has a special culture of camaraderie that I saw when I interviewed. It became even more evident, after my first few days on campus, that my cohort was certainly competitive —but only with themselves.

I learned from my cohort that I have more than fifty supporters on a daily basis. They act as business advisors, brainstorming gurus and conduits of personal and professional networks. I have seen this group raise money for charities, organize cultural celebrations, and sing some awful renditions of Happy Birthday to unlucky recipients!

What was your biggest regret in business school? I study at a top 10 business school, with astounding professors, dedicated staff, and inspiring colleagues. I have a supportive company and peer group, and an amazing network of family at home to help me care for my children. I’ve done my best to focus in a way that leaves no room for regrets and maximizes this life-changing opportunity. I’ve certainly had my share of stumbles along the way, but I’ve grown stronger because of them. I don’t know that there’s anything I would change, for fear of losing all that I’ve gained.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire EACH of my EMBA classmates, for so many remarkable reasons. Several travel from different countries – some from as far as Russia, Nigeria or China – to Miami once a month on average just for class. Others have been through significant life experiences (marriage, birth of a child, relocations, job changes) without missing a beat in class. I’ve seen others juggle startups or open new businesses in addition to their day jobs and school. I especially and lovingly relate to the other parents in the class who are having to divide their time between jobs and young kids. It’s really incredible to sit back in class and look up and down the rows, person by person. Each one is doing his or her best to be incredible, to push the envelope, and to support all the others in that classroom. I think that’s the core of what has made our Miami team such an incredible group.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was in utero? Kidding aside, I knew it was something I wanted to do since working through my undergrad degree. Business school was always as much a personal goal as it was a professional goal. I wanted to entrench myself with as many talented people and professors possible to get the most from the experience, and that’s exactly what I’ve done at Kellogg.”

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…at least five to ten years behind my content knowledge now. I think of business school as hitting fast-forward on experience, network, and subject matter content, with the bonus of a safe environment and lots of sounding boards from professors and peers.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? As I learn and grow in my career, I want to learn how to celebrate my successes as they come and truly congratulate myself, instead of focusing on the next task at hand. I think that I will always have a goal. Some may be attainable, and others not – otherwise, why set them? This program has taught me that I have the capability to pursue a career without limits. What I have learned about myself along the way is that as long as I feel I am contributing to something greater than myself, and lifting others up as I go, I’m quite satisfied.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want them to remember me as a kind, but feisty, business lady, who focused on the things that mattered – my children, my parents, my friends; and who fought hard for her passions and for those around her.

Favorite book: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. (I’m looking forward to reading more for fun after June!)

Favorite movie or television show: The Intern

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

Exposing my daughters to my love of travel as early and often as possible;

Taking wine education classes, and potentially pursuing certifications!

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

“Sometimes a student stands out in a class both for their interest in the course material and their overall aptitude. Keely Richardson Goodwin is this type of student and I recognized this on the first day of the Negotiations class I taught her. Keely is an EMBA student at Kellogg who is completing her MBA while maintaining a very demanding full-time job. Keely is the Director of Corporate Strategy at Eastman Chemical Company, where she liaises with multiple business teams to assess and improve global commercial strategy and operations. She leads a team of strategy managers and analysts who are committed to delivering corporate earnings results.

Keely stands out at Eastman Chemical as well as in the MBA classroom. She is currently the youngest Director at Eastman Chemical and was also the youngest Business Unit Manager in the company when she served as a Global Business Unit Manager in Additives & Functional Products division and delivered record earnings year over year, improving profitability of the unit by more than 30 percent.

I believe that Keely’s success in the classroom and in her career stems from her willingness to push forward new ways of thinking and challenge others’ ideas. This trait significantly enhanced our class discussions and created great learning opportunities for the other students.  She is also focused on helping to unlock the talent of those around her, whether these are her peers in class or her colleagues at Eastman Chemical. She devotes a tremendous amount of time to developing other leaders at Eastman Chemical. She serves on the Steering Committee for the Catalyst Employee Resource Group, and is highly involved in the company’s Diversity and Inclusion efforts. Most recently, she co-chaired International Women’s Day events and led the development of commercial training sessions for company executives.

Keely is passionate about negotiations. She has built a career in sales and commercial execution to leverage her talent in this area. It was a privilege to have her in my course and I am confident my other students learned a great deal from her.”

Vicki Medvec
Adeline Barry Davee Professor of Management & Organizations
Executive Director of the Center for Executive Women

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF 100 BEST & BRIGHTEST EXECUTIVE MBA GRADS OF 2018