2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Katie McClarty, University of Minnesota (Carlson)

Katie McClarty

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

“Results-driven, work-hard/play-hard executive and mom who motivates others to be their best.”

Age: 40

Hometown: Austin, TX

Family Members: Jim (husband), Claire (12), Sophia (10)

Fun fact about yourself: I was a college cheerleader at Iowa State University and danced on the pom squad during my undergraduate studies.

Undergraduate School and Degree: B.S. Iowa State University (Psychology), Ph.D. University of Texas at Austin (Social and Personality Psychology)

Where are you currently working? I began at Renaissance Learning as the Vice President of Research and Design in March 2020. Before that I was Chief Assessment Officer at Questar Assessments.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles: During the MBA program, I served as an associate editor for the journal Gifted Child Quarterly, reviewed submissions for national conferences, led a weekly book club for 5th-grade students, and was active in my own book club.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my learning and achievements in accounting and finance. I did not have a background in these areas prior to starting the EMBA program, and the terminology was challenging at first. I put in long hours, sought help from the faculty and my peers, and applied what I learned directly into the business setting. I was able to effectively negotiate budget and cost changes that allowed me to lay off fewer people during a time of downsizing, and members of the finance team asked me to explain accounting and finance impacts to other non-financial managers in the company.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of the team I built while working at Questar. Over a two-year period of rapid growth, I hired, trained, and onboarded more than 100 full-time employees and contractors (expanding the team from 30 to 120) while reducing voluntary turnover from 25% to 6%, reducing defects, and increasing on-time delivery. I was able to share lessons learned during my EMBA program to help the leaders on my teams grow, and they were all able to successfully take on more leadership and responsibility when I moved to my next role. The people are the heart of what makes any business run, and we would not have accomplished so many corporate and customer objectives if we did not have such a strong and dedicated team.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I knew I wanted a cohort-based EMBA program with others who were experienced and successful in their careers. I felt fortunate to live in Minneapolis at the time because the Carlson School is so highly-ranked. Being able to attend business school in a city that is home to so many business headquarters allowed us to hear not only from top professors but also from industry leaders throughout our program, which greatly enriched the program experience.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I most enjoyed the other classmates in my cohort. Being able to hear their stories and experiences from different industries gave me a broader perspective of the course material along with great friendships and support throughout the program. I learned that many of the business challenges I was facing were common across a variety of industries, and I was able to look to my classmates for ideas and support.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The biggest lesson I gained during my MBA was how to think about competitive strategy in the market and how to align resources to support that strategy. Prior to that, I had been leading in terms of industry best practices, but I had not been focusing as much on the areas that would differentiate us from every other testing company in the market. For example, I used the strategy and marketing lessons from my EMBA to engage my team in activities aligning their work and focus (e.g., training local educators to write test questions) with one of our key differentiators (e.g., educator involvement).

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? In April 2019, I went to San Francisco to attend our annual industry conference where I had presentations and strategic meetings related to work. The five-day conference overlapped with our class weekend, so I remotely listened to lectures between events and called into our team marketing simulation project. In addition, I was supposed to be hosting my daughter’s 5th-grade book club, so I created a PowerPoint of questions and set up a remote video call. My husband connected our home TV to the computer so I could see and interact with the children. It was a long five days, but I was able to maintain my commitments by using a bit of creativity.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? You will get out of the program what you put into it. The school will offer amazing opportunities for learning from course materials, distinguished professors, and accomplished peers. Take advantage of all of it. Two years may seem like a long time, but it will go quickly.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth is that you will not have enough time. Yes, the program is time-consuming, but you will have time if you creatively make the time. You may have to change your schedule or routine (e.g., reading articles while your daughter is at gymnastics, eating more fast food than you may prefer), but you can make the time if you are committed. You can also rely on your classmates to help push you through during the weeks or months that are most challenging, and you can talk to your professors if you have extenuating circumstances. You will not be alone and everyone wants you to succeed.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret is that I did not spend more time with my classmates. I built strong relationships with my first-year team, and I would not have been as successful in the program without them. However, there were other program-wide social events that I missed due to work or family commitments that I know would have been beneficial.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I really admire Alex Hulute. He was part of my first-year team. He earned his undergraduate in engineering from Iowa State University (my alma mater), and we were going back to school for similar reasons (i.e., to understand more about the business context and not just be subject-matter experts). He worked 10-hour days as an engineer and then would spend the evenings with his autistic son while his wife worked nights as a nurse. He came to the US in high school as a refugee from the Congo, and English was not his first language. Though he was often quiet in class, he was hard-working and thoughtful, committed to learning and self-improvement, and he would often be the team member to find the details the rest of us had overlooked. I am proud to be graduating along with Alex and the other members of the class of 2020.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…we were in the process of selling our company, and I didn’t have enough financial background to understand some of the discussions and parts of the book we created. As a fellow C-suite executive, I wanted to be able to engage in conversations at the same level as many of the other executives.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I would like to be a Chief Operating Officer or Chief Executive Officer of a company that makes a difference in the world. I love working in education because there is a direct connection between the products we build and being able to accelerate learning for children and adults. I believe education leads to opportunity, and I want to open opportunities for others.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like to be remembered as someone who worked hard but did not take myself too seriously and could always make time to help others.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Once my EMBA is complete, I want to focus more on fitness and health so I can run another Spartan obstacle race. I also have several places I would like to vacation and spend with my family once it is safe to travel.

What made Katie such an invaluable member of the Class of 2020?

“In my Advanced Marketing class, the emphasis is on the application of theories about human behavior and how they apply to Marketing and Consumer Behavior. Katie McClarty, with her PhD in Psychology, was an immense resource in guiding the class discussion, and alerting her classmates to the application of research to their professional lives. In case discussions, in conversations about contemporary topics and in raising issues that would otherwise have gone unmentioned, I could always rely on Katie to play the lead role. She was simply outstanding in her responsiveness to knotty puzzles that I raised and in addressing complex issues in a manner that brought her classmates along. Katie is by far the finest Executive MBA student it has been my privilege to teach.”

Professor Akshay Rao

General Mills Chair in Marketing

Carlson School of Management

University of Minnesota


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