2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Katie Cardon, Brigham Young University (Marriott)

Katie Cardon

Brigham Young University, Marriott School of Business

Age: 40

“A leader, engineer, wife, mother, daughter, and friend who can connect details, make decisive plans and balance genuine care while maintaining high expectations.”

Hometown: Pleasant Grove, UT

Family Members: Garrett, Sam and Benny

Fun fact about yourself: I LOVE the national parks system and have visited 22 of them. Seeing them all is on my bucket list.

Undergraduate School and Degree: BS in Mechanical Engineering from Brigham Young University, MS in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Colorado at Boulder

Where are you currently working? Owlet, Senior Program Manager

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Spearheaded Owlet presence at Women Tech Council’s SheTech Explorer Day
  • Judge for BYU college of engineering Student Innovator of the Year of the year competition
  • Speaker at the Women Tech Council’s annual holiday event
  • Speaker at various Society of Women Engineer university chapter industry events
  • Organized and executed the celebration of National Engineers week at local STEM middle school for 300 students
  • Presented the OSIRIS-REx mission at USA Science and Engineer festival in Washington DC to over 350,000 people
  • Executed Take your Child to Work day for entire market segment of 500 employees

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Earlier this year, I really wanted to get involved with a local event to support girls in Tech. Initially, I signed up to be a participating mentor, meaning I would give up my time for the day to individually mentor 6-8 girls through the event. I’ve done similar volunteering in the past and found it very rewarding. However, after signing up, the event organizer reached out and asked if I could ask my company to not only sponsor a booth, but also provide some financial investment and organize a team of volunteers to help. Instead of just having a single person support the event, I was able to do just that! I am so proud I was able to amplify my efforts and support the event in a big way. Ultimately, we had a team of amazing female engineers act as role models engineers (a handful of them are shown in the pic below), but our brand got a lot of publicity and exposure including press featuring the Governor of Utah!

Katie Cardon (Far Right) with Utah Governor Spencer Cox (Center)

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In the fall of 2016, I was in Florida standing on the banks of banana creek surrounded by my professional colleagues. We’d spent the last 4 years in the trenches together designing and building a beautiful spacecraft called OSIRIS-REx. My entire biological family had also joined me to watch my work launch into space on its journey to rewrite science. At my back was the Saturn V Visitors Center, a reminder of the incredible legacy I was a part of. In front of me was the launch pad and searing white light of an Atlas rocket as it lifted my design up into space on the first part of its mission. In that moment, I knew in the depths of my soul the work I’d chosen to do was important, righteous, and noble. I’d spent 16 years of my life dedicated to expanding our knowledge of the universe. My career had been carefully crafted through a magical combination of good luck, hard work, aptitude, sponsorship, and failure. I’d positioned myself to be at the right company, at the right time, in the right position to really be able to make an impact. I was going to be integral in getting a woman to take steps on the moon.

However, in 2019 my partner landed his dream job. An opportunity where his training, passion and opportunity intersected and would provide him a lifetime of growth and challenge. And I am so proud to support him. The major problem was that where he found the job did not have any options for building spacecraft. And as much as tech has enabled remote working and virtual teams, the hard truth is you just can’t tighten a bolt from 500 miles away.

So, we moved. To a place dominated by a very different industry than I’ve ever known. I was filled with so many conflicting thoughts and feelings. Is my experience worth a thing here? I’m totally unmarketable in another industry! No one will give me a chance to try something new! Will anyone ever take me seriously in my career if they know I’ve moved to support my husband? Will I find a job where I can help other women grown in engineering and tech? Do I have a responsibility to stay in a male dominated field so I can represent a minority perspective?

What I have found over the last 3 years has been shocking to me. What I am now most proud of in my professional career is not the fact that I designed hardware that is sitting out on Mars. It’s not that my mechanism performed flawlessly and collected a sample of an asteroid. What I’m most proud of today is that I was able to pivot. I was able to work my way through an identity crisis, through a shift to 100% remote work, through a new industry with zero sponsorship or mentoring and came out the other side capable, competent, and confident. I now have the knowledge that I can probably figure out how to get through anything, and that understanding is something to be proud of.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? The goals and objectives of the university align very well with my personal ambitions

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I’ve learned so much over the course of the last 2 years that it is almost impossible to pick just one. I came to the program with an extremely limited grasp on both finance and accounting. Those are the two hard skills that have deepened my business acumen across the board. However, attempting to tell an engaging anecdote about the time I challenged the wisdom of only relying on only revenue as a target for bonus compensation vs net operating income seemed challenging. Instead, I’d like to highlight one of the leadership skills that this program helped me develop.

During one of our Leadership class discussions, I was very struck by the concept of “managing up.” Most of the leadership practices I had attempted over the course of my career had centered on me as the leader and how I manage down. I had never thought of focusing on developing my relationships with my upper management as part of my own development. And the more I thought about it, the more it showed in what was happening to me in real time at work.

To hone this skill, I employed a framework developed by Katie Lilenquist to seek advice from my leaders. My team had been struggling with the most effective way to convey bad news to our executive team. Bad news always happens. It is unavoidable. However, I felt that my approach was not getting traction and I was being perceived as a bit of a victim. That is not at all what I want to convey. I used Lilenquist’s framework to get advice on how to better share bad news…and it worked to great effect. Not only did I get great advice from my manager, but I could really sense his appreciation that I asked. During my subsequent executive status meeting, the presentation of negative news was well received and appreciated.

In the past, I’ve had a slight aversion to the concept of “managing up”. It previously felt like it landed somewhere between disingenuous and manipulative. However, the knowledge gained in the classroom coupled with direct, real-time experimentation totally changed my mind. Instead of thinking of it as a self-serving tactic to get a promotion, I have started to see it as a way to better understand another person’s perspective and give them what they need/want to be successful. Furthermore, it has prepared me to become an executive leader, a trajectory that I wanted, but was not prepared for without my MBA experience.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Just like all other times of my life, trying to determine what takes priority is challenging. Adding school to the mix meant I had to learn to say no to things I would normally love to participate in. I had to turn down a lot of community engagement opportunities and fun nights with friends. It was a distillation process focused and making sure I was doing the right thing at the right time. Until we each get Dumbledore’s time turner, we can really only do one thing at a time. Over the past two years, I’ve had moments where I left class early to attend a funeral or a violin recital. I’ve had late nights where I’ve had to ask my school team to wait until 9 pm to get together so I can read bedtime stories. There isn’t a single event that really describes the attention required to make sure I felt like I was making the most of time resources available to me. It felt more like a leveling up of my overall ability to prioritize and focus on putting what was most important first.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Do it! After working in corporate America for almost 20 years, I was able to rapidly level up in my business acumen through this experience. It would have taken me so much longer to gain this insight on the job.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Regret is such an interesting concept. Looking back at my life most of my regrets are for what I didn’t do, not what I did. At this moment, it is hard for me to see any opportunities associated with school that I didn’t take advantage of. I made lifelong friends that I am determined to remain connected to. I attended the extra lectures on topics that I’d never considered before. I dug deep into the material and really tried to immerse myself in the concepts. I’m sure as time passes. I will be able to notice better if there were experiences I didn’t get and I may develop regret over that, but standing where I am no I have no real obvious regrets.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Kimber Crandall. Kimber signed up for this program at a moment in her life of great transition and uncertainty. To see the way she carried herself, contributed to the class by starting the EMBA ladies association, and performed in the classroom was an outstanding example to me of grit and hope.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I felt the EMBA format was going to dovetail with my life the best. I also really value in-person educational experiences, which I was very lucky to be able to have through the entire pandemic.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To use my clever mind, forgiving heart and driven soul to create happiness in my family, improvements for my community, and maximize my ability to always learn and do more.

What made Katie such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“Katie is a first-rate student who excels at every topic, every assignment, and every challenge presented in the program. She also brings a wealth of experience and perspective that bless classmates, group work, in-class conversations, and professors. She is also uber personal and knows how to relate to people and how to laugh. She’s a joy to be around and joy to work with.”

Colby Wright
BYU Marriott School of Business Professor of Finance

DON’T MISS: THE BEST & BRIGHTEST EXECUTIVE MBAS OF 2022

Comments or questions about this article? Email us.