2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Carly Connell, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Carly Connell

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

Age: 29

“Expressive, empathetic connector who gets energy from bringing people together and solving problems.”

Hometown: Arlington, Virginia

Family Members: Oldest of five children: a wife, daughter, granddaughter, daughter-in-law and sister-in-law

Fun fact about yourself: I love to play Mah Jongg

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Virginia, Batten School, BA, Leadership and Public Policy

Where are you currently working? Deloitte

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Forte Fellow
  • Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina Volunteer
  • UStrive Mentor
  • Virginia Alumni Association Member and Mentor
  • Carolina Angel Network (CAN)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud of being voted best team member in my Leading Groups & Teams course. It’s important to me that everyone has a role on the team. I like bringing people together and figuring out how everyone can use their strengths to contribute to an outcome. Therefore, the acknowledgment that my classmates enjoyed working with me was the best compliment.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I started at Deloitte after graduating college and quickly realized that I wanted to be in sales. Despite having no experience, I was committed to finding a way in. Through years of persistence, thoughtful networking, and saying yes to opportunities that would build transferable skills, I landed my first true sales role during the executive MBA program. UNC Kenan-Flagler’s career resources helped me refine my value proposition, so I could pitch creating a new sales role in the Southeast working with fast-growing startups.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Alison Fragale. Her Negotiations course is the most popular offering in the program, and for good reason. Not only is Alison an extremely impressive and captivating professor, but she also is someone I would want to grab a drink with. I refer to her course material multiple times a day to be a more effective negotiator in my personal and professional life.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I chose the UNC Kenan-Flagler Evening Executive MBA Program because of its flexibility, reputation, and network. Due to my husband’s job, I knew I would be living in North Carolina. I was eager to build my network, and the UNC community provides incredible connections and opportunities both personally and professionally.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? You can do it all but not at once. The program opened my eyes to so many new opportunities. Every month I found myself wanting to take on a new elective, leadership position, club, or networking event. However, during the program, I had to juggle moving to a new state, making friends, getting married, starting a new job, family obligations in Virginia, and passing my classes. I learned that when you try to do everything at once and be everything to everyone, you do nothing well. Learning to prioritize what is important was the best lesson. At work, there is always more to do. Realizing that you can’t do anything well if you try to do it all allows me to be present and thoughtful with the task and people in front of me while giving myself grace that the rest will get done in time.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Communication, accountability and empathy are required to juggle work, family and education successfully. I quickly learned that my study team needed to be transparent about what was going on in our lives. so we could effectively work together and have realistic expectations. When I commit to something, I know it is my responsibility to follow through. However, life gets in the way of many plans. Therefore, when I went through a difficult time in my personal life and could not attend meetings or complete my part of a project, I communicated with my team so I did not compromise them and gave them time to step up in my absence. They did this without hesitation, because they knew I would do the same for them and because we were honest with each other.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That business school is easy.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not building stronger relationships with professors. The faculty at UNC Kenan-Flagler is so impressive and I wish I took advantage of office hours and other networking opportunities to create lasting mentorship relationships with a few of them.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire Austin Samples. Austin was part of my assigned study team, and I can confidently say that he was one of the reasons I made it through the program. He is one of the most intelligent and diligent people I have ever met. He always offered up his time to help anyone who was struggling with course concepts. Giving up your minimal free time for nothing in return is the most admirable thing you can do while in an executive MBA program. He is always present.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? The consistency of attending class on the same night every week with the same group of people was very appealing. As a new North Carolina resident, I was excited to engage with classmates in-person and build relationships with people who are also based in the Triangle.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I recently moved into a new role leading market development for Deloitte’s Emerging Growth Company practice in Maryland, D.C., Virginia, and the Carolinas. In my role, I support venture-backed startups from ideation through exit events. Long-term, I hope to develop my skills and a reputation as an ecosystem builder throughout the Southeast, fostering relationships, sharing resources and creating connections among entrepreneurs and VCs.

What made Carly such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“From the moment I met Carly I knew she would be a stand-out student. Throughout the MBA program Carly has been strong contributor inside and outside of the classroom. Her outgoing personality shines through when talking to her peers and it is apparent that she has made relationship-building a priority. Those networking hallway discussions in between classes are always fruitful with Carly – from advice on career transitions, to discussions about coursework, to conversations about life in general – Carly is there for her study team and her cohort. In a recent Leading Groups & Teams course Carly was voted Best Team Member by her classmates. Carly’s calm confidence puts those around her at ease, which makes going through a hectic Executive MBA program much more fun! During her time in the Evening Executive MBA Program, Carly transitioned into a more strategic role at her company, and it has been wonderful to see her put those MBA skills to work to benefit both her career and her company.”

Holly Rice 
Senior Director, Executive MBA Programs
UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


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