In 1984, an unexpected pregnancy was far more likely to derail a woman’s plans for an MBA, or even her career, than it would today. Terri-Lynn Thayer knows this all too well. Thayer graduated from Brown University before putting her husband through law school, only to find, as she prepared to enter business school with a full assistantship, that she and her husband were expecting. “Things weren’t always as forward-thinking as they are now,” Thayer says, “and I remember I told that institution that I was pregnant and that I wouldn’t be able to finish that year, and that was sort of a nonstarter on the assistantship.”
Her plans for an MBA sidelined, Thayer eventually went to work for her alma mater, a job she held for more than 20 years. Roll the clock forward to about 2011, when Brown and Spain’s IE Business School launched a 15-month executive MBA program, and Thayer found herself finally positioned to get that MBA. She applied and was accepted to the program’s second cohort, which began classes in spring 2012.
The new program did more than address Thayer’s unfulfilled dream of an MBA. It also beckoned with the lure of travel and the promise of fresh perspectives.
“I heard about it and it immediately appealed to me not only because I always wanted to get an MBA, but I loved the international aspect of it,” says Thayer, who at 55 was the oldest member of her cohort when it graduated in 2013. “There were 29 of us from 20 countries when we started.”
CAUTION TO THE WIND
Of those 29, Thayer says, eight were women. Most had similar stories of putting their ambitions on hold for family. “For almost all of us, it was a story of children or family having interrupted our plans in some way,” she says. “I put my husband through law school, I put my son through law school, I put my daughter through her master’s in accounting. I looked around and I said, ‘God, I’ve devoted my life to higher education and I’m the least educated in this house.’”
It was her turn. And the life changes just kept coming. With about six months to go in the program, Thayer found herself mulling a job offer that meant switching professions.
“It really was just incredibly serendipitous,” she says. “In these programs like IE they have a fair amount of time allocated to exploring what you want to do when you grow up, so to speak. I just remember saying, ‘I’m very happy where I am,’ but one of the people said to me, ‘What would be your dream job?’ and almost under the pressure of being pushed for an answer I said, ‘I always thought I might want to be a Gartner analyst some day.’ And I don’t even honestly know where that came from. It was honestly something I had never even verbalized before.”
The universe responded. The very next day Thayer got a call from an analyst at Gartner Inc., an information technology research and advisory company with clients in 90 countries. “I honestly gasped on the other end. I felt like I had been struck by a bolt of lightning. I had absolutely no intention of leaving Brown at that time, but … I sort of threw caution to the wind and said, ‘Let’s do this,’” says Thayer, now research vice president in higher education for the industry analyst. “And I can say going to IE and then doing this was the best decision of my life.”
INTERDISCIPLINARY SYNTHESIS: THE BLENDED EXPERIENCE
Like Terri-Lynn Thayer, who chose IE-Brown because she didn’t want to “go to a place where I felt like I would have known a lot of what they were teaching,” Joel Maxwell was well-established in his job and not solely looking to bolster his business knowledge. The mix of Brown humanities and IE business — what the program refers to as “the blended experience” — appealed to him. So did its international flavor.
“I wasn’t pursuing an MBA to learn just new content but rather was interested in the program, and the reason why I pursued it is because it kind of simplified things in kind of an interdisciplinary sort of way,” says Maxwell, 35, who works for McMaster-Carr, an e-commerce company based in Atlanta. “The IE-Brown program brings in folks who have 15-plus years of experience in different industries, different regions of the world, and you get really diverse, interesting perspectives. … You’re talking about the intersection between business and art, business and different fields, social sciences, etc.”
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