Driven to Lead a Social Enterprise
Adam Rao, ’17 MBA, kicked off his career in the nonprofit world. After finishing a seminary degree, he fought for LGBT rights in Minnesota. Later, he joined Exodus Lending: a first-of-its-kind financial institution that has helped nearly 100 low-income borrowers save more than $250,000 in fees and interest on payday loans.
While his nonprofit work was rewarding, Rao realized he could make an even greater impact through business.
“I felt like my leadership skills were going to fit better in a for-profit social enterprise than in a nonprofit— business school was the next step to make that transition,” he says.
Given his background, Rao was certain he’d be the “odd duck” among the aspiring consultants and financiers he’d encounter in business school. But despite those concerns, he joined the Carlson MBA Program to carve out his path.
“I came into business school not knowing exactly what I wanted to do,” he says. “But I have two beliefs: The first is that I'm called to lead organizations that make a difference in people's lives. And, the second is that I believe the future of social impact is in for-profit enterprise.”
“Odd duck” finds flock
Rao’s preconceptions were only half true: while many grads do emerge from the Carlson School and become consultants or Fortune 500 executives, a growing number of students are pursuing careers in social enterprise.
“I think what I've been most surprised by is that I'm definitely not the only odd duck here. We have a powerful and growing movement of socially minded business students here at the Carlson School,” he says.
Each Carlson MBA class is composed of approximately 100 students. The intimate nature of the program helps students find common ground and form an inclusive community, regardless of their differing backgrounds and career goals.
“What makes this place different is our people. I have been challenged here, I have been supported here, I have made good colleagues and friends through this program, and I wouldn't trade that for the world,” says Rao.
Sampling new career paths
The Carlson School empowered Rao to explore many new possibilities. He journeyed to Palo Alto to evaluate emerging medical technologies. He served as a teaching assistant in an accounting class. And he performed market analysis for a tech start-up, nurtured companies founded on University of Minnesota inventions, and more in the Ventures Enterprise.
“What I’m learning in the Ventures Enterprise is proving more and more valuable, regardless of the environment that I find myself in … It's those skills that are actually going to make all the difference,” he says.
Shaped by experiences the Carlson MBA afforded, Rao accepted a position with a small business that includes social impact in the business model: He will join Sunrise Banks as senior associate of corporate strategy and innovation after graduation.
“I think one of the great things about being in a small business, especially with an MBA, is that you get to make an impact immediately and you get to learn and do things across the entire business,” he says. “Sunrise Banks is a certified B-corp and registered Public Benefit Corporation, so we have both financial performance and social impact performance baked into everything we do as a business. I love this company.”