Carlson School of Management Building

Executive MBA Inspires Alum to Just Do It

Friday, June 17, 2016

As he embarked on his MBA journey, Tanner Johnson didn’t have a dream job in mind. He’d built a career in accounting, working for PwC, U.S. Bank, and Target, but was ready to expand his career opportunities.

He joined the Carlson Executive MBA Program in 2013 to learn how to view and optimize businesses, beyond the balance sheet.

“For me, it was less about the dream job and more about unleashing my potential,” he says. “The program allowed me to explore various career options and become better-rounded than just being the accountant at the organization—it was all about strategy.”

Soon after graduation, a dream job fell into his lap. As he explored offers from two leading retail companies, Johnson was also courted by Nike to lead the finance team. The opportunity was a perfect fit.

“There were a few things I was looking for: an organization focused on innovation, growth, and brand. Nike reached out, and fit the three criteria. They wanted me as much as I wanted them, and it all worked out for the best,” he says. 

Getting in the game

The Carlson School alum accepted the position, and put lessons from his classes into practice right away. Day-to-day, he leverages his training in international business to embrace the global nature of the brand.

“The market of sportswear is growing internationally, and global operations allow us to reach the growth we at Nike aspire to. We’re a $30 billion company now, and by 2020 we’re aiming to be at $50 billion. That’s substantial growth, and it’s not all going to be in the United States,” he says.

The Carlson Executive MBA Virtual Team Project prepared him to overcome the challenges inherent in global business. The project pairs students in Minneapolis with executive MBA students in China and Austria to address a real-world business challenge. The process challenges the participants to navigate cultural and regulatory barriers to develop an international business plan.  

“The project allowed me to understand the different cultures and equip me for the position I’m in now, working heavily with our Asia division,” he says. 

Forging team chemistry

To his surprise, Johnson discovered he learned as much from his classmates as he did from his professors. The Carlson School selects highly experienced professionals representing a variety of industries for each incoming Executive MBA class. These students proceed through the program in a dedicated cohort, allowing them to engage one another and expand their professional networks.

“I had a wonderful cohort of individuals with experiences I could tap into, and you can’t put a value on that. I was able to learn so much from them,” says Johnson.

He gained a new understanding of how different industries approached challenges, and relied on his classmates for career advice. From medical device executives and salespeople, to CEOs, there was a wide range of backgrounds represented in the classroom.

Achieving leadership potential

Perhaps most importantly, the Executive MBA Program gave Johnson the fundamental tools to become a transformational leader. From orientation through graduation, leadership coaching is woven into every aspect of the experience.

He identified his inherent leadership strengths, exceeded his development goals, and graduated from the program well-prepared to continue striving toward his full potential.

“The program equips you to finish out the rest of your career and continue to build on the great foundation that the CEMBA program sets for you,” he says. “In leading my team, I want to help develop the next CFO for Nike.”