Former Marketer Switches Careers in Hope of Spurring Start-Ups

Friday, November 6, 2015

In the early years of her career, Kari O’Brien, ’16 MBA, was inspired by the entrepreneurs who took risks realizing their ideas. She was living in Washington D.C., managing a marketing department and volunteering with Startup Grind, an organization that educates, inspires, and connects thousands of business founders across the United States.

It was through this work she imaged her ideal career trajectory.

“I knew that I was never going to be an entrepreneur, but I did have a unique value add in helping people work through their idea to turn it into a business plan and get it off the ground,” says O’Brien.

On the advice of a trusted mentor, she developed a plan of her own: choose a business school to facilitate her transition from marketing to finance, get a decade’s worth of experience in investment banking, and ultimately launch a venture capital firm focused on biotech and life sciences investing.

Choosing an MBA program

O’Brien conducted a thorough search for the best MBA program to reach her goals. Among the most important criteria were factors like student placement rates, national rankings, return on investment, and location. Not only did the Carlson School check those boxes, but the MBA program offered experiential learning opportunities for students to get resume-worthy experience in their industry of choice.

“As a career switcher coming from marketing and going into investment banking, it was important that I was able to pivot and reposition myself on my resume,” she says. “It seemed like the Carlson MBA Program was oriented toward career switchers.”

Transitioning into a new career

Come graduation, O’Brien expects to launch her new career in investment banking: she recently completed an internship at a middle-market investment firm, and visited seven investment banks in New York City. In the coming year, she will continue connecting with recruiters with the help of the Graduate Business Career Center.

”Because of Carlson’s staff-to-student ratio, I’ve received special attention in helping me with my career goals,” she says. “The Carlson network helped me gain experience with two investment banking internships, and I believe it will continue to help me in the future.”

Paving the way for women leaders

As a Forté Fellow, O’Brien will continue to champion increased access to business education for women as she begins the next stage of her career. The Forté Fellows Program has given nearly $68 million to women pursuing MBA degrees. This support is crucial for increasing the number of women managers, board members, and leaders in the workplace.

“Women are less likely to pursue MBA programs because we are more risk averse. Unless we can overcome this challenge, we will have fewer women voices where it matters most,” says O’Brien. “For me, it’s important to assist in identifying the female leaders of the future.”