Chris Peterson, ’17 MS SCM, was mingling at a kickoff event for the Carlson School Master of Science in Supply Chain Management Program when a fellow student posed an unexpected question: What class, she wondered, did he teach?

With more than three decades of experience and a managerial position at Toro, Peterson wasn’t the typical Carlson School master’s student. But, with the encouragement of his company’s CEO and other senior leadership, Peterson realized an ambition he thought had long ago disappeared. And, in the process, he says he rediscovered the joy of learning—even more than 30 years into his career.

“It wasn’t just to get the degree, to get the next job for me. For me, it was to really learn and understand,” says Peterson, who’s served as managing director of operations and lean enterprise at Toro since 2015 after a long tenure at Pentair.

“And the aha for me coming out of it was that I realized how far away I had gotten from spending time reading and researching and studying various topics. You get so busy with everyday life and work that you just don’t take the time.”

A second chance at a master’s

Earlier in his career, Peterson harbored hopes of earning a master’s degree. But, with a young family, he decided he couldn’t devote the necessary time.

“I was really involved with kids sports and school and things, so I let it go,” says Peterson, whose time at Pentair included multiyear stints in Asia and Europe.

But when then-Toro CEO Mike Hoffman approached Peterson about joining the MS in Supply Chain Management Program’s first class, he seized on the chance. Toro was among the corporate partners who helped the Carlson School craft a one-year curriculum that aligned with the demands of the industry and built upon the experiences of working professionals.

“I saw it as a wonderful opportunity for me to learn and to be able to apply some of that learning to the company,” says Peterson, who wound up pursuing a master’s degree at the same time his son was in veterinarian school and his daughter was contemplating pursuing a master’s degree in nursing.

“It is a lot of work. But the work, I think, is well worth it and I feel stronger for it,” he adds, pointing in particular to classes covering supply chain risk and sustainability, opportunities to form meaningful relationships with classmates working at a variety of companies, and the ability to engage in two-way conversations with faculty members.

Staying relevant

After an intensive yearlong program spread across five terms, Peterson says he’s emerged with “a stack of information, ideas, articles, books, and such that I collected during this time that I want to now take and put into practice here at Toro.”

“The important thing for all of us, I think in this day and age, is to stay relevant in what we do and be out front,” he says, “and understand, learn, try new things—and challenge yourself, challenge your team, and challenge others in the business to try to be better.”