Tom Lindow, Mia Vue Jennings, and Kyle Burkhardt

A Masterful Combination of Business and Arts

Friday, April 5, 2024

By Amy Carlson Gustafson


Three arts-focused Carlson School alumni and students demonstrate how understanding business makes dollars—and sense.

At first blush, business and the arts don’t necessarily seem like a natural pair. However, Carlson School community members combining business smarts with a career in the arts have carved their paths to success, whether winning a Tony, discovering the importance of arts to a city, or representing a culture through murals. Discover how their melding of arts and business is making a meaningful impact.


Winning a Tony: Kyle Burkhardt, '20 MBA

Kyle Burkhardt Headshot
Kyle Burkhardt, '20 MBA

Kyle Burkhardt, ’20 MBA, wasn’t expecting to become a Tony winner. But when the COVID-19 pandemic shut theater doors nationwide in 2020, it opened another: Burkhardt’s chance to explore a career as a Broadway producer.

Burkhardt, now the senior vice president of strategy for the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, had already had his arena doors shut: At the time, he was working for the MLS’ New York City Football Club (NYCFC), so he found himself with plenty of free time when the soccer season was canceled in March 2020. Like the rest of us on lockdown, he and his wife, Morgan Jones, started binging TV shows. Their first choice? Smash, a drama about the making of a Broadway musical.

“I was mostly joking when I turned to my wife and said, ‘This can’t be that difficult,’” says Burkhardt about producing a musical. “Turns out, it is both very difficult and also not that hard.”

Smash inspired them to read books on the subject, network with significant theater players, and eventually create Burkhardt Jones Productions. With a mission statement to uplift underrepresented stories, they started investing in, and producing, Broadway shows, including Parade. The musical features a story about anti-Semitism, and its opening last year drew neo-Nazi protestors. Months later, it won a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical.

Parade Best Revival
Poster for the musical revival of Parade.

“I’m on stage trying to listen to the speeches, but I couldn’t tell you a word that was said,” he recalls. “In my mind, these memories are flashing: The first time I saw theater, listening to cast albums, wanting to become involved, bringing my parents and friends to opening night, knowing this was something I helped make happen. It was truly incredible. A moment I will never forget.”

With the upcoming debut of their latest Broadway work, Suffs, based on the women’s suffrage movement, balancing his theater and basketball duties might sound overwhelming. Fortunately, Burkhardt’s a pro at juggling multiple endeavors. While earning his MBA at the Carlson School, he was flying back and forth from his job at the time with the LA Clippers to Minneapolis. Having his MBA helps in both lines of work, whether it’s working on business strategy for the Mavericks or making financial decisions for theater productions.

“There’s something about seeing the best people in the world do what they do live,” says Burkhardt, whose ultimate goal is to run a sports franchise. “For me, that’s the intersection of sports and the theater. I can be effective by using my talents in a meaningful way on the business side of things. I’ve found a way to be involved in the things I love.”

There’s something about seeing the best people in the world do what they do live. For me, that’s the intersection of sports and the theater.

Kyle Burkhardt, ’20 MBA

Honoring Hmong Culture Through Art: Mia Vue Jennings, sophomore in the Undergraduate Program

Mia Jennings Headshot
Mia Vue Jennings

The Minnesota State Fair draws hundreds of thousands of visitors annually during its 12-day run. While it’s usually a packed house, there are peaceful pockets, such as the Joyful World Mural Park, where artists create murals onsite. In 2023, muralist Mia Vue Jennings created a large-scale artwork there inspired by the “paj ntaub,” a traditional Hmong story cloth. The colorful piece featured scenes of family, spirituality, farming, cooking, play, and education.

“Instead of imagining something unattainable, I wanted to show appreciation for what we already have in America and also highlight the traditional values that we still carry with us in our daily lives,” says Jennings, a Hmong American from Minneapolis. “It’s great to dream, but you have to remember there are so many things to be grateful for.”

Jennings’ art primarily draws from her Hmong identity. Along with murals she’s worked in a variety of mediums, including digital art, paintings, illustrations, and street art. Her pieces have been displayed at libraries, childcare centers, art festivals, and Minnesota Public Radio’s “YourClassical Storytime.” Jennings recalls her first drawing as a toddler—a picture of her family featuring siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles—and she continues to draw inspiration from her family, culture, and experiences. It’s about honoring her roots while connecting with people, she says. Along the way, her parents have supported and encouraged her art and education, helping her build a career and portfolio.

Mia Jennings State Fair Art
Mia Vue Jennings' large-scale artworks are inspired by the "paj ntaub," a traditional Hmong story cloth.

“I wouldn’t have decided to pursue an art career alongside going to college without them,” she says. “I’m glad they encouraged me to keep on going for bigger and better. I just need to be myself and to be confident. I’m not going to get any of these opportunities unless I try.”

When she thinks about her dream career, Jennings sees herself as a successful artist creating murals or animating films that tell traditional Hmong stories. She’d also love working in marketing or design at a creative agency. Overall, she wants to lead a creative career. And if she ever starts her own business in relation to her art, she says her business degrees in Marketing and Management Information Systems will help. Right now, she finds pursuing art while going to the Carlson School is the best of both worlds.

“As a business student, I have to remind myself why I’m here and in business—because it also helps me in my art and creative pursuits,” Jennings says. “I’m not just in it to get into a corporate job. I have my own path, and it’s OK that I’m not like everyone else.”


Tom Lindow Headshot
Tom Lindow, '05 MBA

Playing a Vital Role in the Community: Tom Lindow, '05 MBA

As a kid growing up in Sheboygan, Wisc., Tom Lindow remembers seeing the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) on a school field trip. There was the controlled chaos of hundreds of students finding their seats, and then the absolute silence and anticipation that filled the room as the music began.

It’s a childhood memory Lindow wasn’t expecting to relive. However, that early experience played a crucial part in him accepting his position as MSO’s CFO last year. 

“Had that experience not happened when I was in sixth grade, I don’t know whether I’d be sitting in this seat today,” he says. “Whether it’s inspiring young people to enjoy the arts or pursue a career in the arts, it’s just important to get in there when they’re young. It’s one of those experiences kids need to be well-rounded.” 

Lindow worked in the corporate world for years before taking his first nonprofit job with the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, then eventually landing at the MSO, one of Wisconsin’s largest cultural organizations.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Photo Courtesy Jonathan Kim Du

“It’s not that different than a for-profit entity,” he says. “We have a board of directors, a mission, and services that we have to provide and need to be funded on a recurring basis. The big difference is there’s more joy in it for me. You get the rewarding feeling of being able to provide a service for the city.”

Lindow appreciates the vital role MSO plays in the Milwaukee arts community and its partnerships with fellow arts organizations. He said it can be challenging because MSO relies heavily on fundraising and private donations to fund its operations and build a healthy endowment.

“I want to be a business partner—I want to understand all the jobs here,” he says. “If there’s a place I didn’t know a lot about, it would be the symphonic world. That gives me a lot of opportunities to learn. It’s the joy of expanding my knowledge of an industry I haven’t been involved in before.”

Not only has he developed an appreciation for all the programming the MSO does, from classical music concerts to family-friendly movies with a live score, it’s compelling, he says, to be part of the “greater good” of the community. “Even if I have a bad day, I still know that we provide something beautiful for the city to enjoy. That brings me a lot of satisfaction,” he says.

“You get the rewarding feeling of being able to provide a service for the city.”

Tom Lindow, ’05 MBA
Spring 2024 alumni magazine cover

This article appeared in the Spring 2024 alumni magazine

See how Carlson School community members are pushing boundaries and elevating business and education.

Spring 2024 table of contents