A Long and Fruitful Journey

By Rebecca Smith

It was not largely publicized, but I’ve been pursuing my Master’s degree for the last two years while continuing to work full-time at Pickering.  With graduation from the Executive MBA program at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University now behind me, our team here has encouraged me to share a little bit about my journey.

Me and my fiancé, Paul, at Kellogg’s graduation in late July.

My tale starts in September 2020, when classes kicked off over Zoom (due to COVID-19) and rather inconveniently in the middle of an RV road trip to get our first Swissy puppy, Luna (which you may remember from a prior newsletter article). After seven months of early morning (East Coast start time!) virtual classes, I was able to start flying to the Miami campus for in-person monthly sessions in 2021.   

I’m getting setup for class in the RV, while Paul does his own remote work.

Class in person was amazing, and I don’t just mean in comparison to Zoom.  Dynamic discussions with top notch professors created rich learning.  And being in person finally accelerated my chance to bond with my cohort, who came from richly diverse backgrounds in industry, experience and geography.

Some of the West Coast cohort members, during one of many weekends in the MIA airport!
Doing some group work with my study group in Miami.

After completing core and advanced classes, taking several global electives provided me with an opportunity to mingle across the entire international network of cohorts from each of the seven Kellogg campuses. Marketing, finance and strategy classes provided plenty of opportunities for me to explore how other minds tackle and solve business problems in different ways from my own, highlighting exactly what’s so important in learning to embrace other perspectives.

Immersion in other countries and their business environments also provided unique chances to expand my awareness and find ways to tie in ideas for our small business here.  Marketing and rebranding challenges for a small winery in Portugal are not that dissimilar from what Pickering might experience, after all.  And learning about exporting wine internationally, alongside an international finance class, gave me a new outlook on our own global distribution network.

My elective in Evanston was a brisk experience!
Exploring a different Cambridge than I’m accustomed to…

It was not long before international electives gave way to a final round of advanced curriculum in the spring, followed by Capstone in June and graduation in July.  Our very special work during Capstone provided an opportunity to really stretch ourselves, and to combine knowledge across all the disciplines of prior coursework.  Two of the most dynamic Kellogg professors teach this exceptional class and it is the ultimate way to bring the program to a close. 

During our Capstone was also when I learned that my cohort selected me to prepare and deliver our graduation speech in Chicago the following month.  What an honor, to represent these amazing people!  What a challenge, to figure out exactly what words sum up where we’ve been and where we’ll go next!  (What a nervous wreck I was on the actual day, speaking in front of over 1,000 people!) 

In the end, I felt two topics were the best fit for our cohort: 1) gratitude for our families and supporters who lifted us up during this intense journey; and 2) highlighting the strength of our cohort’s bond and how it inspires and strengthens us to make positive impact in the world, together. Of course, I also threw in a couple inside jokes for laughs and tried for a few sentimental tears while I was up there.

As a newly minted graduate from Kellogg, I feel really grateful for the education I’ve received and connections I’ve made along the way. My EMBA cohort have become lifelong friends and collaborators. My professors have graciously made themselves available for questions or insights since program close. My education has already made a better person, able to lead with new insights.

Finally, I feel so much gratitude for the Pickering staff and the Board for supporting my efforts in adding this new layer of depth and experience to my role here at the lab. Being able to bring back what I learned at Kellogg into Pickering is the entire reason for all this hard work, after all! It will make me better prepared to shape our exciting future and support all aspects of our business.