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MBA grads of Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and more share the unique career paths they took after business school - that didn't end in finance or consulting

MBA grads of Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and more share the unique career paths they took after business school - that didn't end in finance or consulting

harvard business school graduates

Brian Snyder/Reuters

  • According to statistics from Harvard Business School, financial services and consulting are the most popular paths for its graduates.
  • That said, there are plenty of other career paths you can take after getting an MBA.
  • Business Insider spoke with graduates of Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and more to learn about the steps they took after getting a degree.
  • These graduates ended up in unique fields such as nonprofit, medicine, sports marketing, and retail.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

People tend to get their MBA for the same reasons: career advancement, leadership training, and a strong network. But once MBA students graduate from school, there are many ways they can use their degrees.

According to statistics from Harvard Business School, financial services and consulting are the most popular paths for its graduates. Liz Chilla, the senior director of Emory University's Goizueta Business School Career Management Center, told Business Insider that she's "seen an increase in [students interested in] consulting" over the seven and a half years she's worked in business education, in both admissions and counseling positions.

However, while consulting and finance jobs may be more popular than other options, they are by no means the only tracks business school students can take.

Business Insider spoke to five MBA graduates who used their degrees in unique ways, and have gone on to find great success in their respective sectors.

I became the cofounder and director of a nonprofit

While Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld's first job out of business school was rather typical for an MBA, consulting was never her end goal.

Growing up the daughter of a diplomat, the inequality that existed between Colloredo-Mansfeld's family and those she drove past in Somalia and Malaysia was always apparent to her. Early on, she assumed one day she would work in international development.

After working in investment banking for two years after college, she got a job with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Pakistan.

"I had never planned on going to business school. I thought I'll do that year [with the IRC] and apply to public policy school," she said.

But as she spoke to leaders with successful international development careers, she was told to go to business school if she wanted to make a real impact, and ended up attending Stanford University's Graduate School of Business, which has a public management program.

Read more: Here's exactly what it takes to get accepted into Stanford Graduate School of Business, according to 6 grads and the assistant dean of admissions

After graduating, getting married, and realizing it would be too hard to move abroad, Colloredo-Mansfeld started working at the Boston Consulting Group, and then at tech companies like Citysearch and eToys at the dawn of the dotcom bubble.

Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld

Courtesy of Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld

Chesca Colloredo-Mansfeld.

"I got the entrepreneurial bug at that point," she recalled.

When Colloredo-Mansfeld's husband got a professorship at the University of Iowa, she started working at Iowa's business school. It was there that she heard about Dr. Ignacio Ponseti and his nonsurgical treatment for clubfoot.

She watched a video of a boy in Uganda with untreated clubfoot, and it brought tears to her eyes. That night she told her husband, "I've figured out what I need to do with my life."

Unsatisfied with another business school job and hoping to fulfill Dr. Ponseti's wish to treat clubfoot in children worldwide, Colloredo-Mansfeld started MiracleFeet. With the help of two cofounders, the nonprofit has been helping to bring the nonsurgical treatment for clubfoot to children globally for nine years now.

She approached it like any business problem, explained to investors the return on philanthropic investment, and spoke the language of business executives, said Colloredo-Mansfeld about starting the organization.

Uniquely positioned with a business background, "We've done things a typical NGO might shy away from," she added. For example, MiracleFeet has partnered with companies like Clarks and Suncast to innovate its technology.

Colloredo-Mansfeld is thankful for her degree and the network she built along the way. "For people leaning toward nonprofit and entrepreneurship," she said, "I think an MBA gives you a really good foundation."

I propelled myself into a director role in the medical profession

After 10 years of practicing as an ER doctor, Benjamin Lee started to notice a disconnect between the decisions hospital leaders were making and what was happening at the patient bedside. Lee questioned why clinicians weren't more involved in decision-making, and then looked at what degrees hospital leaders had. He decided that holding an MBA or MPH seemed like "an unspoken rule."

"You had to have some kind of management skills," Lee said.

Ultimately, Lee enrolled at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business in their executive MBA program. He was initially attracted to Fuqua's health sector management program, but never ended up taking classes in it. Nonetheless, he feels that his degree and the network he made have been invaluable.

"Business school opens up doors that otherwise might be difficult to open," Lee said.

At Fuqua, Lee met classmates who helped him start a company to facilitate patient transfer via cloud-based software. During his customer discovery phase, Lee spoke with a healthcare services company called Adeptus Health, to see if it might be interested in his product.

Benjamin Lee

Courtesy of Benjamin Lee

Benjamin Lee.

Adeptus was in charge of staffing for a management role at a hospital operations organization called Dignity Health. According to Lee, "the guy [on the phone] said jokingly … it seems like you're a fit." He invited Lee to take the position, and Lee accepted.

He shelved his startup, and is now overseeing emergency departments in the Phoenix market at Dignity Health as the facility medical director and and regional medical officer - the kind of position that originally motivated him to seek out an MBA.

Lee advised MBA students to figure out what their strengths are in business school, but in terms of a career, keep an open mind - because "one opportunity may lead to another."

I bounced from public policy to working at Sweetgreen headquarters in search of a people-facing role

When it comes to his career, Parker Sheedy's willingness to put himself out there has been the key to his success.

Throughout college, Sheedy cold-called his way into internships first in British Parliament, and then with the Premier of Bermuda. After working as a consultant one year out of college, he used this tactic once again - this time to get a job at the White House under Barack Obama.

"I managed to find somewhere online … the switchboard number [for the White House]," Sheedy said. He still has that number memorized.

He worked there for almost five years, managing business relationships as a confidential assistant for the Under Secretary of International Trade, and eventually as a special assistant and associate director for the Secretary of Commerce.

When the Obama administration finished in 2015, Sheedy had to decide what to do next. He contemplated public policy programs, but eventually enrolled at Harvard Business School.

Read more: Here's exactly what it takes to get accepted into Harvard Business School, according to 5 grads and the managing director of admissions

"DC has no shortage of policy people, so I thought business school could be a great asset for me" Sheedy noted. Additionally, he had gotten a taste of business school years prior when he attended Stanford's Summer Institute for General Management Program.

Parker Sheedy

Courtesy of Parker Sheedy

Parker Sheedy.

When Sheedy started at Harvard, he had no idea what he would do after graduation, but was moved by a class called Authentic Leadership Development (ALD). He remembers one of his classmates in ALD calling him "the LEGO builder," because he loved to connect people and build on those relationships.

After graduating in 2018, Sheedy found a job where he could do just that - as an associate in the office of the CEO at Sweetgreen in Los Angeles. He recently left this role to once again pursue a position where government and policy are involved, but is eager to stay in a people-facing role where he can use his social skills.

For other MBAs looking to find their paths, the best lesson Sheedy has learned is "to be patient, and not be afraid to try new things and not like them."

I put myself on the track to the C-suite in the sports industry

The sports fan that she is, Teresa Naff always knew she wanted to go to USC - where she was rejected for college. In fact, when Naff applied to executive MBA programs, USC's Marshall School of Business was the only one on her list.

Luckily, she got in, and it was the perfect program for her. She was able to learn from and work closely with David Carter, the executive director of the Sports Business Institute. Carter offered Naff great opportunities, such as a meeting with Manchester United's staff and consulting on a project for the NFL Players Association.

While Naff had studied marketing in college and already worked for Fox Sports, NBC, and the Oakland Raiders, she's always had her eye on joining the C-suite and knew an MBA could help her get there.

Teresa Naff

Courtesy of Teresa Naff

Teresa Naff.

One of the most valuable, yet unexpected things Naff got out of business school was learning about herself.

"When I played sports I would always be the captain on the team," she said. "Whenever we would do things internally [at work] I would always be the one leading it, but never knew why."

Through a class called Leadership and Executive Development, Naff uncovered her innate capabilities and motivators. She learned she was a natural leader.

Today, she is the associate director of sports brand marketing at Ticketmaster, and is just getting started. "My goal in the past was to be the CMO of the 49ers, and now I think that's too small," Naff said about her future plans.

"Take advantage of being a student" because people are more likely to respond to informational interview requests from that position, Naff advised to prospective MBA candidates.

I opened my own clothing store after years of toying with my love for retail

Brooke Richman's first experience with retail was at age five, when she came up with the idea for "Brooke's Looks Fine Department Stores."

Once she graduated from college and took a job as a sales and trading Analyst at Citibank, it seemed natural for her to cover retail companies. But Richman soon decided the grueling hours of banking were not for her, and became a buyer for Theory and Helmut Lang.

At Theory, she had the opportunity to visit different retailers. It was on these site visits that Richman started to work directly with customers and realized she had a passion for selling. However, she also loved the idea of working with a variety of brands and saw a gap in the market.

"Besides Intermix … there were no longer any boutiques in the city [of New York] that sold a variety of different brands and also had very hands-on customer service," Richman said.

Brooke Richman

Courtesy of Brooke Richman

Brooke Richman.

From then on, Richman knew she wanted to open her own store. It didn't hurt that both her father and brother were also entrepreneurs and had told her "you always want to be your own boss." But Richman was only 25 at that point and knew she had more to learn, so she decided to get an MBA.

Eager to stay in New York City, Richman attended Columbia Business School, where she could write her business plan for course credit. Keeping her eye on the goal of opening her own boutique, she graduated from Columbia in May of 2013, got an LLC in June, and hired her first employee in September of that same year - with the help of private investors.

Read more: Here's exactly what it takes to get accepted into Columbia Business School, according to 3 alumni and the director of admissions

Coop & Spree, named after Richman's two lively childhood golden retrievers, is a boutique in the Nolita neighborhood of New York City that sells a variety of emerging brands for women and kids. In addition to working on the floor and running the business side of her store, Richman interviews candidates for the Columbia Business School as an alumni ambassador.

For hopeful entrepreneurs, she advised that "if you have the drive … and are dedicated and hard-working … that's more important than having any kind of finance background."

Alana Pockros is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist. Her local and national reporting has appeared in places like Greenpointers, Kaiser Health News, CNN, and NPR. She holds a bachelor's degree in political science and predictive health from Emory University. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @Apockros.


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