Nikole Vargas, the TV news producer turned corporate and education communications specialist, is our amazing MBA MoTM. We are so excited to share the story of her family, her career path, and what led her to pursue a career in brand management for CPG companies.
How did you know it was the right time to pursue your MBA? What prompted the big life change?
As much as I enjoyed writing and supporting organizations through communications, I started to become bored. I used the same skillset most days and my work had become too routine for me. I love to learn and am a curious person, which is what attracted me to journalism and then higher education, but I knew I was ready to make a career switch. After weighing my options, I decided the best way for me to accelerate my career and change industries/functions would be to return to school to pursue my MBA.
And what drew you to Ross? Why Michigan?
When I made the decision to pursue my MBA, I joined Forte Foundation’s MBA Launch program. This helped me prepare for the GMAT, complete the necessary self-reflection, and provided a path for me to research MBA programs. When comparing MBA programs, I knew I wanted a collaborative, supportive community with a broad alumni network. I assumed I would stay in the Midwest after graduation, but I wanted the flexibility to work anywhere. The desire to make a positive impact through my career was still important to me, as well. I liked the idea of completing a dual degree or taking classes outside of the business school, and thanks to my love for learning, looked for the possibility to study multiple subjects.
I first visited Ross for the Women in Leadership Conference (WILC) and it became immediately clear that Ross checked all of my boxes: featuring a strong, collaborative community with a mission to develop leaders who make a positive difference.
Their alumni network is strong across the U.S., and the University of Michigan offers 100+ graduate programs that are ranked in the top 10 by US News and many students pursue a dual degree. In particular, the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, a three-year dual degree program in which students receive an MBA and a Master of Science from the School of Natural Resources & Environment, appealed to me. This particular program was the icing on the cake, as I was interested in studying the intersection of business and sustainability and was considering pursuing a career in sustainability.
That’s so great to hear. And have you stayed connected to the Women in Leadership group on campus? What other activities are you involved in?
As a student, the organization I have been most involved with is the Michigan Business Women (MBW). I was elected co-president of this club for 2017–18, and was also selected to be a fellow at the Center for Positive Organizations, for the Ross Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Committee, and the GBR Planning Committee (Go Blue Rendezvous — the admitted students weekend).
Additionally, I am a member of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Black Business Student Association, Design + Business, Michigan Marketing Club, General Management Club, the Partners Club at Ross, Net Impact, the Gourmet Club, and an ally in Out for Business.
Extremely involved! How do you feel that your work with all these clubs and your education at Ross have impacted your leadership style or career trajectory?
Before starting graduate school, I spent a lot of time self-reflecting. My son (Logan) was due a month before classes started and I knew my life would change very quickly. I wanted to research as much as possible before stepping on campus so that I could best use the resources available to me. I think because of this preparation, my vision for my career has not changed much. I decided I wanted to pursue a career in brand management for a consumer products company. Through my time at Ross, I have been able to explore that career and a few other similar options, concluding that brand management is indeed the best fit for me. As a dual degree student, I will complete two internships. I spent my first summer in Seattle as a brand management intern at Starbucks, working in an innovation role that I absolutely loved. However, my husband and I decided we would be happier living in the Midwest. This summer, we are exploring Minneapolis-St. Paul while I work as a marketing intern with Land O’ Lakes.
As for my leadership style, my time at Ross has helped me become more aware of the type of leader I am and pushed me to step outside my comfort zone. I love working in consensus-driven environments. I do my best work when I can collaborate across functions to learn from multiple perspectives.
On the contrary, I am most uncomfortable working with conflict. This is something that I am learning to manage, and I am learning that conflict can be a good thing.
For instance, during a group project in one of my first MBA courses, I found myself disagreeing with the rest of the team on what strategy we should pursue. Normally, I would just let it lie and go with the majority. This time, however, I decided to debate my three male teammates, forcing them to examine their beliefs while I examined my own. We ended up receiving the highest score in the class for this project, which I think was partially thanks to the robust discussion we had on the overarching strategy.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of Nikole’s interview where she discusses time management, childcare, and shares some advice for future MBA Mamas.