Student Profile: Leslie Donohue, Midland MBA Class of 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hi, Leslie. To start, could you please tell us a bit about your background and experience?

I graduated from Midland University in 2005, and went to work after graduating in the mortgage industry. I worked there for a short period of time doing entry-level work like you might expect, and moved in 2006 to FCSAmerica in their residential lending department.

I worked in that role for a few years until moving over to special accounts/collections. I stayed in a processor role for about 6 months and then was promoted to resolution officer. There, I had the responsibilities to make decisions on accounts, work directly with customers, and make credit decisions about resolving past-due and delinquent accounts.

I worked in that role for another few years, and was recently promoted to my first leadership role. I lead about 30 entry-level positions in the credit department. My current title is Director of Credit Operations. 

Why did you decide to go back to school and earn your MBA?

It all started with my observation of a trend in the industry, more people were getting their MBAs. I wasn’t sure if an MBA would get me a new job, but thought it would at least get me an interview. Really, I wanted to stay competitive in the market, whether at Farm Credit or somewhere else at another point in my career.

Why did you choose Midland?

There was the obvious connection I had to Midland from my undergraduate studies, but it actually was a much more unique situation than that. I started my MBA several years ago with an all-online program. It only took a few classes to realize that the online format wasn’t for me. I was doing group teamwork with people in other states and countries all with different language and time barriers, and that wasn’t a great environment to learn in.

That being said, I still wanted to earn my MBA. My first interaction with the program was in an ad on LinkedIn—that’s where I first found out about it. I talked to Ray [Sass, Director of the MBA at Midland University] and learned about some of the specifics of the program. The 16-month timeline appealed to me, as it was a much more attainable time frame than I was working off of before. I also really liked the hybrid format, and with my previous connection to Midland, I thought I’d give it a try.

So the hybrid format really appealed to you?

Absolutely. For one, the 16-month time frame was, as I just mentioned, really important. As opposed to taking several years to complete an MBA online, the 16 months to me seemed easier to plan for. Being able to see exactly when the program ends was hugely beneficial to me. But the most important aspect for me was the in-person sessions.

I knew I wouldn’t have been able to do a program that met even weekly, and a full-time MBA was out of the picture for me. I didn’t want to stop the momentum I have going for me in my career right now. And with Midland, I didn’t have to do that. I can easily schedule an in-person class every three weeks.

There’s a higher level of accountability with the mix between online and in-person classes. The in-person element makes your professors and teammates real people. When I was taking classes online, it felt like those names on the screen weren’t real people—even the professors. All they did was grade and give feedback. That was really it. What Midland has done with their program is make earning an MBA doable for people who can’t go to weekly class, while also helping form relationships and interactions between professors and classmates.

Has the program met your expectations so far?

Definitely. I’ve been at Farm Credit for 8 years. It’s an amazing company and I don’t plan on leaving, but I’ve been engrained and fully absorbed here for that whole time period. Until I started taking MBA classes at Midland, I never really took the time to look at what other industries are doing (other than competitors). The program has given me a much broader view of what’s going on in the market, which is great for my own career. I have a more global outlook and have a much larger frame of reference when working with leaders throughout the company.

I’m in a bit of a unique situation because I got my promotion while earning my MBA. I won’t say that my MBA is fully responsible for me getting that promotion, but at this point in my career, it’s not very easy to do something like earn an MBA and I think my bosses were interested in the initiative I showed. So I’ve gotten exactly what I wanted out of the program at a time when my schedule is tight.

What do you like most about the program?

One of the first things I talk about to people who ask about the program is the fact that the professors are working full-time. I don’t want to say that I’m skeptical of the educational system, but it’s hard to learn finance when the professor has done nothing but teach for the last 15 years. It makes a world of difference to have Bill [Bennett, Senior Manager of Finance and Strategy at Walmart] tell us what he worked on this week and what we can learn from it, especially compared to having a professor tell us what they did in an internship 15 years ago.

All of the professors are great to learn from with their real-world examples. I’ve quoted Avi [Atholi] to some of my employees, have used stuff Bill [Bennett] gave us to make my team more effective, and Terry's [McClain, SVP and CFO of Valmont] overall management style is great and I use it as much as possible. The professors are not just people who work—they’re leaders in the industry. That for me is a great value-add and an essential part of the program.

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