MBA Career Change: How I went from the newsroom to the boardroom
How do you make a successful MBA career change? UCD Smurfit alumna Edel Kennedy tells us how she went from journalism into the sustainable energy industry with her MBA.
In her decade working as a journalist, Edel Kennedy had written on everything from double murders to political crises—but when it came to business experience, she had none. She knew that with the right MBA, career change would be a more achievable goal, and that it could help her avoid years of scrabbling at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder.
As it turns out, Edel was right. Since finishing the MBA at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, she has stepped into a role as head of marketing at UrbanVolt, a sustainable energy company that aims to radically reduce businesses’ energy consumption.
We asked her about how she managed such a dramatic career change, and what she’d say to others who want to do the same—here’s what she said.
“The MBA gave me clarity about my existing skillset”
Like many people, one of the things that Edel went into the MBA looking for was a new set of skills.
She’d been a senior member of her team at the Irish Independent—the country’s largest daily newspaper and news website—but when it came to areas like accounting, finance, and business strategy, she wasn’t as seasoned.
She knew there were gaps there that she’d need to fill in order to find a new role, but what she hadn’t realized was that the skills she did have would also come in useful.
“The MBA gave me greater clarity about where my existing skillset would be highly valued,” she says.
The key area that was illuminated for Edel was marketing, and as she points out, there are many areas of overlap between her old role and her current one.
“Marketing has so many similarities with journalism—knowing your target audience; communicating with that audience in a way that resonates with them; creating a connection with that audience; and storytelling,” Edel says.
“Coupled with my learnings from the MBA, I was in a great position to deliver early wins for the company and to then build on those.”
This realization that she was not starting from square one, as she’d supposed, but that she already had a strong base to build from, was key for Edel.
“The MBA gave me the confidence to apply my experience”
Having this clarity about her own skillset meant that instead of feeling like she had to scramble for new skills, she could focus on rounding it out and honing her proposition. She could identify what the key areas were for her to improve, and how she could turn her existing skills to new trades.
To do this, she pursued modules like financial accounting, competitive strategy, and business economics, and even got the chance to consult on a transformational change program with a real business in Ireland.
These experiences played a pivotal role in managing her career switch, because they gave her the confidence she needed to make headway in a new industry.
“While I was lacking in experience in some areas, I was able to bring assets which others with a more traditional marketing background couldn’t,” she says.
Edel’s advice: “Stop waiting for the ‘right time’”
Now, Edel is putting her skills to work in an area she’s passionate about. She loves delivering tangible results that she knows are helping the environment, and being part of a growing company is exciting.
“I am learning every day as we expand globally,” she says. “Because we are a relatively new company, there are huge opportunities for growth and experimentation which makes every day different.”
She says she “highly recommends” the MBA at Smurfit to others, and encourages them to define a clear vision of what they want to achieve with their studies.
“While I didn’t know what area I wanted to move into after the MBA, I knew that I wanted to move into a totally new industry and I knew that I wanted to work with a company which had a purpose and a good company culture,” she says.
“I was industry agnostic but from early on in the MBA I was researching interesting companies and meeting with people to find out more about particular companies and industries.”
Her final piece of advice is to banish hesitation from the decision-making process.
“If you’re considering doing an MBA, stop waiting for the ‘right time’, because that will never come,” she says. “But it’s never a bad time to take action to improve your career prospects and working life.”