Heidi Sandell is an MBA student at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management in the US. Before this, she served on active duty in the US Navy for four years, first as a division officer and then as a navigator. During this time, she visited the Middle East and the Gulf to fulfil humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, security co-operation and anti-piracy missions.
Ms Sandell grew up in Texas and studied for a degree in strategic communications. In her spare time she enjoys running, skiing and travelling.
1. When did you know you wanted to study for an MBA?
I wanted to find a marketing job after I fulfilled my active duty military service, but I didn’t feel like I had the corporate knowledge or experience to make the switch successfully on my own. An MBA provided me with the perfect opportunity to transform myself by expanding my knowledge in areas where I’m weaker, gaining real-world corporate work experience and most importantly through helping me to build and expand my network.
2. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
After a tough experience on a project assignment one day, the chief engineer pulled me aside and said: “Heidi, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The next best thing you can do is the wrong thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” That really stuck with me. Decision-making isn’t something that can necessarily be taught. You get better by recognising the impact of your choices and being flexible enough to change course when you need to.
3. Who is your ideal professor?
I would love to take a course with Salman Khan, the American educator. My father once sent me a YouTube link to Khan Academy, his non-profit educational website, when I was struggling to teach myself a difficult concept and he’s since been my go-to whenever I’ve needed to brush up on mathematical knowledge.
4. What is the strangest thing you have ever done when studying?
I once wrote a book by hand, complete with engineering diagrams and coloured illustrations, while studying for my surface warfare qualification in the navy.
5. What is the worst job you have ever had?
I once was responsible for stocking the freezers in a local meat market. I would wear layers and long sleeves in the middle of summer and have to put on a parka every time I went into the freezer storage units. It was slow, heavy work and I often couldn’t bend my frozen fingers by the time I had pulled my inventory list, but the people I worked with made me look forward to showing up every day.
6. How do you deal with pressure?
The military taught me how to compartmentalise extremely well. I focus on accomplishing what I must and then afterwards relieve stress by going for a run. While at sea, it used to take me 16 laps on the flight deck to cover just one mile. Now, I have easy access to the beautiful trails along the Mississippi river banks where I live. It’s nearly instant stress relief.
7. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
I deal with male-dominated environments in the same manner that I deal with any other environment – by respecting social and cultural differences and by placing value on the quality and merit of the contributions a person brings to the group.
8. What is your life philosophy?
I will try anything once. Some of the most fulfilling life experiences I’ve had were the result of trying something I was afraid to do. I may never do it again, but the experience will stay with me forever.
9. What is the last book you read?
The last book I read was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I really enjoyed her message about pursuing great opportunities that you are passionate about rather than just looking for the next career step up the ladder.
10. What is your plan B?
If I wasn’t concerned with maintaining some semblance of stability in my life, I would love to be the navigator for a private yacht. I enjoy the challenge of voyage planning and the feeling of excitement when you sail into a new port for the first time. I have found no other place on earth as beautiful or as peaceful as the middle of the ocean on a clear, calm and moonless night.