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Rachel Greenberger is an MBA student at Babson College: Olin. The majority of her work experience has been spent in the travel industry. For two years, she worked for the Himalayan department of Geographic Expeditions, a travel company in San Francisco, before moving on to work for Ciclismo Classico, an Italian bike-tour operator.

Ms Greenberger now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and enjoys writing, running, and cooking.

1. When did you know you wanted to study for an MBA?

Several years ago, I was struggling as a travel consultant for a small family-run bike tour company. At one point, the owners hired a general manager with a track record of growing or turning around small businesses. Given our size, I had a front-row seat to watch this man work; assessing and questioning current operations, testing new methods, and making changes. Observing him, I realised that I needed the skills and perspective an MBA could offer to make a bigger impact in my career. Above all, I saw limitations in my capacity to work effectively with all types of people and knew that an MBA could support me in exploring new methods around collaboration.

2. Who are your business heroes?

Coming from small and medium-sized companies in travel and food, I am used to a culture of friendly authenticity and candour. My business heroes are local heroes - men and women who have had a direct impact on my career and personal growth. Two particular heroes are a boss from my first job in travel and my current MBA faculty advisor. These two, a man and a woman, have coached and championed me and supported my growth on multiple levels. Both treat me as a peer rather than a report. They are open, honest, hard working, and down to earth. They are creative thinkers, patient listeners and wise speakers who tell the truth about what they can and cannot deliver.

3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher or fellow student?

A fellow student told me last semester: “be very careful what you say yes to”. This is said another way in the landmark 1996 essay by Michael Porter in Harvard Business Review: “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.” Learning to politely but firmly say no is critical to sound business strategy. Practising my no’s has proved to be a key lesson of the two-year MBA. Too much enthusiasm and optimism, if not harnessed correctly, can sap me of my time and energy and produce mediocre results. I must be realistic about my capacity.

4. What academic achievement are you most proud of to date?

My proudest academic achievement was the sustainable food panel called “Beyond Taste: A Critical Conversation about Food” that I organised for the graduate school. Pulling that together required a tremendous amount of focus and stamina during a particularly gruelling part of the curriculum. We received a record turnout and our audience was actively engaged during and after the session. I felt tremendous satisfaction that I was able to bring that many people together, address a topic close to my heart and know that both panellists and audience felt the event was worth their time.

5. What is your biggest lesson learnt?

My biggest lesson is that you do not fail until you give up. Current research suggests that entrepreneurs are overly optimistic. But from where I sit, a superhuman optimism is requisite to stay in the game when you’re running uphill against great adversity and incessant nay-saying. Perhaps I sound like a greeting card, but I know from my own life that receiving a blow to my dream, picking myself up, dusting off, and going again is the most powerful learning process I’ve yet experienced. My favourite quote right now is from James Gray, the director, writer and producer. He said: “I’m just not willing to give up on myself. If I’m going to fail, then I want to fail to the limits of my talent.”

6. What is the worst job you have ever had?

One summer during high school, I secured a job working in a café. Perhaps it was the effect of too many Hollywood movies, but I had a romanticised notion of what it would be like. That year we had one of the hottest summers in Boston and I was outside carrying heavy tubs of dirty dishes all day. I worked hard and tried to incorporate feedback I was given, but for whatever reason, the manager just did not like me. I couldn’t figure out why. It was an exhausting summer - both physically and mentally. It was also my first experience of hard work, which I’ve made an effort not to forget as I’ve moved on to operate largely in the laptop world of white-collar business.

7. What advice would you give to women in business?

My candid advice is this: Don’t try to be a man. People are people before they are businesspeople, and it’s naïve to expect anyone (man or woman) to “forget” an individual’s gender. Furthermore, there are skills that women uniquely possess and can leverage. Understanding the landscape is crucial, as both subconscious and conscious assignments to gender are nearly impossible to nullify. Is the persistent culture of sexism we live in good or bad? That is the wrong question. The right question is: Given my cultural reality, how do I plan to navigate this context? Learning how to work within the confines is the asset.

8. How do you deal with pressure?

Coping with pressure requires a lot of self-love. It requires becoming one’s own mother. When a child is scared, s/he runs to his/her mother for safety, assurance, and acceptance. As adults, we have to create that haven for ourselves. When I’m under a lot of pressure, I do my best to counsel myself as a mother would to a child. I put the situation into context. What is truly critical right now? Is it really true that all of this has to be done today, or else the world will come crashing in? What can I do to nourish myself through the next hour- day- week? After a certain age, no one takes care of us, really but ourselves.

9. Have you even been to any workshops/seminars that have helped you in your career?

In 2002, I completed a three-day personal development training programme that teaches germane communication, making and keeping agreements, and the degree to which one always has a choice, in thought as well as action. The training required me to confront my fears, resentments, insecurities, and previously unquestioned core beliefs. Bumping up against perceived limitations was terrifying, but I persevered and my confidence and leadership skills grew.

10. What are your future plans?

My year-long independent research focuses on sustainable supply chain management across a range of food companies and how successful players communicate these efforts to consumers. During this time, I’ve been co-designing a start-up called The Food Solutions Institute with my faculty advisor, Cheryl Kiser, which will live inside the Babson Social Innovation Lab at Babson College. Food Solutions is an action tank where cross-sector teams meet through a two-day training programme and emerge with workable solutions to problems plaguing their businesses. Cheryl will serve as managing director from her position in the Babson Social Innovation Lab and I will serve as the food solutions director.

Compiled by Charlotte Clarke

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