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Elissa Ellis-Sangster is executive director of the Forté Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to inspiring women business leaders and increasing the percentage of women studying for an MBA.
Before joining Forté, Ms Ellis-Sangster was assistant dean and director of the MBA programme at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business, where she also studied for her MBA.
In her spare time, Ms Ellis-Sangster enjoys running, travelling and reading. She also serves on the advisory board of Universum, a research provider.
1. What do you enjoy most about your job?
I’ve been able to blend my passion with my profession. I’ve spent my career advocating the MBA as a degree that is both flexible and portable. The MBA provides students with such a wide array of career journeys. My work with the Forté Foundation has given me the chance to relay this message to women and address the very specific questions and issues that concern them.
2. What is an average day at work like?
Everyone at Forté works virtually; we don’t have a headquarters. Eight years ago we were pioneers in building a virtual team and now we have 10-plus people working for our organisation across the US. So my typical day involves a great deal of emails, phone calls, instant messaging and Skyping. We are a team of all women, so the team bonding seems to come fairly easily.
3. What is the worst job you have ever had?
I’ve only had one bad job. I showed up and sat in a cube for three days without work to do, then left. I’ve never been one to sit around and do nothing so it was clear that this wasn’t the place for me.
4. Why did you choose to do an MBA?
I was interested in pursuing my MBA before I graduated college. Even though my studies were focused on English literature, I took several business courses that piqued my interest in marketing. So I took the GMAT one Saturday before graduation just in case I decided to return to school for my MBA. Three years later, I did just that.
5. What advice would you give to women in business?
Know what you want. It can be very easy to get distracted by a project, politics, a specific manager’s priorities, etc. Actively manage your own career - don’t be afraid to let your manager or senior management know your career aspirations. Network and find a mentor/sponsor. The mentor doesn’t have to be someone at your company, in fact sometimes it’s better to have an outsider’s perspective. You can find mentors by joining organisations focused on your industry or peer set.
6. What is the last book you read?
I just finished Half-Broke Horses and The Glass Castle - both by Jeannette Walls. One is the tale of the author’s incredible journey from poverty to professional and personal success and the other is a look back at two generations of her quirky family dysfunction that is funny, disturbing but oddly redeeming. I love stories of people rising up from adversity.
7. What is your favourite business book?
I chaired an industry conference for MBA professionals where Jim Collins was our featured keynote after writing Good to Great. After reading the book and hearing him speak, that’s been my favourite business book. I love celebrating success – that’s what we do at Forté – celebrating the success of the many women business leaders and using their stories to inspire others.
8. What is your favourite memory of school?
Going in early during the summer to help all of the teachers organise their classrooms. I guess I always liked being the teacher’s pet.
9. What inspires you?
I love growing and building organisations. I joined the McCombs School at UT Austin in 1997 to start an alumni relations office for the MBA programme - they didn’t have one at the time. For me these kinds of opportunities are most inspiring: a chance to see something come together from scratch. I went the same route when I left McCombs to go to Forté. I was the first full-time employee for Forté.
10. What are your future plans?
I want to continue growing the services, impact and breadth of Forté Foundation. There are so many ways to do this: reaching more women across the globe about business education, deepening our offerings for that same set of women and enlisting the many MBA alumni who want to see this important pipeline of talent grow.
Compiled by Charlotte Clarke
Read a soapbox by Ms Ellis-Sangster on the need for women to appreciate the value of an MBA.