Brigitte Anderson, '08
By Klariza Alvaran, ’18
Brigitte Anderson, ’08, has mastered the art of the career pivot. After earning a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Princeton University, her career has spanned financial services in the United States and Sub-Saharan Africa, an MBA at Booth, and an entrepreneurial endeavor of her own (and that’s just to name a few).
Nowadays as founder and principal of Orange Vista Consulting, a boutique market research, strategy, and innovation consultancy in Chicago, Brigitte helps B2B companies navigate key areas of growth opportunity such as customer discovery and product innovation.
I first ran into Brigitte during a Treehouse event hosted by the Harry Davis Center in 2017 where she gave a talk on lessons in business she learned from performing artists she had encountered. There I got a peek into her intriguing career path that I am delighted to share with the Booth alumnae community in this Spotlight profile.
The Road to Booth
Seeing on Brigitte's LinkedIn that she had majored in anthropology in undergrad piqued my interest. The anthropological lens was impressed upon my Entrepreneurial Discovery class as an important way to discover customer needs when designing a business model.
"It gave me a framework to understand the world," Brigitte says.
A hunger to dig deeper led Brigitte to her first job at Bank One, which later merged with J.P. Morgan Chase. After expressing an initial interest in uncovering why some people had access to banking while others were unbanked or under-banked, a mentor—and fellow humanities graduate—recommended that Brigitte work in financial services to find out for herself. At Bank One, Brigitte was hired into a rotational program where she gained exposure to capital markets, corporate M&A, and other functional areas.
“I’m a big fan of rotational programs,” she says. “You get to know different teams, functions, tribes of corporate culture, and customer segments along the way.”
Many of her peers at Bank One went on to part-time MBA programs, including Chicago Booth’s, which gave Brigitte the opportunity to explore an MBA as a possible next step for her career — something she had not previously considered.
In 2006, Brigitte began her studies in the Full-Time MBA program where she concentrated in Strategic Management and Entrepreneurship. Among the classes she took was the now-defunct management lab experiential course where she worked on a consulting engagement with Barclays for a project in Botswana. From there, she got a taste of doing work for an emerging market and also got a foot in the door for her eventual first post-MBA job with the company.
Graduating Amid a Financial Crisis
Brigitte was set to begin her first year in Barclays’ three-year global rotational program for MBA graduates in 2008 in London, but soon after her arrival in London came news of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the sale of Merrill Lynch that signaled the arrival of the Great Recession.
A number of her peers at Booth saw their accepted offers disappear. Others who managed to start in the fall lost their jobs by December. Brigitte was able to stay with Barclays, but instead of London, she worked out of their offices in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Nairobi, Kenya.
“Being hired as an expat and being brought over to another country is expensive, but Barclays still honored the contract,” she recalls. “I was definitely fortunate from that standpoint.”
Working abroad became a deeply enriching experience for Brigitte. While in Sub-Saharan Africa, she learned about the nuances of relationship-driven business culture that contrasted U.S. norms. In addition, she got to see firsthand how entrepreneurial women in emerging markets still managed to grow their businesses despite significant constraints in financial resources, social capital, and time.
Finding a Fit as a Founder
A few years after returning to Chicago and following a stint in manufacturing, Brigitte dove headfirst into the city’s startup scene. Beyond the usual incubator suspects of 1871 and MATTER, Brigitte also got involved with BLUE1647, a hub in the Pilsen neighborhood focused on delivering education on technology and innovation. Through BLUE1647, Brigitte was able to partake in a 12-week long intensive training in 2016 for Black women entrepreneurs whose participants ranged from profitable business owners to those in the ideation phase.
From pursuing degree-granting programs (Brigitte just wrapped up a master’s in biomedical informatics at UChicago this year) to attending short term trainings, Brigitte found formal learning to be helpful in her career progression.
“I gained confidence and perspective,” she shares. “Some things that seemed insurmountable to me before I see as little things now.”
Brigitte was ready to take the next step as an entrepreneur in late 2017 when she shifted focus to Orange Vista full time after working at United Healthcare Group-acquired Rally Health. She took steps to build a brand image and increase credibility for her firm, but that has not kept her from being free of judgment as a Black female entrepreneur. She shared how some recipients would do a double take upon seeing her title as founder and principal of Orange Vista on her business card.
“It has taken some getting used to, but I don’t let that faze me,” she says.
Learning and Community in the Time of COVID-19
Many of the pivotal learning experiences Brigitte had during her career took place in a live environment where lessons came from formal educational content and from interactions with classmates and teachers alike.
However, in the absence of more widely accessible in-person learning opportunities due to COVID-19, Brigitte is finding ways to learn within the constraints the pandemic brings to be an important opportunity for growth.
“Don’t be afraid to learn new things,” she says. “The pandemic gives us a chance to sit and reflect, considering we’re all in a different place from where we were before.”
You can connect with Brigitte Anderson, ’08, on LinkedIn. Klariza Alvaran, ’18, works in tech marketing in Chicago and is also a freelance content marketing writer and hobbyist fiction author.