Executive Education

Peer Talk Profile: Melissa Gonzales

When the US sales VP for a top global maker of breast pumps needs crucial buy-in from board directors and other stakeholders, she flashes back to days in a Chicago Booth Executive Education course, the Advanced Management Program.

“I took an elective on negotiation and decision making, and I’ve been using it with my team, particularly as we chart the course for a complex negotiation,” said Melissa Gonzales, the suburban Chicago-based vice president of sales and channel management for Medela Inc.

Before a recent make-or-break meeting with a client, “I led a workshop with my team under this framework to really walk through the steps and really put ourselves in the client’s shoes—What are their perceptions? What are their wins? How are they likely to respond? How do we anticipate that and craft the best possible approach?”

“It worked out great,” Gonzales said. “They accepted the proposal, so it was really a win-win. It forced my team to use some framework in a process, and I think that’s good because so many times, a lot of salespeople tend to wing it.”

Just What the Nurse Ordered

Winging it isn’t the style of this former nurse. Wait, a former nurse? What do a nurse and a VP of sales have in common?

Everything, if you’re Gonzales.

“When I was 14, I wanted to be a doctor, so I’ve always wanted to be a on the health care provider side,” said Gonzales, who has been with Medela in suburban Chicago since 2008. “Now everything I’ve learned about anatomy and physiology and taking care of patients, I’m able to use in the business world and apply it in an entirely different way.”

“At the end of the day, I am helping people achieve better health outcomes and helping institutions achieve better financial and clinical outcomes, but I am doing it by applying my baseline knowledge in a much different capacity.”

After being a nurse for three years, Gonzales had a chance to join a start-up that specialized in an area of nursing that she was practicing and interested in: “I got to wear so many different hats. It really was a opportunity of a lifetime.”

That led to a role on the vacuum products side of Medela’s business, which paved the way to the business side of the company and Gonzales’s current title.

To boost Medela’s growth plans, Gonzales turned to Chicago Booth’s Executive Education Program.

“In every leadership role you’re in, you get experiences that help shape your toolbox, so that when you get to a new situation, you can pull something out of that toolbox,” Gonzales said. “Going to Booth gave me more tools in my toolbox that I might not have come across in the course of doing business.”

“There was a whole course around storytelling and how you set your stage in terms of how you want to be perceived,” she recalled. “I’ve used that a lot this year, particularly in preparation for board meetings, really thinking through what are the topics that I am going to be speaking to, who is the audience, what I want them to remember. I’ve used the storytelling piece a lot.”

Learning from one Another

Participants in the class learned not just from professors but from classmates, according to Gonzales: “One of the most important aspects of the program is that there is so much diversity in your class, and that diversity comes from many forms, right? It comes from diversity of culture.

“There were certainly global attendees in my courses that were invaluable in terms of expanding what you think you know. Despite the variety of industries or roles, we all have similar challenges, whether it’s people challenges, business complexity challenges. Everybody seems to be leading organizational change today because the pace of change.”

By opening up to others, Gonzales took her Executive Education experience to new heights that will pay dividends for her company.

“It’s easy to sit there and not get to know your classmates,” she said. “There were groups of us that just really took the time to invest in each other and to learn from each other. And it was probably the best investment I made.

“I really spent time with people from Brazil, Mexico and Canada trying to understand some of the fundamental differences of doing business in those areas.”

Interaction among classmates is by design.

A Multifaceted Approach

“The beauty of the program is it’s a really multifaceted approach.  There is some content presentation by the professors,” Gonzales said, “but it’s very much done in a way that encourages participation from people in terms of posing challenging questions or posing challenging situations and asking people to really engage in what they would do.”

"I had a host of wonderful instructors but none so memorable as Harry Davis," Gonzales said.

“How Booth operates is a real strength of the course. Professors are not there to teach you how to think, they’re there to help you take your experience, knowledge, and insights you’ve learned and apply into action that is specific to your situation.”