We continue our series on inspiring women at Chicago Booth by speaking with alumna Tina Djenge’s nominee, Christine Koval.
- September 02, 2021
- Part-Time MBA Blog
Tina nominated Christine because of her incredible work as the former President of Chicago Booth student organization Graduate Women in Business (GWB). “Last year, Christine took on an exciting role starting a new venture at Chewy. Just learning about how she navigated the challenges of starting a new business within the company, and how she overcame them, has been inspiring to me,” says Tina of her nominee. “It’s been exciting to see her grow in this role – and while we're different, her perspective has been very refreshing to me.”
I started my career in 2011 at Abbott, a global healthcare company that’s been around for over 100 years. I joined their management development program and had a broad range of roles across the U.S., as well as in Singapore, where I lived for six months.
Abbott’s mission is to help people live healthier lives, which helped give my work a sense of purpose. I supported the world’s leading science-based infant formula brand, and also worked for a division that screened 60 percent of the world’s blood supply.
By any measure, Abbott ran an impressive business. I’ll never forget the statistic that Abbott had declared over 390 consecutive quarterly dividends, and had increased the dividend payout for 49 consecutive years. At Abbott, I learned my first important lesson of business: success doesn’t happen by accident. It’s part of a planful and sustainable process – and that commitment to excellence means people are accountable for the output of their work. There was also a strong culture of developing talent. Management understood that for the company to be successful for another 100+ years, they had to nurture the next generation. This notion of developing talent is a core value I’ve brought to both Chewy and Booth.
When I joined Chewy in December 2016, it was still relatively unknown. Everyone I met during my interviews was incredibly smart and passionate, so I decided to take a chance and join their early finance team. The company was about five years old and was in the thick of its hypergrowth. It was an incredible experience and everything was being built from the ground up. I had never experienced raw adrenaline at work as I did those first couple of years.
In about five years at Chewy, I’ve worked on just about everything, including finance, merchandising, and supply chain projects, and now launching new verticals. This wide exposure across the enterprise is what inspired me to get my MBA. I wanted to learn the principles that enabled Chewy’s success from the early days, and to prepare myself so I would have the skills to run a business and navigate our next chapter. I’ve pursued a curriculum in entrepreneurship, strategy, and finance in order to expand my perspective and learn new ways to think about problems.
I chose Booth after learning about the curriculum, culture, and in-person class experience while visiting. I saw the value that a Booth MBA would unlock for my personal and professional growth. The first class I attended was Strategy and Structure: Markets and Organizations, taught by Professor Amanda Sharkey. During that class, she talked about the transformation start-ups go through as they grow, which was exactly what I was experiencing at Chewy. I loved that what we were discussing was relevant to me – and the engagement from students about their own experiences was something I really wanted to be part of. Every step along the way, from that class through the admission process, I met students that I admired and wanted to learn from.
About a year ago, I started a new role at Chewy to build a new business vertical from the ground up. It’s very entrepreneurial, and I find myself making decisions with a set of cross-functional stakeholders who often have more domain expertise than I do. When you’re trying to innovate in that situation it can be challenging to differentiate the noise from the critical issues. What’s left is your ability to ask the right questions, and based on that information, apply a rigorous and systematic approach to justify why you make certain decisions. So I definitely consider myself more self-aware and confident in how I navigate ambiguity and make decisions now.
"Be confident in yourself and see every opportunity as a chance to help your growth. The culture and the community at Booth can really help build your confidence, if you put yourself out there."
Graduate Women in Business (GWB) is one of the early points of contact for prospective women researching the MBA program. Actually, the very first email I received after I was admitted was from the President of Graduate Women in Business. It was a priority for me during my time at Booth to pay it forward and ensure other women have the opportunity for the same conversations that had such an impact on me. My GWB leadership team and I saw the organization as a platform that could impact prospective and newly admitted women to join our MBA program. We chose to focus on ways to build leadership skills and drive awareness of career opportunities available to women at Booth.
First, we transitioned the entire program to be virtual. Life threw us a curveball with COVID and my team adapted just as the rest of the world did. I tried to frame the early months of COVID as a positive and realized quickly an advantage to going virtual was that we’d have more access to leaders across the country. We created a Women in Industry event series to raise awareness of career paths in fields such as venture capital, investment banking, and healthcare. We also partnered with Northwestern Kellogg for the first time to host our International Women’s Day event. It was a year that required us to think outside the box and rely on our community more than ever, and we’re proud of how we flipped these challenges into a rewarding experience for GWB members.
We also created an Allyship program. It was inspiring to see how Tina Djenje, who led the initiative, really brought it to life. You always hear, “know your customer,” and this was a perfect example of that concept extending beyond just business. We learned so much from listening to our peers at Booth, and they helped us identify the current narrative and opportunity areas for us to enable more inclusive conversations.
Lastly, we extended our reach beyond Booth to help support women in our local Chicago communities. Kate Pincus, a fellow GWB Co-Chair, partnered with the United State of Women to create entrepreneurship programming. Booth students coached local Chicago female entrepreneurs in a multi-part series to help build skills to better run their businesses. In addition to providing local women access to leaders at Booth, it gave our GWB members an opportunity to influence our community while applying the Booth curriculum to solve real problems in their backyard.
Have confidence in your ability to walk into the program and add value on day one. Be confident in yourself and see every opportunity as a chance to help your growth. The culture and the community at Booth can really help build your confidence, if you put yourself out there.
I love engaging with prospective and newly admitted women. I try to help them understand what the Booth experience is like and discuss GWB’s mission. I like helping women see how an MBA can be part of their journey, and how Booth and GWB can support them in achieving their personal and professional growth aspirations. If I can inspire women to invest in themselves and their education, then that is something I will focus on throughout the rest of my career.
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