Category Archives: Reporting

Consumer Behavior During Times of Inflation—And How to Save

My article for the Kogod School of Business

According to Numerator, a white woman between the ages of 55 and 64 years old, married and living in the Southeastern suburbs of the US, is the “typical” US Walmart shopper. This shopper likely has an undergraduate degree and earns about $80,000 annually. She visits Walmart about once per week and picks up roughly 13 products for a total cost of under $60 per trip. This shopper spends about 13.5 percent of her income at Walmart and another 11 percent on Amazon.

The typical Walmart shopper primarily buys groceries, including chicken, fruit, snacks, and sweets, but she supplements her groceries with fast food meals. Her favorite five brands at Walmart are Turkey Knob, Cheetos, Betty Crocker, Dole, and Tyson.

With the price of goods continuously creeping up, consumer behavior has been surprisingly adaptive in response. During times of inflation, it’s expected that consumers will switch to cheaper alternatives and stop spending on items deemed non-essential. More surprising, however, is that higher-income households are on this tightening-of-belts pursuit of value to quite a similar degree as their lower-earning counterparts. In a CNBC report, Walmart CFO John David Rainey said the company is attracting more middle- and high-income shoppers. Seventy-five percent of the company’s market share gains came from customers with an annual household income of $100,000 or more. He told CNBC that inflation-strapped shoppers are trading down in quality and quantity.

So, what does this mean? The Morning Brew defines trading down as the phenomenon when consumers who are facing tough times swap high-priced items for cheaper versions. A similar trend occurred during the 2009-2011 economic downturn. The ratio of high-quality to low-quality goods shifts as recessions ebb. This is also a time when consumers start paying more attention to value, which Kogod professor Ron Hill describes as the idea of how much one must give up to get a specific good.

In addition to its convenience and low prices, Walmart’s recent investments in its digital capabilities are possible lures for upper and middle-class shoppers. Professor Hill suggests that another reason is that the pandemic eroded store loyalty.

People became used to uncertainty about what products they would find in the stores, so loyalty went out the window in favor of finding the best deal—or finding the item at all.”

“Plus, there may also be a ‘kitschiness’ factor at play where it may be kind of cool and quirky for someone who can afford to shop elsewhere to shop at Walmart,” says Hill.

Of course, Hill notes, the best strategy during inflationary times is to look widely for needed items to get the best value. Comparing prices online and planning your list ahead of shopping can offer the most significant time and money savings. And look to the experts like Professor Hill whenever you can for tips and tricks that you may not have tried yet to beat inflation woes!

Breaking Down Mental Health Barriers

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Kogod MBA ‘19 alumna MaBinti Yillah is in the process of developing her startup company, Ziefah Health, a mental health platform that connects Muslims with pre-vetted, licensed providers of culturally responsive care.

When someone close to Yillah had a mental health difficulty, they struggled to seek treatment due to stigma and distrust of mental health professionals; Yillah did her own research to find a solution.

“I found that my loved one wasn’t alone. Finding the right mental health professional is a common problem, especially among certain cultures,” explains Yillah. “This led me to create Ziefah Health.”

Twenty-five percent of American Muslims report suffering from mental health challenges, but only 11 percent sought help. Many American Muslims don’t trust therapists because they fear privacy breaches, discrimination, and bias. Culturally, therapy also carries an unwarranted shame in being associated with mental illness instead of being part of a regular health care routine.

Muslims, especially those of the African diaspora, have encountered unique social experiences that someone from the same culture can better understand. Experts find that the most effective care comes from a person patients feel they can trust. Mental health professionals who share a cultural understanding with their patients can provide especially beneficial care. However, Yillah clarifies that there are many layers to someone’s identity, and it’s useful for everyone to see mental health professionals whom they feel they can trust and relate to.

Being Muslim is not just about religious practice—it’s a mindset and way of life. There is a particular family culture that also goes along with being from the African diaspora, independent from being Muslim.”

“Unlike other apps on the market, Ziefah Health recognizes that the one size fits all model doesn’t work—we will ask our clients to share their priorities with us, so we can best serve them,” explains Yillah. “In addition to our app, we plan to host a bi-monthly peer support group to help young Muslims learn and practice wellness tactics to support their life-long mental health journey.”

Yillah worked with General Assembly on the Ziefah Health app. “I’m running two three-month programs to develop, nurture, and convert customers. I’m running a low-tech version of the app to refine the provider matching and vetting process, understand my client’s needs, and ultimately convert these early adapters into customers. It’s a two-sided marketplace model, so I must get the business model right. I’m also shopping for tech partners to integrate with the app. This isn’t a business that’ll be an overnight success—much groundwork is involved!” says Yillah.

Yillah’s Kogod experience equipped her with the confidence and the knowledge required to take on such an important task. She credits Kogod professor Tom Kohn’s entrepreneurship course with teaching her the foundational skills needed to create a business plan and turn it into a reality. “I was familiar with the lean startup method, but I never put it into practice until Tom Kohn’s class. Ash Maurya’s book coined this term and is still a source of inspiration and guidance.”

I received so much advice from classmates and professors like Professor Bill Bellows. He was the one who suggested creating the peer support group with the idea of providing a service but also getting insight into the needs of youth.”

“Dr. Walters-Conte, who works closely with the American University Center for Innovation, also helped me pinpoint the root of the problem I am trying to solve by doing root-cause analysis with me,” says Yillah.

As Yillah continues to work on her startup mental health app, she remembers that the life of an entrepreneur is not always easy, but when her idea comes to fruition and helps create meaningful change in the world, it will be worth the years of hard work.

“The greatest advice I can offer young entrepreneurs and Kogod students is to remain inquisitive—you really don’t know everything. Don’t assume you know what your customers want. Ask your customers many questions and lean on your Kogod network for support and guidance,” says Yillah.

Combatting Age Bias in the Workplace

My article for the Society of Human Resources Management Magazine

Millions of older Americans have re-entered the workforce in recent months. In fact, nearly 64 percent of adults between the ages of 55 and 64 were working in April.

Precipitous rises in the cost of living have forced many of them to return to work from retirement. Others have returned to work because they enjoy the engagement and camaraderie work provides.

That said, economists tend to believe that workers in their 50s and 60s have a harder time than their younger counterparts finding jobs, keeping them or moving ahead at a company, mostly due to ageism.

Beth Finkel, state director of the New York chapter of AARP, has been at the forefront of the organization’s fight at the state and national levels for laws and policies that protect older workers from age discrimination.

A recent AARP New York survey found that nearly half of voters age 50 years or older said they were subjected to or witnessed at least one type of workplace age discrimination. Twenty percent said they were passed over for a job because of their age, and almost 10 percent said they were fired due to their age. And a national AARP poll found that 78 percent  of workers age 50 or older said they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Age discrimination against Americans ages 50 and over robbed the U.S. economy of $850 billion  in 2018 alone.

A large study of 5,000 workers and managers in seven countries by the global nonprofit Generation offers some rather grim statistics: People who are age 45 or older make up a high share of the long-term unemployed. Hiring managers tend to view job applicants who are 45 or older negatively, even though employers rate highly the job performance of the older people they do hire. The challenges and experiences of job seekers who are 45 or older, this study found, display striking consistency around the world.

One key insight from the survey is hugely positive, however. Yes, hiring managers express bias against applicants who are 45 or older. But those very same employers also acknowledge that once they hire people over 45, those workers perform on the job just as well as, or even better than, their peers who are a decade younger.

In New York, the state Senate passed a bill this year prohibiting employers from requiring or asking for job applicants’ age or birth and graduation dates unless clearly relevant to the job. In Washington, D.C., AARP is urging the U.S. Senate to follow the House by passing the Protect Older Workers Against Discrimination Act.

As older people seek work in a world where retirement ages are being pushed up by higher life expectancies and inadequate savings, they need employers and policymakers to take steps to counter rampant ageism, Finkel said.

“Advocacy with businesses is part of AARP’s ultimate goal—to protect people 45 [years or older] from age discrimination,” Finkel said. “At the end of the day, discrimination in any form is wrong, and multigenerational workforces are proven to be more productive.”

Tracey Gendron, author of Ageism Unmasked (Penguin Random House, 2022), wrote her book to “help myself and others understand how ageism (and ableism) have been silently yet pervasively embedded in society over the years. The book takes a journey through time to uncover the forces and events that shaped our understanding of what it means to age and be old. The book also describes the various expressions of ageism (e.g., internalized, externalized, relational) and how ageism manifests in different institutions (e.g., health care, workplace, technology).”

The book also offers the following points about ageism in the workplace:

  • Ageism in the workplace can be subtle and hard to recognize. It can be embedded into the recruitment process; for instance, when job descriptions use terms such as “cultural fit,” “energetic,” or “fast-paced.”
  • Ageism can be manifested in “over-the-hill” birthday celebrations or jokes.
  • Ageism can manifest itself in commonly held myths about older people, such as “older people are out of touch with technology and current trends.”

 

Kogod School of Business Alumna Helps Students Gain a Global Business Perspective with Startup Ageovisa

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Founder and CEO of Ageovisa, Samantha Bendt, creates a language learning platform for students who don’t want to take the one-size-fits-all approach.

Recent Kogod graduate Samantha Bendt founded Ageovisa to allow aspiring language learners to learn in the style that works best for them.

“Everyone learns differently, so Ageovisa allows students to choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn,” says Bendt.

Ageovisa offers language learning resources through different learning styles using visual, auditory, and kinesthetic formats to facilitate interactive learning.

“Ageovisa is designed for both beginners and experienced language learners,” says Bendt. “My team and I are language and culture enthusiasts. We love meeting new people from all over the world. We want to provide a more personalized and interconnected experience for learners. Most platforms have a one size fits all approach with limited flexibility for their learners, so our method is meant to be more user-friendly.”

Founder and CEO Bendt launched the Ageovisa platform this past spring using a minimum viable product (MVP) model, which currently offers Spanish vocabulary in all learning styles.

“Next spring, we hope to launch our core development which will include grammar, cultural content, more languages, and more kinesthetic options,” explains Bendt. “We will be announcing the launch of additional features later.”

Bendt is no stranger to language learning courses, having taken Spanish, French, German, Arabic, and Russian courses. Keeping up with her lessons became a real struggle when she realized that all current language learning platforms had a one-size-fits-all approach. This realization was the seed that grew Ageovisa.

While at Kogod, Bendt quickly understood how critical it is for business students and professionals to maintain a global perspective.

I’m grateful for my time at Kogod and the AUCI. The opportunities outside of the classroom were instrumental in my continued passion and entrepreneurial journey.”

SamanthaBendt

Samantha Bendt

Founder and CEO of Ageovisa

Almost immediately after beginning her Kogod journey, Bendt became involved with the Private Equity and Venture Capital Club. Through this, Bendt was introduced to entrepreneurial-related competitions held by Kogod and the AUCI, such as the Venture Capital Investment Competition, the AU Hack-for-a-Change Hackathon, the Kogod Case Competition, and the Startup and Standout Series.

“I participated in all of these competitions, and with my teams’ help and support, we even won first place in a few!” says Bendt.

Now, as an alumna, Bendt remains connected to the AUCI.

The AUCI has been the most influential component of my journey. They provided continuous support and mentorship that was greatly appreciated during times of need.”

A year from now, Bendt hopes to be able to offer additional features, including a mobile app to Ageovisa users—and she couldn’t have gotten this far without the support of fellow entrepreneurs and mentors she met along the way through her involvement with the AUCI and other competitions.

“Never be afraid to ask for help,” advises Bendt. “Entrepreneurship is a journey of learning, usually by trial and error. These experiences make you stronger and more resilient to challenges you may encounter in the future.”

Not Too Old For This

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Not Too Old for This

Aging workers contend with ageism and discrimination in the workplace, but this Kogod School of Business alum is helping to make policy changes.

BethFinkle

Kogod alumna Beth Finkel

Millions of older Americans have re-entered the workforce in recent months. Nearly 64 percent of adults between the ages of 55 and 64 worked in April, essentially the same rate as in February 2020. That’s a more complete pandemic recovery than among most younger age groups.

Inflation and precipitous rises in the cost of living have forced many professionals to return to work from retirement. Others enjoy the engagement and camaraderie work provides.

Older workers weren’t any more likely than younger workers to leave the labor force early in the pandemic. Still, economists thought aging workers might be slower to return because people in their 50s and 60s typically have a hard time finding jobs than their younger counterparts, primarily due to ageism.

Kogod alumna Beth Finkel State Director of the New York AARP branch has been at the forefront of AARP’s fight at the state and national level for laws and policies that protect older workers from age discrimination.

“A recent AARP New York survey found nearly half of voters 50-plus were subjected to or witnessed at least one type of workplace age discrimination. Twenty percent said they were passed over for a job because of their age, and almost 10 percent said they were laid off or fired due to their age,” says Finkel.

A national AARP poll found 78 percent of workers 50+ report they’ve seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace—age discrimination against Americans aged 50+ robbed the US economy of $850 billion in 2018 alone.”

Furthermore, those over 45 make up the bulk of the long-term unemployed in America and globally. Hiring managers admit they are reluctant to hire individuals over 40, arguing they probably won’t be a good “fit” or will be unable or unwilling to learn new skills.

A large study of 5,000 workers and managers in seven countries by the nonprofit generation offers some rather grim statistics. Individuals age 45+ make up a high share of the long-term unemployed. Hiring managers have a negative view of 45+ job seekers, even though employers rate highly the job performance of those they hire. Despite national differences, the challenges and experiences of 45+ individuals are global, displaying striking consistency worldwide.

One key insight from the survey is hugely positive, however. Yes, hiring managers express bias against 45+ individuals. Still, those same employers also acknowledge that once they hire people over 45, these workers perform on the job just as well as or even better than their peers who are a decade younger.

Yet still, many workers 45+ simply cannot seem to penetrate a wall of resistance to simple consideration for a job.”

Changes are being made at the state and national levels to assist aging workers in their employment searches and help provide equitable hiring opportunities.

“In New York, the State Senate passed a bill prohibiting employers from requiring or asking for job applicants’ age, birthdate, and graduation dates unless relevant to the job. In Washington, we are urging the US Senate to follow the House by passing the Protect Older Workers Against Discrimination Act. In New York City, we requested to rename its Department for The Aging to something like Boston’s Age Strong,” says Finkel.

As 45+ individuals continue to seek work in a world where higher life expectancies and inadequate savings are pushing up retirement ages, employers and policymakers need to take steps to counter rampant ageism.

“Advocacy with businesses is part of AARP’s ultimate goal—to protect people 45+ from age discrimination,” says Finkel.

“At the end of the day, discrimination of any form is wrong, and multigenerational workforces are proven to be more productive.”

A New App Makes Lending to Loved Ones Stress-Free

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Kogod School of Business alum Kaben Clauson has a new entrepreneurial venture—an innovative family-and-friends lending platform.

KabenClausonBanner

Kogod School of Business alum and cofounder of Pigeon Loans Kaben Clauson.

Kogod School of Business alum Kaben Clauson has a new entrepreneurial venture. This innovative family-and-friends lending platform takes the awkwardness (and risk) out of an all-too-familiar (and familial) financial relationship.

Pigeon Loans, founded by Clauson and Brian Bristol, makes lending to one’s loved ones a financially seamless process by incorporating a contract, a payment plan, and friendly reminders in a one-stop-shop platform. The Miami, Florida-based startup has already raised $2.5 million from Y Combinator, FundersClub, Kleiner Perkins Scout Fund, Sovereign’s Capital, Goodwater Capital, SaxeCap, Pareto Holdings, True Culture Fund, Magic Fund, Legal Tech Fund, Mentors Fund, Ascendo Venture Capital, and various angel investors.

We asked Kaben about this exciting new platform and to share tips for other young entrepreneurs like him.

Kogod School of Business: Can you tell us about Pigeon Loans?

Kaben Clausen: Pigeon Loans is a tool that makes it easy for friends and family to lend to one another. We built this software to remove the awkwardness that often comes with these types of loans.

We are bridging the gap between money and relationships. Our platform makes it easier to raise funds needed to start a business, go back to school, or pay for emergencies.”

As income inequality has skyrocketed across America, we’re seeing an exploding need for tools that allow people to help one another financially.

In the US, roughly $200B in personal loans are made each year—often through a ‘handshake’ deal that can go badly financially and interpersonally. Through Pigeon Loans, any two people can easily create a loan agreement that includes a contract, payment plan, and friendly reminders. Getting financial help from those who care for you most is the best path for many to get low-interest rates on favorable terms. We make this easy for the world.

How did you come up with the idea for this venture?

As the founders of Pigeon Loans, Brian Bristol and I have first-hand experience with the subject of borrowing and lending from those we know.

During the 2008 financial crisis, I witnessed the power of the community coming together to help each other. My family was in a tough spot, and loans were the only way out. Even back then, I realized that it made little sense that most of these loans were done without the help of any software.

As the pandemic began to rage, I saw many friends in need. It’s the balance between wanting to help and keeping the relationship from getting awkward.”

No one wants to send or receive those monthly payment reminders among friends.

Can you please share how your time at Kogod shaped your entrepreneurial journey?

Kogod is the place where I finally decided that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I had no idea how I would do it or even what I would build. The classes I took highlighted real problems in the world. I was motivated by the fact that so much of our planet is still broken and that there was no guarantee any other person would fix them.

The best thing about Kogod is the students—everyone brings a unique global perspective. I was in the minority as an American-born citizen in many of my classes.  A global perspective is key because so much of our worldview gets stuck in the country we were raised in. This global atmosphere provides a deeper context for thinking about the problems that technology can solve.

What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?

I know how hard it can be to break into the technology industry, especially as someone who didn’t have connections in the space from the start. Making that ‘breakthrough’ a little easier for the next generation of Kogod students is a goal of mine.

My main advice for budding entrepreneurs is twofold. First, have a ‘learner’s mindset’ about everything.

Get the 411 on Sustainability in Business

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Kogod School of Business alum Nat Zorach is one of few people with an MBA who is just as comfortable in work boots on a job site as he is in dress shoes in the boardroom.

“Whether we’re talking about the literal nuts and bolts of the work we are doing or about high-minded academic notions, I am prepared to jump right in,” says Zorach, a decarbonization and sustainability leader.

We chatted with Zorach to learn more about how his MBA degree from Kogod lends itself to his current career in sustainability and how other Eagles who are sustainability-minded can follow in his footsteps—whether they’re wearing work boots, dress shoes, or both like Zorach.

On the day to day, I figure out solutions to develop new programs to decarbonize the built environment, borrowing from my city planning experience, construction experience, and general affinity for working with diverse, clever humans to get stuff done!”

nat

In what ways is your career focused on sustainability in business?

“I manage performance reporting, analysis, process improvement, and program development for the flagship energy efficiency program of the Potomac Electric Power Company, more commonly known as Pepco, a subsidiary of Exelon. Across several jurisdictions from southern New Jersey to Maryland and DC, we spend over $100 million each year on energy efficiency programs, ranging from selling individual light bulbs to large industrial combined heat and power turbine installations. Exelon is committed to decarbonizing the power grid, and Maryland has some laudable and aggressive climate targets—we are working with the state and local jurisdictions to implement them,” explains Zorach.

 How is your company committed to sustainability?

“Exelon went from fighting sustainability efforts tooth and nail to figuring out how to work with the movement toward decarbonization. This was easier given that the company managed—until spinning off the subsidiary, Constellation, earlier this year—the country’s largest fleet of nuclear power plants when a lot of power generation is still fossil fuels,” says Zorach.

What advice do you have for students looking to work in the sustainability field?

“I got my job because of my unique mix of expertise—literacy in energy and utilities, extensive track record in community and economic development, a background in finance, and a strong understanding of numbers and quantitative analysis—plus a smattering of policy work and hands-on experience with the construction and the implementation side of things,” says Zorach.

My advice is to show up as much as possible, ask good and challenging questions of people around you, and support those people, too.”

“The climate crisis and the erosion of democratic rights around the globe mean that we must hold people in power accountable—while supporting innovative ideas for sustainability and equity,” explains Zorach. “A dear friend of mine once said, ‘it’s not enough for us to simply say ‘no’ to something; we must say ‘yes’ to something else.’ I think about this pretty much every day because I want to be a good critic while being an even better advocate.”

“Networking is also key, but it’s about quality networking. If someone gives you their card, reach out to them. If you give someone your card, make sure you have something to say. People generally reward honesty, curiosity, and integrity—quest after those things, and don’t be disingenuous,” advises Zorach.

Zorach’s diversity of skills shows how education combined with a willingness to get your hands (and boots) dirty is vital for success in the ever-changing and advancing field of sustainability.

Kogod’s Race in the Marketplace Course Is Invaluable for All AU Students

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Marketing and culture influence each other in highly sophisticated ways: marketing is shaped and, in turn, shapes culture. Companies court specific customer groups, and often, progressive ideas take a backseat to profit.  While it is no secret that the advertising industry has a sticky (or sticker!) problem with race, it is the marketplace writ large that is the topic of conversation in Professor Sonya Grier’s Race in the Marketplace course at the Kogod School of Business.

The class is centered on the theme that race plays a key role in the functioning of consumption markets worldwide. The course also closely examines how institutionalized racism and structural inequalities shape marketing practice, consumer behavior, and marketplace outcomes. Finally, the course content asks students to reflect on how marketing can be used to support more racially equitable marketplaces.

The class is a first of its kind nationally and a great draw in Kogod because of its very salient, real-world orientation. “This is one of the only classes where I felt that we applied realistic concepts every week. I came out of each class with a new concrete way to look at race in the marketplace,” said Kogod senior Yves-Myriam Millien. Kogod student Paige Kaiser remarked similarly on the uniqueness of Professor Grier’s class.

“This class has been eye-opening. There’s no other class like it at AU. Learning about my marketing specialization through the lens of critical race issues widened my perspective on the intersection of race and the marketplace today. It taught me skills about navigating these relations that will be valuable in my future career.”

Students in the class were surprised that they had never been exposed to the issues before. “Race is such a critical part of marketing, and I was shocked when I didn’t encounter it more in my earlier marketing coursework. It felt natural to have a class on it,” remarked Millien.

Grier has coedited a free textbook for the class titled Race in the Marketplace: Crossing Critical Boundaries, which is the first of its kind to explore the topic. Students come away learning how group-level targeting can exploit marginalized communities. They learn about the impact of racial disparities in labor markets, wealth accumulation, economic mobility, and public health. For example, a case study entitled Alisha in Obesity Land explores ways of encouraging elementary school students to consume healthier foods.

The class also teaches students to recognize racially-targeted ads more often in the world and to be more critical of the messages they promote and how they may perpetuate racial or cultural stereotypes.

“I learned how to critique business practices and be confident in that critique—how to have the vocabulary and understand the reality of what kind of change we could ask for from businesses.”

“The Race in the Marketplace course taught students about marketers’ role in combating inequitable effects in the marketplace on marginalized groups,” said Kaiser.

“This class has taught me about the reality of how companies can be incentivized to change, as well as different strategies to make businesses more inclusive,” added Hayes.

“Now more than ever, the industry is moving towards increased corporate social responsibility and recognizing the role marketers play in promoting equity in the marketplace. This class prepares students for just that,” said Kaiser. “By providing a foundation of racialization implications in the marketplace and discussing tools and tactics to combat them, students will leave Professor Grier’s class with a better understanding of how to promote equitable business practices and why it is their responsibility to do so.”

At the Kogod School of Business, our students use their education to create meaningful change in the world. Professor Grier’s Race in the Marketplace course is an absolute must-take for all looking to contribute to a more equitable market.

Leverage Your Career—Stay Grounded—Read the Tea Leaves

My article for the Kogod School of Business

Kogod alumna Hilda Mwangi’s (JD/MBA) work lies at the intersection of public policy, government affairs, and the international trade and development industry. We chatted with her to learn more about the importance of flexibility and curiosity throughout one’s career. These two skills have proven beneficial for Mwangi as she holds the title of one of San Diego’s NEXT Top 40 Under 40 Business Leaders from 2018.

Can you tell us about your time at the Kogod School of Business? How did you choose the MBA program, what lessons did you learn that continue to stick with you, and how did Kogod prepare you for your career?

“Growing up around a family business, I knew a lot about how things in a small business worked but didn’t understand the theory behind it. I didn’t know the concepts—all of that knowledge was siloed—marketing, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, finance—how did it all relate? That is what I wanted to find out.

 A lot of companies did not trust my experience without education credentials. In 2008, at the height of the recession, I graduated with my undergraduate degree from Towson University, and my future concerned me. I was about to begin law school, and I was afraid that I would have difficulty finding a legal job when I graduated with my JD. Looking ahead, I knew that at that time, I had better prospects of securing employment in the business arena,” explained Mwangi.

 “I decided to apply to the joint JD/MBA program at American University’s Kogod School of Business and the Washington College of Law. The MBA program provided me with exactly what I needed. Not only did I connect my previous exposure to my family’s small business with the concepts and overarching theories from class, but I was also able to utilize my past experiences in the classroom. I was even fortunate enough to enroll my father’s business in the MBA capstone experiential learning course taught by Professor Parthiban David. Both the students and my family’s business benefited from the experience, and I got to serve as a project manager and liaison.

I loved my time at Kogod—juggling two programs simultaneously was demanding, but I had a great support system with my friends and professors. I was also working part-time in Annapolis, Maryland and juggling other responsibilities in my personal life.”

The MBA program not only sharpened my critical thinking skills but provided me with a global perspective of business.”

“The courses I took combined with my previous experience helped me prepare for, and succeed in my role as a business development specialist—I was able to anticipate my client’s concerns and help them set investment strategies. 

Today, I work for Takeda, a global pharmaceutical company, where I have held multiple roles. I have enjoyed liaising between policymakers, researchers, scientists, and external and internal stakeholders. In my current role as an associate director of research communications, clear and concise writing is key. Kogod’s emphasis on writing for business and understanding the importance of cultural competency in international business continues to help me each day as I work in a role that allows me to interact with colleagues from around the world.”

 What are some of the most important and formative moments from your career journey?

“I’ve had many pivotal moments in my career—my first year of law school was eye-opening. It reinforced that policy and legislation were where I wanted to be—not in a courtroom. The recession taught me how to be resilient and look ahead—read the tea leaves, so to speak—make plans and be agile. A move to Los Angeles in 2014 taught me that I am more capable and stronger than I previously thought. I proved to myself that I could make big changes and be okay. Mentors along the way taught me how to articulate my value, know when to move on, and how to stay true to my passions.”

I got to where I am today by being the best at what I do, articulating my skills to others, cultivating and maintaining relationships genuinely and authentically, and taking manageable risks.”

“I’ve always followed my curiosity and love for learning and pursuing challenges. Patience and planning have served me very well.”

What advice would you like to share with other women pursuing careers in business?

“Being a woman—a Black woman—in business, in the life sciences industry, is not easy. I have experienced my fair share of biases, prejudices, and incidents of discrimination—some subtle, some quite overt. My advice is to let your passions lead. Be aligned with who you are, your values, and go after your dreams. Make and maintain relationships with people­—real relationships, not transactional ones. Have hobbies—you never know who you’ll meet along the way. Give back to those less fortunate, underrepresented, and who helped you along the way.”

Make time for your support network—your family and friends—those who care most about you and fill up your tank.”

“Find your ‘personal board’—this is advice I got from a career coach—find the small group of people who can help you strategize, tell you the truth, challenge you, push you, slow you down when you need to, people who have your best interest in mind and people whose advice you know you can trust. Lastly and most importantly, choose yourself—take breaks, you deserve them. Go after opportunities that scare but excite you in equal measure. Be loyal to your growth—do not sacrifice your opportunities to learn and grow. We live in an age where hobbies can become business opportunities, gifted orators can earn a handsome living motivating and inspiring others, TikTok can change lives in 30-second increments, and personal brands are a common term now. Whatever your dream, whatever your idea, go for it.”

Live boldly. Others do—why not you?”

Mwangi highlights the significance of being mindful and cultivating relationships as a method of serving your mind and your career. Don’t forget who and what is most important to you along the way, and remember to stay open to possibility—obstacles are opportunities in disguise! 

Lady Octopus Tattoo Shop

My article for District Fray magazine

Jonathan Reed, the co-owner of Lady Octopus Tattoos, is a proud third generation Arlingtonian. In 2016, he was looking for a female tattoo artist to create an homage to South Ivy Street, the street he grew up on.

The first hit on a Google search of “female, tattoo artist, DC” pulled up a picture of Gilda Acosta, standing in front of a shark mural, blowing it a kiss. I guess you could say it was love at first bite because this was the start of a professional and personal relationship that would weather the turbulent ocean of tattooing.

Gilda Acosta graduated from art school in 2003 and went right into tattooing. “Jonathan was looking for new creative outlets and an ivy sleeve tattoo, and I was looking for a partner to help establish a presence in Arlington, VA. An easy friendship ensued, and we became life and business partners over fish tacos and tattoo sessions.”

Gilda is well-known for her delicate, precise line work and colorful, illustrative natural themes. “I love doing botanical designs, birds, and creatures of all types. A love of biology and art marry perfectly in tattooing.” Originally from Panama, she is a rarity as a Latina who co-owns a business in an industry dominated by men.

Lady Octopus Tattoos’ intentional inclusivity draws customers in. “Being a woman in the tattoo industry and seeing how some shops operate and treat vulnerable clients impacted our original vision and commitment to providing safe, inclusive spaces for all.”

Body positivity and professionalism, combined with treating clients like family are another thing that makes Lady Octopus so special.

“I learned early on that an open, friendly approach goes a long way in tattooing. I sincerely enjoy getting to know all my clients, truly enjoy our conversations, and cherish their trust. We can’t help but to have forged life-long friendships, and the shop becomes a place where friends catch up, crack jokes, and vent,” says Gilda.

Despite the fact that the artists at Lady Octopus often book more than 6 months in advance, they respond to customers with great care. “We put care and expense into our shop’s safety–from controlled bio disposables, tattoo before and aftercare education, and over all follow-up on our work. It’s extremely important for us to produce the utmost highest quality of tattoos,” says Jonathan.

Lady Octopus Tattoos recently moved to a location in Clarendon Crossing, right across the street from the very famous/infamous (for dudes with brown flip-flops) Whole Foods in Arlington, VA. In addition to Gilda, James Haun, who has been tattooing since 1996, is another part of the family. James is so beloved that he often books not months but a year in advance. His son, Lance Haun, is currently also an apprentice. Gia Catauro is a resident guest artist from RI.

 

Jonathan is a filmmaker whose documentary,The DC Eagle, Bound by Leather, 40 Years of LGBTQ History in the Nation’s Capital won the NJ LGBTQ QFest Film Festival award in 2017 as Most Original New Subject.  In the coming months, he will film and post video vignettes with the theme of “My tattoo, my story.” These vignettes will offer a unique look at the special friendships that form between the artists and their supporters and the meaning-making behind the process.

 

Lady Octopus Tattoos is a hidden gem in the ocean of tattoo shops in its professionalism, experience, and genuinely positive approach. And their new location in the heart of Clarendon is sure to further their reach.