Tag Archives: business pivot

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! 

Surviving and Thriving through the Unexpected

My article for Kogod School of Business

How Kogod alum and entrepreneur Michael Bleau successfully pivoted his live events company during COVID-19.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, businesses large and small were faced with a daunting challenge—adapt to the new normal or perish. Some companies changed their operations with only short-term survival in mind. Fashion houses and designers, like Christian Siriano, for example, started making masks. Whiskey producers “brewed” hand sanitizer. To-go cocktails kept the restaurant industry afloat and rose to the surface as a product here to stay. Airlines offered cargo-only flights.

A sector hit especially hard by the pandemic was the events industry. For the first time ever, some of the most famous festivals, tournaments, conventions, and trade shows shut down. While adaptability has long been a key to business survival, the pandemic forced event companies to wrestle with the unthinkable—what if there were no more events?

Michael Bleau (Kogod/BSBA ’07), co-founder and CEO of EventHub, was among the many business owners considering how to pivot their operations in the new locked-down environment. Thanks to the unique solutions EventHub provides and the entrepreneurial mindset of the team behind it, the company not only weathered the pandemic but found new customers, added new capabilities, and solidified its standing as an industry leader.

Bleau traces the spark that ignited his entrepreneurial fire back to his participation in the annual Kogod Case Competition. “That put the bug in me for entrepreneurial initiatives,” he says. “And then throughout my time at Kogod, I was able to do some things that opened my mindset. I did a study abroad program that really started opening me up to a global mindset versus just thinking very locally.”

EventHub was the first company that Bleau started, and while it was positioned to successfully navigate the pandemic that began last March, it didn’t start out that way. “It took a while to develop to the point where it is now,” Bleau explains.

The company began as a consulting and event production firm, but securing funding from investors through the Techstars Anywhere Accelerator allowed Bleau and his team to expand their technological capabilities and shift their focus from managing events to connecting event organizers and potential sponsors through an event management platform—a capability no one else in the events industry had yet developed.

“EventHub does a really nice job matching event sponsors with potential event opportunities,” he says. “There’s not really another platform that does a good job of it. That’s why we decided to start it.”

When the first hints of a full-scale global pandemic began appearing in February 2020, Bleau and his team knew they were going to need to pivot their business model. So how did they do it?

First, the company identified long-term trends created by the pandemic, namely the rise of remote work, social distancing, shorter supply chains, and the need for more robust technology. “We realized that all of our customers are live event organizers, and they were going to need to adapt and want to do some type of virtual version of their events in lieu of a live event,” Bleau says. “There are very few large, public event-type platforms, so that was our focus.”

Then, it extended its already-existing capabilities instead of abandoning what its reputation was built on, preventing confusion among its existing customers and offering valuable services to new ones. “In March, we started developing a virtual platform that could sit on top of our sponsorship platform that was very focused on consumer and public events versus business-to-business conferencing because there’s a ton of B2B conferencing out there,” Bleau explains. “We worked with the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on their virtual event; we worked with food and wine festivals, county and state fairs. It really led us in some ways to get more on the map with these larger events because we were the only real, good-fit solution out there for these consumer-oriented events.”

Finally, EventHub pivoted as rapidly as possible. “One big lesson learned for us is that fast, aggressive pivots are possible as long as you have a clear, strategic vision and a path to getting there,” says Bleau. “Your team should feel like there is an executable plan that everyone can get behind. Think about what your company does differently and what is needed in the market.”

Responding to unforeseen challenges is a part of business, and pivoting may not always be the right strategy. But finding a balance between being reactive and adaptive and determining whether the pivot is an added value rather than a temporary fix may be the difference between a business weathering a storm or shuttering for good.