Student Voices

Reflections on Juggling Work, Family, and a Michigan Ross MBA — From Iceland

By Jessie Vanderveen, OMBA '22

When I started in the inaugural Online MBA Program at the Ross School of Business in August 2019, we were months away from a global pandemic that would turn our lives upside-down. 

Even without knowing the future, I had my own personal worries about pursuing an MBA at that time. My daughters, Rúbý and Ellý Rós, were 5 and 8 years old. I was in the thick of building the marketing motion for a rapidly growing, internationally facing startup from Reykjavik, Iceland. Adding a course load on top of these responsibilities was daunting. In retrospect, however, I’m glad I didn’t overthink my decision to attend Michigan Ross from abroad.

From engineer to attorney to technology executive and a Ross MBA

My career path has not been fully linear. I started working as an engineer in the manufacturing industry before becoming a corporate attorney practicing in New York, where I focused on M&A, securities, private equity, and corporate governance. I met my Icelandic husband and moved to Reykjavik, believing it would be a fun, one- to two-year expat experience as we started a family. That was more than 10 years ago. 

Over the last several years, I have been fortunate to work with several internationally facing technology companies from Iceland. Currently, I lead marketing and communications at Controlant, a company developing IoT supply chain visibility technology. Most notably, we are monitoring COVID-19 vaccines during distribution and storage to ensure safety and reduce supply chain waste. 

Thriving in a top-tier academic environment with needed flexibility

While startup life has taught me a lot about building and growing companies quickly, the Michigan Ross OMBA Program has provided me the opportunity to further hone my skills by learning from world-class professors; senior leaders from Fortune 500 companies; and an incredibly smart, diverse, and unique community of student colleagues and alumni mentors. Over the last year, I’ve pushed myself, and I have walked away from every class with learnings, skills, and new perspectives that I have been able to apply to my day-to-day work. 

When exploring a part-time MBA, I knew that a traditional two-year program would not work with my schedule and commitments. The flexibility and asynchronous nature of the class structure at Ross has made it possible for me to take classes and study at my own pace, while continuing to meet the rigors of the program and staying connected to the Ross community. In between the onsite residencies, our student cohort stays connected through Slack, online hangouts, and in-person, local meetups (COVID-19-pending).

In the future, I hope to eventually parlay my legal and tech experience as an investor to help other founders build successful companies that solve pressing challenges, particularly around sustainability.

Setting an example for my daughters

As a working mom, it’s important to me to instill in my daughters the conviction that they can pursue their hopes and dreams, professionally and personally. As a parent, it’s also important to consider the staggering environmental challenges that their generation will be faced with, and to think about how, as a business leader, I can help solve them. 

In Iceland, we are rapidly witnessing the effects of climate change. Not long ago, Okjökull (“Ok”) glacier was the first to have been declared dead by scientists. A plaque containing a letter to the future was installed at its base, acknowledging the change that is needed now. 

One of the key highlights I have had at Ross is thinking about responsible, servant leadership. We often consider various aspects of stakeholder theory, including the interests of our investors, analysts, employees, regulators, customers, and the media. I believe the environment and future generations are also key stakeholders in the decisions we make as business leaders today. It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to apply the lessons learned to think about building sustainable, forward-thinking companies that can help solve the important challenges we face.

Pursuing an MBA at a top-tier program as a working mother has its unique challenges and requirements, but it is definitely feasible. Every woman, or parent, interested in forging a career path should know that business school, career advancement, and having children are not mutually exclusive. It requires determination, lots of prioritization and time management, and some sacrifice. I definitely have not figured out how to fully balance the grind, but I’m continually learning, and I feel grateful for the support that I have had from the Ross community. 

Jessie Vanderveen, OMBA '22