There is a lot of soul-searching involved when you embark on an MBA – taking the time to dive into your own desires, goals and dreams and focusing on your weaknesses even more than your strengths, as Shannon Kenedy explains
Shannon Kenedy is a principal success manager at Salesforce, a leading global software company. Her professional career has been driven by a love for sports, exposure to the business world from a young age due to her parents’ jobs and discovering that the sales world was not for her. After working for a start-up, Kenedy realised there were many areas where she would benefit from greater business knowledge, so embarked on an MBA at Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands.
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career to date?
My name is Shannon Kenedy and I am from Cary, North Carolina in the US. I come from a big family, the oldest of five kids, and have been surrounded by business my whole life. My dad was a salesperson and now owns his own mortgage lending company, and my mom worked in both accounting and finance. I attended Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, for my undergraduate degree where I graduated in marketing from the Marriott School of Business.
I am a huge sports fan and had the unique opportunity to be a sports marketing intern during my time at BYU, helping to run the actual sports event itself behind-the-scenes, leading marketing campaigns to encourage game attendance, and so on.
After completing a sales internship with Frito-Lay and graduating from BYU, I then started my career in sales at Qualtrics, a survey software company based in Provo. After working there for about a year and a half, I figured out sales wasn’t the best fit for me so then moved for six months to Taichung, Taiwan to teach English and take time to figure out what my next career step would be. This led me to decide that I wanted to pursue working in sports again, but more on the customer success (post-sales) side of things.
I was able to land a job back in North Carolina at a startup called Game Plan where I held the role of customer success manager, managing relationships with over 70 different university athletic departments; I also worked on projects with such organisations as the NBA, NFL and NHL. It was fun and exciting to be able to help build the company up as one of its first hires and to be back in that industry.
- Please explain your current job function
I am currently a principal success manager at Salesforce, a global software company. Although I still am on the post-sales customer success side of the business, this role is quite different from my role at Game Plan. Rather than handling relationships with many different organisations, I now manage the relationship with only two enterprise-level companies. However, these two are each spending upwards of seven million euros a year on Salesforce products, more than our startup Game Plan made in total annual sales.
At Game Plan, my role was much more ‘fire-fighting’ and ensuring at a more basic level that every customer knew how to use the software, while this role is leading projects at a much higher and more strategic level. I am very involved with change management, leading workshops and floor walks to understand what improvements companies can make with their current usage of Salesforce and organising initiatives around this. I aim to ensure that everyone – from C-level to developers and managers – are all aligned on goals linked between Salesforce and their business objectives. I am also essentially a networker who can provide customers with more technical advice or guidance on best practice from internal Salesforce experts. I absolutely love this role, the company, and its culture because it focuses on a learning mindset.
- Why did you want to study for an MBA in the first instance and why did you choose a particular School?
I attended Nyenrode Business University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, from September 2020 to September 2021.Ever since I decided to major in business during my time as an undergrad, it became one of my life goals to get an MBA. However, it took me working for a start-up to make me realise why I really needed an MBA. I would sit in meetings where we decided on everything from marketing slogans to pricing and organisational structures/HR and I felt I needed a deeper strategic mindset to be able to contribute more to these conversations.
I believed that the MBA would help me to develop that. Given that I had studied and lived abroad before (in Jerusalem and Taiwan) I also realised that the experience of being immersed in a different country provided another level of personal growth that would be perfectly paired with an MBA. I knew it would be hard, but I wanted to challenge myself to get an MBA abroad. Deciding on a location was the next step. I hadn’t yet been to Europe and was curious about the differences in their economy versus that of the US.
After extensive online research, I found that the Netherlands – and Amsterdam in particular – has a growing economy, good English fluency, excellent connections to other European countries and also appeared to be a diverse city. Of the programmes in Amsterdam, I found Nyenrode’s MBA programme to have exactly what I wanted: interesting courses, a small and diverse class, opportunities to study abroad, a one-year programme, practical learning experiences and an extensive global alumni network.
- What is the most interesting thing you learnt from your MBA?
I think the most interesting thing that I learned is the importance of being able to work in a diverse group, developing skills to be able to work effectively with people of all different backgrounds. There were only 25 people in our class, however, there were 16 nationalities represented amongst us. That meant a lot of different ways of working, different communication styles and different mindsets, as well as different ways of coping with the pressures of the MBA.
Of course, the content in each of the classes was interesting and much of it I have carried with me to my new role. However, this growing ability to pivot, understand, empathise and communicate effectively with people from all over the world is the biggest thing that will continue to impact my career in a monumental way for the rest of my life.
- What were some of the challenges you faced when studying for an MBA?
I would say one of the biggest challenges for me was having to switch back to being a student again after five years of being away from that mindset and schedule. Having to remind myself what study methods work best, how to prioritise my time, and how to feel balanced in a pressure cooker of stress and deadlines. There was no longer this ability to close the laptop and have weekends away from work – the pressure was always there.
Another challenge is linked to my previous answer: gaining patience and understanding as I better developed the skills of working with those of backgrounds I had never worked with before. There were bumps and bruises along the way – miscommunications and misunderstandings – but I believe that ultimately, I learned how to do better the next time.
Another challenge was coming to terms with some of the more challenging educational content. It was different being back in business classes because, having already been in the workforce, the content was so much more realistic and less theoretical. That same fact made it even more frustrating when I struggled to grasp certain difficult subjects as I knew just how important it was to understand the content in the realm of the business world. I would have to push through, ask for help from my classmates/professors, and try my very best.
The last challenge relates to the soul-searching you need to do during an MBA – taking the time to dive into your own desires, goals, and dreams, understanding yourself at a level I really had never reached before, and focusing on my weaknesses even more than my strengths. Though necessary, that is not an easy process and takes a lot of vulnerability.
- How has the MBA made a difference to your career path and leadership journey?
The MBA was a life-changing experience for me. Nyenrode Business University and its MBA programme allowed me to not only jump to a more senior and impactful role at a prestigious dream company, but also allowed me to do so while living abroad! I had been warned that it was almost impossible to get a dream role right out of the MBA, especially with it being your first job in a foreign country. However, it was through the Nyenrode alumni network that I was able to make the connection to Salesforce and find myself in this position.
Beyond setting me up to get this role, it has given me the toolbox to continue the journey of self-reflection, goal setting and working towards a deeper understanding of my future career objectives. It has also given me a new perspective on the lifelong learning mindset and more attributes that would hopefully make me a good people manager in the future.
- In what ways have you taken what you have learnt in your MBA into the workplace?
The biggest thing that I have brought from the MBA to my role at Salesforce is my ability to think critically about business problems and brainstorm about higher-level solutions. A deeper understanding of business as a whole and how all the parts of an organisation come together and interact.
I have a better ability, therefore, to articulate and organise change-management related initiatives as part of my role in customer success and feel that I can present my ideas with a sense of self-confidence that I did not have previously. I still work with a diverse group, both within Salesforce and with external clients, and the inter-personal skills I gained from the MBA are definitely being applied on a daily basis.
- What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about studying for an MBA?
Doing an MBA is a big decision and comes with both pros and cons. I literally had to write out a list when I was deciding. I started by doing a lot of research into programmes that seemed exciting to me, as I felt I wouldn’t be able to fully weigh my options unless I was able to visualise the options better. I then had to consider the cost, time and the potential uplift in salary that the programme would provide. I know I personally had to pull out a student loan to make it through, so I had to consider whether it was worth a few years of that hanging over my head.
You must also visualise properly what your career would look like over that same period of time if you had kept to the path you were previously on. Although for me, the pros for an MBA outweighed the cons, I can see both sides to the issue. However, I will say that there were even more pros for an MBA than I had even considered and I would advise others to take into account: these include lifelong friendships, forging a special bond with my classmates, an unparalleled way to develop a deeper sense of self-awareness and life skills that can be carried over from being a student to your work environment.
- What are the next steps for you on your career journey?
As it stands now, I am really loving my time at Salesforce and hope to be in this organisation for a long time to come. I am working towards reaching a more senior level of my current role – handling even bigger and more complex account and diving deeper into the financial services industry that I am working in, as well as developing deeper relationships with both my colleagues and accounts.
I am also working on learning Dutch, something that will hopefully help me in many respects. I am also enrolled in mentorship programmes and other initiatives that are focused on helping me to gain the skills to become a people manager in the future, which is something I aspire to at a later stage in my career.