Heather Schmidt has lived the high life, mixing it with celebrities at fashion shows in New York. Yet after a decade marketing for brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Nicole Miller, she found further opportunities lacking.
Keen to diversify, she looked to the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) for her MBA.
Why? With the federal government committing funds to foster Sydney's Silicon Valley, and bolster a nascent venture capital market, she predicts Australia's tech scene to take off. And she’s determined to make the fabled MBA triple jump – changing country, industry and role – to enter the world of digital consulting.
The women in leadership scholar started her full-time MBA at AGSM in January this year. And, already, she’s benefited from the network and career coaching which will help facilitate her transition.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA in Australia?
I was burnt out from my job, and sick of the long cold NYC winters. So my choices were either getting a new job or taking a leap into the unknown.
I chose Australia for my MBA because the visa allowed me to work part-time, with the option to extend visa length. The other countries I was looking at didn't have that flexibility.
Plus, I’m convinced there’s going to be an explosion in the tech and digital fields in the Australian market in a few years and I want to be here when it hits.
Australia hasn't always been at the forefront of technology and innovation. However, the government and the businesses here are investing heavily to turn that around. More grants are available to startups and more incubators are operating here. It’s only a matter of time before that trickles down to an explosion in the job market.
What stood out about an MBA at AGSM?
AGSM was the only non-European school I applied to.
And a combination of the generous visa, weather, scholarships and lifestyle helped sway the vote towards AGSM. Yes, I am here first and foremost for my education, but the experiential aspect cannot be discounted.
Plus, the direct access to Hong Kong, Singapore and Asia-Pacific in general, opens up an entirely new region for me to experience and work in.
Why did you opt for the full-time program?
A full-time program allows you to focus and ultimately benefit most from the relationships made. It’s a completely different experience to a part-time course.
I had considered an online program for about one second, when I realized that MBAs are ultimately about the relationships and contacts made. And how many of those can you make through your computer?
What else should applicants think about when deciding to do an MBA?
In my cohort, few of us had given much thought to the school's alumni engagement or reputation for placing in certain industries before applying.
But the alumni are vital for future job prospects. And if a school has a reputation for being strong in marketing, finance or consulting, and your career aspirations don't align, maybe you should consider another option, as ultimately that is where the careers team has the majority of their contacts.
What advice do you have for MBAs looking to work in fashion and luxury?
People get really excited when I tell them I worked in fashion. They envision awards shows, fashion shows, celebrities and such like. And it’s true; I spent a large portion of my time at pretty amazing events.
While there is a portion of the job that is based on soft skills that cannot be taught, the nuts and bolts are hardly as glamorous. The luxury world is all about turning a profit, and profits are based on number crunching; profits, revenue and costs.
Fashion designers are notorious for low pay. If you aren't one of the execs, I would suggest a different occupation. If you still want a job, be sure to dress the part. Most luxury houses won’t tolerate anyone looking less than perfect.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to try my hand at digital consulting.
In the fashion industry I had painted myself into a very small, very niche market. The MBA has already given me a wealth of new skills and contacts that will allow me to fully pivot my career track.
And the tech world is alive with new, disruptive ideas; augmented reality, blockchain, AI, etcetera. The implications are huge and all industries are going to have to get on board. Skills in those fields will be vital and jobs plentiful.
I have been taking coding classes and attending conferences. Frankly, it’s so different to my background that I am really excited to get involved.