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From Tarantula Stampedes To Volcanic Iceland: How An MBA Changed My Career

Jessica Poteet swapped wearing cool overalls and digging in the dirt at Chevron for a post-MBA career that’s taken her around the globe


By  Thomas Nugent

Mon May 27 2019

American Jessica Poteet used to spend her time off sitting in a mobile trailer eating homemade spaghetti and watching Spiderman with her colleagues. She also witnessed her first tarantula stampede, enough to send shivers down the spine.

All of this was while working as a field geoscientist for Chevron in the middle of an oil and gas field in the American Midwest—she describes it as wearing cool overalls and digging in the dirt. It was the camaraderie and bonding between colleagues that affirmed for her that relationship building trumped desk work any day.

This insight drove her to move into business development for the company, and eventually to Singapore to work for Chevron’s headquarters in the Asia Pacific.

Wanting to make the jump into business permanent, Jessica decided to pursue an MBA from HEC Paris.

How an MBA can change your career

One of the first classes Jessica took after her arrival on campus was marketing. She had never considered this as a potential career path, but her interest was piqued after receiving one of the top grades in the class on her first assignment.

She would dig deeper every assignment. By chance, a former colleague at Chevon called her up at that time of the MBA program and asked her to help pivot his company to a digital, social community. It was her first professional foray into the digital marketing space. 

“Marketing is a great way to combine the science part of me where I get to collect data, and do testing, but what’s cool about the other aspect is you get to be super creative [when] coming up with branding and design,” she says.

Working on that initial project fueled Jessica’s interest in setting up her own freelance company. The HEC Paris MBA entrepreneurship specialization led by Professor Michael Safars allowed her to do just that, teaching her about small businesses and their pain points.

“If a CEO says, ‘I need a freelancer’, understanding their business strategy and case for hiring someone allows me to position myself better as a freelancer,” Jessica explains.

The HEC Paris network and tapping into tech

Jessica says there’s an entrepreneurial buzz around Paris, and the city is growing as a hub for predominantly tech startups.

HEC Paris’ connections to Station F (the largest startup campus in the world), her professors’ personal connections to top European businesses and entrepreneurs, and honing her own pitching skills and learning how to best offer her freelance services to tech companies are all highlights Jessica recalls from the MBA. “It’s why HEC Paris was really instrumental in helping me,” she says.

In the three years since she began the MBA, Jessica has completely changed her career and turned into a digital nomad. She has worked on digital marketing and business-strategy projects in Singapore, Paris, Bordeaux, Venice, Vienna, San Francisco, and Hong Kong, often travelling all over the world to meet clients. 

“I work with a lot of early stage startups,” she explains, “on how to get funding, pitch decks, how to frame yourself to investors.

“At HEC Paris not only is the curriculum broad in the first semester, but then you dive down into a specialization.”

Overcoming challenges during the HEC Paris MBA

While Jessica was studying for the MBA in France, her mum was battling cancer across the Atlantic—something Jessica says was tough to handle, made worse by the distance between her and her family.

She recalls some days being unable to focus, but she was helped massively by the personal mentoring she received through TEC on Campus — every year, 48 MBA students at HEC Paris are accepted into this personal and professional development program.

“It was nice to have someone not only to mentor me in professional growth, but personal emotional growth [too],” Jessica says.

She also found it tough establishing herself as a freelancer, and had to get used to the initial rejection that inevitably comes when starting out on that track. After developing a name for herself though, Jessica’s experiencing first-hand how an MBA degree can change your career.

She’s now thriving in a full-time role in Iceland, where she works for the software company Men & Mice, tackling channel management and sales. The company logged record growth last year, and she’s excited to help the company take its next steps. She adds that Iceland is a country experiencing a lot of growth but without the adequate labour to support it.

“They’re very much looking for people with speciality training,” she explains. “I’m on a specialist’s visa and having the HEC Paris MBA is what ticked that box.

“They’re always looking for people here to do things. There’s a growing startup community and a lot going on.”

Jessica also has the benefits of social services and health insurance that she wouldn’t automatically have if she had returned home to America after graduating.

She also gets to hike in the wilderness nearly every weekend and tap into her geologist roots, in a country where a volcanic eruption wouldn’t be an anomaly.

“I was on a trail the other day and my shoes were boiling,” she says. “The country is alive and it’s beautiful. There is something sort of charming and challenging about living in Iceland.”

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