After college, Katherine Tan, WG’19, had a long-term career goal to use business as a tool for social impact. Wanting private sector experience first, she joined Bridgewater Associates, a large hedge fund, rotating through a management training program and serving as chief-of-staff to a senior leader. “It was an incredible experience that pushed me to try to think like a chief executive early on in my career, and it helped me refine my interests in developing and emerging markets,” she said.
A few years later, she decided it was time to make the transition to the public sector to pursue her interest in developing markets. Moving to Washington, D.C. for a fellowship at the Grameen Foundation, an NGO, Katherine leveraged digital technology to improve the lives of people around the world. She subsequently joined Millennium Challenge Corp., a US government agency that takes an innovative approach to international economic development and alleviating poverty.
Katherine explained: “We worked with select countries that met specific governance criteria to develop multi-hundred-million dollar, five-year investments. My role as a program officer in the Finance Investment and Trade Group was to figure out how to incorporate private sector development into large-scale government programs.”
In that position, she led a team of specialists to design and implement a $12.5 million climate-resilient agriculture investment fund, which was part of the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s $437-million compact with the government of Niger. She led negotiations for a partnership with the U.S. African Development Foundation to reduce operating costs for the fund. She also worked with local counterparts to spearhead the implementation of a $40-million facility for off-grid renewable energy investments in Benin.
“In that role, I needed to understand specific markets, private-sector opportunities, and how to build relationships with the private sector. That’s when I decided to get an MBA. I was always interested in the role business plays in facilitating larger changes in society, and I wanted a business education to fill in knowledge gaps.”
Not wanting to interrupt her career, Katherine came to Wharton’s EMBA program. “There are only a few top EMBA programs and I liked how Wharton offers an undiluted MBA. I also liked the residential requirement because I wanted to spend time on campus to build connections with faculty and students,” she said.
Going back to school while working for a government agency meant self-sponsorship. “I benefited from the government’s small tuition reimbursement program, but I paid for most of the tuition myself. I saw it as a worthwhile investment. Even if I didn’t see an immediate financial payout, I was confident that it would pay off over the rest of my career and provide flexibility to pursue different career paths.”
How Wharton is Adding Value
Katherine says she “absolutely” made the right decision. “The program was worth it because it opened my mind and exposed me to aspects of business and industries that I would never have been exposed to before. Most of my prior connections are in banking, consulting, and the public sector. This program introduced me to people in a diverse range of industries and gave me a reality check that there are other ways of looking at the world.”
Her classes broadened her perspective too. “I was able to delve into areas that aren’t part of my normal job. I took courses in all areas of business to learn frameworks and build up my toolkit.”
Wharton also impacted her career. She explained: “Halfway through the program, I started thinking about what I wanted to do next in my career. I talked to students and alumni to explore different fields, including the private sector. I also took advantage of executive coaching, mock interviews, and resume review workshops.
Katherine joined the Gates Foundation’s Development Policy and Finance group while still at Wharton. She was hired to build an internal advisory practice to develop strategies and design financing platforms for the Foundation’s teams to mobilize external capital to scale their programs. She also has the opportunity to provide insights to the Foundation’s executive leadership team on key trends in development policy and finance.
To help transition to her new role, Katherine used Wharton’s Executive Coaching and Feedback Program. “I wanted to learn how to position myself in the organization, introduce myself to senior leaders, develop as a communicator, and manage different team dynamics.”
Reflecting back on her Wharton experience, Katherine said: “It’s so easy to get siloed in a particular area, but when that happens your career can get a bit stagnant. By exposing yourself to how people in different industries operate and think about challenges, you get new perspectives and tools. A Wharton MBA is a valuable asset because it broadens your opportunities in so many ways.”
— Meghan Laska
Posted: October 15, 2019