Hospitality to Kellogg MBA [Show Summary]
Libby Angst is a 2018 graduate of the Kellogg MBA program and Accepted’s newest MBA admissions consultant. Libby shares her experience in the hospitality industry, her motivations behind her job changes, her decision to pursue an MBA and what she thought was most valuable in the Kellogg MBA program. Along the way she also shares insights into the unique qualities of the hospitality industry and in the Kellogg MBA program as well as the lessons she learned as Co-Chair of The Kellogg Student MBA Admissions Committee.
Interview with Libby Angst [Show Notes]
Can you tell us a little about your background and where you grew up? [1:56]
I grew up in a suburb 45 minutes north of Chicago. I went to a high school with over 1,000 students in my graduating class, so with a class so big it was important for me to find a niche. Mine was the tennis team, volunteering with organizations around Chicago, and my big activity was policy debating on a national circuit with my high school varsity debate team before I ended up going to Northwestern for undergrad.
You worked in the hospitality industry before joining Kellogg. How did you choose that industry to launch your professional career? [2:50]
During high school and college I always had odd jobs in the service industry. One of them was working at a high-end boutique folding and selling clothes, and I also worked as a tennis instructor for a nearby country club, so both required me to deliver a high level of service to discerning customers in my teenage, formative years. Additionally, in college I developed a passion for traveling after studying abroad in Madrid my junior year, my first trip to Europe. After I got back I really wanted to learn the ins and outs of the hotel industry from a highly regarded luxury chain, so luckily Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts had a worldwide sales office that hired me as an intern for two summers.
Why did you choose to work for TravelClick, and then why did you decide to earn an MBA? [4:05]
I had been working for Four Seasons in their property in Palo Alto, and I began using a lot of the TravelClick products to help me achieve my sales goals. A lot of them were benchmarking our performance against competitive sets – I used the tools to figure out what times of year I could charge higher rates for my corporate and group clients in order to reach my goals. After a number of years using their products I had developed a relationship with our TravelClick representative, and began exploring opportunities at that company in a sales role where I could work with large hotel chains to share how TravelClick products could add value to their companies.
While I was at TravelClick working with the large hotel brands I began working a lot with asset managers. I realized the real estate side of the hotel business was not something I knew too much about, but was probably one of the most important things to know to progress my career in the travel industry. So after working at TravelClick for two years I decided I needed to learn more about business. With a liberal arts background I didn’t have the skillset, particularly in finance, that I needed so I decided to earn an MBA in order to transition into the business side to progress my career.
What do you think are some of the more distinctive elements of the hospitality and travel industries? [6:30]
The industry feels immediate impacts from the economy. Hotels are signing essentially 24 hour lease agreements and are extremely sensitive to things going on in the economy. The wellbeing of a hotel could shift quite literally from month to month based on how the economy is doing. So one of the things hotels really need to do is have a very firm grasp on what is happening on the micro level with the economy and then also be tuned into what is happening in the international travel industry as well, since a lot of travelers are coming from outside of the United States, including Europe and China, who are seeing robust changes in growth in transient travel in the middle class. Also in the travel industry, you need to be in tune with the changing desires of customers as they travel, changing from wanting to have private spaces and loads of individual amenities to people looking to smaller spaces and more shared communal amenities, or new things like AirBnB.
Why did you pick Kellogg? [8:49]
There were a few reasons. The first is I wanted to work my way back to Chicago after having lived in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and New York City, so I was looking to come back to the Midwest, and the second reason why is because of the Guthrie Center for Real Estate, which I knew would support me entering the hotel real estate industry, with access to connected and highly influential alumni, a rigorous curriculum, and allow me to get up to speed with everything I needed to know. Also, each time I visited campus and talked with students I admired, they were always low key but high impact, humble about their achievements. They were the type of classmates I wanted to surround myself with when thinking about MBA programs.
As a liberal arts major, did you have any difficulty with the math requirements? [10:36]
Yes, it wasn’t something I couldn’t overcome, but I did find myself struggling to master concepts at the same speed as many of my other classmates with finance backgrounds. I definitely had to put in more effort than a mathematically-minded student had to.
Any advantages/disadvantages that you see to attending the same program for both undergrad and grad? [12:34]
I think a strong advantage is that you add to the already strong connections you have with your undergrad alma mater. I always felt during my time at Kellogg an enormous sense of pride that I had gone to Northwestern as well, so it reinforces the connection. A disadvantage is you are not going to give yourself the opportunity to live in and experience a different city if you go to the same place. For me this was less of an issue since I was looking to get back to Chicago after having lived in San Francisco and New York after undergrad, but I think this might be something to consider if you are a potential MBA applicant who hasn’t left the city where you did your undergrad. It might be a good thing to think about – experiencing a different city, and meeting new people.
What did you like best about the Kellogg MBA program? [15:59]
One of the things is the Kellogg Board Fellows program that I was a part of while there. The program gives candidates the opportunity to serve on a board of a local nonprofit in the Chicago area. Matching is based on strengths and interests, and for me I was paired with a nonprofit called The Night Ministry, which provides healthcare, housing, and human connection to the homeless in Chicago. This program couples a classroom experience where you learn about board governance over the course of two years with a seat on the board of a nonprofit. So I attended board meetings, sub-committee meetings, and worked on a project of value to the organization, which was a financial analysis of one of their programs to help assess costs for the next fiscal year. I found the work incredibly rewarding and coming out of the program I knew the experience would further my professional career and allow me to provide service to a nonprofit, which was really important for the person I wanted to be after leaving Kellogg.
What could be improved? [18:20]
To be honest I left the program pretty satisfied, but there is always room for improvement. The one thing that comes to the top of my mind is they could have done a better job of outlining ways to prepare students for recruitment prior to getting to Evanston. What I mean by this is, I think that you are told as an incoming student you will be pulled in a million different directions, but you aren’t as prepared as you should be with the recruiting process which starts almost immediately once you get to campus. Kellogg works on a quarter system so the program starts later than a lot of other programs that typically start in August. Kellogg doesn’t get into full swing until the middle of September, and by that time companies have already gone to a lot of campuses and begun recruiting events, dinners, and workshops for students. If Kellogg had outlined how students could utilize some of their downtime in the summer if they took the summer off to focus on getting help with their resume, or with interview questions and case prep, that would have been a very beneficial way to prepare people before coming to campus.
How did you decide to serve on the student admissions committee and what did you do a as a part of it? [20:56]
From day one Kellogg really encourages students to get involved with giving back to the school in whatever form that works for them. For me that was becoming a student reader with admissions, and giving the student perspective on whether or not a candidate would enhance the experience for everyone at Kellogg. As part of that I received training in my first year on how Kellogg evaluates applicants, specific leadership coursework and intellectual qualities that set people up for success, and then throughout the year I was reading applications and providing my feedback.
What surprised you about that experience? [22:26]
There were a few things. The first was that you always know applying to business school is a very competitive process when you see the acceptance rates, but actually reading the applications and seeing the high number of quality applicants really surprised me. I knew the bar was high, but I didn’t know how high it really was. Up until that point I had seen my application and a few of my friends’, but the applicant pool is really competitive. The second thing that surprised me was the high number of international students applying from all over the world and seeing how different their work experience, undergrad, and extracurricular experiences were compared to what I had done in the US, as well as how many things were similar.
Why did you choose this particular way to give back? [23:51]
It is tied back to the fact that I went to Northwestern as an undergrad. I always felt very connected to the university and know how important it is to find people who are a good fit, because then you see them continually giving back to the ecosystem. I wanted to give feedback to the school and find applicants meant to be at Kellogg.
What did you learn as a result of the experience about admissions that you didn’t really understand before you served on the committee? [25:25]
One thing I learned is that the application pool is so competitive that the applicants really fall into two buckets: one is the group just barely making it into the program and the other is the group just barely not making it into the program, so I think what I really learned from serving on the admissions committee there is that there is not a lot of room, if any, for error with your application since so many are falling so close to the middle.
What do you like to do for fun? [26:29]
I still do like to play tennis, and now that I am back in the Midwest I am playing paddle tennis. I also love to read about and make espresso drinks. I am a self-taught barista taking classes on latte art and have just finished a book called the Monk of Mokha about the Yemeni coffee industry.
What do you wish I had asked you? [27:12]
The coursework at Kellogg or anything outside of my extracurriculars that I found to be particularly meaningful while in the program. For me one of the most rewarding and fun experiences was being part of an immersive global program called GIM China, which was the opportunity for students to take a class about an emerging market and be assigned a project to research and then go to the country for two weeks over spring break. I did a feasibility study on eco-tourism to determine whether that would be viable in a country with so many people and struggling with so many environmental issues. We spent two weeks on a trip completely organized by Kellogg across five different cities in China. We were responsible for setting up interviews with local businesspeople in China and then putting together a research paper about the topic, and it was one of the most fun and defining experiences in the program because it exposed me to a culture I didn’t know that much about. Furthermore the class was filled with 25 students I didn’t know all that well, which gave me the opportunity to get to know 25 classmates in a different way.