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Category: Alumni Spotlight

Class of 2021 Spotlight: Kitenge Ngongo and Jenna Callan

In the coming weeks, we will be highlighting a few members of our graduating class so prospective students can “meet” them and get a sense of where some of our recent graduates are heading.

We wish the very best of luck to all our graduates—the newest members of our alumni network. Don’t forget to keep in touch with your Simon family!

Kitenge Ngongo ’21S (MBA)

Where are you headed after graduation?  
Thermo Fisher Scientific in the General Leadership Development Program (GM track). I will be rotating through three functions in the next two years to gain exposure to the company and have an impact as I look to transition into a general manager role.

What was your favorite class and why?
Business Modeling with Professor Ravi Mantena. I loved being challenged and stretched with relevant business problems for seven weeks while collaborating with teammates. The challenges we faced as a team were invaluable.

If you could use a few words to describe your MBA experience, what would they be?
Relentless and rewarding.

What have you learned that will help you most in your new role?
Data analytics, particularly as it relates to making decisions using data.

What is your favorite Simon memory?
My favorite Simon memory is the house we built in Dutchtown with Habitat for Humanity as a part of Orientation week. It was awesome to partake in such a gratifying endeavor and build connections with new classmates at the same time.

What advice do you have for prospective Simon students?
Cast aside the “not having income for two years” worry. I personally used it as an excuse for way too long. The investment in yourself is 100% worth the sacrifice! And it goes very quickly! Also, visit campus—it will enlighten you so much as to whether Simon is the right fit for you.

Jenna Callan ’21S (MBA)

Where are you headed after graduation?
I am headed to Cognizant as a senior consultant in the Retail, Consumer Goods, Travel, and Hospitality Group.

What was your favorite class and why?
This is a ridiculously hard question because I could list almost every class I took—but Advanced Marketing Strategy with Mitch Lovett and Neal Burns not only pushed me to solve ambiguous problems quickly and creatively, but it also was a ton of fun! Also, anything Ravi Mantena or Jeanine Miklos-Thal teach are musts, simply because of their teaching style and personalities.

If you could use three words to describe your MBA experience, what would they be?
Community, challenging, and rewarding.

What have you learned that will help you most in your new role?
Simon gave me an entirely new way to look at problems. I am more analytical in my approach, more creative in my solutions, and more understanding of those around me—including the differing work styles and backgrounds we each bring to the table.

What is your favorite Simon memory?
The Forté Conference and Fall Ball 2019 are tied in my mind, but getting to hug my fellow vaccinated classmates for the first time in over a year during Grad Week was quite incredible!

What advice do you have for admitted Simon students?
Have faith in yourself. You were admitted for a reason and you are more than capable of achieving great things here! Remember your “why” for business school and let that guide you.

Q&A with MS Alumni Excerpt

Back in the fall, several of our MS alumni sat down for a webinar moderated by Simon Alumni Board Member Tushar Mathur, MSBA ’17 and senior CRM analyst for digital marketing at lululemon. The following is an excerpt from that discussion, which touched on various aspects of life at Simon, including preparation for business school, the MS internship track, where they lived in Rochester, and more.

TM: I’m Tushar, I graduated from Simon Business School in 2017. I was part of the MS in Business Analytics program at Simon. After graduation, I worked for a market research consulting firm in Chicago for about three years, and then earlier this year I relocated to Vancouver to start working with [the] digital marketing team at lululemon. I’m also joined by three other alumni, and I will let them introduce themselves. So with that, I will pass it over to Deepa.

DD: I’m Deepa [Dilip] and I graduated from Simon in 2016 from the Marketing Analytics program. Ever since then, I’ve had the chance to work with great organizations, actually. Soon after graduation I worked for Hertz on their Revenue Management team for about a year and eight months, and then I moved back to India, and post that I’ve been working with WeWork. I’m part of the build operations team, and what I do specifically is basically assess the health or whether or not we have a healthy pipeline for the sales team by measuring the efficacy of the campaigns going on across the organization. Excited to be here.

KT: My name is Kal [Tiruneh], and I graduated from the Accountancy program in 2017. After graduation I moved to New York to work in audit with Deloitte, and I’m still there. Good to be here.

JS: Hi, I’m Jaime Staengel, and I am an MS in Finance Class of 2019 graduate. Since graduation I’ve been in three different positions at Corning Incorporated.  I first started out in our Enterprise Risk and Intelligence group doing quantitative finance in our corporate finance space, and then I moved to the Optical Communications Division as the financial planning and analysis analyst. Just this year my role changed again, and so now I’m in a data analytics lead role within our Optical Division to help bridge the connection between finance and data science. I’m really excited to be here as well.

TM: Perfect, thank you Jamie. With that we can dive into some of the questions. So the first question that we have—which was a question that I also had when I was about to start my journey at Simon Business School—is how does one go about preparing for the Simon education? 

JS: My undergraduate degree was not in finance. It was in economics, which is obviously closely related, but making the jump to business school I wanted to be prepared, so I started to read things like the Wall Street Journal and just be a lot more aware of happenings in the financial industry. It sounds simple, but if you do that ahead of going into your program, the professors do a really great job of bringing in real life examples. So I would recommend whatever program you’re in, whether it’s Accountancy, Marketing, or Business Analytics, kind of know what things are going on in those fields and prepare that way so that way you’re really ready to be engaged once you’re in the classroom. 

TM: How did you leverage the Benet Career Management Center resources that you had at your disposal?

DD: … I think one of the most important things that often gets overlooked is trying to establish the relationship with the Benet Center staff. They’re also able to help identify where you’d be a good fit and what you need additional coaching on. Often times I walked into the Benet Center outside of the sessions that they would have sort of set for the class or networking events, and I just go and have a one-on-one meeting to discuss things even down to little details, like how exactly we should be tracking things on LinkedIn or email because all of these little things really matter when you’re trying to network. First impressions really count, so try to make the most of the resources, and I think it’s best to be as open as you possibly can. They’re there to coach you through and to make sure that you’re not only prepping yourself for the job you’ll eventually have but also for a lot of other jobs you applied for. Sort of get that practice from an interview standpoint, and a lot of these jobs may not necessarily be suited for you, but it really helps you sort of fine tune your elevator pitch or help you maintain a certain posture or decide what exactly your wording needs to be. It’s a lot of little stuff that finally adds up and really matters, so make the most of it.

JS: If I could add just one other thing—when you spoke it reminded me too, not only will you have the professional staff but they’ll have second year MBAs at the Benet Center who are called student career advisors [now called Benet Career Peers], and they can help you with practice sessions too, and a lot of times they’re coming right out of their summer internship between their first and second year. So again they’re right at the companies that you’re trying to go in to, so definitely make use of them as well.

TM: …Perfect thank you. Kind of switching gears here, what clubs were you involved in while you were at Simon and how do you think these clubs helped you later on in life, like did they add, like were those experiences valuable?

DD: So I was actually part of two clubs, one was academic and then the other wasn’t. So this is how the academic club can benefit you. So I was part of the Pricing Club and as you know, the pricing program in Simon is actually one of the things that attracts a lot of people interested in the quant side of marketing. And so through the Pricing Club I was also able to get on some consulting projects, which I eventually translated into a project for my digital marketing course two [terms] later. So it’s great to build that sort of network with let’s say your guest speakers that come in, or even if you’re taking up something like consulting projects from your club, because if you don’t see something interesting right away it eventually sort of adds on to your resources that you can rely on after graduation. Of course, we all know the benefits that come with the academic clubs, but then I think it’s equally important—especially for lot of you who you know…for a lot of people it’s the first time moving out of hometowns or you’re just getting to a new place altogether—you might find it hard to sort of get a sense of balance. And I think it’s important to have something that distracts you in a positive way, and that was the Outdoor Adventure Club for me. So we’d have runs, we would go on hikes at Letchworth State Park. I know there was this one trip where they went white water rafting, which I couldn’t go to, but it allowed you to balance between coursework and also enjoy the whole Simon experience, which I think is what you take with you at the end of the day. 

KT: Yeah I definitely agree with that, I think the clubs definitely helped me meet a lot of people even from other programs outside of Accountancy. … I was involved in the Master’s Advisory Council with you, Tushar, so you could always speak to this, too. I took on some leadership roles that I would definitely be able to speak to during my interviews and I found to be helpful. I believe I also built on a lot of communication skills while working with Tushar and the rest of the team, so I would definitely say it’s very important to participate in these clubs and really just put yourself out there and meet people and build your skills, you know? You’re helping yourself but also just having fun and enjoying your time there.

TM: I definitely agree—clubs are an essential part of life at Simon. You can learn so much and you can also have so much fun with those clubs. I was personally part of the Data Analytics Club, which was really helpful because they held workshops for Tableau, SQL, and a whole bunch of other workshops. They also organized speaker sessions with alumni—it was a great learning platform but it also was a way for you to improve your skills. And to Kal’s point, some of the leadership positions that are available, which includes the Master’s Advisory Council, that was a great platform to improve communication skills, meet people from other programs, and also a great talking point for interviews and elevator pitches. So thank you all. … So, as students start coming to Simon and start their journey of business school, what would be one piece of advice you would have for these incoming students that could help them and that you feel you should have known this when you started?

KT: I would say set the right expectations and plan ahead of time. Just really ask yourself what you think would be difficult for you in this condition. I didn’t know anyone that lived in Rochester before I moved there, so I know I wanted to make sure that I had the right support and I felt comfortable with everyone I met there, and I knew that if I needed something that I would have people that I could reach out to. I think Simon in general—a lot of people I met there are very friendly, very supportive, but you know, just getting to know people generally ahead of time definitely helped me transition better. So just asking yourself what would be difficult for you in this position, and if you don’t know right now, the best way to do that is to talk to people and understand what they found difficult in their transition and could that apply to you. Just setting yourself up ahead of time so that you can plan well for it and complete the program successfully.

If you’re interested in hearing more from our alumni, check out the Q&A with MS Alumni webinar in its entirety.

Excerpt from DEI Executive Chat with James Cuthbert ’09S (MBA)

Back in October, we had the privilege to host an executive chat with James Cuthbert, a 2009 MBA graduate of Simon Business School. James is an award-winning marketing professional and youth advocate with over 15 years of experience, including four global CPG companies (Red Bull North America, The Coca-Cola Company, Kellogg’s, and General Mills), two non-profit organizations (KIPP Philadelphia Charter Schools and The Center for Youth Services), and BET, where he is currently the senior vice president of brand and marketing strategy. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Pennsylvania State University and went on to earn an MBA from the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School. In 2017 and 2018, he was named a “40 Under 40 Brand Marketer” by Brand Innovators (the largest network of brand marketers in the United States).

James chatted with Rebekah Lewin, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid, for nearly an hour as prospective students, current students, and Simon faculty and staff listened in to learn about his professional path and hear examples of the ways diversity, equity, and inclusion have impacted his career. In reflecting on his career, he gave the following advice to prospective and current students—advice that guides him as he navigates new professional opportunities:

Black and white portrait of James Cuthbert.

I went through this process several years ago, early on in my career while I was at Simon, and I was like, “what really moves me?”  So I asked myself three questions. To me, these are kind of like the pillar questions you could ask yourself if you’re trying to figure out what is your purpose, what are you meant to do, what should you be striving for? 

The first question is “what do I love?” What are the things that get you up, that get you excited?  What would you be doing if you weren’t getting paid? That’s that first bucket. The second bucket is “what do you have experience in?” What have you been doing with your time? What would you spend 10,000 hours doing? And the last bucket is, “what are your God-given talents?” What are those things that you’re naturally good at? In that intersection of what you are good at, what you have experience in, and what you’re passionate about or what you love, forms the triangle about where you should go. 

When I went through this process, I landed on three pillars that I think describe my personal brand—who I am. The first one is this idea of brands or brand strategy. The second piece that kind of makes me up is this idea of culture—specifically for me, youth culture or hip hop culture—which is really global popular culture. The last piece is community advocacy. This idea of really reaching back, of not forgetting not just where you came from but that there’s somebody else that needs a helping hand. So if you add these buckets together you have brands, you have culture, and you have cause.

If you’re looking for more events that will inspire you as you prepare for your career, we encourage you to keep an eye on our Simon Virtual Events page. We hope to “see” you soon!

Alumni Answers: Salim Holder ’07S (MBA)

The following is a Q&A with Salim Holder, a 2007 graduate of Simon’s MBA program and co-founder and CEO of 4th Ave Market.

Salim Holder '07 (MBA)Tell us a little about what your pre-entrepreneurial career in marketing/branding was like after you left Simon. How did that lead you to your current role as CEO of 4th Ave Market?
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to run my own business. I wasn’t really sure in what, but I knew that was something that I wanted to do. More importantly, I wanted to run a business that had a positive impact on the community it served. I have always felt compelled to see the world and my contribution to it as something much bigger than me. Getting my MBA was the first step in this pursuit. I learned about business at Hampton University, mastered it at Simon, and set out to get some hands-on experience with real companies. For the next ten years post-MBA, I was able to manage some of the largest global brands in multiple categories and in multiple regions of the world. I learned to turn around declining brands, drive deeper engagement in stale and mature product categories, and deliver double-digit gains in revenue and significant improvements in profitability in nearly every category I worked in. As much as I loved what I was learning and what I was able to achieve, I never lost sight of my original mission of having a positive impact on the broader community. After ten years working in the corporate world, I decided to step out in faith to pursue my entrepreneurial endeavors. I figured if I can help these other businesses grow by millions of dollars a year, I could do the same for myself.  

So, in January of 2018, I decided to chart my own path. Part of doing so brought me to General Assembly, where I am a distinguished instructor for a digital marketing certification course and digital marketing workshops. In June of 2018, my current business partner and I purchased an E-Commerce company to become the largest Black-owned online beauty and hair retailer in the US…and 4th Ave Market was born.

What skills did you learn at Simon that best prepared you for your current role?
The quantitative, economics-based approach to business that Simon taught me has significantly boosted my career. Prior to Simon, my professional experience focused largely on the qualitative “soft” skills. Being able to use data to drive my decision making process and being able to take a structured approach to problem solving has proven invaluable for me.

What is your advice for prospective students? Or what was the best piece of advice you received?
Best advice I received during my MBA program was to focus on the learning and not on the test results. In other words, “Bs get degrees.” While I’ve always been a competitive person seeking to be at the top of everything I do, I realized the grades would have no impact on career trajectory, but what would be important was my ability to grasp and use the information. Since life is an open book test, we can always use our notes, books, etc. after graduating to get the right answer, but it requires a strong understanding of the topic and questions that need to be answered.

Tell me a little about where the idea for 4th Ave Market came from. What is the meaning behind the name?
For decades, people of color have been underserved by the retail industry. Major retailers and manufacturers have treated the needs of the Black community as an afterthought. Access to relevant products is limited or controlled by others who are not from and/or do not invest back into the Black community. Meanwhile, Black innovators and business owners are systematically blocked from gaining distribution and awareness of their innovative products. Furthermore, the most influential people in the hair care community, such as barbers and stylists, are undervalued and underrepresented in the field of brand partnership opportunities. What’s shocking is that this hasn’t always been this way.

Less than a hundred years ago, “Black-owned” pockets of a segregated America were economic powerhouses. Whether they were Black-owned banks, schools, courthouses, or salons and local stores, the Black dollar circulated seamlessly through the Black community ten times more than it does today. The 4th Avenue District in Birmingham, Alabama, was a mecca of economic vitality and one of the most successful examples of the entrepreneurial power of the Black community. It is the inspiration for 4th Ave Market.   

Over the past few months there has been additional momentum behind the Black Lives Matter movement and broader issues of social justice, and your company is a leader in this space. Can you tell us a little more about the intersection of your professional ventures and your passion for social justice and equity?
In my experience, I have seen that the playing field is not even. While Black consumers spend $2.5B in hair and beauty products—which represents 85% of sales of ethnic hair care products—they only own 7% of the stores. We shouldn’t have to fight to get a seat at the table; instead, we can create our own table. We shouldn’t just participate in industries; we need to be owners of the industries we participate in. I believe a strong economic platform is essential to achieving social justice and equity. Luckily, we don’t have to recreate the wheel as we have great frameworks in the 4th Ave District from Birmingham, Alabama, and Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

If individuals are interested in supporting 4th Ave Market, what are some of the best ways to do so—either directly or indirectly?

  • Become a loyal shopper at 4thaveMarket.com
  • Share our story and site with a friend—help us get PR opportunities!
  • Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
  • Pass along our information to an entrepreneur making amazing hair, personal, care and beauty products.
  • Become an investor in 4th Ave Market. 

Watch Salim talk more about life as an open book test during a visit to campus for Scholarship Weekend in 2016.