MARCH 22, 2017 | BY EKIM BUYUK AND MARIELLE RODGERS
Joanna graduated from Duke in 2011 with a B.S. in Economics, and received her MBA from Harvard Business School in May 2016. While at Duke, she was President of BOW, an RA and a waitress at Plate & Pitchfork. After graduating Duke, she joined Goldman Sachs as an investment banker before transitioning to management consulting at Bain. While at Bain, she pursued an externship with Purpose Built Communities, a non-profit that does community development. At HBS, she taught yoga and started a healthy banana “nice” cream business.
Thinking back, what led you to get involved with BOW?
I was a sophomore at Duke, and had heard about this new organization (at the time) that helped undergrad women learn about different career options. At that point I was confused about what to major in and what to pursue, so I thought it would be a great way to meet others who were in a similar place or had a clearer idea of what they were doing. I was also not in a sorority so I figured it would be a great way to make new friends.
What do you wish you had known at the start of your career?
I wish I had known that I could make the life I want rather than following someone else's life. I spent a lot of time trying to fit a square peg into a round hole because I thought everyone else was doing that. I got very caught up in what everyone else was doing at Duke and followed the "right path," only to find out it wasn't right for me. Now I know myself a lot more, and I know what I want, which is so freeing because I don't feel like I have to be on someone else's path or prove myself in an arena that doesn't matter to me.
What led you to pursue an MBA and how has your degree shaped your career?
I decided to get an MBA because I knew I wanted to run my own business one day, and while I knew that going to business school does not teach you how to run a company, I thought it would expose me to a variety of experiences and people that I believed would help open my mind. It was a goal I had for a very long time, and knew that I would do it at some point, so I decided on sooner rather than later. I believe my experience in business school helped shape my career in three ways: (1) It solidified in my mind why I did not want to continue on a path following what everyone else was doing. (2) It allowed me to start a business, which was the most valuable experience for me at the time. (3) I had time to pursue what I really wanted to do on the side (i.e. health and wellness, in business school as a yoga teacher) in my free time and in my academic work (i.e. I did an independent study that allowed me to build a health and wellness-focused business plan).
Could you talk about your experiences pursuing an MBA while also cofounding a startup?
Co-founding a startup was one of the most valuable parts of my business school experience. It was very time-consuming but I learned way more about business in the startup than I did in class, so my focus was on that. It was both humbling and motivating - I faced my weaknesses head-on and discovered strengths I never knew I had. I also learned that I ultimately want to run my own business, and that was worth going to business school in itself, since I had the time and security to try something out that I would have been more hesitant to do on the side while working a full-time job.
Could you talk a little bit about your transitions between different jobs?
I was a few weeks into my job as an investment banking analyst at Goldman and knew that it wasn't for me. I gave myself a few months to get used to the job / give it a chance, but there was a point where I realized I needed to cut my losses and find something that was more suited to me. I interviewed with Bain in Atlanta and it seemed like the right fit, and I went with my gut and it was the right decision. I spent 2.5 years with Bain in Atlanta before business school, and I'm so glad I did. I am currently at Bain (in LA) post-business school, and plan to pursue my own business in health and wellness post-Bain.
I was told that if I quit my job so soon (after 6 months in banking), I would be committing career suicide. I was really nervous about this and believed a lot of what people told me. As it turns out, what they said wasn't true at all. We all have to try things on for size sometimes and when it doesn't fit, there is no sense in continuing to force something that isn't for you. I am all about paying your dues and hard work, but if the end goal isn't where you want to be, find another path.
What advice would you give to current members trying to select a career path?
Take some time to yourself and learn what makes you tick and what you find really interesting (rather than what you think you should like based on what other people at Duke are doing). I think we all need to have certain learning experiences and I don't believe in regrets, but that was one thing lacking in my own Duke experience - genuine self-reflection. Spend time thinking about the life that YOU WANT to build (both career and life), not the life that you think you should want to build, or others want to build. You have something unique to offer the world and following someone else's path only blocks this from coming to fruition.
What’s something you’re trying to learn right now?
I'm trying to listen to and trust my own intuition (in my career and life in general). I have a tendency to ask for advice about everything, and I've found I often make decisions based on what others think I should do rather than what I want to do. Plus, the advice often conflicts and I'm left more confused than when I started! I'm doing more mindfulness / meditation-type practices to tune into my own voice. I'm slowly learning that I have the answers to my questions but I have to listen to myself.