In four years, Donald Petty went from being a grade-school teacher to a human resources leader at Johnson & Johnson. Aaron French jumped from the legal world to aerospace and defense, becoming a senior manager at Raytheon. And Les Garrison brought her interests in the energy field into sharper focus, pivoting from policy and consulting to operations and deployment as a senior manager with Rivian.
The common thread among them: a Full-Time MBA from the Broad College of Business, which enabled these Spartans to successfully redefine their career.
“Broad taught me never to ‘stay in my lane,’” Garrison said. “You may be surprised what interests lie around the corner.”
Garrison became a dual-degree student studying law and business at Michigan State, graduating with a J.D. and an MBA in 2015. Her vision was to put these degrees to work in the energy sector and climb the ladder to make an impact — and she’s set the bar high.
“With each professional move, I’ve improved my career,” she said. Along the way, she’s taken on everything from being a wind energy developer to founding her own consulting organization. In her role at Rivian today, Garrison helps deploy the latest innovative inventions for the auto market.
“Now I am managing a growing team in a leading-edge industry (electric vehicles) and look forward to tackling the challenges ahead,” she said.
Wayne Hutchison, managing director of the Full-Time MBA program, met Garrison at a recruiting event a few years before she became a Broad Spartan and recalled how she envisioned synergies between law and business for her journey ahead. As a student, Garrison became the MBA Association president, advocating for policies and projects to benefit the student body and breed a culture of service.
“Leslie Garrison personifies resilience, adaptability and what is possible if one person follows their dreams,” he said. “Her experience not only showed students in future classes what was possible for a career switcher but also showed them what was possible for a dual-degree student, in terms of being able to have a true student experience at multiple schools at once.”
Realizing the potential
The Broad MBA not only embraces professionals who want to enhance their career or make a change but also gives them the tools to make it happen quickly. Mitchell Owens (MBA ’19), for example, launched from being a church music director to global lead buyer at Ford in just two years.
“Career changers bring a breadth of experience and skill into our program,” Andrea McHale, director of graduate admissions and enrollment for the program, said. “The Broad Full-Time MBA is designed to leverage those individual strengths and develop desired core competencies that our employers are looking for in high-potential MBA candidates.”
For Petty, getting his degree at MSU was an opportunity to pivot from teaching to HR. He cultivated critical business skills and applied his experience in the United States Army Reserves to become a corporate leader.
“I specifically chose Broad due to the high level of support they offered for career changers and the prestigious reputation of the program,” he said. Petty took on a rotational role at Johnson & Johnson upon graduation in 2018 and has been with the health care giant ever since.
“Broad provided me with networking opportunities and alumni mentors, some of whom had also made a career change and could provide insight, guidance and support throughout my time at Broad and beyond.”
While at MSU, Petty worked to uplift Spartans around him in the program. From day one, he helped fellow veterans achieve academic and professional success.
“Donald was a leader, constantly mentoring his colleagues on tips to showcase military experiences to employers,” Hutchison said. “His efforts enabled incoming student veteran MBAs to have a seamless transition process, whether they were active duty, reserve or transitioning from a particular branch of service.”
With a similar service mindset, French entered the MBA program knowing he wanted to help people, but he needed a new path. He was pursuing a law degree with plans to open his own practice one day. However, an eye-opening internship with the Wayne County prosecuting attorney’s office, paired with an unstable job market at the time, pushed him to make a change.
“While at Wayne County, there were experiences that helped me see just how brutal the legal world could be,” he said. “I couldn’t handle the intimate details of human suffering that the law required of me.
“Although many sectors of the economy were recovering from the financial crisis, automated legal services and other circumstances had made legal jobs very difficult to find,” he continued. “I had a small family, and I needed to find a path that could support us financially and challenge me professionally.”
Like Garrison, French took on a dual degree and graduated with his J.D. in 2015 and MBA in 2016, leaving behind a legacy of community service. He held multiple leadership positions across more than five student organizations and created a fundraiser in celebration of Pi Day (March 14). Today, the event remains a foundational piece of the Broad MBA’s service component.
“Aaron spent considerable time investing in making the Broad MBA better through community service,” Hutchison said. “[Pi Day] resulted in hundreds of pie slices sold across the campus, yielding thousands of dollars of donations to local charities. Aaron’s leadership and ingenuity were key factors in the event’s success.”
The professional skills French gained at MSU propelled him to move up the ranks at Raytheon; today, as a senior subcontract manager, he helps the defense company realize significant savings.
“The attention to detail, the push to find and apply relevant data, and the ability to manipulate that data and create a working model that can be executed — all skills I learned at Broad,” French said.
Although Garrison, Petty and French each have their own distinct paths, their advice to fellow career switchers is in harmony: Build upon your past experiences and forge a strong network to make your move successful.
“Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone you haven’t connected with in a long time,” Garrison said. “Whether they are directly related to what you want to do or a solid relationship from a past job, talking things through with others helps you get out of your own head.”
“The experiences you have had thus far are valuable and unique to you,” Petty added. “Leverage those learnings as you step into a new field to bring innovative ideas and a different perspective!”
“Do it! Broad is amazing. They’ll help you find a direction, set goals, give you the tools to achieve those goals and support you long after,” French said. “I still reach out to my professors there for advice and for help with tricky financial or supply chain models. They promote their students zealously and are sincerely invested in each student’s success.”