In the Business of Community

Portland State MBA alumni reconnect at the program’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Brand Story – The Portland MBA at Portland State celebrates 50 years of connecting innovation, community and sustainability — right in the heart of downtown.

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 Justin Chi (MBA, ’17) was primed for a pivot.

After over two years working as a professional services consultant at Daimler Trucks North America, the young environmental engineer craved a more people-focused role.

“I wanted to pivot into something I was passionate about that also used my engineering brain,” says Chi. “I liked engineering, but it wasn’t my true calling.”

To make the move happen, he’d need to hone his business acumen and analytics skills, plus broaden his professional network. Colleagues and friends talked up Portland State University’s MBA program, so he did his research and decided to apply.

Unknown 1 9.41.24 AMPortland MBA alumnus Justin Chi.

The Portland MBA has attracted strivers like Chi since its inception in 1968, offering a platform for launching meaningful careers that emphasize the time-tested fundamentals of a rigorous business education, says PSU School of Business Dean Cliff Allen — things like accounting, strategy and finance.

But as Portland blossoms into the backyard for big players like Daimler, Intel, Nike and adidas, and as digitization reshapes global business relationships, emerging leaders must master an additional set of business essentials — things like analytics, innovation and sustainability.

“When you think about it, in our 21-month MBA program, we’re training people today to be effective three or four years from now as executives,” says Allen. “And that means we have to be constantly current.”

‘We’re always thinking about what’s next.’

PSU was ranked the ninth most innovative school in the country by U.S. News & World Reports in 2017, and in a fast-changing era, you have to stay ahead of the curve by maintaining strong community and business relationships, says Tichelle Sorensen, MBA program director: “We’re constantly enhancing our curriculum to make sure it’s leading edge, and we’re always thinking about what’s next.”

Today’s Portland MBA students can choose from eight certificates: Athletic & Outdoor Industry, Business Analytics, Finance (specialization), Global Supply Chain Management, HR Analytics, Social Innovation, Taxation, and Real Estate.

Chi earned both Business Analytics and Athletic & Outdoor Industry stripes while studying at PSU, and he describes his MBA experience as profoundly “eye-opening.” Chi pushed past his comfort zone, seeking connections in non-engineering-related fields and exploring ways to put that big engineering brain to work in the service of more people-centric challenges.

These competencies proved a powerful differentiator: Chi ultimately landed an internship at adidas, which paved the way to a permanent post-graduation job as an adidas Talent Partnering Manager — exactly the front-facing career pivot he’d hoped for.

“I felt really well equipped to speak to HR with a business lens,” says Chi. “It changed my perspective of the business world and gave me an immeasurable amount of tools and an added network in the HR world.”

A robust professional network is definitely crucial, whether you’ve just launched your career or you’ve already reached the C-suite, agrees alumna Lori Heino-Royer (MBA, ’02), who leads business development at Daimler for CASE (Connectivity — Automated Driving — Shared Services — Electrification).

Unknown 9.41.24 AMAssociate Dean of Graduate Programs Melissa Appleyard.

“There are a lot of things you learn in the MBA program that you don’t even really realize you’re learning at the time,” she says. “And part of that is because of the focus on bringing people together … You can get connected through PSU to just about anybody.”

Heino-Royer graduated nearly two decades ago, but she’s nowhere near finished developing her own network. To help in the task, she maintains close ties with PSU, where she sits on The School of Business and Center for Entrepreneurship advisory boards, and is also an Alumni Association board member.

As an executive, Heino-Royer also values the opportunity to shape the next wave of MBAs, and lately, blockchain management is on her mind. Blockchain is a public digital ledger for recording, managing and controlling transactions—an MBA who shows up ready to work with emerging technologies like this one is a strong candidate for Daimler.

20160513 PSU MBA 031Portland MBA alumna Lori Heino-Royer.

“Blockchain is not new; it’s been around for 10 years, but what’s new is how it’s being used in the industry,” says Heino-Royer. “So I went to Dean Allen and said, ‘How do we teach students more about this?’”

In response to feedback from Heino-Royer and other alumni executives, PSU is developing a new blockchain management certificate for both undergraduate and graduate students. It’s targeted to debut in Fall 2019.

IMG 0173The School of Business Dean Cliff Allen. 

Inviting the community in

When she gives advice to Portland MBAs these days, Heino-Royer invariably encourages them to take advantage of PSU’s downtown location and the wealth of intellectual capital it puts at their fingertips, from working professional instructors to a steady stream of guest speakers to easily accessible networking and mentorship opportunities.
Being downtown opens a constant dialogue between the business world and The Portland MBA, says Associate Dean of Graduate Programs Melissa Appleyard, and PSU MBAs give as good as they get, pushing forward thinking on regional challenges, from housing instability to sustainable growth: “Our students create so much value through their capstone experiences and project-based work. Our organizational partners can interact very closely with students, who benefit immensely from that connection, and it’s a harmonic circle, because the capstone is a great way to see who you want to hire.”

IMG 0406Portland MBA alumna Susan Anderson.

Dean Allen agrees: “It’s a continual exchange of partnerships through the capstone projects, internships and our new co-op program — you name it. We’re so interwoven with the community.”

And on the evening of The Portland MBA’s 50th anniversary celebration, students, alumni and business professionals had a shiny new space in which to conduct those exchanges: in 2017, The School of Business officially moved into the newly constructed Karl Miller Center, a sprawling, six-floor, LEED Platinum building.

The center boasts 22 classrooms and 11 student meeting rooms in a stacked box design, its open plan emphasizes group spaces and easily accessible technology, and it even has a green roof.

The Karl Miller Center cements PSU’s status as a testbed for sustainable innovation. The building is also a gathering place for Portland’s business community, notes Sorensen, and its flowing layout reflects that welcoming vibe.

10438 06.tifThe Karl Miller Center, new home of the PSU School of Business.

“It is not intended to be insular,” she says. “It’s intended to invite people in.”

The same can be said for The Portland MBA at large. As each graduated class deepens and diversifies Portland’s hiring pool and MBA alumni rise in ranks around the region, that harmonic circle keeps widening.

There’s definitely a “warm feeling of camaraderie” when two Portland MBAs meet, says Chi — he himself has helped to hire several PSU alumni at adidas, and two classmates even ended up in his wedding party.

“That’s what PSU is all about,” he says. “Being connected to the community. It really resonates with what we’re being taught and transformed into: advocates for the community, and for greater-Portland-area businesses as well.

– The Portland MBA by the Numbers –

Above 40%
of Portland MBA students are female, higher than the national average for top MBA programs

3,000 Portland MBA
grads now work around the Pacific Northwest

Around 150 students
are enrolled in the MBA program at any given time

120 members
of the surrounding business community annually mentor Portland MBAs 


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