For Abbey Pieper, a UST MBA was not just a degree, it was a toolbox. Being in a position to inherit the third generation of operational and management responsibilities at her family-run business, Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake, Pieper realized that being a jack of all trades in the resort industry, and beating the grim statistic that 75% of family businesses fail in the third generation, would require a deep dive into how the nuts and bolts of business fit together.
The Full-time UST MBA program coupled with the Opus College of Business’ Family Business Center offered the resources and experience Pieper needed to take on her role as vice president at Madden’s after graduating in 2013. Looking back on her experience to-date in a new management role at Madden’s, Pieper noted that she uses her MBA every day to stay relevant in the resort industry, specifically in terms of understanding how to approach and solve problems.
In her role, Pieper’s primary responsibilities have focused on special project management, capital projects and fundraising, and directing the marketing and sales strategy—in particular, Madden’s online presence. With a myriad of job functions, Pieper’s number one take-away from her UST MBA experience was (and still is) feeling confident in her ability to “figure things out,” even in areas where she has not had prior direct experience.
The Full-time MBA program at UST is heavily team-based, and students work closely throughout their 21-month experience with classmates hailing from diverse academic and professional backgrounds to tackle research questions, solve problems, and design and deliver thorough analyses and solutions to business issues. Pieper credits the rigorous academic and team experience with teaching her “how to think” (not what to think) about business using a multi-faceted lens, especially in her decisions about the impact of capital investment projects, branding, and logistics across various lines of the Madden’s business.
Pieper’s degree built her skills in working collaboratively, communicating effectively, and engaging meaningfully with team members and third parties assisting with Madden’s business operations. In the Full-time MBA program, first-year teams are designed by faculty and staff to ensure that a variety of backgrounds and perspectives are included. Pieper observed that this was very similar to the environment in business world in that most MBAs choose an employer without the ability to hand-pick their fellow colleagues. “It’s great, because you have to adjust and consider multiple perspectives – you learn to navigate differences and make forward progress toward a goal, even when sitting on different sides of the table.”
When approaching a problem or suggesting a new idea that may impact a business on several levels, Pieper said, “You may be ‘right,’ but if you can’t communicate, it doesn’t matter.” Experiential learning and skill building lab classes focused on reflective leadership, and written and verbal communication, also helped Pieper advance her ability to connect with business colleagues effectively.
Working to stay relevant in the vacation tourism industry while facing the unique challenges of running a family business also led Pieper to leverage UST’s Family Business Center. She attended many of the center’s breakfast events as the topics were consistently relevant to her professional responsibilities, and also offered the ability to network with other family business owners. The fact that UST offered the resource of several centers across various disciplines, including one dedicated specifically to support and connect family businesses, was a major selling point for Pieper as she made her decision on an MBA program.
Since Pieper and her brother have been at the helm of Madden’s, the business has continued its success. The tourism industry has seen a definitive increase in consumers being interested in and confident that they have the funds to spend on leisure travel as the country has slowly emerged from the recession. In addition, corporate events at Madden’s are also on the upswing—companies are feeling more comfortable to book off-site meetings, conferences, or team-building activities.
With Pieper in a leadership role and vacation season upon us, the nuts and bolts of the Madden’s legacy continue to operate as a well-oiled machine. And if ever a part is in need of repair, she has the confidence and depth of her UST MBA toolbox to know how to fix it.