Business can be a funny industry. Luckily, Valerie Grubb has a great sense of humor.
Well before Grubb earned her MBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business in 2001 and before she started her business consulting firm, Val Grubb & Associates (VG&A) in 2008, she was creating a trail of personal success in the business world.
Fresh out of college with her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Kettering University she began an 11-year career with Rolls-Royce, eventually serving as the company’s director of public affairs. During that time, she engaged in other business opportunities that can hardly be defined as side projects, especially when a name like Oprah Winfrey is thrown into the mix.
Grubb helped found two companies in the span of three years. Her first was InterActive Corp. (IAC), an Internet service and retailing business, in 1996, where she was the vice president of operations. The company now has the sixth largest network of websites in the world. In 1999, she helped found the Oxygen Channel with Winfrey and Gerry Laybourne.
It would seem with her track record, who would need more schooling? But in 2000 she attended the Kelley School of Business to earn her MBA. And from a business perspective, it changed her entire mindset – for the better – and increased her visibility for opportunities.
”Having an undergrad in mechanical engineering, I thought getting my MBA would be a walk in the park as I had taken some really nasty classes for my BSME degree,” she said. “I was surprised that the lessons taught in business school were just as rigorous, if not more so, because the answers were much more complicated. Solving problems in the business world is much more in the gray area because in many instances, there isn’t a completely right or completely wrong answer.”
She said the MBA gave her a disciplined approach to solving problems that she still uses over a decade later. She said one of the major disciplines she developed in business school was not second-guessing herself.
”That was worth all the sweat and sleepless nights for sure,” she said. “To be honest, getting my MBA gave me the confidence to go out and pursue clients. I could speak the same language as a CEO and relate the challenges they were struggling with to potential solutions. I’m definitely an extravert, but if a CEO didn’t think I knew what I was talking about, it would be just a nice conversation and then they would move on.“
Another benefit worth all the sweat and sleepless nights was the network of business associates she gained from being an alumna of Indiana University.</p.
One story she said she tells often is about when the Oxygen Channel was purchased by NBC Universal. As part of the acquisition, her functions were absorbed into NBCU, putting her without a job. Her next step? The Kelley Alumni Relations office where she discovered an IU graduate was the president of MediaWorks, a division within NBCU which also housed the functions she was leading with Oxygen. She sent an email with the subject line “Fellow IU grad.”</p.
”He agreed to meet, and one month later, I received two offers from different divisions within his realm,” she said. “My IU connection didn’t get me the job offers—that was my skill set. But I would not have had the opportunity to highlight my skill set if it weren’t for the IU connection. The IU/Kelley network is incredible around the world and it’s brought me business.”
After leaving NBCU and starting VG&A in 2008, she said she still makes tremendous use of the network and that it continues to bring her business.
Her business is all about other people’s business. VG&A helps mid-sized businesses operate efficiently by establishing a strong foundation in several areas including human resources, facilities, and purchasing.
”What I’ve found is that whether someone is expanding their business or starting a new one, a company can’t operate at its best without strong and efficient back-office operations,” she said.
And it’s not just her winning personality and previous experience and success with other businesses that is bringing in big name clients like Gilt Groupe, Sesame Workshop, Game Show Network, Best Buy, Anheuser Busch, and Boeing. She credits her MBA for that success.
”(CEO’s) are speaking to me because I have something to offer and the discipline I learned at Kelley helped solidify my game plan and strategy for helping clients,” she said. “I think having real world experience is key, which is why I like the Kelley requirement that you have experience working before starting your MBA. However, the knowledge you learn in the Kelley MBA program expands your thinking to open up so many more possibilities. It was so well worth every moment I spent in class for sure.”
For anyone else planning to start a business, she recommends either earning a MBA or hiring someone with a MBA. She said candidates who possess a MBA show two very important factors for business: discipline and a will to complete difficult, long-term projects.
”Hiring a MBA will bring in a new way of thinking to solve problems and achieve greater results because they’ve been exposed to both a discipline of process coupled with a rigor of thinking outside the box and hence more creatively,” she added. “A MBA will just flat help you do what you do better and more efficiently.”
Grubb admitted being a bit skeptical heading into the MBA program because she knew the old adage of “those who can’t do, teach,” and, as much as she hated to admit it, her expectation was that she would be taught by instructors with no real-world experience.
”I found quite the opposite to be true,” she said. “I learned business from people who had been in the business world and who were still consulting and working in the business world. The lessons I was learning were real, not some made-up fantasy of how business is ‘supposed’ to run. That to me was invaluable and worth every dollar I spent.”
From her experience in the business world and from her time spent studying through the sleepless nights earning her MBA, Grubb said the ingredients for her personal success are confidence and understanding her skill sets.
”I’m very comfortable telling a client that something is ‘outside my wheelhouse,’ as I like to say,” she said. “I know what I’m good at and I don’t experiment on a client to try to expand my knowledge or skill set. I get in and get out and let them be on their merry way, just a little bit better when I leave it.”
–Dustin Bass, @dbass_cmn.