“I wanted to set strategic direction versus execute on previously determined directives.”

Carol Lauson's father owned his own construction company, an enterprise, she says, "that didn't necessarily pique my interest in business, but gave me an early exposure to it." As she got older, awareness turned into more direct action, beginning with a 10th grade economics class and Junior Achievement project, and, in high school, membership in the Business Professionals of America which took her all the way to the nationals in a business exam competition.

"I like numbers," Carol says, "so I was naturally attracted to accounting and finance." She made finance her major in college and worked full-time doing accounting for a small business. But by the time she graduated, "I wanted to do more planning and analysis."

Her subsequent career took her through a financial rotational program, then corporate development at Albertson's, a major retailer, then into more corporate development as well as mergers and acquisition project lead responsibilities for United Agri Products and Trimble Navigation, a high-tech company that created location-based technologies within industries she had come to know well: construction, engineering, agriculture.

"The thing that was great about corporate development," Carol says, "was working on transactions that delivered on the strategic vision. But there came a point where I wanted to set strategic direction versus execute on previously determined directives."

Seeking a holistic vision

Right away, Carol knew she wanted an MBA program "strong on general management. I had a couple of mentors with HBS degrees and was impressed by their perspectives. They had a more holistic view of business that wasn't focused on any one function."

A campus visit confirmed her initial impressions. "The classroom dynamic here is distinctive. You go through so many scenarios. You see how other managers have reacted, positively or negatively, and their choices give you better insight into how you might make your own."

Midway through her first year, Carol has already experienced a shift in her approach to leadership. "Before," she says, "I asked myself what I would do when I became a general manager. Today I think more about what I can do now to create the building blocks, to make it easier to lead later. Because it's not about what you should do when you have authority. What it's easy to forget — what's really important — are all the little decisions you make as you move up. These are the stepping stones that set precedents for ethical behavior, that set the tone of the environment in which you can lead."

Global directions

Carol also believes that "there's much room for improvement in our capacity as U.S. citizens to achieve a more global understanding. In the United States, as a business person, a global perspective isn't necessarily required. But as you become more and more senior in your role, that perspective is a necessity. HBS, with its broad base of international students, gives you a great opportunity to absorb and inquire why and how things are different across the globe."

Through participating in the Brazil IXP, Carol saw the complexity of global business firsthand. "There's a lot of promise for Brazil and countries like it," she says. "But they're caught between development stages — where do they put their resources for maximum growth with minimal disruption?"

For her own growth, Carol sees herself "setting strategic direction and driving next steps for an expanding company." Near term, her summer internship will be an opportunity to "explore consulting and address a variety of critical issues for companies that may not have the internal resources to address them by themselves."