“I want to be surprised by what each day has in store for me.”

After studying finance, marketing and Mandarin – "China is the future," she believes – Justine Lelchuk had three clear goals for her first post-graduation job. "First, I had to travel. I didn't want to stay behind a desk. I also had to be challenged. I want to be surprised by what each day has in store for me. Finally, I was looking for a company that valued training and would support my decision to go to grad school."

Deloitte Consulting met the criteria, placing her in a rotational program that exposed Justine to three different industries. "Lucky number three was consumer products," she says. "I loved the fact that I was working with tangible agricultural goods: grains, soy beans, adjuvants that help increase crop yields." When Justine was accepted to HBS, Deloitte sponsored her in an "externship" program that took her to the Philippines. There, she worked with the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction, counseling women in the fine points of business: "business plans, financial statements, how to work with local governments, plus rudimentary business and communications skills."

Transformative power of listening

When considering options for her MBA, the decisive moment came when Justine visited the HBS campus. "I asked the admissions director, Dee Leopold, for an introduction to professor Ray Goldberg, the guru of agribusiness. I not only met him, but we spent an hour at lunch exchanging war stories. I was impressed by Dee's willingness to make the connection and Ray's willingness to talk to me. After that, I knew that this is the place where I wanted to be."

"HBS is such an interactive school, in everything from the case method to student governance," says Justine. "You're in constant contact with peers, professors, administrators, other schools – it makes you walk the talk in being a leader. As conflict arises, you have to reflect. Before, challenges would've made me defensive. After just one year, I can see how much I've changed; now, my response is to listen. That's the transformative experience people talk about."

More learning and leading

Next year, Justine will serve as co-president of the HBS Student Association, following a summer "working as an assistant brand manager in General Mills' 'baking division.'" She sees herself continuing with the CPG industry after graduation, in a firm or as a consultant. "Then I'd like to go back to school for a PhD that combines social psychology/organizational behavior and business," says Justine. "I want to study gender roles and entrepreneurship as they relate to the business workplace."