Sara Jetty (MBA 2021) grew up in Carmel, Indiana and received her B.S. from Indiana University. Prior to attending HBS, she held roles at BLK DNM, West Elm, and Bloomingdale’s. During her time at HBS, she interned for Sony Music Entertainment. Sara currently serves as the Special Director of Strategy & Planning at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and resides in New York City.

Tell us about your background before HBS. How did you choose a career in retail?

I’ve always been drawn to the arts and creative environments, so fashion and retail were a natural fit, but I had a bit of a winding road to get there. I started my career in music, interning for a variety of organizations as an undergrad. However, when I moved to New York City, I stumbled upon a unique opportunity to work for an emerging fashion line, which spring-boarded me into the world of retail.

I later spent three years at West Elm as a buyer, analyzing trends in the market and developing our Bedding and Bath products, before moving into buying at Bloomingdale’s (just like Rachel from Friends), where I selected and oversaw merchandise from several women’s ready-to-wear designers. It sometimes felt like an impossible challenge to predict what would resonate with customers when dealing with such subjective, creative products – but that blend of art and science is also what made it so fun for me.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?

After college, I had a vague idea that I would want to return to academics eventually. However, it wasn’t until a few years later that I seriously considered getting an MBA. I had achieved one of my dream jobs as a fashion buyer and was ready for a new challenge, but I wasn’t sure what that next step might be. (Did I want to start my own retail company? Did I want to pivot back to entertainment? Was there something else entirely that I hadn’t even considered?)

I had also reached a point in my career where I realized that I needed to build my voice (read: my own confidence) as a leader. Looking back, I couldn’t have found a better way to do that than spending two years in the HBS classroom, debating with and in front of 90+ incredibly smart peers in my section.

How did your retail background contribute to your experience at HBS?

So many ways! It could be both a blessing and a curse in the classroom. “Retail” is immensely wide-ranging, ever-evolving, and integral to so much of business, so it’s no surprise that we had tons of retail-related cases as part of the RC (first-year) curriculum. This meant there were plenty of opportunities for me to bring my experience and perspective to class, but it also meant a lot of cold calls! (My section awarded me the superlative for “Most Cold-Called” after our first semester.)

More importantly, HBS also helped me expand my own knowledge of the sector. One highlight was participating in an optional Short Intensive Program called Moving Beyond DTC, led by Professor Len Schlesinger and Matt Higgins, in January of my first year. The course focused on how to grow, scale, and move from purely DTC to omnichannel – with the assistance of many incredible guests (Lori Greiner of Shark Tank, Jordana Kier and Alexandra Friedman of Lola, and Christina Tosi of Milkbar to name just a few). I also served as a Director of Conference in the Retail & Luxury Goods Club, helping to bring in speakers for our 2020 conference.

How did HBS help you refine your career aspirations? What resources did you tap into during your two years?

HBS helped me see that there is a viable career path at the intersection of arts, culture, and business. I had often felt that my interests were non-traditional and I had sometimes doubted how I could carve out a path that would fit these disparate parts together, but HBS showed me how much opportunity is out there.

For one, Professor Anita Elberse’s Business of Entertainment, Media, and Sports (BEMS) class allowed me to connect with and learn from a number of people who work at the intersection of arts and business. I also had the opportunity to do an Independent Project with Professor Elberse in my final semester, where we helped build the strategy for the launch of a new artist’s first single, allowing me to get hands-on experience outside of the classroom.

Another academic highlight was Authentic Leadership Development (ALD), taught by Professor Scott Snook. I find myself returning to the reflections and conversations we had as part of the class all the time. ALD not only helped me hone my aspirations for the future (both professionally and personally), but also taught me so much about myself at my core, making me a more effective and authentic leader in the process.

In addition, the alumni network was invaluable. Beyond being a way for me to speak to countless interesting and inspiring people, it also allowed me to land my ideal summer internship on the Digital Strategy & Investments team at Sony Music Entertainment (alongside two HBS grads).

Lastly, on a more personal note, I am grateful to have met an incredible set of friends from HBS (some of whom share similar professional interests) who have been a wonderful resource, support network, and sounding board as I have thought through my next steps and career goals.

What have you been up to since HBS?

I’m currently serving as the Special Director of Strategy & Planning at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The role is part of the HBS Leadership Fellows Program, a one-year fellowship that affords new HBS graduates both outsized access to senior leadership and opportunity for transformative impact within their organizations.

As an undergrad I studied Marketing and History of Art, so when I saw this role so squarely positioned at the intersection of my interests, I had to jump at the opportunity! This year I’m working on a wide range of projects, including developing a strategic approach to digital content, re-envisioning aspects of our onsite operation (including food & beverage), furthering our audience research program, and building a more robust understanding of how as an institution we interact with the art and artists we feature.

What advice would you give someone considering applying to HBS from retail?

Just apply! Pursuing an MBA from the retail industry may not be a common path, but that’s why your skillset and voice can uniquely augment the community, and why you have the ability to make real impact afterwards.

Sara was also a featured panelist during “From Retail to HBS,” an Industry Spotlight Series virtual event. You can watch the recording here.