Phaedra Strohmaier

Lacking the business acumen and advanced analytic skills she needed to move up, Phaedra Strohmaier felt stuck in her career.



Successful business analytics careers start at Tippie

“I didn’t have enough experience to get a different analytics job,” Phaedra Strohmaier said, “and the job that I was in wasn’t going to provide me the experience either.”

At Wells Fargo, she was a technical writer who advanced into an operations analyst role. But she wanted to speak the language of business and be able to interpret complex data for senior leaders with limited analytics knowledge.

Three years after taking on the Iowa MBA Program, Phaedra capped off her MBA with a Business Analytics Certificate—and earned her promotion at Wells Fargo.

Now an analytic consultant in capacity planning, see how Phaedra uses her Iowa MBA to interpret big data for senior leadership, and forecast work volume and personnel needs for teams across one of the world’s largest banks.

Why did you decide to get your MBA with a focus on business analytics?

I was kind of stuck. I was in a role that I enjoyed in an analytics-type field, but I was supporting a small support team. There wasn't a lot of opportunity to advance, learn from my peers, or expand my knowledge.

Based on the job descriptions that I was seeing, the MBA seemed like something that was going to really help me in my career. It would give me a chance to do something different that would be more exciting.

How has your job changed since starting the program?

I started a new job that's more heavily analytics driven this year. My hiring manager told me at the time that one of the reasons he was interested in hiring me over other candidates was because I was pursuing my MBA. He thought it was a positive sign that I was willing to work hard to get what I wanted.

As an analytic consultant, I look at work volume forecasts for a particular team and the number of people doing a specific kind of work. I figure out if we need more or less people, and if we’re working at the expected rate. I gather that information from different sources and put it into one of our tools so that we can present it to senior business leaders and explain what we’re seeing from a historical perspective and what we expect to happen in the future.

Based on that, I identify the decisions they have to make. I help them to understand why their need is what it is, and to make better decisions.

How has your MBA prepared you for that role?

One of the things that it’s really helped me with is being able to communicate with senior business leaders, who may or may not have a good frame of reference for the kind of analytics that we’re doing.

A lot of times the idea of using data to make a decision or seeing what numbers do or don't support feels weird to a business leader with 30 years of experience. One of the things that the MBA has helped with is understanding those leaders’ concerns: what they are seeing, what they are used to, what they expect and what they need. It’s my job now to deliver that, and I probably would not be nearly as successful as I am if I didn’t have a general background in business.

Did Tippie do anything to make your course load any easier?

My adviser did a good job of recommending my course schedule. If I wanted to take two classes at a time during the regular semester, I would balance my schedule with one qualitative and quantitative class so that I wouldn’t have two 20-page papers or huge projects due at the same time. It was helpful to get that advice, and I followed it.

My adviser encouraged work-life balance. If you want to take a semester off because you have something else coming up in your life or at work and it's going to make it really difficult for you to be in class, that's OK. You have 10 years from when you start to complete.

Phaedra Strohmaier
“The program offers you flexibility. You can take classes when they work for you. I know several people who have taken time off to have kids. I've seen people go through this program and be expecting and continue to take classes while they have a newborn baby."

What surprised you most about the Iowa MBA Program?

I never thought I’d go to China. The Global Learning Opportunity is worth every penny. It was very interesting to see how different cultures approach business. It's a good reminder that not everyone is going to see the world, or approach a problem, the same way that you will.

I also never thought I would enjoy giving presentations as much as I do. It’s not something that I had much of an opportunity to do previously. It's actually something that always kind of scared me. The idea of having to get up and speak in front of a whole group of people was terrifying.

We have multiple opportunities to present in different classes. You'll have group projects where you’ll need to present. There's the capstone class that includes a whole bunch of different presentations.

“One of the things that it’s really helped me with is being able to communicate with senior business leaders.”

In a very big way, you will do better or worse depending on how well you can speak. I decided early on after I started that I was going to have to get good at it. So I practiced and worked at it. By the time I was done with my first semester, I enjoyed giving presentations. Now it's something I really look forward to when I get the opportunity.