Pivot from airline operations agent to senior finance manager

When you’re racing to your gate on the opposite end of the airport, who’s tracking your luggage? Several years ago, it was Justin Botts (MBA12), who as an operations agent oversaw all aspects of ground handling for Continental Airlines.

He loved the commercial airline industry—where he had spent his entire career—but he knew he needed an MBA to break into the operations headquarters as a finance expert.

Read how investing in a top-ranked finance MBA rebooted his career with United Airlines as a senior finance manager.

#1: Get hands-on financial experience with corporate clients

When Allsteel, a workplace furniture giant, approached Tippie to help solve its business challenges, its problem was twofold. First, it couldn’t generate net present value (NPV) fast enough to drive capital budgeting and make the best decisions about how to invest its money. Second, once generated, Allsteel wasn’t arriving at the NPV through consistent methods and assumptions.

As part of the Putting Finance into Practice course, Justin and his Iowa MBA team created an advanced Excel model with a simple user interface to calculate NPV. The model didn’t rely on a finance specialist to plug in numbers and output a decision. It generated numbers in the same manner every time, so Allsteel could truly evaluate ideas and not worry about inconsistencies in the method.

“I had nowhere near the necessary skill set and knowledge to get a career in finance before I came to Tippie,” Justin says. “Getting that experience within the 20-month program was challenging but definitely rewarding and a big success for me.”

#2: Land a career-launching internship

When Justin was seeking a summer internship, his former employer Continental Airlines was merging with United Airlines. He leveraged his Continental contacts and consulted with Iowa career services for interview and resume prep to land a financial planning and analysis internship with United.

“They didn’t give me a pet project to work on,” Justin says. “They made me part of the team. I would take a project that the team needed to tackle and work with the managers in the group to help accomplish their goals.”

Justin and his team created a model that improved accuracy and speed of international landing fee forecasting, which he says can become very complex depending on the country of a flight’s destination. But most importantly, he achieved his two internship goals: understand the management side of the airline industry and get a full-time offer.

#3: Learn transferrable skills

After graduating, he joined United as a senior financial analyst in a group that supports airport operations. He was a natural fit.

Right away, he used the skills he learned at Tippie: capital investment analysis and complex modeling. He worked with division project managers to develop accurate monthly forecasts of cash flows. He collaborated with a team to plan future capital projects. Last year, he was promoted to senior manager of finance for United Ground Express and works with the central finance team to analyze strategic projects.

#4: Add global business experience to your resume

Justin took a global course that traveled to Hong Kong and southern China to get a firsthand look at how U.S. companies conduct business in Asia during his second year. While his former employer Continental was global in scope, he hadn’t experienced business at that level.

“Just talking to people about how you would deal with working with an international client and international customers—as well as working through some of the cultural issues that pop up when U.S. citizens go overseas to get business—was good exposure that I've actually leveraged here at United,” Justin says. “I've done some overseas work in India. I just got back from a trip to China over the last week or so. My experience at Tippie helped me be successful in the global enterprise for United.”