Gouri (née Shintri) LeDonne – a 2009 Edie Hunt Inspiration Award winner – realized soon after receiving her Bachelors in computer engineering from Texas A&M that an MBA was necessary to strengthen her foundation of business knowledge. Hoping to lead a strategic business unit at a Fortune 500 company someday, Gouri attended Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business where her MBA concentrations were Strategy, Marketing, and International Business.
Upon graduating from Tepper, Gouri worked in Pittsburgh at Heinz Corporation and Matthews International. She later relocated her family and started work at Unilever after her husband accepted an offer in Chicago. When Unilever asked her to move to New Jersey earlier this year, she did not hesitate despite having moved to Chicago just three years earlier. Unilever’s mission to “provide consumers around the world with the products they need to look good, feel good and get more out of life” is very important to Gouri, and she currently creates global brand strategy as senior global marketing manager for Hellmann’s.
FF: How was your life impacted by receiving an MBA? What have been the greatest benefits?
GL: The MBA has enabled me to better understand business priorities and make more strategic recommendations. When you know what’s important to the business and all the levers that can be pulled to deliver results, you can really add value. With my computer engineering degree, I felt relegated to a specific field and didn’t get exposure to fully understand the big picture.
FF: What advice do you have for a first-year MBA on how to make an impact as a leader on campus?
GL: Be open minded. School is a safe space to bring new ideas and learn from each other. If you see a way to make something better, just do it. Supporters will help you have an impact on campus.
FF: What advice do you have for young women MBAs who are entering the workforce today?
GL: Never doubt yourself. Some women are quick to say no to promotions or new roles and underestimate how much they can learn on the job. No one expects you to know everything. Don’t be afraid to fail. Since I got my MBA, I have been put into roles that I didn’t know how to approach immediately. Jump in, talk to people, keep an open mind, and use that information to develop your own plan.
FF: What has surprised you most after entering the work force?
GL: The biggest surprise for me is how important the DNA of a company is to me. I have three kids, and I travel internationally for work. Unilever has an “Agile Working Policy” that starts Day 1. As long as business needs are met, it doesn’t matter where or when you do your work. This flexibility allows me to be a mom and keep my career.
FF: What are you most proud of professionally?
GL: I developed a strategy for Unilever to get Hellmann’s on the table when consumers eat out. After putting a plan in place three years ago, we are on track for year-over-year growth in this new category. It is exciting to watch something grow from a discussion to being part of the business results.
FF: Where would you like to be in 5 -10 years?
GL: I see myself in a VP role running a strategic business unit at Unilever. I am an individual contributor now but would like to evolve into an influencer to inspire and lead others.
FF: Who inspires you?
GL: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. They are so witty and creative and do things well that don’t come to me naturally. Michelle Obama inspires me because she is the epitome of hard work and personal integrity and conducts herself with confidence and grace.