Imani Grant – a 2012 Edie Hunt Inspiration Award winner – started her career in advertising, but six years later, her passion for food and nutrition led her in another direction. She chose to pursue her MBA at Johnson at Cornell in part for its high-ranking agriculture program. Between graduation from business school and her start with A.T. Kearney, she held an internship with Mastronardi, producers of Campari™ tomatoes. “They saw my enthusiasm for tomatoes,” Imani says.
Her enthusiasm for food has continued, and now Imani is a manager in the Consumer Industries and Retail – Food & Beverage sector at A.T. Kearney. Based in Atlanta, Imani has worked at AT Kearney since 2012.
Her consulting role focuses on helping businesses increase profitability and top line growth; reduce costs and complexities; and optimize sales forces. Her work allows her to build upon her early interest in nutrition, and Imani envisions a future in which she finds strategic ways to make high quality and healthy food more accessible for everyone.
FORTÉ: How was your life impacted by receiving an MBA? What have been the greatest benefits?
IMANI GRANT: The MBA offers access to different people, companies, and ways of thinking that I didn’t have before the MBA. It is about changing how you think, and giving access to a dynamic network.
FORTÉ: What advice do you have for a first-year MBA on how to make an impact as a leader on campus?
IMANI: Think about what you are interested in, and marry any gaps you see with your interest areas. For me, I thought there wasn’t a cohesive network of Forté Fellows, and I had a vision of what I thought it should look like. Once you identify the gap between what is available and your interests, find people to help you realize that vision.
FORTÉ: What advice do you have for young women MBAs who are entering the workforce today?
IMANI: Give strong handshakes. Be confident. Have facts to support whatever you’re talking about. Think about what message you are delivering, your appearance and how you impact others.
FORTÉ: What has surprised you most after entering the work force?
IMANI: The expectation that you know a lot. In consulting, you come in ready to hit the ground running. I didn’t experience that in advertising. The post-MBA learning curve is shorter, and the expectation is that you bring something to the table based on your previous work, internship and school.
FORTÉ: Have you been engaged with any activities/causes since you left business school and joined the working world that you are passionate about?
IMANI: I was a liaison for Cornell’s black alumni group in Atlanta. I have also volunteered at food banks in Atlanta and would like to get more involved, particularly helping people in poverty gain exposure and access to healthy foods. I am also doing some planning for a small business in New York called Healing Cuisine – they retrain individuals to cook tasty but more nutritious meals.
FORTÉ: What are you most proud of professionally?
IMANI: Shifting to more of a business development role, and having my ideas accepted by selling large scale projects, is exciting. It is also rewarding to apply all my experiences to projects outside of work to increase access – for example, bringing healthy foods to the “food desert.”
FORTÉ: Can you share any challenges or hurdles you have experienced during your career? How did you overcome them?
IMANI: Maintaining confidence in consulting – a “feedback intensive” environment – is tough. Consulting is a confidence game, and it is important to figure out your gaps and address them asap.
FORTÉ: Where would you like to be in 5 -10 years?
IMANI: Ideally, I would like to own a business, but I think I’d be happy in an operations or management position. I’d like to be on the road less than I am now…and enjoy the city I live in.
FORTÉ: Who inspires you?
IMANI: The founders of Pixar – they are able to tackle some pretty heavy topics in a palatable way. They push creativity, which is very important in all aspects of life. Successful people are creative.
FORTÉ: Do you have any observations specifically about being a woman in business?
IMANI: Women need to ask more questions, be confident and ask for what they want – for example, responsibility. You recognize that people say things to you that they probably would not say to a man. The only way to combat that is to prove you know your stuff. Be a strong performer and offer unique perspectives as a woman.