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MBAs on the Move

After Initial Stints in Politics, Education, and Nonprofit, She Landed at United

Natalie Mindrum

  • Managing Director of Regional Strategies,  United Airlines
  • University of Chicago Booth School of Business (MBA, 2011)
  • Luther College (BA, English, 2001)

She is a high-flying executive at United Airlines now, but Natalie Mindrum did not always have a clear career path. After graduating with an English degree, Natalie was a political consultant, did a stint with Teach for America, and led development projects in Afghanistan. She decided to strengthen her quantitative skills by pursuing an MBA at Chicago Booth.

Post-MBA, Natalie has held various roles at United, including director of Environmental Strategy and Sustainability and chief of staff to the COO. As managing director of Regional Strategies, she currently applies all her pre- and post-MBA experiences to solve United’s biggest challenges.

CURRENT ROLE: UNITED AIRLINES

Describe your current role as Managing Director of Regional Strategies at United.

United has regional teams in both California and New York. Being at the headquarters in Chicago, I manage execution from a central nucleus. United is really attuned to customer needs, and our team seeks customer feedback and insights on how we can improve. We use that information to come up with ideas, then we prioritize and determine which ones are achievable in the next quarter or year. It is a unique role because I get exposure to a breadth of projects and topics.

What do you like about your job (besides the flight benefits)?

The ability to be creative and think of interesting ways to solve issues. I’ve never been on the commercial side of the business, and doing something completely different is exciting.

CAREER PATH: FROM EDUCATION, POLITICS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT TO AVIATION

Tell me about your career path.

After I graduated with an English degree, I moved to Washington D.C. and interned at a nonprofit. I met someone who was leading a campaign for Paul Wellstone (Minnesota Senator at the time) and asked if I would consider moving back to Minnesota where I grew up. I was working for him when he tragically died in a plane crash, and it was devastating.

After I regrouped, I joined Teach for America and taught in the Bronx for two years. At the time, my boyfriend (now husband) received a job offer to move to Afghanistan. We moved and I worked on two development initiatives while I was there, but the security situation there was dicey so after a year we came back to the States. We moved to Somerville, Massachusetts so my husband could go to law school, and I worked for the City of Somerville on a Housing and Urban Development project to improve low income housing.

Why did you decide to make getting an MBA part of your path?

I felt that solidifying my quantitative skills would be helpful. I had always been pretty good at math, but I did not naturally gravitate there. It was a leap of faith, but I did a lot of research and decided to go for it. Having Forté as a resource saying “women can do it” was helpful. 

How has an MBA benefitted you?

I bridged gaps in my skillset; trained in accounting and finance areas; and took some classes I didn’t anticipate being as helpful as they were, like negotiation and behavioral economics and even statistics. These courses give you a language and a better grounding for work discussions. 

PERSONAL SUCCESS FACTORS: WORK STYLE AND ADVICE

What do you do uniquely well?

Looking back, I was just brave in certain areas that didn’t feel totally comfortable at the time. For example, I was very interested in fuel efficiency so I reached out to United’s fuel efficiency leader and said I’d love to hear more about it. I didn’t say that I was looking for a job and nothing happened right away, but two years later a position became available and they thought of me.

The secret is to know what you’re interested in before something becomes a job posting and reach out to people so that you’re not asking them for anything other than their time.  Most people will be very open to giving you that.

Also, I’ve been helpful and friendly to the people I’ve worked with. If you’re someone who says yes and has a positive attitude, people will think of you when positions become available. The likability factor is important – if I am choosing between two equal candidates, I’ll pick the nice one. If you like to have fun and can laugh, people will gravitate towards you.

Any career blunders you’re willing to share?

It wasn’t world ending, but I hit “reply all” by accident once by mistake. I highly recommend having your email on a one-minute delay. 

What advice do you have for young women about to start an MBA program?

Women tend to think that because they didn’t study business as undergrads, a business school won’t be interested. But business schools want to build a diverse class of people with lots of backgrounds so my advice is: When applying for an MBA, don’t discount your non-business experiences – they all have value. Also – having varied experiences early in your career will make you a more appealing long-term candidate later.


Word that defines her:
Versatile

Book and podcast recommendations:
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, Women at Work (Harvard Business Review)

How she spends alone time:
Spending time with my family, including two small children and a Pit Bull/Rhodesian Ridgeback; and vegan cooking.

Words of wisdom that inspire her:
Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Music that makes her turn up the volume:
Juice by Lizzo

Volunteer pursuits:
Internally at United, I am on the leadership team of the women’s group called uImpact. I am also on the board of Illinois Action for Children, a nonprofit that helps improve early childhood education.

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