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MBAs on the Move

Part-Time Exec Carves Singular Path at Great Wolf Lodge

Stephanie Pirishis

  • Director of Product Development, Great Wolf Lodge
  • Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management (MBA, 2007)
  • Williams College (BA, Economics, 2002)

If there was one word to describe Stephanie Pirishis’s path, it would be varied. Growing up, she lived all over Europe in support of her father’s diplomatic career and now speaks multiple languages. After getting an economics degree at Williams College, Stephanie worked for an advertising agency in Paris whose marquee client was Disneyland Paris, her first exposure to the hospitality sector. After her MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School, she landed at the Boston Consulting Group for two years. Now, after a break to have children, she works part-time in product development for Great Wolf Lodge where she is deepening her hospitality expertise while maintaining the flexibility she needs to raise them.

CURRENT ROLE: HOSPITALITY

Describe your current role as Director of Product Development at Great Wolf Lodge.

I am part of the operations team and report directly to the CEO. The company owns 17 hotel water parks across North America, and I wear many hats. I manage capital projects to reinvest in our lodges – updating them, refreshing the attractions, and adding retail and food and beverage. I make sure that our general managers have the right standard operating practices for their outlets; liaise with the finance team regarding construction project funding; and track metrics to ensure team performance.

What do you like about your job?

Great Wolf Lodge is growing rapidly so it’s a very exciting time to be there. It’s also fun to work for a company that I can talk to my kids (ages 7 and 8) about. Before joining this company, I took a break to have children. Right now I work part-time, which gives me the flexibility I need to raise my children while my husband travels as a consultant and remain relevant so that later I can progress more quickly if I want to.

CAREER PATH: INTERNATIONAL ROOTS

Tell me about your career path, including your introduction to the hospitality sector?

After graduating from Williams, I worked in the international department of a media planning agency in Paris where my main client was Disneyland Paris. After my MBA, I went to the Boston Consulting Group, where I put all the things I learned in my MBA into action. I got to do projects in procurement, hospitality, and food and beverage.

Is there anything about your childhood that attracted you to your choice of career?

My father was a diplomat. Growing up, I lived in France, Switzerland, Australia, Cyprus and Spain. I spoke French and English with my parents, I studied Italian in college, and my husband is Dutch. Everyone speaks English in business so that is now my day-to-day, but I could probably ramp up to business fluency in 3 or 4 languages if I was speaking them regularly.

PERSONAL SUCCESS FACTORS

What has made you successful?

I strive to keep sight of the big picture. As a company and as a person, you can’t do everything so you have to ask yourself if the small things you do now will make a difference for the big picture.

How has an MBA benefitted you?

In business school, you are with people from different backgrounds, points of view, and ways of solving problems. The MBA is a rare opportunity to look outside your norm, experience a wide mix of people, and learn diverse ways to solve problems. It also gave me a solid foundation to re-enter the workforce and to adapt my career path to my family’s needs and call my own shots.

What advice do you have for young women?

As I raise my children, I choose to work part-time. As more women get MBAs, flexible options will increase – whether it’s stepping up or slowing down, regardless of whether it is a male or female making those decisions. I encourage all families to negotiate for what’s important to them.

PASSION FOR THE ARTS

Tell me about your volunteer work.

I’m on the board of the Auditorium Theater, currently the biggest theater in Chicago. It’s a nonprofit that does a lot for under-served communities and has programs for kids who have family loss. We take our children to museums, theater, and ballet because it is important to us to expose them to the arts.


Words that define her:
Thoughtful, adaptable, varied

Book recommendations:
Becoming by Michelle Obama – I identified with her balance of work and family.

How she spends alone time:
Photography, Walking my dogs when the weather is nice

Words of wisdom that inspire her:
Keep it simple, stupid – Sometimes we over-philosophize to get the perfect answer. There is benefit in just getting things done and iterating later.

Music that makes her turn up the volume:
The Hamilton soundtrack

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