In the Army National Guard, Karly Mangen commanded 60 soldiers in Kuwait and Qatar while overseeing a program that served hundreds of thousands more. Awarded an Army Commendation Medal for her service during the deployment, not much could intimidate her--except maybe starting business school.
"I was terrified coming into this because I didn't have those tactical skills like accounting and marketing," says Mangen on entering the Carlson School's Full-Time MBA Program in 2010. "I didn't know the language. I didn't know the industries. I didn't even know what to wear. It was a complete 180. I went from being told where to be, what to wear, how to look, and how to talk to being asked, 'what is your opinion and what interests you?'"
She survived the initial shock and started her "dream job" as an associate marketing manager in the Yoplait division at General Mills in August. In doing so, she completed an astonishing career transformation that is becoming almost common in the MBA Program.
A Stoic, Honorable Thing to Do
Mangen's interest in serving her country dates back to her childhood in Chisago Lakes, Minn. Her grandfather was an assistant adjutant general in the National Guard and she can remember her excitement seeing him in uniform and hearing his speeches at promotion ceremonies at the state capitol.
"Seeing him getting that type of respect and serving the country was really a stoic, honorable thing to do," she says. "I wanted to follow in his footsteps and see how much I could carry forward for him after he retired."
So at 17, during her junior year of high school, Mangen committed to the National Guard. Upon graduating high school and completing basic training, she enrolled at St. Cloud State University and joined the ROTC to become an officer like her "Papa.
"Only two years later, Mangen graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in community psychology. Having discovered a talent for listening to and counseling others, Mangen had plans to pursue a PhD and become a psychologist. The military's plans for her would put those plans on hold and eventually lead to a new career path.
Finding Her True Calling
2nd Lt. Mangen immersed herself in her military duties following graduation, including managing the logistics of the Guard's exchange program with Norway. In 2007, she and the 347th Personnel Services Detachment were deployed to Qatar to support the country's combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq where she was responsible for the military's Rest and Recuperation Pass Program for soldiers.
She describes the yearlong experience of commanding 60 soldiers and serving hundreds of thousands more from Camp As Sayliyah as "amazing." She was even quicker to highlight her unit's efforts to improve the military's pass program, furthering the already stellar reputation of the Minnesota National Guard.
Mangen also learned a lot about herself while in Qatar. She still loved working with and counseling people, but it became apparent that doing that full-time wasn't her true calling. Instead, it was business.
"When I was talking to a lot of my peers in the guard, a lot of them had gone to business school," she says. "I heard really good things about Carlson and started talking to people who had gone through the program and how it related to their veteran status."
After returning from Qatar, 1st Lt. Mangen continued on the path to business, began studying for her GMAT, and enrolled in the Carlson School's Full-Time MBA Program.
From the Middle East to the West Bank
Based on her Guard experiences, Mangen hoped business school would prepare her for a general management role leading cross-functional teams toward a common goal. Marketing didn't cross her mind.
"Marketing is something they really don't have in the military," she says.
However, listening to Senior Lecturer Kevin Upton talk about the consumer and the different ways one can think about a product sparked an interest in Mangen--one more closely related to her educational background and experiences than she ever realized.
"Even though she didn't have pure marketing, her job in the military had elements that she could take and apply to problems that she faced," says Dave Hopkins, professional director of the Carlson Brand Enterprise. Hopkins supervised Mangen's work in the Brand Enterprise for 15 months and can still recall her very first project--a social media assignment for Thrivent.
"She was way out of her comfort zone," says Hopkins. "But when she didn't know something she would actively go seek it out and she pushed others into more discipline. As a result, we had a very successful project."
Supportive Culture at Carlson School
Looking back on her time at the Carlson School, Mangen reflected on her appreciation for Hopkins and the faculty who took the time to explain things in a way in which she could relate. In addition to the support of the faculty, she believes the collaborative culture of the Carlson School played a major role in her success.
"We were such a tight-knit group," says Mangen of her cohort. "I've never seen anything like that outside a military unit. Everyone's goal was for all 71 people to get their dream job."
Mangen, who continues to serve in the Guard as a unit commander, has heard from several of her peers transitioning to business careers. She hopes her experiences can be of value just as she benefited from others who preceded her.
What advice would she have for someone like herself? "Figure out what your passion is," she says. "Volunteer for everything right off the bat. You don't know what is out there."
And as Mangen learned firsthand, there's a lot out there for those who pursue their dream.