FROM AGRICULTURE TO CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER

Mindy Simon, CIO at Conagra Brands

Mindy Simon, MBA

MASTER OF BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION (MBA)
A lifelong Nebraskan who grew up on a family farm, Mindy Simon’s career began in agriculture and progressed from internal auditing to chief information officer (CIO) in less than 20 years.

HOW AN MBA CAN HELP CHANGE YOU … AND YOUR PATH

Looking back, Simon describes her decision to pursue an MBA as a marriage of her passion for lifelong learning and her career aspirations.

“I never really aspired to get an MBA,” says Simon, as she didn’t initially understand the value it could bring to her professional career. “I thought about it, but I had been told a lot throughout my career that I had the work experience that was really equivalent to an MBA. So why get one?”

As it turned out, an MBA would change her perspective – from her confidence in her leadership style to her career aspirations.

Simon’s journey began 20 years ago, after completing a bachelor degree in agriculture economics. Her first job in feedlot management seemed like a natural fit for someone who lived and breathed farming throughout her childhood. Staying close to agriculture, she later took a job with Conagra Brands as an internal auditor, moved to financial planning and analytics, then sales finance. When an enterprise resource-planning implementation needed quick support, Simon stepped in to help, introducing her to the world of information technology (IT).

Once she got her feet wet, she realized a connection between IT and her agricultural roots.   

“Technology actually plays a big role in agriculture in terms of data and the processes behind it,” says Simon. “Processes are facilitated through technology so it was a natural fit for me to get involved in the technology side. I already knew the processes and data so intimately, which  made the technology part much easier.” 

As Simon became more involved in technology, she knew she’d found her niche. “Technology is all about the future and strategy,” she says. “And I love looking forward. Technology allows us to look at where things are going and how we can transform business through emerging capabilities.”

As Simon excelled in each role that she took on, her drive and potential did not go unnoticed. “You should consider an MBA,” she recalls being told by the chief human resources officer.  “It could be a differentiating element in advancing your career.”

Simon had not given much thought to continuing her education until that point. Her career had progressed quickly at Conagra, but this put it in a different perspective. She decided to give it some thought.

Three days after that pivotal conversation, Simon decided to enroll at Creighton University Heider College of Business. After reflecting, she realized that getting an MBA degree was really about investing in yourself. 

It’s time you spend focusing on how you can get better and learn from others,” she says. “It doesn't matter at what point you are in your career, you can always learn by hearing from others and where they are at. When you think about continuous improvement and evolving where you're at as an individual, education is one way that can help you do that.

Mindy Simon, MBA

Simon says she chose Creighton because of its strong reputation as a graduate school. And, with a full-time job, a husband, a growing family of three children and plans for another child, flexibility was also high on Simon’s list. “To be able to take classes online as well as in the classroom was big for me,” she adds.

Coming from a small farming community and graduating from a class of just 33 students, Simon says she also appreciated the intimacy of the Creighton environment.

“Everyone is approachable,” she says. “The class sizes are small. You have quick access to your professors.”

 

The benefits of going back to school were very tangible and immediate as Simon found herself taking what she learned in the classroom and applying it to her job in real time. The timing of several classes that dealt with leading people through change could not have been more perfect, Conagra was also going through a period of transformational change at the time.

Another class focused on how your leadership style impacts others and how you can leverage situations to drive transformation by being vulnerable and transparent. “I used my education in real time in terms of leading with inspiration and empathy. I looked at organizational design to see how we could work in new ways, inspire people, and really give them the opportunity to grow and learn,” explains Simon.

Simon continues to apply the skills and concepts she learned during her MBA studies to the workplace and she believes it has made her a better leader.

And apparently, it has paid off. A year after completing her MBA, Simon was promoted to CIO at Conagra Brands.

While getting her MBA was an investment in time, notes Simon, “it was time well spent because you are improving yourself as an individual and that impacts what you do at work, but also as a leader at home and in the community, which ultimately is your way of giving back.”

Simon’s advice to others considering an MBA, and especially women who may have more perceived barriers is this: “Don't let perceived barriers hold you back. Have the courage and confidence to live up to your potential.  The only person holding you back…is you.”  

You may be surprised at how transformational it can be.