MBA Beauty Queens

  1. Pageant Hopefuls Seek New Start
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    Pageant Hopefuls Seek New Start

    When Jamie Kern Lima was selected by her peers to be the class speaker at Columbia Business School's 2004 commencement ceremony, she felt no hesitation about making a speech in front of hundreds of people. Her time as Miss Washington USA 2000, a year when she clocked thousands of miles on her car giving speeches around the state, coupled with the experience of competing in the Miss USA pageant, prepared her to tackle any public speaking engagement without hesitation, she says. That confidence, combined with her MBA degree, has carried through to her career as an entrepreneur, where she's made a splash in the beauty world as co-founder and chief executive officer of IT Cosmetics. The company's products are sold on the QVC shopping channel and the business is slated to have $12 million in retail sales this year, Lima says.

    "Sitting down at a Miss USA interview is not that much different than sitting down with a buyer at QVC and explaining why our products are phenomenal," she says. "It is that same kind of skill set."

    Lima is one of more than a dozen women Bloomberg Businessweek found who have competed in the past decade or so as finalists in the Miss America and Miss USA pageants and obtained MBA degrees. They are a diverse group of women, some of whom have broken boundaries, like Tracy Xinyue Chang, the first Chinese American to win the Miss New York USA title, and Mia Benoit, the first African American to snag the Miss Illinois USA title. These 14 women have gone on to get their MBA degrees from institutions like Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business & Management and New York University's Stern School of Business. They've embarked on diverse careers that include working for Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and technology startups.

    All of the women featured in the slide show say the year they spent as a state pageant winner gave them a toolbox of business skills that are invaluable to their current roles in the business world. For example, one Miss America finalist, Megan Bennett, now working in marketing, says her role as Miss Kansas 2004 required her to be "a marketing director, public relations director, business development director, booking agent, advocate, professional entertainer, and public speaker all rolled into one."

    The experience of participating in a pageant is in many ways ideal preparation for the business world, says Art McMaster, president and chief executive officer of the Miss America Organization, which runs the Miss America pageant. To impress the judges, the women must learn how to market and brand themselves. He has noticed more Miss America finalists than ever before deciding to go on to graduate school, and says he's not surprised many go on to get their MBAs and obtain high-powered jobs in the business world.

    "Miss America may be talking with schoolchildren in Nebraska on Monday, and on Wednesday she is in Washington, D.C., meeting with senators," he says. "Business skills have to come into effect because there is a different audience at every single event."

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    Photographer: Craig Sjodin/Getty Images

  2. Miss Delaware USA 2004
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    Miss Delaware USA 2004

    Name: Courtney Purdy Derby
    Pageant Title: Miss Delaware USA 2004, contestant in Miss USA 2004
    MBA Degree: 2009 graduate of San Francisco State University
    Job Title: Membership development manager at the San Francisco Federal Credit Union

    What I Learned: Participating in the Miss USA program was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While Miss Delaware USA, I was a full-time undergraduate student in the honors program at the University of Delaware, and I worked part time. The experience enhanced my time management, public speaking, and interpersonal skills. Most important, through being Miss Delaware USA, I am extremely comfortable being thrown into new environments, adapting to various social situations, and interacting with a wide variety of people. These abilities have served me well in both business school and professional settings.

    Why I Got an MBA: After graduating college, I worked for a few years at Barclaycard US in Wilmington, Del., when my husband received a job in San Francisco. The move and new start was the perfect timing to go back to school to obtain my MBA. For me, receiving my MBA was the next logical step, something I always knew I would do. I saw the MBA as a way to incorporate the theory-based, book knowledge you gain in college with actual business world applications. I pursued an MBA to open doors and increase my marketability to potential employers.

    Image courtesy of Courtney Purdy Derby
  3. Miss Georgia USA 2005
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    Miss Georgia USA 2005

    Name: Tanisha Brito
    Pageant Title: Miss Connecticut 2002, contestant in Miss America 2003; Miss Georgia USA 2005, contestant in Miss USA 2005
    MBA Degree: 2007 graduate of Clark Atlanta University
    Current Job: Brand marketing manager, Taco Bell

    What I Learned: Competing in Miss America helped me to hone my communication skills, think strategically, and focus on the big picture. As an MBA student concentrating in marketing, this was invaluable experience. My Miss America and Miss USA experience also taught me the value of building and sustaining relationships. That is what business is all about, and I'd like to think that I learned a lot about how to be a savvy businesswoman by navigating my way through the competitive pageant industry.

    Why I Got an MBA: Since getting my undergraduate degree in public relations, I always had an interest in business—specifically marketing. After competing in Miss America and Miss USA, I decided it was time to focus on building a career and fulfilled my goal of going to business school. Once I was there, I set my sights on brand marketing and planned on being a chief marketing officer one day.

    Image courtesy of Tanisha Brito
  4. Miss Illinois USA 2007
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    Miss Illinois USA 2007

    Name: Mia Benoit
    Pageant Title: Miss Illinois USA 2007, contestant in Miss USA 2007
    MBA Degree: 2005 graduate of Dowling College
    Current Job: Medical sales representative for Alcon Laboratories

    What I Learned: Competing in the Miss America and Miss USA pageant systems was the best interview preparation you could ever ask for. Every job I've ever interviewed for, I've gotten, and I attribute a lot of my success to pageantry because it taught me to think on my feet, be prepared at all times, and to be comfortable and confident in myself. It also taught me the meaning of competition and unleashed my passion for winning even in the midst of adversity. I attended business school while working full time for 24 months and it definitely wasn't easy—but neither is competing in national beauty pageants. My faith, desire to win, and unwavering belief in my dreams kept me going in pageantry as it does in all other aspects of my life.

    Why I Got an MBA: I've always had an entrepreneurial mindset and have wanted to own my own businesses since childhood. Once I completed my undergraduate degree, I knew I needed to learn all I could about managing a business and understanding the intricate details around business policies and management while continuing to work full time. Dowling College offered an evening MBA program for FedEx employees at the FedEx headquarters in Memphis, where I worked as a sales rep. I enrolled and never looked back.

    Image courtesy of Miss USA Organization
  5. Miss Illinois 2008
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    Miss Illinois 2008

    Name: Katie Lorenz
    Pageant Title: Miss Illinois 2008, contestant in Miss America 2009
    MBA Degree: 2010 graduate of Loyola University Chicago
    Current Job: Marketing and communications manager for the American Lung Assn.

    What I Learned: Through my participation in the Miss America Organization, aside from receiving more than $20,000 in scholarship funds to help pay for my education, I learned how to voice my opinions with confidence, lead by example, and value resourcefulness—all skills I need as a nonprofit manager today. As Miss Illinois 2008, I spoke to over 30,000 students through 150 school assemblies on the importance of character, and would often give impromptu speeches to audiences as small as 10 and as large as 5,000. It's nearly impossible for someone in their early 20s to get that kind of public speaking experience, and coupled with dozens of mock interviews to prepare for competition, I'm more than confident in any job interview or presentation to a client.

    Why I Got an MBA: My participation in the Miss America Organization cemented my desire to work in the nonprofit sector. To do so, I needed to supplement my undergraduate English and Spanish degrees with practical marketing, finance, and management skills. When selecting a graduate business school, I chose Loyola University Chicago because of its commitment to social responsibility and reputation as a top part-time program. The skills I learned at night helped me the next morning at my job, and I am certain my graduate education enables me to think critically and creatively in ways I wouldn't have otherwise been able to do.

    Photographer: Brian Kersey for BusinessWeek.com
  6. Miss Kansas 2004
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    Miss Kansas 2004

    Name: Megan Bennett
    Pageant Title: Miss Kansas 2004, competed in Miss America 2005
    MBA Degree: 2007 graduate of Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business & Management
    Current Job: Marketing director at DeskSite, a video entertainment software company

    What I Learned: The Miss America Organization is a tremendous opportunity that, among other things, can fast-track skill development for your career. During my tenure as Miss Kansas, I was essentially a marketing director, public relations director, business development director, booking agent, advocate, professional entertainer, and public speaker all rolled into one. This full-time job required grace under intense pressure, extreme flexibility, and a highly developed communication skill set in order for me to extemporaneously speak, present, and relate to people from all walks of life. The business skills and emotional intelligence acquired from my experiences as Miss Kansas were invaluable during my MBA program, and have continued to pay strong dividends throughout my life.

    Why I Got an MBA: I earned $25,000 in educational scholarships through competing in the Miss Kansas and Miss America organizations. Having already completed my undergraduate degrees in entrepreneurship and music business, I decided to use my scholarships to further my education and career. As an entrepreneur and professional singer, I wanted to enhance my business acumen in order to differentiate myself, as I built a career in the entertainment industry. Pepperdine University's full-time MBA program was the perfect fit, as it allowed me to tailor the program to fit my individual career aspirations.

    Image courtesy of Miss USA Organization
  7. Miss Massachusetts 2009
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    Miss Massachusetts 2009

    Name: Amanda Lynn Teresa Kelly
    Pageant Title: Miss Massachusetts 2009, contestant in Miss America 2010
    MBA Degree: Expected 2014 graduate of Babson College's Olin Graduate School of Business
    Job Title: Radiation department grants coordinator, Massachusetts General Hospital

    What I Learned: I have found that my involvement with the Miss America Organization helped me to refine my focuses as a young woman in modern-day society. The training that goes into preparing for the actual pageant includes things that can translate to real life. For example, honing your interview skills and ability not only to speak confidently about yourself but also to intelligently answer questions on the fly are great qualities for the modern woman. Keeping the arts in your life helps you to stay well-rounded and use your creative mind. Staying active and walking in swimsuit and evening wear display discipline, poise, and most importantly confidence. Once you've acquired the title, the year becomes more about personal branding, motivational speaking, and fulfilling a dedication to service for the state and organization you represent. These tools have enabled me to know my strengths and highlight my abilities in a business setting.

    Why I Got an MBA: I have known since college that I wanted to get my MBA. I loved every business class, group project, marketing internship, and strategic meeting I have ever participated in. When I took a position with Walt Disney World (DIS) and was able to see the inner workings of a major corporation from the human resources side, I only became further intrigued. I wanted to advance my education to allow me to take major steps toward working in strategic marketing for a large company someday and to take my entrepreneurial interests to the next level. So far, I couldn't be happier with my decision.

    Image courtesy of Miss America Organization
  8. Miss Massachusetts 1999
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    Miss Massachusetts 1999

    Name: April Thibeault
    Pageant Title: Miss Massachusetts 1999, contestant in Miss America 2000
    MBA Degree: Expected 2013 graduate of New York University's Stern School of Business
    Current Job: Founder and president of AMT Public Relations

    What I Learned: My involvement with the Miss America Organization has forever changed me in a plethora of ways. All the valuable skills, tools, and resources I gained as a titleholder I've managed to leverage in my career both as an entrepreneur and as a business school student. As a contestant, you're able to harness your interpersonal communication skills during preparation for the interview portion of the competition. This comes in handy when interviewing for prospective jobs and with the day-to-day communication with clients. As a state titleholder who spends the majority of her time giving speeches, you master the skills and tools needed to be an effective spokesperson, orator, and presenter. These assets are priceless, and few and far between, in a business setting. Finally, I learned not to view my competitors as such. Instead, a competitor could quite possibly become your biggest cheerleader, ally, supporter, or even a future client or partner.

    Why I Got an MBA: I've been operating my own public relations firm for the past nine years. I love my job. However, one auspicious night back in 2009, I realized that I wasn't reaching my full potential. I recognized the skills I was lacking and I knew an MBA would help me master them. I had asked myself the question "Am I relevant?" Unlike most of my peers at school, I don't have a final career goal upon graduation. Instead, I'm just eager to improve myself. I'm sure many of my fellow pageant contestants would agree when I say that we do love a challenge.

    Image courtesy of Miss America Organization
  9. Miss Nebraska USA 2006
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    Miss Nebraska USA 2006

    Name: Emily Poeschl
    Pageant Title: Miss Nebraska USA 2006, contestant in Miss USA 2006
    MBA Degree: 2011 graduate of the University of Nebraska
    Job Title: Marketing specialist for Mutual of Omaha

    What I Learned: My year as Miss Nebraska USA helped me prepare for business school by helping me take my presentation, networking, and relationship skills to the next level. As Miss Nebraska USA, I had the opportunity to adapt and interact with people from all backgrounds and experiences, skills I still use to this day. I learned how to handle any situation, from walking the red carpet of Trump Towers in New York City with Donald Trump to putting on my running shoes to help raise funds and awareness for children stricken with illness.

    Why I Got an MBA: Earning an MBA had always been an educational goal of mine. The state of the economy in recent years forced me to evaluate what would give me a competitive advantage in the job market and increased career opportunities. I decided there was no better time to complete my MBA. Earning my MBA has been one of the most important professional goals I have achieved to this day and I look forward to making the most of my MBA degree.

    Image courtesy of Emily Poeschl
  10. Miss New York USA 2009
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    Miss New York USA 2009

    Name: Tracy Xinyue Chang
    Pageant Title: Miss New York USA 2009, competed in Miss USA 2009
    MBA Degree: 2011 graduate of Columbia Business School
    Current Job: CNBC Asia correspondent and reporter

    What I Learned: Participation in the Miss USA pageant made me more assertive, which is an essential personality trait to have in order to succeed in business school or the business world.

    Why I Got an MBA: I wanted a career change from investment banking and also to build a solid business network.

    Image courtesy of Tracy Xinyue Chang
  11. Miss Oregon USA 2003
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    Miss Oregon USA 2003

    Name: Myah Moore Irick
    Pageant Title: Miss Oregon USA 2003, contestant in Miss USA 2003
    MBA Degree: Expected 2012 graduate of joint MBA program offered by Brown University and IE Business School
    Job Title: Vice-president of business development at a media and technology company

    What I Learned: During my year as Miss Oregon, I learned a lot about who I was as a person and what I stood for. The Miss USA competition helped me to acquire a better understanding of my current leadership skills and helped me to develop into a stronger leader. This taught me a lot about communication and self-representation. Consequently, it helped me to prepare for business school by providing me with the communication skills necessary to negotiate effectively, to connect with diverse audiences, and to deliver a focused message.

    Why I Got an MBA: Pursuing an international MBA was an outstanding fit for my long-term career aspirations and intellectual interests. I felt that an MBA would better equip me to achieve my immediate goal of transitioning into business and finance, as well as my long-term goal of being a university president. I was looking for a program where I would develop core fundamental skills in areas such as finance, accounting, and business operations. Additionally, I felt that the strong international content would help me to see the world through a more focused global lens and to have the opportunity to engage with colleagues from internationally diverse backgrounds.

    Image courtesy of Myah Moore Irick
  12. Miss Rhode Island USA 2010
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    Miss Rhode Island USA 2010

    Name: Ashley Bickford
    Pageant Title: Miss Rhode Island 2007, contestant in Miss America 2008; Miss Connecticut USA 2010, contestant in Miss USA 2010
    MBA Degree: 2008 graduate of Salve Regina University
    Current Job: Luxury estate agent at Engel & Völkers Boston

    What I Learned: The contestants at Miss America don't advance to the level of competition they have without truly being well-balanced people. I firmly believe that Miss America allowed me to excel above my peers in the arena of communication. Not only do I feel empowered to rise to any occasion, but it has also given me the ability to reach people at all levels. Having the necessary technical proficiency in business is a given, but for me, it's truly the intangible qualities where the real value lies.

    Why I Got an MBA: I've had an entrepreneurial spirit since the day I was born. I love a challenge, and taking something and not just making it better but making it great is what makes me tick. I pursued an MBA to sharpen my critical decision-making skills and to provide myself with a broader framework to evaluate the many crucial decisions I now make in my real estate practice.

    Image courtesy of Miss America Organization
  13. Miss Tennessee 2006
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    Miss Tennessee 2006

    Name: Blaire Pancake
    Pageant Title: Miss Tennessee 2006, contestant in Miss America 2007
    MBA Degree: 2009 graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
    Current Job: Marketing and business development director

    What I Learned: My involvement with Miss America helped prepare me for job interviews, public speaking, presentations, community relations, and the art of self-promotion and marketing. I gained confidence in myself and my abilities throughout the process. I know for a fact I would not have achieved this level of success, both personally and professionally, without my experience and journey with the Miss Tennessee and Miss America organizations.

    Why I Got an MBA: Something very few people realize is that Miss America is a scholarship organization. I knew that with the downturn in the economy in 2007, it was necessary to gain more education, knowledge, and skill sets in order to find the kind of job and success I was seeking. Thanks to my scholarships from Miss Tennessee and Miss America, I was able to graduate with my MBA debt-free.

    Image courtesy of Miss America Organization
  14. Miss Washington USA 2000
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    Miss Washington USA 2000

    Name: Jamie Kern Lima
    Pageant Title: Miss Washington USA 2000, contestant in Miss USA 2000
    MBA Degree: 2004 graduate of Columbia Business School
    Current Job: Co-founder and chief executive officer of IT Cosmetics

    What I Learned: First, you learn to be fearless, take risks, and put yourself out there. It also takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and the ability to constantly challenge yourself—whether it's to be better at public speaking, exploring your true opinions on world events, or simply learning to execute under pressure. These are all skills you need in business school and later in the business world. I also began charitable involvement and now, running IT Cosmetics, have continued that. As a company, we've partnered with the American Cancer Society's "Look Good, Feel Better" program, and this year alone we'll donate more than 60,000 Brow Power pencils to women facing the effects of cancer, so they can do it with a bit more confidence.

    Why I Got an MBA: I believe you can't put a price on getting real-world advice from people who have gone before you into the business world, made mistakes, led companies, and learned firsthand how to succeed—and I believe this is the true value of getting an MBA. Learning from all of the amazing, real-world experiences my classmates brought to the table at Columbia, and also directly from the alumni and professors (many of whom are incredibly successful business leaders), has proven invaluable in preparing me to run IT Cosmetics, launch on QVC, and compete with brands much larger than us. The power of the Columbia alumni network has also been invaluable.

    Image courtesy of Jamie Kern Lima
  15. Miss West Virginia 2006
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    Miss West Virginia 2006

    Name: Tiffany Lawrence
    Pageant Title: Miss West Virginia 2006, contestant in Miss America 2007
    MBA Degree: 2006 graduate of Shenandoah University
    Current Job: Marketing and public relations manager for Penn National Gaming (PENN) and delegate for the West Virginia House of Delegates, representing the 58th District

    What I Learned: Without the communication and public speaking skills I honed through my years of competition, I fear I would not have been as prepared for either of my current careers or roles as a young business professional and civic/political leader.

    Why I Got an MBA: I completed my MBA two weeks prior to winning Miss West Virginia and I graduated first in my class from Shenandoah University in Virginia. The scholarship dollars I won through competing in the Miss America Scholarship organization helped me to supplement the cost of graduate school in conjunction with my fellowship.

    Image courtesy of Miss America Organization