Inspiring MBAs: Meet master multitasker Lucy Small

08 March 2021

Skilled tech and brand strategist, scrum master, experienced designer, mother of two, author, and Distance Learning MBA candidate, Lucy Small is nothing but stand-out.

It’s been a busy few years for Lucy. In 2020, she moved her family to rural Georgia to begin a new venture with her husband, and up until then she led creative and strategy at Rosa Lives Here, a Miami-based branding agency. She has also led workshops at the Miami Ad School and the American Advertising Federation, written for publications such as Huffington Post, Next Web, and Business Insider, and mentored numerous start-ups through accelerator programmes.

We couldn’t wait to catch up with the master multitasker to find out what makes her tick.

What inspired you to pursue an MBA?

After working at agencies for nearly a decade I realised I was really comfortable selling the skill set I was good at, but that in turn kept me from learning anything new. Clients kept me so busy that I didn’t really have the time or mandate to deviate from what I did on the day to day. I only ever took on work I was comfortable doing because that’s how I knew to do a good job. But that was all of my 20s. During that time my interests changed, my personal missions evolved, and I knew I had to make a move.

Having a structured learning environment encouraged me to make the time to get out of my comfort zone and push myself. The Distance Learning MBA was a good fit because it formalised the learning process – I knew I wouldn’t study new topics in the very little free time I had just as a fun pastime. I needed something structured and real, but with the flexibility for working professionals.

There was also the desire to get that extra credential. It’s no secret that women need to work harder for longer than men in almost all industries to get to the same place, especially in industries where women are the minority and locked out of many roles. Because my next project was in an industry like this – building and construction – I knew the extra credential would help. Obviously there was other learning to do – I also became accredited in LEED green building techniques, but the MBA is a valuable credential.

Having worked in a male-dominated industry, how do you think organisations can achieve gender equality?

I have two strategies that I will always advocate for: leadership and dedicated hiring practices. Nothing is going to change when the boss in an organisation either permits bad behaviour (pay inequities, discrimination, and non-inclusive behaviour) or turns a blind eye to it. Silence is as bad as permission. If any bias or inequality is present in an organisation, the leaders must lead by example; put women on the board and into leadership roles, and encourage inclusiveness at all steps.

Before someone tries to make the argument that “there aren’t any women around that are qualified” that’s because you’re not looking hard enough. Dedicated hiring practices to meet quotas have been proven to progress organisations and yet they have this weird effect where some people start to believe unqualified women (or people of colour) are getting roles they’re not qualified for just because they weren’t in those roles before. If you believe that then you inherently believe that there was no bias in hiring the white man that had previously occupied that role, and 99 times out of 100 white males are truly better than women or minorities at pretty much everything. Which of course is patently untrue. Gender and racial inequality are holding back society only to benefit a small group that are afraid of change because they’ve had a pretty good 1000 years. The first step in combatting inequality, pay gaps and hesitation to engage in affirmative hiring, etc. is to recognise it as what it is - bias, not fact.

Do you have any new projects on the horizon?  

Thanks for asking! I would be remiss if I didn’t take every opportunity to pitch the concept. My husband and I moved out to the countryside in 2020 after acquiring some land and we started ‘State and Season’ (named after our kids, of course). It’s a land concepting and development company; we work with developers, builders and counties to find new ways of generating revenues through modern, innovative spaces and in turn improving life in rural areas. We like to think we create residential, commercial and natural spaces to positively impact rural America.  

How have you found the balance between working on new projects and studying?

I schedule the MBA into my day like I schedule everything else. The nature of my work ebbs and flows, so I would take any down time to become absorbed in a module and finish it. The MBA became almost like another client at work – some weeks I would not touch it but other weeks I would spend most of my time on it. That was the structure that worked best for me because I work best when I’m 100% into something but only for shorter periods of time.

Have you been able to apply aspects of your MBA to your work?

As someone rooted in the marketing and sales process, I enjoyed the Strategic Advantage and Operations Management modules. The former is something I practise in my everyday work, but after a decade of speaking to clients, you don’t come across the graphs and technical analyses of the strategies you’re putting forward so it was interesting to see those. I also enjoyed Operations Management, something I found quite difficult because of my little-to-no exposure to it, because it allowed me to learn the underpinnings and background that goes into building and delivering on the businesses that I support in a different capacity. The Economics of Wellbeing module piqued my interest – it triggered a lot of the interests I had pursued over the last decade like research into happiness, mobility and community.

What advice would you give to students embarking on an MBA?

The challenge of the MBA is that you will be faced with modules and topics that are well outside your comfort zone. It’s meant to paint a whole picture, and if you look at it as such, it is an exercise in time management and self-discipline to push you through things that are new and challenging. I ended up writing my dissertation on behavioural economics – something I never in a hundred years would have imagined doing! I figured I’d have stuck with marketing as it’s well in my wheelhouse, but I pursued my interests and now I’m proud to have taken on something new when it would have been much easier to not.

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