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From HR to Working for Sean Penn: How an MBA Changed My Life

From HR to Working for Sean Penn: How an MBA Changed My Life main image

It’s not uncommon for professionals to find themselves at a crossroads in their career. While some might opt for the traditional route – staying in their secure, comfortable jobs –, others, like Ariana Gadd, want more.

Ariana grew up in Los Angeles, the world’s leading entertainment hub. Her mother was an actress, and Ariana was submerged in the industry from a young age – an interest she fuelled by taking Cinema and Media classes during her undergraduate degree in Human Development at The University of Chicago.

After graduating, Ariana moved back to LA, working in a wide range of jobs on film and TV sets. A few years later, she landed an HR position at the global film production company Reveille, where she had the opportunity to work with multicultural teams.

The European experience

However, despite her success, Ariana still didn’t feel fully accomplished professionally.

She said: “After about seven years, I decided that it was time for me to take a career break. I had been through so much with the organization without any formal business training. I really wanted a refresh, and I also wanted to enhance my skills in finance, accounting, management and leadership.

“I had always thought about getting an MBA, and so I decided to look into programs in 2015.”

While Ariana enjoyed living in LA, she was also eager to relocate abroad.

She said: “Based on my experience working with the teams in London and Amsterdam, I was interested in programs based in Europe. This, in addition to the typical one-year program length and the lower tuition costs compared to US programs, was important when I considered my options. I wanted to go to a program in an English-speaking country, so I looked at programs in England and Ireland.”

Eventually, Ariana landed a spot on the MBA program at Trinity College Dublin, which she chose for the real-life business opportunities the school offered students.

A challenging but rewarding process

In 2016, Ariana started her MBA. She remembers the experience fondly as challenging but extremely rewarding.

She said: “I love the learning process of the MBA experience. It was an incredibly challenging endeavor, but I was so thrilled to use my brain in a different way. I had not been in that academic mindset for years and it was exhilarating. I also enjoyed my classmates tremendously and the opportunity to learn from them.”

She added: “I really wanted to expand my understanding of finance and accounting. I knew I would never choose that as a career path after the MBA, but I wanted to build a foundation which would allow me to be part of a more strategic and thoughtful conversation when I went back into the workforce.

“From my HR background, I was most interested in leadership and professional development. How does one manage and influence effectively? I would say this course at Trinity was what I got the most out of and continue to use today.”

Working for Sean Penn

After her MBA, Ariana relocated to the US, where she worked as a consultant on various recruitment, HR, accounting, and strategy projects at an entertainment firm.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she suddenly found herself with a lot of time on her hands and a desire to utilize her skills for the greater good.

Ariana said: “I saw an interview on CNN with Sean Penn, who was talking about his organization CORE and what they were doing in Los Angeles. I looked it up and began to volunteer.”

CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort) is a non-profit set up by the actor to provide relief to vulnerable communities during the coronavirus pandemic – a mission that Ariana was excited to be a part of, and that would ultimately change her career.

She said: “The need for COVID testing was growing so rapidly and they needed as much help as they could get. I was hired to manage a site which was only open for a few weeks before it had to close due to the location needing to return to a parking lot for a shopping center.

“The CFO found out I had an HR background, so I began to work with the LA team on HR issues. Before I knew it, I was helping to provide HR services to the whole organization nationwide.

“I was attracted to the work and found myself at the right place at the right time to support the growth of a company doing incredibly needed work and building something completely new for the world.”

How the MBA changed her life

Ariana is currently working on building a nationwide HR department for CORE. She says the non-profit grew much quicker than anyone had expected, jumping from 10 US-based employees to over 1,000 employees since its launch to support the fight against COVID-19 in March.

Ariana attributes much of her success to her MBA experience and the valuable skills it provided her with.

She said: “I am working to create a team to ensure sustainability in the future. This requires project management and systems implementation. It is all about iteration. We look to create the team for now so that we can iterate and adjust once things stabilize. I learned this in the MBA.

“Additionally, as we build our systems, I am looking to not just implement in order to get something more automated quickly, but rather to look at the business need and create a solution that works for the way we operate.”

She added: “Without the opportunity to go through the MBA, I would have never been able to take on such work without getting thoroughly overwhelmed. I would never have been able to believe I could confidently balance the challenges of project management, rapid growth, and personnel management in this new normal – the world of COVID 19.

“Since I developed the role as I went, I would say that the MBA gave me the opportunity to believe that I can do anything. I know this sounds a bit cliché, but it’s true.”

Written by Linda Mohamed

Linda is Content Writer at TopMBA, creating content about students, courses, universities and businesses. She recently graduated in Journalism & Creative Writing with Politics and International Relations, and now enjoys writing for a student audience. 

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