We were delighted to connect last week with Christie St-John, who heads MBA admissions at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. St-John describes her career as “zig-zaggy,” referring to the fact that she started at Vanderbilt back in 1997 before zigging to Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business for nine years and then zagging back to Nashville and to Owen, where she’s been at the helm since 2012. As you’ll see below, her time up north impacted her preference for mountains over beach but did nothing to diminish her love of true southern fried chicken.
A more in-depth Admissions Director Q&A with St-John will soon follow, but for now, enjoy getting to know her lighter side. (A big hockey fan, she’s pictured above at a Nashville Predators game.)
Real Humans of MBA Admissions: Christie St-John of Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management
Coffee or tea? Depends on the season. Tea in the summer, coffee—Blue Mountain from Jamaica—in the winter
Beach or mountains? Prior to moving to Vermont, I would have always said beach, but now it’s mountains.
Morning person or night owl? Night owl
Pet peeve? Oh dear, hmmm. Intolerance
Guilty pleasure? Dove dark chocolate with almonds before I go to bed at night
Favorite virtue in others? Having a sense of humor and not taking themselves too seriously. Things get stressful, and if you can take a break and make people laugh, the stress and tension can go away—provided it doesn’t mean not taking serious things seriously or making fun of other people.
Worst habit? Oh, there are so many… I have to go with setting my alarm at 5 a.m. and thinking I’m going to get up and exercise.
Happy place? Sitting in my big green leather chair with both my dogs snuggled up next to me and a good book and the fireplace going.
Comfort food? Southern fried chicken—that is one thing I did miss when I was in Vermont.
Go-to cocktail? I used to be strictly a red wine drinker, but now I really love a Moscow mule. Really, that’s because I absolutely adore ginger beer.
Proudest moment? Walking across the stage and receiving my PhD
Biggest regret? That neither of my parents were alive to see that
One thing you would change about how you were raised? I think that I wish that I had insisted that my parents and my grandmother and my aunt talk about how they were raised and the things they went through. My grandmother did more than my mother so I knew her fairly well because I used to spend the summers with her in DC, but I do wish I had known more about my family. My mother, in particular, was a pretty private person.
Superpower you wish you had? Being able to fly so I could avoid traffic jams and airports
Favorite fictional hero/heroine? I am a huge reader, I devour everything. One of my favorite writers is Paul Theroux. I love his books about his railroad journeys, trips across the Americas, down to Patagonia. I wish I had the leisure and the money to hop on a train and write about it. I have been fortunate to travel a lot, and it’s been great, but I really like trains.
What schools, if any, rejected you? (How does it impact how you will interact with those who you must say no to?) I didn’t get rejected by anyone but I was very naïve about the whole process, so I really do feel like I was very lucky. I do have a tendency to look for, not the underdog exactly, but someone who I think, “You are really scrappy and you have come from a difficult background and I want you to have a chance to be the best you can be.” Very often that will be someone who doesn’t have the best GMAT or maybe doesn’t have a great GPA because they had to work through school. But it could also be someone who is wealthy but had a tough time getting a job at a particular company and really persevered and got them to hire him or her. I am always on the lookout for people who really demonstrate to me work ethic and integrity. One of the other pet peeves I have are people who are lazy or are shirkers. We are all entitled to be lazy once in a while, but I can’t stand people who try to get out of the work they should do.
Which part of the Owen application process would you most like to skip if you were applying today? The GMAT
What’s the best thing you read/watched/listened to recently? That is such a good question. The last three nights I have been with four other schools—MIT Sloan School of Management, Georgetown’s McDonough School, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School and Emory’s Goizueta Business School for a women’s leadership conference. There were some amazing discussions of leadership, and I learned so much—from how to build your brand (including whether you are doing your brand any good if you tend to say yes to everything) to who to have as your mentor and the importance of having a mentor. There was also a session on improvisational leadership, and the thing I took away from that is that you need to be in the moment and you need to listen actively. I think I am a good listener, but occasionally if it is a topic I am very passionate about I might not be as good a listener. I have to stop myself and say, “No, everyone has their own point of view for a particular reason.” This is my new vow—to be a better listener.