Sandra Chiles and her son Charles “Charley” Mitchell may have pursued different career paths, but they eventually found themselves in the same place.
Chiles began her career in accounting, earning her degree from Southern University in Baton Rouge, but after determining that public accounting was not for her, decided to earn her MBA. In 1978, she was admitted to the University of Wisconsin Wisconsin School of Business as a Consortium fellow and a member of the class of 1980.
Mitchell found his start in the Army ROTC program. Commissioned as a field artillery officer, he spent the early part of his career in the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Italy and Germany and eventually was selected to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. After deploying to Afghanistan three times, Mitchell was ready for a change, and he, too, decided an MBA was the next step. Following in his mother’s footsteps, he applied through The Consortium and began his MBA career this fall at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.
We recently spoke with Chiles and Mitchell about their path to business school, their experience with The Consortium and what it’s like to share this connection as mother and son.
Sandra, what initially inspired you to get your MBA, and what did you hope it would do for your career as well as for your family?
Chiles: In undergrad, I had planned to major in textiles and clothing at Southern with the ultimate goal of being a buyer for a major department store. After receiving a reality check from my academic advisor, I changed my major to accounting. However, I didn’t enjoy my work and wanted to [secure] a position in marketing.
I received some valuable feedback from several mentors who were in positions that I aspired to; both were VPs of marketing and advised me to obtain my MBA and get a position with one of the three biggest food companies at that time (Procter & Gamble, General Foods and General Mills) to learn the fundamentals of marketing a product. With five-plus years of experience as a product manager, I would be a strong candidate for a VP of marketing role. Being single at the time, my primary goal with obtaining my MBA was to secure the credentials to get a brand manager position with a major food company and ultimately a VP role.
How did you first hear about The Consortium and what attracted you to it?
Chiles: My mentor and one of my co-workers were Consortium alumni and suggested that I apply. The Consortium’s mission to provide opportunities for minorities in business was the answer to my prayers as it not only provided financial support, but also the emotional support of being connected to 30 other students who looked like me and faced similar obstacles in gaining entry into the business world. I could have gone to graduate school without being a Consortium fellow but would have missed out on the opportunity to be a part of The Consortium’s support [network], build lifelong friendships and find a wonderful mentor (Dr. Fine who headed the program for the University of Wisconsin).
Your mother having earned her MBA, was business school always something you considered, Charley?
Mitchell: Ironically, no. I never really considered going to business school. I always knew of my Mom’s experience getting her MBA and the opportunities it provided for her to pivot into a different career. However, I always had my eye on the military and, heeding the call to serve, joined the Army ROTC program. Early in my career, I planned to make a career out of the military.
Coming from a family of educators, I knew the value of education and wanted to pursue a master of public policy or master of public administration, especially given the applicability to the military and international relations. However, when I decided to transition out of the military, friends, mentors and other veterans encouraged me to pursue my MBA. Coming from the military, they advocated that an MBA would be the best way to refine some of the soft skills that were crucial to my success in the military and would allow me to develop business acumen that would enable me to be successful in the private sector and beyond.
Once you made the decision, was it a given that you would apply through The Consortium?
Mitchell: Absolutely, from an early age, I always remember my Mom talking about The Consortium program and her experience at the University of Wisconsin (UW). When I started looking at graduate schools, I was surprised to see how the number of member schools had expanded since my Mom had been in school. Thus, when I started doing research on MBA programs with strong reputations for developing general managers and a strong veteran’s club, I found most of them were also members of The Consortium.
How did you both make the decision of what business school to attend?
Chiles: The dean of Southern’s marketing department received his graduate degree from UW, and my aunt had done graduate study at UW, so I was familiar with the university. At the time of my application to The Consortium, I was living in LA, and while USC would have been a great choice, I knew that I had to [choose] an environment where I could position myself for success. For me, that meant few distractions — and financially living in LA would have been challenging. I selected UW because it was a great school in an affordable college town, and because of my aunt’s and Dr. Brown’s experience there, I had a [sense of] comfort that I could be successful there, too.
Mitchell: It was a difficult decision, and frankly, it was one of the first decisions I would make outside of the Army — and one that would play a large role in shaping the next six years of my career. The factors I thought most about were which programs would provide me a strong general management foundation and which school had a strong and engaged veterans network where I could develop in a supportive environment — and lastly, where would have the easiest access to skiing.
Charley, what made you decide not to follow in your mother’s footsteps and attend Wisconsin, and what drew you to Tuck?
Mitchell: I spent four years in the suburbs of Chicago walking to the gym at 6 a.m. for morning workouts, being pelted by snow and my bones chilled by the wind. So, I decided that if I was going to be cold, I wanted to at least be able to enjoy it by living in proximity to the slopes. All joking aside, I wanted to go to a school that had alumni placement and access to employment opportunities in Texas without being in Texas. Beyond that, it was a message on the Life at Tuck 360 blog that sealed the deal for me on applying to Tuck.
What was your experience like as a member of The Consortium, Sandra, and how has being a member of the organization contributed to your success over the years?
Chiles: [It was] one of the greatest challenges and success stories of my life. I had been out of school for almost three years and had forgotten all of the higher level math, so I knew statistics and operations management would be challenging. But through the grace of God and Consortium study groups, I made it through!
The Consortium experience provided me the opportunity to build lifelong friendships with a great group of people who had similar goals and aspirations, and importantly, it gave me the confidence that I can manage and excel in challenging environments. During my business career, many times I had to reflect back on my Consortium experience to give me the spirit to persevere through difficult times. Also, it gave me the vision to pay it forward and support others in their business career journey. I had the opportunity to support my team at HBO and offer guidance and motivation to other young people attempting to navigate the next steps in their career. The Consortium was instrumental in helping me achieve my career goals and allowing me to support others in theirs. I can’t count the number of times I told my sons and others about The Consortium and the key role it played in my life.
What have you done since business school?
Chiles: I began working for General Mills as an assistant on Trix and Lucky Charms cereals and was later promoted to assistant product manager, New Adult Cereals. After one of the coldest winters ever, I decided it was time to move to a warmer climate and accepted a position as an account executive with Home Box Office in Dallas, Texas. I was responsible for selling and marketing HBO and Cinemax to cable systems in Ft. Worth and West Texas. Five years later, I was promoted to director, Louisiana market. In 2001, I was promoted to vice president and was responsible for the Dallas and Atlanta Regional Offices. I retired from HBO in 2013 after 31 great years.
In 2014, my husband and I started a landscape company in the Dallas market; I handled the marketing and operations. We grew that business to $2 million in annual revenues. We divorced in 2020, and I recently began a new career in sales with AFLAC in the Dallas market.
Charley, what are you most looking forward to with regard to being a member of The Consortium and earning your MBA from Tuck?
Mitchell: I’m most excited for the opportunity to learn from and with many of my peers in The Consortium. The Consortium family is active — from the early opportunities, to connecting prior to arriving at school in April, to preparing for recruiting events in the summer and fall, to events taking place on campus. It was great being able to walk into Tuck and have familiar [faces] to engage with early on. The other thing which is phenomenal about The Consortium is this idea of paying it forward, passing lessons and recommendations on to the [next class], and being willing to answer questions (often the same ones I had).
I am most looking forward to being shaped by Tuck and the larger community’s commitment to “develop wise, decisive leaders who better the world through business.”
Is there anything else you want to add?
Mitchell: I honestly never thought I would get in and was waiting for them to revoke the offer, until I showed up and started class — which I think is one of my biggest lessons throughout the application process, [which] is to not self-select yourself from an opportunity, whether that is education, employment or life in general.