Jennifer Bolt is president of Electrochem, which is part of Integer Holdings Corp., where she is responsible for driving profitable growth for the Electrochem product category, which provides battery solutions for the energy, military and environmental markets. Previously, she served as vice president of supply chain and operational excellence at Greatbatch, leading the supply chain, manufacturing, strategic planning, lean enterprise, and environmental health and safety areas for the $665-million business. Joining Greatbatch in 2005, Jennifer has held multiple operations leadership positions, driving double-digit growth. Before working there, she spent 13 years at General Motors and Delphi in operations, quality, and engineering roles.
WHY DID YOU WANT AN MBA?
I wanted to get to the next level of general management and be equipped to run an entire business. While I had built my experience base very comprehensibly in operations, I needed a broader understanding. I looked for an Executive MBA program that would prepare me for that next step.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR WOMEN TO BE REPRESENTED IN MBA PROGRAMS?
Diversity of all types is very important to create a rich experience. That could be based on gender, culture, industries, or functional areas. All of those types of diversity make the program powerful because you get so many different perspectives. I also found it refreshing to see many women in my class. In the world of engineering and manufacturing, women are in the minority. To be in this program with high-caliber women was an amazing experience that, unfortunately, you don’t always get in the outside world.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE THAT THE TIME WAS RIGHT TO GO BACK TO SCHOOL?
I had wanted to get an MBA since 2009, but just as I was starting to apply, our company acquired another business and my new role involved consolidating three plants, requiring travel all over the world. I decided it wasn’t the right time for school. Two promotions later, I eventually just made the decision to do it. Life seems to always get in the way and there is never a perfect time. At some point, you decide that this is what you want and go for it.
HOW DID BEING A PARENT IMPACT YOUR DECISION?
I was concerned about being away from my daughter, who is now 14. I was already travelling 40%-50% of the time and it was daunting to think about being away from her on school weekends. In the end, it was a family decision. We all sat down and talked about what it would mean. Once I started the program, I continued to engage them so that it felt like a family experience. My daughter and I became study buddies and would sit at the kitchen table and do homework together. I also talked to other moms in my class with children the same age. We supported each other and our families got to know each other. That helped a lot.
WHAT IS THE ENVIRONMENT LIKE IN THE PROGRAM?
Before you start the program, you look at the class profiles and everything the other students have accomplished and you feel about one-inch tall. You start to question how you got in! That feeling evaporates almost instantaneously when you arrive on campus. From day one, it’s very collaborative and supportive.
HOW IS THE MISSION OF MIT SLOAN REFLECTED IN YOUR WORK?
The MIT Sloan mission, “to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice,” becomes part of your DNA. I live that daily. For example, we just went through a very difficult year. We had to manage extremely negative headwinds in the market. Throughout the downturn, we focused on demonstrating transparency and integrity in our decision-making. Today, we have emerged on the other side as a stronger team.
WHAT IS THE VALUE OF THIS PROGRAM, PARTICULARLY FOR WOMEN?
I found that the value isn’t just that it is an MBA, but rather that it is an MIT MBA. The MIT name provides instant validation and opens doors. It is a signal that you are ready for the next step in your career. An intangible benefit is the confidence it builds. By going through this rigorous program, you learn that you can succeed alongside incredibly brilliant classmates. I graduated with a new level of confidence that is visible in everything I do.
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE MIT EXECUTIVE MBA EXPERIENCE?
In addition to the lifelong relationships you make with classmates, a big highlight was the Action Learning aspect. Being able to take learning from the classroom and directly apply it at work — and being able to take experiences from work and bring those into the classroom – was incredible. You use your work issues as case studies for assignments and projects for classes so you are always blending the two worlds. For example, while I was taking the Organizational Processes course, I was simultaneously going through a redesign of my organization. If I hadn’t been taking that class, I would not have been as successful in implementing the change. The immediate benefit was phenomenal.
HOW IS THE PROGRAM ADDING VALUE IN YOUR CAREER?
I’m now president of a business. I wouldn’t be where I am without having gone to MIT. It really prepared me for taking this next step in my career because I have the broad understanding and perspective you need as a general manager. The program opened my eyes to all the different functions and what it takes to create strategy and effectively run an entire business.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE WOMEN CONSIDERING THE MIT EMBA PROGRAM?
Don’t let the fear of how you will juggle everything hold you back. Everyone in the program figures out how best to manage. You are all going through it together and help and support each other. Also, become part of the women’s network. That started as a class-wide network, but it extends beyond into the MIT community and is something I have leveraged. It provides support, shared learnings, and mentorship. It is a great resource.