Rowena Paz Norman ’22 shares journey from Google and Feeding America to the Portland MBA

Quick Facts

  1. Program Name: MBA
  2. Year of Graduation: 2022
  3. Program Schedule: Full Time

Please briefly describe your career path and what led you to choose The School of Business.

My previous career was in business development and sales at Google and Feeding America. I began my career at Google acquiring new customers in emerging markets like South East Asia, Canada, and Elections ads. While I enjoyed sales and the free food at Google, I wanted more purpose-driven work. I took a leap of faith and left the tech industry to join Feeding America, the nationwide network of food banks to feed families in need. There, I developed technology partnerships with companies like DoorDash and Instacart to find innovative solutions to disrupt hunger. I loved being part of an organization that made a difference every day. However, I recognized that I wanted and was capable of more from my career. I also missed the drive and innovation of business but didn’t want to sacrifice my values. That’s when I found the Portland MBA.

I wholeheartedly embrace the Portland MBA’s belief that business can be a force for good.  The Portland MBA could accelerate my ability to drive positive change by enhancing my skills in accounting and operations. Classes like Financial and Organizational Management could give me the analytical tools like systems thinking and NPV to provide long-term value for stakeholders. The Portland MBA’s focus on innovation was also very compelling. Stemming from my career at Google, where I opened new markets, I love seeing new possibilities and testing new frontiers.  Through the Portland MBA program, I hoped to gain practical experience applying innovative concepts to solve problems.

What do you intend to do with your graduate business degree?

My purpose is to inspire bravery and kindness, solve important problems, bring joy and bring out the best in others as my full and authentic self.

My long-term vision is to start my own management consulting firm that focuses on aligning purpose, profits, and people for mission-driven companies and drive stakeholder value. I will utilize my Portland MBA training, my love for problem-solving and innovation, and my visionary leadership to improve an organization’s strategy, operations, profitability, and impact.

Outside of my consulting work, I would love to teach business at PSU and PCC to support the next generation of business leaders. I hope to coach, mentor, and grow talent, especially women of color. I want to be an inspiring public speaker and teacher who helps transform lives.

What skills gained at PSU have you found most valuable and why?

Strategy: My strategy coursework taught me how to set an organization’s long-term vision and a path to get there.  Utilizing tools like Porter’s Five Forces and PEST,  I can recognize the larger environmental trends, challenges, and opportunities that impact a company. I can then do a VRI analysis to understand organizational strengths and weaknesses to develop a strategy. More importantly, I learned how to operationalize that strategy through a business’s value chain and operations using practical tactics and metrics. My strategy training allows me to zoom in and out of an organization and simultaneously see the broader picture and details. 

Data-Driven Decision Making: My managerial analytics, finance, and accounting classes gave me new frameworks to make data-driven decisions. Previously, my career allowed me to rely on persuasive communication and emotional connection to drive results. Now with an enhanced ability to do financial analysis, I can make recommendations based on the numbers and bottom line. I understand how an increase or decrease in COGS can impact a business’s long-term financial health. Utilizing the numbers combined with my soft skills can help me drive change more effectively.

Teamwork:  One of my most valuable lessons during the program is the value of teamwork. For example, my kickstart team taught me the joy of collaboration. With less than 48 hours to form a business, we frantically interviewed customers and brainstormed revenue models. We built something beautiful together that could not be done alone.

I start an MBA strategy internship with the Tillamook County Creamery Association this summer where I am excited to apply what I’ve learned in the program for a mission-driven company. I get to evaluate the market opportunity and analyze the financial and operational implications for potential products. I will also get to eat delicious ice cream and cheese! Exciting stuff! 

How do you spend your free time?

I love to explore Portland by bike and visit new food trucks and restaurants. My favorites include Hat Yai’s fried chicken, Lauretta Jean’s key lime pie, and Magna Cusina’s lumpia. I also love going to the Hollywood farmer’s market with my husband to scope out local produce to make a tasty dish. The last thing I made was an NYT-inspired recipe for Persian white bean rhubarb stew. It was delicious! If I am not eating and cooking, I also love reading historical fiction, musical theater, and hiking. I just visited the Leach Botanical Gardens, which is a hidden gem!

What advice do you have for prospective graduate business students interested in your field?

I recommend approaching your career not as a ladder, but as a series of experiments. Experimentation can help you discover what you like and don’t like. For example, I loved my acquisitions class and tested out M+A through a summer internship. Through many broken financial models, I learned that investment banking is not the right fit for me!  However, through my MBA capstone, I am testing out consulting and I’m loving it! My team is working with a food manufacturer on employee recruitment and retention. I am enjoying the collaboration with my team and engagement with senior leaders to solve problems.

Experimentation can also lead you to paths you wouldn’t even think possible. My career pivots from tech to non-profit to food opened up exciting new worlds for me. I’ve ridden in town cars, tuk tuks, and semi trucks to get to work in one career. There are so many possibilities!

Experimenting can allow for new growth.  I was scared to leave the comfort of Google to join Feeding America. I was nervous to go back to school. Accounting is so hard! However, growth happens in the discomfort and that possibility of failure. My experimentation in different industries and tests in entrepreneurship, M+A, consulting, and strategy give me a more diverse skill set and experience. Most importantly, experimentation clarifies and grounds my values and purpose. I know who I am and what’s important to me.

What inspires you?

People who are doing meaningful work that helps others inspire me. I am honored to serve on the Portland Community College Foundation board with outgoing President Mark Mitsui. His story shows the transformative power of education and equity. His mother survived a Japanese internment camp during World War 2. President Mitsui’s career led him to become president at PCC. His family went from being a prisoner to being a president in a single generation. With 44% of credit students at PCC the first in their families to go to college, his leadership helps provide nearly 77,000 students access to education. What an incredible impact!  Also, the radical simplicity of seeing a leader who looks like me shows me what’s possible. Seeing is believing.

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