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MBA boosts an impressive retail industry career

"I wanted to enhance my learnings from an overall business perspective and boost the skills that I was under-utilising".

After 25 years with the same employer and no formal qualifications, Tracey Lefebure decided it was time to expand her extensive retail industry experience by adding a Deakin’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) to her skill-set.

Keen to enhance her years of valuable on-the-job management experience, Tracey wanted to ‘grow’ in her work environment and expand her thinking.

‘I wanted to enhance my learnings from an overall business perspective and boost the skills that I was under-utilising, such as corporate financials. I chose to study at Deakin because the MBA program was recommended to me as well-constructed course with a strong leadership component that also facilitated business networks,’ she says.

Tracey balanced her full-time work, family and study commitments by completing the flexible MBA program through both online and intensive residential units which she says enabled speedier progress through the course.  

‘The residential units made it all possible. They also included participants from various industries and there were many “working example” stories and experiences woven throughout the learning. One of the highlights was being able to build networks through the group and assignment work and spending time listening and enjoying other people’s lives and experiences.’

Tracey’s 27 years retail career began as a 15 year old casual employee with department store Target in regional South Australia. Two years later, while still at school, she was offered a full-time trainee manager position in Adelaide and soon worked her way up to deputy store manager.

Seven years later she was on her way to Target’s head office in Geelong as a visual merchandise manager before progressing to the role of trainee buyer and then juggling her career around two babies.

‘With each, I stepped out and took on a project role in our merchandise business team. It was while working in a transformational environment – with exposure to outside consultants – I made the decision to formalise and enhance my skills by studying a MBA,’ she recalls.

Nearing the completion of her MBA studies and notching up a milestone 25 years with Target, Tracey made the decision to expand her career horizons.

‘In my second MBA unit – Organisation Behaviour – I did a career mapping exercise that I now identify that as a “crucible moment” which allowed me the time to reflect on my journey and explore options for the future.  The “ah ha” moment came from realising I’d completed 25 years with the one employer and hadn’t really thought, until then, how this might change,’ she explains.

Opting for an internal relocation within the Wesfarmers group, Tracey moved to a management role with home improvement retail giant Bunnings.  She says the career track-change – two years ago – has been both exciting and challenging but she’s been able to use her skills and MBA learnings to assist in a smooth transition.

‘I consciously tried not make change for the sake of change and also took time to introduce myself and tell the authentic story of who I am while also learning about the culture and processes of a new organisation.’

Reflecting on the achievement of completing an MBA around a raft of competing commitments, Tracey says one of the biggest challenges of tackling postgraduate study (with no prior tertiary learning) was simply learning how to write assignment and study for exams.

‘But the benefits were far greater than the pain of learning to write! It enabled me a different way of thinking and also changed the way I lead a team to bring out the best in the people around me.  Importantly, it’s also increased my ability to network effectively and given me the confidence to excel.’

Adding an MBA to her skillset has also propelled Tracey towards further personal and career development and in June she travelled to Switzerland for a business management skills course.

‘It was a week-long course led by the IMD school (in Lausanne) which focused on the expansion of industry-focused learning, business decisions and future thinking. It strengthened my strategic and financial skills with formal frameworks that I can include my day-to-day work,’ she says.

Tracey’s advice for others who may be contemplating the possibilities of an MBA – especially around family and career commitments – is to first set boundaries for a happy work-life-study balance.

‘For example, I made it a rule not to study when my (young) children were awake. But I’d also advise to take assistance where possible,’ she adds. ‘For example, in group assignments find people you can leverage off to work with – someone who balances your weakness with their strengths and vice versa. And try to complete the assessments faster than you anticipate. Do the hard yards, have fun and learn as much as you can.’

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