Kenya Hunt, a chemical engineer had started working full-time on an offshore oil rig on a two weeks on, two weeks off schedule but eight months down the line realised that her role didn’t fit her particular engineering skill set.
In addition, being only one of three women on the rig and the sole woman of colour on the rig, faced a difficult situation in the social context. She had taken up chemical engineering having loved chemistry in high school.
An undergraduate internship with Chevron became the foundation for her first position after graduation, fulfilling engineering duties on a blow-out prevention team, a role that had acquired considerably more significance after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
However, when oil prices plummeted from $110/barrel to just $40, advancement opportunities dried up and her career pathway became much less certain.
Meanwhile, she took up a new hobby to occupy her stints on dry land: cosmetics. She developed her own distinctive makeup kit and created a YouTube channel dedicated to application techniques.
“I considered it something I just like to do, not a job,” says Kenya. Years earlier, in a middle school dance class, she had discovered the power of sophisticated makeup. “It’s a technical process that is also very creative.”
Gradually, her part-time hobby became a genuine career ambition. “I wanted to do something that smashed technique and creativity together.”
Researching career options in the sector, she learnt that two major firms dominated the market, and one of them, Estée Lauder, ran a “Presidential Management Associates” rotational leadership program.
“But it required an MBA. I had found the job I wanted and I pursued the MBA to get it,” she says in a blog entry on Harvard Business School website.
About her HBS experience, Kenya, who belongs to the Class of 2019, says, “It’s the professional polish…The passion I had for the space (cosmetics) and the perspective I had gained as a makeup artist made me qualified, but the polish helped me communicate what I needed to relay.
“I wouldn’t have been able to present my ideas or my strengths clearly without the intense practice of the case study method. The obligation to have something meaningful to say every day, to hear other viewpoints every day, to defend or revise my perspective every day – it’s absolutely invaluable!”
During the internship opportunity between her first and second year at HBS, she stuck to her goal. “I turned down two offers to wait for Estée Lauder.” In her interview, she made her passion crystal clear, telling the team that “the past five years of my life have led to this moment.”
On the last day of the internship itself, Estée Lauder made the offer – Kenya was invited into the leadership program. “I cried for three days straight – it felt so lofty! In the beginning, it seemed impossible, but I knew if I didn’t try, I’d still be there, sitting on an oil rig.”