Cracking the C-Suite with a Well-Timed Ivy Exec. MBA, Terri-Lynn Thayer EMBA ’13

Story Note: Congratulations to Terri-Lynn Thayer EMBA ’13 are in order. Time moves quickly for high-flying executives like Thayer. In the short period of time between writing and publishing this story, Thayer was promoted to Vice President, Team Manager in Gartner Research and Advisory. One more reason not to miss her story below.


As primary caretakers, we love our kids, and take pride in the many sacrifices we’ve made for them, even the missed career opportunities. But, as the following story shows, there’s no time like the present to reignite our ambitions and expand our impact.

Meet Terri-Lynn Thayer. After completing her BA at Brown University, getting married, and having kids, Thayer enjoyed a brilliant 21 year career at her alma mater, climbing her way nearly to the C-suite of this ivy institution as Assistant VP and Deputy CIO.   

My years at Brown taught me that to crack the C-suite-level ceiling of premier institutions and companies, you need an MBA on your CV to be in the running and, most importantly to be able to perform at that highest administrative level. If you’re C-suite bound, then this is a checkoff box that you don’t want to miss.

Thayer realized that she had devoted her life to education but was the least educated person in her family. She had planned to get an MBA but starting a family took her life in a different direction.

Years into her career, she reconsidered the degree but found she had no interest in going to night school to study a traditional business curriculum. After years on the job, she already knew most this material.

When she heard about IE Brown and its international and humanities focus, she jumped at the opportunity. She put her husband and kids through multiple advanced degrees. Now, it was her turn.

There were other successful women in my cohort who had postponed getting their MBA because of family. IE Brown gave us the opportunity to fill in holes in our skillset, but, more importantly, to go beyond what we already knew.

IE Brown empowered us to hone a leadership mindset to conquer the complexities that businesses face on an international scale.

IE Brown – A Life-changing Experience

I didn’t expect the program to be a portal to a new career. I expected it to give me a bump to get to the next job rung up the ladder. Instead, IE Brown changed my life and increased my ability to impact the world.

Midway through the program, she was asked, “if you could do anything career-wise, what would it be?” Because she was happy at her job, she was surprised by what came out of her mouth. She answered, “I’d like to be a Gartner analyst.” Serendipitously, and we kid you not, the next day she got a call from a colleague at Gartner who asked her if she might be interested in a senior position at Gartner in their education division. The rest is history.

Giving up a vice president position at an ivy league institution where I was a twice alma-mater was tough. And, finishing a demanding executive MBA program while starting a new job had its challenges. With the support of my cohort members, IE Brown faculty, and Gartner, I lived through the experience, and a week ago, I just celebrated my sixth anniversary at Gartner.

Finding Today’s Management Edge on the Human Side of Business

We all know the standard B2B, B2C acronyms. But Thayer credits the program’s embrace of humanities – the human to human factor – for making a difference in her ability to drive innovation and growth as an analyst working in the fast paced digital world.

I had been in management long enough to know that to meaningfully move the needle at this level, you have to know more than how to read financial statements or weigh-in on subjects classically taught in an MBA. There are plenty of managers out there with these skills.

To succeed, you need to be able to infuse these capacities with an understanding of people – how to motivate them, appeal to them… It’s these soft skills that are the secret sauce for success in management today.

It wasn’t just the curriculum that leveled-up her management capacity. It was the professional gravitas of her cohort as well.

I got insights from the diversity of my cohort at an intellectual level. Together we took deep dives into the cultural, psychological, economical and global policy issues at the core of business. If you’re going to lead today, you need to understand these perspectives because at the end of the day we’re dealing with individuals, communities, societies, and nation-states navigating a global complex world.

Making a Difference on a Whole New Scale

How specifically does her humanities infused executive MBA influence her work six years after graduating?

Not a week goes by where I don’t use something that I learned at IE Brown. As much of an expert in higher education IT as I was, I had major holes in my ability to assess a company’s viability or growth potential.

The biggest thing I learned was working with an international group of people on different time zones to produce finished high quality work in an efficient way on tight timelines. I can’t think of a better training ground than the work methods I learned just getting through the course work at IE Brown.

The Ultimate Reason for IE Brown: Expand Your Impact

Why ultimately does Thayer recommend IE Brown to people she knows?

We all only have a small window in life to impact the world. Yes, I was happy at Brown. But at Gartner, I’ve broadened my impact.

I’m able to help educational institutions across the globe adapt to the rapidly evolving educational sector. I’m able to develop globally-scaled strategies for small to large tech companies, and advise private equity investment firms interested in investing in ed-tech.

I’m able to make a difference on a whole different scale.

I’ve never worked harder or been more intellectually stimulated in my life at 60 years old. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to IE Brown for giving me the perspective and support I needed to thrive in my dream Gartner job, and beyond.

About Terri-Lynn Thayer:

Terri-Lynn Thayer is a Vice President, Team Manager in Gartner Research and Advisory, where her research area is higher education technology strategies, including higher education business models, administrative and enterprise systems, student information systems (SIS), research administration systems, customer relationship management (CRM), advancement/fundraising solutions, CIO, and IT management issues in higher education.

Terri-Lynn Thayer EMBA ’13

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