Our Stories

How AMBA ‘Rewired’ a Lawyer’s Brain

Corporate legal counsel learns a new way of thinking along with new business skills

Erin Raccah
Chief Counsel, Information Technology and International Trade International Paper Company

Vanderbilt Global Americas MBA 2016

Most people with a resumé as impressive as Erin Raccah’s — economics degree from Wharton, law school, private legal practice in New York City — don’t go back to school. But after she joined International Paper in Memphis and earned increasing levels of responsibility, she concluded that more education made sense. In her role, she explains, “I am expected to have the business impact in mind when advising on legal issues. Refreshing my business acumen has helped me be the best strategic partner possible to my colleagues.”

Once she decided to pursue an Executive MBA, Erin considered several excellent programs that were an airline ticket away. “Each time I was on a flight delayed in Atlanta,” she says, “I became more confident that a three-hour drive to a top-caliber business school was the right result. The Americas program was a good fit because we do business throughout the hemisphere. And I felt good each time I experienced the close-knit community of supportive classmates and administration, and I knew they would understand my struggles and celebrate my successes along the journey.”

Her colleagues were so supportive, in fact, that the members of her C-Suite team “honored my request to take the lead on tasks outside my comfort zone so I could learn new skills rather than simply repeat things I already knew how to do. The C-team experience almost outweighed the learning from the faculty, and that is a very high bar.”

Along with providing new skills, Erin says the program “gradually rewired my brain.” She explains, “As a lawyer, I was trained to take in a massive amount of information, quickly synthesize it, and boil it down to the ‘a-ha’ conclusion. In business school, the process is completely opposite: I have been trained to take a small nugget, blow it up to explore it from every possible angle, and do my thinking in collaboration with colleagues from around the world. The most amazing part is how much more fun this approach is, and how much better the result when people build off each other’s ideas.”

Fun Fact: During her third year in law school, Erin co-wrote a brief for the petitioner in an important Supreme Court case, Brogan v. United States.

“The C-team experience almost outweighed the learning from the faculty, and that is a very high bar.”