This Smith graduate’s non-linear career path led to her becoming a Deloitte consultant — with a ‘human-first’ approach.
Chloe O’Brien, senior consultant in Workforce Transformation, shares her story.
By Hailey Eisen
Chloe O’Brien’s career path has been anything but ordinary. But her varied experiences have prepared her well for her current role as a senior consultant at Deloitte, where she is fusing business acumen with her art and design background to deliver human-centric solutions for complex problems in our post-pandemic world.
It’s a far cry from her original career dream of being a pilot.
“I grew up in Amherst, Nova Scotia, a town with 9,000 people, in a very conservative religious home,” Chloe recalls. “I was homeschooled until Grade 10, and one of the only experiences we had outside of the church was going to the local air show with our parents.”
When funding fell through the week before she was to start flight school, Chloe was forced to re-evaluate. She took a year and a half off and worked at a local clothing store while she reconsidered her path for post-secondary education.
“In the two years I’d been in high school, I had become really interested in the arts. I loved ceramics, I was obsessed with architecture, and I could draw really well,” she recalls. The decision to attend NSCAD University made a lot of sense.
“While I was a generalist in terms of my focus, I became really interested in conceptual photography, how the photographer can make an impact on the way people perceive a topic or issue based on the art they create,” she says.
With student loans to pay off, Chloe took a job with CIBC out of university and simultaneously started her own business as a wedding photographer. “I did feel conflicted leaving an incredible degree with a focus on conceptual art to take up work in commercial art — but wedding photography was highly lucrative and I was good at it.”
“Travel made me a more independent person — it sparked my curiosity and taught me to lean into my fear.”
A few years later, she circled back to her desire to travel and decided to seek out opportunities that would give her the opportunity to see more of the world. “I had never had the means to leave North America, so I decided to look to the travel industry for work.” For the next six years, Chloe worked in the field in a number of roles, including marketing, sales and business development, and travelled to more than 30 countries.
“Travel made me a more independent person — it sparked my curiosity and taught me to lean into my fear. Those lessons really helped when it came time to make my next pivot,” she says.
Ready for more of a challenge, a friend – who happened to be an alumni of Smith School of Business at Queen’s University – posed the idea of an MBA and put her in touch with the school.
For Chloe, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) was the most challenging part of the MBA process. “Being a more creative-minded, less numbers-focused person, I found the quantitative portion of the test really hard.”
Chloe wrote the GMAT four times, in hopes of getting a score high enough to earn her a significant scholarship for the one-year Smith MBA. When that didn’t pan out, she wrote the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and was accepted into the program for a January 2019 start.
“I quit my job two weeks before starting the MBA and moved to Kingston from Toronto where I’d been working up until then,” she recalls. “I loved the small city, student-focused feeling of Kingston and the team-based focus of the Smith MBA.”
Being one of only two students with a Fine Arts degree made Chloe an anomaly in the program, but also worked to her advantage. “I would say I was able to bring more innovation and design thinking to my team and was able to bring a unique perspective to our projects.”
While she did find the quantitative side of the program challenging and had to dedicate extra time and effort to economics and finance, it certainly didn’t stop her from being successful. The program’s teaching style also helped a great deal. “Queen’s has many exceptional faculty members who draw upon experiential learning and other best practices to create engaging classes,” she says.
“We are looking at re-skilling, up-skilling, and re-evaluating the employee experience — in order to attract and retain top talent in a post-pandemic world.”
Even today, Chloe is drawing upon some of those lessons in her current role with Deloitte working as a human capital and workforce transformation professional.
Her international exchange experience at Copenhagen Business School during her MBA has also yielded transferable knowledge and skills. “I loved studying in a country where environmental sustainability is an objective at all levels of community, business, and government — and the human-first approach to work is built into the culture,” she says.
Chloe began her new job with Deloitte from home in the middle of the pandemic, in an area that would prove to be needed more than ever. Workforce transformation was a growing service within the company, and the team has nearly doubled since Chloe came on board.
“We are looking at re-skilling, up-skilling, and re-evaluating the employee experience — in order to attract and retain top talent in a post-pandemic world. I’ve been helping clients strategize and think through enormous problems that have surfaced because of the pandemic, especially in remote learning,” she says.
With Deloitte’s new hybrid work model, Chloe – an employee of Deloitte’s Toronto office – has been able to move to Ottawa with her partner and work remotely. “I don’t know what consulting was like before, but since I’ve started, it’s been the best experience and there’s been a focus on wellness and balance which really excites me.”
Flexibility, well-being and a human-centred focus is not only something Chloe helps her clients achieve, but something she’s experiencing first-hand as an employee of Deloitte. “I have this meaningful career, complex and challenging problems to work on, a team I absolutely love, and the support from the organization to focus on personal well-being.” This is something she witnessed first-hand in the Scandinavian countries she lived and studied in, and quite likely, is one of the positives that has come about as a result of the pandemic.
“COVID is certainly pushing workforce transformation, and advancing a human-centred approach to solving complex challenges for Canadian organizations,” she says. “It’s a future I’m really excited about.”