MBA and motherhood: Rachel Cara’s dual mastery

Rachel Cara's MBA experience was an act of masterful juggling, from keeping up with her full-time role, to having a baby and winning the Dean's Senior Prize.

Master of Business Administration (MBA) graduate Rachel Cara
Master of Business Administration (MBA) graduate Rachel Cara

Rachel Cara enrolled in the University of Auckland's Master of Business Administration (MBA) partly because she wanted to feel uncomfortable.

The spring graduate, who is Auckland Transport’s real-time and response manager, has led operational teams for the past 15 years. But despite her often high-paced and varied career path, she wanted to step out of her comfort zone and expose herself to new knowledge and business insights.

"It was about making myself feel uncomfortable and putting myself in a position of learning new information," says Rachel, who started on quite a different path, spending the early years of her career working as a dietician.

The first-time mum, who also has a Bachelor of Science in human nutrition and a Postgraduate Diploma in Dietetics, started as a clinical dietitian at Middlemore Hospital before working for a contract catering company.

Rachel eventually became a regional manager looking after patient meals for six of the North Island’s district health boards. She had an operational team of about 650 frontline staff, and from a nutrition standpoint, it was a complex environment that saw the delivery of close to 10,000 meals a day across the six health boards.

After three years, she was ready for a change and applied for a role at Auckland Transport (AT).

"It's not perhaps where you would expect to see a dietitian ending up, but throughout my career, I found that what drives me is working with people, leading people and being able to see the fruits of my work," she says. "Now I have a frontline team, and we can see the impact of the improvements and enhancements that we make for customers every day, and that's rewarding."

Rachel, who has been with AT for around five years, says the MBA has helped her understand certain aspects of the large organisation on a deeper level.

"We're a complex organisation because of the broad spectrum of services, so  understanding more about the strategy, the planning and the structure that we have is beneficial. There were some 'aha' moments during the MBA in terms of, oh, that makes sense as to why things are done like that."

Rachel's employer supported her MBA pursuit and ensured she had the capacity to focus on learning. The MBA’s flexibility, and the support and friendship of her fellow students and lecturers also made her experience a stellar one.

“I found a lot of amazing aspects of my learning came from the conversations I had with fellow students in my cohort, and with my lecturers and guest speakers. I really cherish the new perspectives and insights I gained from all of the people I was exposed to during my masters.”

Dream baby boards dream liner

Rachel's baby, Asher, made his joyful appearance when she had around two months of her studies left.

"I prayed that I would have a baby that slept," she says. "Thankfully, I did, and he was a dream baby during those first few months. He would often sleep in my front pack while I worked or studied at my standing desk."

Asher, Rachel and her husband embarked on the MBA study tour to Singapore, a feature of the programme that offered her and her cohort the opportunity to meet with industry leaders and innovators when Asher was six weeks old.

"Thankfully for us, and probably the rest of the people on the plane, he slept on the flight. He slept the whole way there and the whole way back. He's pretty much sleeping in every photo we have of him in Singapore!"

While Rachel and her cohort went to meet with start-ups around the city, including a biotech company cultivating seafood from cells, her husband and Asher enjoyed time together, and the family also got to explore during Rachel's downtime.

"It was great to learn more about how Singapore values innovation and what that can do in terms of delivering amazing technologies for the future," says Rachel, whose future as an MBA alumni opens up excellent opportunities for continued learning.

"Being part of the MBA alumni means we can attend guest lectures, have access to content, and all of these benefits and opportunities that ensure learning isn't a one-time thing. It's lifelong."

Media contact

Sophie Boladeras | Media adviser
M: 022 4600 388