How a Psychology Major Changed his Career with an MBA

Quinten McGruder ’04, ’07 M.A., ’11 M.B.A. had never taken a business class when he entered the Evening UST MBA program. With an educational background in psychology, McGruder was counseling at a charter school by day and attending MBA classes at night in order to expand his window of professional opportunity. And though he knew a career change was likely after the program, he didn't expect it upon graduation – it was a St. Thomas connection who helped him step into the world of marketing and into his current role as director of business operations at REAL Insight Inc.

McGruder, a Minneapolis, Minnesota native, majored in psychology at the University of St. Thomas with a minor in family studies. He continued his education at St. Thomas, obtaining his M.A. in counseling psychology three years later. He deviated only slightly from his original plan to become a marriage therapist and counseled at Harvest Preparatory School and the B.E.S.T. Academy. Even so, McGruder was always drawn to business. He scored high in business in career assessment tests and was told he had an aptitude for it. “I just decided to go the other way (but) it was one of those things where I was always interested in it,” he says.

After four years working in counseling, McGruder decided to make the leap and pursue an MBA. “I didn’t have an exact career path in mind when I entered (but) I was leaning toward marketing or human resources because of my psychology background,” he says. With no previous business experience, McGruder found the program challenging, but rewarding. It gave him the chance to get familiar with business terms and issues in the field. The evening classes allowed him to go through the program at his own pace. Courses like Ethics and Organizational Management provided knowledge that was directly applicable to his daily and work life. He especially enjoyed Marketing Research, a class from which he has pulled knowledge that he uses in his current job – a position that allows him to utilize not only his business skills, but also his education and psychology background and one his professor from the course helped him land.

McGruder says he talked with professor John Sailors about getting into the field upon wrapping up his MBA. Sailors connected him with Luke Cahill '07 M.B.A., managing principal of REAL Insight (then Marketing Roundtables), and the rest was history. “I think that’s a really great example of the networking at St. Thomas,” McGruder says. “You have two students on two completely different tracks that get put together by one of the professors here.”

Since then, McGruder has found his place at REAL Insight, a qualitative market research firm in Northeast Minneapolis. “I love market research. I think people need data in order to make decisions and that’s the realm of market research,” he says. McGruder specializes in designing and implementing market research for different companies and getting at consumers to better understand how they interact with products or services, as well as taking care of more general project management tasks. The projects are usually product-based, ranging from new product concepts to repositioning of current products.

Acting as lead interviewer and study manager in the field, Quinten savors the chance to do in-store research, which includes intercepting shoppers and asking them questions. “We’re in board rooms talking to marketing managers and different division teams, but then I also get the opportunity to just talk to everyday shoppers.” REAL Insight also uses other qualitative research techniques like mobile phone research, in-home interviews and online ethnographies to see how consumers use the products once they get them home. They use that information to help their clients understand their customers to make better business decisions. Since his recent promotion to his current position, McGruder has added responsibility for managing daily operations of the business and making sure all business functions are incorporated in order to meet company goals.

For McGruder, the goal of the UST MBA program is to prepare students to make business decisions, familiarize them with the vocabulary of the field and help them feel more comfortable in any kind of business environment – a goal that for him, the program has met. “You’re not going to leave knowing everything, but I think at least what it’s going to do is help you to either find someone who will know the answer or know which questions to ask in any given situation.”

His MBA has equipped him to continue doing what he loves, which at the core, is listening and helping. He still gets to help make people’s lives easier – just in a different role. “What adds value to your day? That’s what I love about my current position...helping people whenever I can.” At the same time that McGruder is helping others, he keeps himself humble and open. “I think you can learn tons from all different kinds of people,” he says. “When you keep yourself open to those kinds of opportunities, that’s when you’re really going to grow and mature yourself.”

Although McGruder is enjoying his time with REAL Insight, he’s always open to new opportunities. In fact if asked five years ago, he wouldn’t have thought he’d be doing market research  and he still attributes his biggest professional push to Sailors. “I wouldn’t be in my current profession had he not said, ‘Here’s someone I know, here’s how I can help you, here’s how we can get you started.’” And even with change looming in the never distant future, McGruder isn’t worried – his MBA makes him feel versatile. “I feel when new opportunities arise, you feel confident you should be able to tackle them when you have a solid business training.”