Up Next

Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues


Natalie Alvarez

Product Manager at Ramona Optics, BSBA 2011

What made you choose UNC & the Kenan-Flagler Business School for your undergraduate degree?
I grew up in Chapel Hill and am truly a tar heel born and bred. My father graduated with his BSBA from Kenan-Flagler, and I was thrilled to follow in his footsteps. I knew that the school provided the right fit in terms of a very high-quality education, the diverse and deeply talented community, the warm culture, and of course, the ability to cheer on my favorite teams! Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, so I was excited to pursue that curriculum at the business school and take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad at another top business school, the National University of Singapore. Finally, I was very fortunate to receive the Morehead-Cain scholarship to attend Carolina, which gave me unmatched opportunities to explore other interests in healthcare and public service while developing my leadership skills.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment to date?
I consider my family (with two children and one on the way) my greatest accomplishment and one that I continue to learn from daily. Advancing my career while growing my family provides such a sense of fulfillment, and I’m thankful for the support of my husband and broader family to do this. On a personal front, starting a chapter of the non-profit Building Tomorrow at UNC and fundraising to construct two primary schools in remote areas of Uganda was incredibly rewarding. Professionally, I was a core member of teams that executed two initial public offerings at the start of my career and later was a senior leader at two very early stage startups with successful exits. I always feel I have so much left to accomplish and believe the best is yet to come!

What has your career path been like? How did you end up where you are now?
One of the best pieces of advice I received from a mentor was “you can only connect the dots looking backwards.” That couldn’t be more true in my career! I started in consumer and retail investment banking at Morgan Stanley and worked on the Michael Kors IPO, shifted into strategy and corporate development to help ING U.S. execute its IPO and rebrand to Voya, then pursued my MBA/MPH to transition into healthcare as I felt called to the field. The attention to detail and financial modeling skills I developed as a financial analyst continue to serve me every day, but my MBA/MPH really enabled me to build both my understanding of, and network in, the healthcare ecosystem to make the transition. I originally thought I wanted to pursue hospital administration and am deeply grateful to have had leaders at three large academic medical centers who took a chance on a career switcher for their operations internships. These experiences deepened my appreciation for the patient experience and my desire to improve that experience with technology. Ultimately, I have always had an itch for entrepreneurship, so I have pursued roles at health tech startups across both software and hardware since grad school. I really enjoy mentoring students who are pursuing a career switch. Careers are long, and it’s always more fulfilling to find a role you are truly passionate about and that leverages your unique skillset.

What is the most important skill you have developed in your career?
One of the most important skills I have developed is learning how to influence without power. Early in my career, I was often in the room with the C-Suite and had to learn how to thoughtfully frame solutions and drive projects forward while building my “political capital” and reputation. Much of this comes from preparation, listening, and demonstrating value in conversations. My technical skills continue to help me make data-driven decisions, and my relationship-building skills enable me to follow through on decisions while often navigating complicated interpersonal dynamics and ambiguous next steps. My education at Kenan-Flagler absolutely planted the seeds for these capabilities with its focus on team consulting projects and new venture launch coursework (like Jim Kitchen’s and Ted Zoller’s class, where we had to produce full business plans and pitch to investors).

What are the top two items on your bucket list?
I would love to eventually found a company or non-profit and see it to stable growth and/or an exit. I have enjoyed launching products with the goals of improving the access to, and the quality of, healthcare, and I hope to eventually have my own venture to do this. I’d also love to take my family to all of the places where I have lived abroad while also experiencing new adventures like climbing Machu Picchu together.