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MBA student has a recipe for success

Susan Hanemann Rogol, a first-year M.B.A. student at the MIT Sloan School of Management, brings a culinary perspective to her studies.
Susan Hanemann Rogol, a first-year M.B.A. student at the MIT Sloan School of Management, brings a culinary perspective to her studies.
Photo / Sarah Foote

Memphis native Susan Hanemann Rogol took the twisty, tasty route to MIT Sloan, following a path that led through jobs in a hospital, a restaurant, a retail food store and a law firm, and as food editor of Martha Stewart Living's magazine and television productions. Stewart herself recommended that Hanemann, now a first-year M.B.A. student, enter the MIT Sloan program.

Hanemann's love of cooking began as a family affair. Her father was one of seven children who shared the cooking responsibilities. Her older sister went to the Cordon Bleu Culinary School in France, and shortly thereafter, Hanemann followed a similar path and attended Kendall Culinary College in Chicago. She chose Kendall because it was in a large city where she knew she would be able to gain valuable experience. While at Kendall she worked with such well-respected chefs as Julia Child.

Hanemann began as all chefs do, learning to cook basic stocks and sauces and mastering baking skills. These prepared her for not only the internship portion of school, where she cooked meals for her fellow students, but also helped her decide on her next career move.

She returned to Memphis where she opened a restaurant with her sister and her father called Cheffie's Market and More. (The name is a combination of chef and easy.) The young chef ran the back of the restaurant/retail store, her sister ran the front and their father worked wherever help was needed. She created gourmet meals-to-go and also taught occasional cooking classes to help generate interest in the brand. Cheffie's did $2 million in sales and won the "Best New Restaurant in Memphis" award. "It was a great learning experience, with a huge learning curve," she said of the gourmet market-to-go.

After running the restaurant for three years, Hanemann and her family decided it was best not to renew the lease and better to return to being a family. Hanemann's next career adventure happened while she was vacationing in Europe with her younger sister, when she found work in London as a personal chef for a law firm.

Once back in the United States, Hanemann offered to work as a volunteer at Food & Wine magazine, whose editor later recommended that Martha Stewart Living interview her. "Food & Wine had suggested the company interview me. I never had to work for free, but my willingness to do so made a great impression," she said.

Thus began a three-year stint as a food editor with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, beginning with working on a new test magazine called Everyday Food. "This job was right up my alley. What I liked best about working at Cheffie's was implementing systems, building things from scratch, setting parameters, creating the operations and then streamlining it. It was the perfect fit because that's exactly what they needed someone to do," said Hanemann, adding that her degree in English also helped. She became one of the founding editors of the magazine, with a computer on one side of her midtown Manhattan office and a stove on the other. The magazine's circulation quickly rose to 850,000 and Folio magazine named it "Best Magazine Launch of the Year." The magazine's success was so phenomenal that it spawned a TV show to accompany it.

As food editor, Hanemann was in charge of creating ideas and themes for each issue of the magazine. She also wrote columns and, of course, cooked. "Having run a restaurant, I learned to understand what customers want. It's one thing to be a chef and make great, amazing food. It's another if your customers are afraid of it, or if it's not want they want--that doesn't do you any good. Everyday Food had the same customer market as Cheffie's, so I was able to identify easily what the customers wanted," Hanemann said.

The magazine was later turned into a TV show, and Hanemann even appeared in a segment with Martha. PBS immediately bought the show, which still airs. To grow the magazine project further, Hanemann worked with the advertising sales team and became the unofficial brand manager. She worked on cross-promotional ideas with Kmart and also worked with the television department to help make it a unified platform. "I also worked with the Internet division. It was a great time to be at the company. I learned a lot. It was a bit of a struggle, but luckily we were one of the divisions making money," said Hanemann.

After three years at the company, Hanemann had a discussion with Martha Stewart, and both agreed that the fastest way for Hanemann to grow and move ahead in the company was to return to school for a business degree. Stewart, ever the business maven, wrote Hanemann a letter of recommendation on the condition that she could mention Hanemann in her book, "The Martha Rules: 10 Essentials for Achieving Success as You Start, Grow, or Manage a Business." Hanemann is mentioned in the chapter called "Building A Teams." "It was a great trade-off," said Hanemann.

Now at MIT Sloan, Hanemann still has one foot in the editing field, as she recently helped edit her sister's cookbook, "Simply Salads," which is due to be published next April. She spent some of her time over the summer editing her husband Michael's paper on solar research. (Michael is in the Ph.D. program in the Engineering Systems Division at MIT.) "We met at a pizza joint in New York City at 4 in the morning," said Hanemann laughing. "That probably said a lot about us."

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