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McLean Donnelly portrait

From UX to an MBA degree

St. Paul native McLean Donnelly ’14 MBA believes that business skills are essential if you're in a creative field. A UX (user experience) executive, he describes his line of work as a unique hybrid of traditional product management fused with user experience and design. “The ability for a UX designer to understand a company's business side is a rarity, but it shouldn’t be,” he said.

From political speech writing to user experience

Working at Gov. Pawlenty’s office as a speech writer and Target Corporation helped jump-start Donnelly's UX skills. Heeding the advice of a good mentor at the time, he also worked with local start-up companies. Donnelly became a UX practitioner working on front-end development, UI [user interface] design, content strategy and stretched himself across the UX spectrum. “That’s where I really earned my chops,” he said.

Donnelly chose to get his Part-time MBA degree from St. Thomas because of the program’s flexibility. He also appreciated the academic curriculum in organizational management, leadership, electives and ethics.

“I wanted to learn structured ways to improve as an emerging executive,” he said. “The program really helped shape my thinking. I gained a passion about organizational management not traditionally seen in creative functions.”

Since getting his MBA he’s led design teams at major companies like Expedia and Shutterstock as VP of product design and UX. Most recently he became head of digital product and user experience for Minneapolis-based Sleep Number.

Directly managing their product and design functions has been an enjoyable new experience for Donnelly. “It felt like everything was coming together in a true synthesis – our business and design teams as a single unit. It’s the dream, right?”

Shifting to digital retail

Prior to Sleep Number, Donnelly never worked in the digital retail continuum and – as a consumer – he calls it a “disjointed experience.” But he also saw tremendous opportunity.

“Sleep is a great part of how we think about wellness today,” he said. “There’s ample opportunities to show how we’re not just a mattress provider, but that we can help with overall quality of sleep and wellness in one person’s life.”

At this point in his career, he loves working with scale. “It’s challenging. It’s fun. It gives enormity to my work. Sleep Number has more than 500 stores and $1.3 billion in revenue. It’s exciting to on the forefront of an explosion – digital, e-commerce and engagement.That’s where I want to be spending my time.”