Kevin Hejna was an investment manager from 2005 to 2008. Then came the recession. “It was not a great time for investment professionals,” Hejna said. With few opportunities to advance in the workforce, he chose another route to keep his career moving forward: He went back to school for a master of business administration (MBA) degree at the University of St. Thomas.

Graduate school became more than a place to “wait out the financial crisis,” Hejna discovered. “I always assumed that investment management was where I belonged. But in graduate school, I learned there were other interesting avenues to pursue. They develop you through a core curriculum. I learned I was actually more interested in corporate finance.”

Today, Hejna is a treasury consultant for Elire, Inc., a small, Twin Cities-based consulting firm with a national client base. “Consultants help companies manage their cash better. That might be through evaluating enterprise resource planning [ERP] software or providing industry knowledge to help companies adopt better practices,” he said. The job has some things in common with investments, he said. “It uses the same mind-set, looking at places to protect cash. In treasury, the purpose isn’t appreciation — it’s to preserve capital. You aren’t graded on the percent of return.”

In treasury, Hejna said, he has a chance to be involved in all areas of the company. “In the big picture, treasury is between the front office and the back office. It’s the financial hub of the whole process — receiving, investing, paying bills,” he said. He credits his graduate school finance professor with helping him to see the big picture. “Profit is just a number,” he said. “What you want to know is, ‘How are we really doing?’ Focusing on sales without collecting receivables is useless.”

So far, Hejna’s consulting projects have largely involved software selection and implementation. “It’s 50-50 information technology and finance,” he said. “There’s knowing the software and what it can do, and then there’s the finance and business process piece.”

As a consultant, Hejna spends most weeks on the road. While the travel schedule can be difficult, he does see the sights in the towns where his engagements take him. So far, that has included Montreal, Manhattan, Columbus and Detroit. Another plus: “I’ve gotten to sample all kinds of different food,” he said.

What are the benefits of a consulting career?

It’s a fantastic experience after the MBA. Where else could you get that kind of experience? In a lot of places, it’s a sought-after career, but it’s not that big in Minneapolis. There’s no hand-holding. Employers assume a quality of competence across the board. Being able to formulate your own process is a requirement.

Are there any downsides?

You don’t always get to see the fruits of your labor. So far I’ve been on the design phase only or the implementation phase only. Some people do get to work on all phases of a project.

What’s the consultant’s career path?

Consulting can be a lifelong career. However, there’s also a natural move into corporate treasury—more traditional management and business development.

What advice would you give to someone contemplating an MBA?

It is what you make of it. Nothing is given to you when you leave. You have to take charge and make your own career path. I have no complaints — although I probably wouldn’t have said that while I was in the program. □