Caroline Cochran '84 on Creating Your Own Life

Caroline Cochran '84 on Creating Your Own Life
Amy Barnard

Place of Influence: Business leaders, teams, and individuals across Minnesota and around the nation.

Role: Leadership Coach, Industrial and Organizational Psychology Consultant

Founded: TransformAble Coaching and Consulting:

Biggest MA Takeaway: I grew to recognize that there are all different kinds of people and to be accepting of others. I was also really impacted by the core of integrity and community.

Advice to Current Students: It may seem like life is happening to you. But life is happening by you, and by the choices you make in response to circumstances. Listen to your inner voice and be curious about your initial responses to the world and circumstances...they are giving you information about who you are and what you were created for.


From Banking to Organizational Leadership to Coaching

For many years, Caroline Cochran did what she thought was expected of her. She worked hard in school, majored in economics at Northwestern in Chicago, and secured a stable job at a bank.

"I was actually pretty miserable," she admits. "I loved the people...I was just really bored with the content of the work."

People, Cochran came to recognize, were her real interest.

"I was asked to be on this [short term] team to train people into new positions...I realized, I really like understanding people at work."

Just two years into her banking career, Cochran quit her job and enrolled in the University of Minnesota, ultimately achieving her doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology. While in school, she started working at PDRI, where she partnered with Fortune 100 companies to help them find people-based solutions to corporate challenges. She also consulted with the Air Force, Army, and FBI.

It was a good run.

A New Adventure

At some point, though, she noticed she no longer felt excited to show up to work every day. After 18 years with one company, a merger eliminated Cochran's position. However, what seemed like a career setback became the best career opportunity she ever had. After the layoff she was asked to join a colleague for a "once in a career" project: building a team of 50 people who redesigned an incentives program for GlaxoSmithKline sales representatives. From here, she took on a venture working with executives at Cargill to redesign their leadership expectations.

The projects were big and exciting. The people-focused nature fit Cochran's passion.

"[That] would be the second point where I really started noticing my own voice," says Cochran. She realized that she still loved organizational psychology, she had just become disinterested in the types of projects coming her way at PDRI.

And there was something else: Cochran wanted to keep growing. "So I decided to hire myself a [leadership] coach. And that was sort of a third pivotal moment."

Setting Aside Expectations

Cochran came to recognize that for much of her life, even after making that huge transition to organizational psychology, she continued to follow the paths that she felt were expected of her. Now, she was ready to set aside those expectations.

"All of a sudden it was like, Oh my gosh, I'm creating my life; life is not just happening to me."

All of a sudden it was like, Oh my gosh, I'm creating my life; life is not just happening to me.

This new perspective sparked another career pivot: Starting her own coaching and consulting business.

So, in November of 2019, Cochran launched her website and effectively hung her tile for TransformAble Coaching and Consulting. Drawing on her deep wells of experience in organizational leadership and research, she developed programs to coach individuals and groups, as well as to facilitate positive change in organizations.

A woman in business clothing stands in an office foyer smiling and in conversation with two other business women.

"Then there was this virus happening," she says, chuckling. Her first in-person event, scheduled for March 13, 2020, was put on pause. Cochran, along with the rest of the world, pivoted to Zoom and made the most of the "new normal."

"In some ways, the pandemic helped my business because it opened the doors to coach people all around the country." From one-on-one sessions with career professionals to talks like the one she recently gave to women at Microsoft, Cochran works with professionals and organizations to develop authentic, engaged leadership. "It's about leading from the inside out. And we can all do that, no matter what our job is."

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