3 Questions with Angela Lester (BA/BFA ’94), Design, Innovation & Adoption Partner at PwC

In just a few sentences, please tell us about your current job.

I work for a large global consulting firm called PwC.  I lead a team that designs innovative products, services and experiences for global brands who are transforming their businesses.  Most of the work I do leverages a complex mix of technologies, from large platforms like Salesforce, to emerging technologies like AR/VR (metaverse) or AI.  So, my role (and my team’s role) includes a thorough understanding of how to design using technologies, while humanizing the experience and delivering it all under a brand promise. 

In many ways, I think of myself as an artist who creates differentiated experiences for businesses, the people who work there and the people they are selling to.  My tools are different technologies, design systems and new business models. My methodology is a combination of Design Thinking and SAFE agile.  

When I decided to go to college, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be an artist or a medical practitioner.  As an artist my medium was mixed media.  Not much has changed in a way.  I am still an artist, but my media is technology, data, AI and design systems.  What has changed is that my purpose is now more commercial; to bring emotion, positive change, and inspiration to the business world (which ultimately ends up being our world).  And my ambition is to make a difference in this world.  As I work on reinventing businesses, I have a platform to create meaningful impact in our world.  I can think about sustainability, designing for diversity or simply creating an experience that people love and that brightens their day. 

How did your time at Tufts & the SMFA influence your career journey?

Tufts and the SMFA were places where I got to understand myself, my voice, and my role in this world.  Or I should say, it was the beginning of that journey.  What I thought I would do, was not what I chose to do.  And that’s what is powerful about the experience.  The power of evolving and making choices is a lifelong behavior that I started in college.   During my senior year I worked on a thesis called “L’eros de la femme”, which helped me explore the stereotypes I grew up with and understand what I wanted to stand for as a person.  Not just what I wanted to do in my career. It helped me connect the dots between everything I was learning; art, science, history and languages.  It helped me understand my perspective.  It takes a special type of education to inspire someone to connect the dots across multidisciplinary subjects.  Also, at the SMFA I explored different topics for my “exhibits” which were part of the way the curriculum worked while I was there. 

The SMFA experience gave me the skills to be able to architect the capability to explore, learn and create in a place that gives you all the freedom with a clear milestone that you need to achieve.  You don’t get the HOW or the WHAT – but you are given the platform to succeed, ask questions, learn skills, and get inspired.  It’s what made me an artist, and later an entrepreneur.  It’s what still makes me successful today.  It’s what will make me a lifelong artist.  A creator.  An inventor.  A change maker.

What advice would you offer to a student who wants to pursue a career path like yours?

My career path was not linear.  Some careers are very structured and have clear steps to achieve the next level.  As a creator, explorer and change agent, that’s not the case.  You get to design your own path or choose things that you are presented with along the way.

I realize that I constantly evolve as a person, and the world evolves – everything changes.  So, I believe in being present, aware, and agile.  I use a value system to guide me – but not necessarily a set of linear steps.  Think of an idea of going down a river that flows super fast.  Along the way there will be forks where the river will split, and you have to decide whether you should take one path or the other.  If you have a clear value system and guidelines you will intuitively know if you want to go right or left.  You don’t have time to think about it or create a strategy.  You must know what choice you will make at that very moment.  But to do that, you need to understand yourself, your value system, and your guidelines.  You are your own brand, and that brand gets formed over time through a series of experiences that shape you.  I have worked as a mixed media artist, a photographer, for a magazine (in publishing), for a startup, for a gaming company, for my own start-up, for a large Ad Agency and now for a consulting firm.  I have evolved, my career has evolved, and my influence has evolved.  Do I know exactly what’s next?  No.  But do I have criteria to guide me?  Yes.

On top of that, I want to reflect on the concept of “value”.  And when I say value, I mean, what you get back for everything you put back in.  It could be “emotional value”, of course (like happiness).  But since it is a career, don’t shy away from thinking about making money in a sustainable way.   I really didn’t understand anything about finances and making money.  I was lucky that I chose a path that has gotten me there.  But I do think it is an important thing to look at head on because it matters.  It’s what makes your passion sustainable in the long run. 

In summary, define what you want to create, what impact you want to have and who you want to be known for.  Make sure you get the value back for what you do (right sized for how you want to live).  Stay agile and aware.  And enjoy the journey.

By Katie Sullivan
Katie Sullivan Assistant Director