by Jamie Carter-Logan, Bryan Roche, Dustyn Bailey and Peter Anania
While most of Abby Cook’s friends from St. Lawrence University went south to “The Big Apple,”
she knew in her heart that New York City wasn’t for her. As for Boston? It just wasn’t the right fit
either. Some of her friends at college spoke of their hometown of Portland, and Abby decided to
take a shot at it.
“Portland? I thought it was just perfect,” Cook explained. “I loved the city and I loved being on
the water. I loved that I could live downtown, work a ton, still have time to go to the gym in the
morning and be home to cook dinner.”
Cook had fallen in love with the city — from the local food to the extensive beer scene.
Some find their journey to success along the paths less traveled, which is the case for Cook.
Now, as she works toward her MBA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cook is
working to gain the skills that will allow her to make her own mark on the city she loves for years
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Cook’s first opportunity in Maine was at Unum as an underwriter, but she had more ambitious goals that centered around her passion for technology.
As an undergraduate at St. Lawrence, she devoted much of her final two years on campus to researching and writing her thesis on mobile banking. At the time it was an emerging and innovative technology that had great potential to bring opportunity to rural communities. Abby followed that thread, landing at Portland-based Cashstar, a native start up of Portland.
Cook was invited for an interview during their seasonal recruitment. She showcased her expertise and the aspirations of continuing her education into business. Impressed, Cashstar accepted her as a technical account manager and supported her educational goals.
Cashstar, being a leader for digital sales and online gifting, created the opportunities for Cook to use her education and skill set. She describes her position as being “essentially the liaison between the clients and the engineering team for implementing and building new products and features.”
Cook felt that she found a perfect fit.
Not long after she was promoted to project manager, and then senior project manager — all within the span of four years. Cook found her specialty in custom projects for larger clients. “I’d gather the requirements to build, test and launch products from end to end,” adds Cook.
One of those custom projects just happened to be for the rideshare giant Uber.
At the age of 26, she played an essential part when working on Uber’s digital gift card project. At the time, Cook’s focus was on creating browser-based gift card product pages for most clients. However, to better align with Uber’s targeted mobile customers, Cook helped implement one of Cashstar’s first forays into developing a gift card application. The change in strategy would provide a more organic user experience than a browser-based application.
With her stock rising at Cashstar, it still was not enough for Cook. She still felt the desire to go after her long-term dream of completing her MBA. Even with a prime, full-time job at a booming startup, Cook once again went for it.
Now, she is completing her MBA at the Sloan School of Management at MIT. Cook says she is enjoying the challenge of the mixed business classes, but the advantage of getting an MBA at one of the world’s foremost institutions for innovation and discovery is that it allows her to hone her technological skills. She supplements her MBA courses with ones in both artificial intelligence and robotics — arguably the two fields that will be advancing technology over the next few decades.
However, years into her career and graduate studies, Cook still finds time to be involved with the community outside of her studies. She is an active member of the Junior League, a society of women that gives back to the community, contributing her time to the national organization’s charitable and development work.
As an undergrad, Cook balanced the rigors of her curriculum by being an active member of the St. Lawrence community. She was a member of both the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and the Omicron Delta Epsilon Honors Society.
Cook also distinguished herself as an equestrian, continuing the success she had found in the sport as a high school student. At St. Lawrence, she won the National Championship and was also decorated as the school’s MVP and recipient of the coach’s award.
As Cook is set to finish her MBA in 2019, she is looking forward to coming back to Maine to live with her boyfriend Tristan Moore. Together they enjoy the lifestyle of downtown Portland and have created a place they can call home.
With her academic and career credentials, Cook could have followed her classmates to New York City, but instead she made what some may call the unpredictable choice: She chose Portland to call home. Cook has never been afraid to jump in feet first and give projects her all. She has made her mark in the small coastal city and her hope is to utilize her talents to help grow the local economy.
That’s why Abby Cook is an Emerging Maine Icon.
All photos by Peter Anania