2016 Best EMBAs: Gene Gard, Wharton School

Gene Gard Wharton

Eugene Marcus Gard (Gene)

Wharton MBA for Executives

“I used to think that the interview was a formality and all that mattered was UGPA, GMAT, and what sort of job you have going in to the program. That couldn’t be further from the truth. After experiencing our class, knowing our admissions staff, and meeting many, many applicants, I can see that the interview might be the most important part of the process. Be interesting!”

Age:
36

Location:
Akron, OH

Family Members: Rikki (wife) Dexter (son, 11), Maura (daughter, 7)

Undergraduate School and Degree:
U.S. Naval Academy, B.S. electrical engineering

Where are you currently working? CEO, Auris Noble LLC. (precious metal recovery and recycling)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles:
Cub Scout den leader

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Academically, finding my way to non-finance courses was the most important thing. I came here thinking I was finance all the way, and would have missed out on the broad world of marketing, strategy, operations, and leadership electives if I had stayed fixated on finance. Also, I was fortunate to be able to join a startup begun by a classmate about halfway through the program, so I feel as though I’m really getting the most out of the program.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Modern society values specialization. Some of my most important and trusted mentors have advised me to develop deep expertise in one area, and I have, in some respects. However, I really love being a generalist. I have operated a nuclear reactor, conned a deep-draft Navy ship, managed outbound operations for Amazon, worked in foreign relations as a speechwriter in Europe, managed a mutual fund, worked on “big data” programming projects, run a startup as CEO, become a father, and many other things. To some, my experiences might seem superficial and scattered, but to me they have informed who I am and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I think of life like a decathlon. The winners aren’t the ones who place first in one or two events and skip the rest — the winners are those who manage to be in the top quarter or top half of many, many different events and disciplines. That’s what I try to do in life, and it’s been a great ride so far. We’ll see if society continues to reward me for it.

Favorite MBA Courses? Marketing. I used to think marketing was just another word for advertising. Marketing is about finding and exploiting markets — deciding what to sell and to whom is the most important thing a business does. Advertising — coloring perceptions about what you’re selling once you’ve decided to sell it — is almost an afterthought, in my opinion. Price discrimination, customer lifetime value, branding, new product development, customer acquisition — these are all marketing disciplines and to me are the hard parts of being successful in business!

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Given the incredible investment of time, money, and effort, I wanted to find a program that would be worth it. I narrowed the list to several great programs, but just felt that the schedule, the faculty, and the students I met were a great fit for me at Wharton. The flexibility to base out of Philadelphia but do a term in San Francisco was important as well — I didn’t want to spend two years traveling to California, but in term five I had a chance to experience the culture and effectively double my MBA network.

What did you enjoy most about business school? The people. I know that’s a stock answer, but I didn’t believe how important the other members of my class would become to me. The value of a brand-new network of the closest tier of friends imaginable this late in life cannot be understated. At first I thought the social aspects of business school were a distraction to the coursework, but by the end I began to feel the opposite.

What is your best advice for juggling work, family, and education? Divide time into 40- to 60-minute blocks. Make many of those blocks family time or unstructured time, but when you’re “on” with a deliverable for school or work, hit it hard and don’t waste time. Prioritize. Be ruthless about your commitment to getting your work done, but be ruthless about finding time to relax as well. Just don’t combine the two. For example, don’t work on homework in the corner while watching a movie with your family: power through the HW, then put it all away and give your attention elsewhere where it needs to be. Multitasking is a myth — attention is best applied in series rather than in parallel.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your executive MBA program? Again, this sounds silly, but just be yourself, and be interesting. I used to think that the interview was a formality and all that mattered was UGPA, GMAT, and what sort of job you have going in to the program. That couldn’t be further from the truth. After experiencing our class, knowing our admissions staff and meeting many, many applicants, I can see that the interview might be the most important part of the process. Be interesting!

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when …” I looked at those I admire in senior leadership positions. Most have experienced the MBA journey at some point in their careers.

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be …” Justifying the decision to myself due to the tradeoffs, but always harboring regret.

What are your long-term professional goals? To be someone making a difference and having a positive impact in an organization.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My mom. Until I became a parent, I never appreciated what she went through and what she sacrificed to set me up for success in the world. The older I get and the more I experience, the more awestruck I am by the things she did for me. I now try to make choices so that my kids might say the same thing about me some day. Thanks Mom!

Fun fact about yourself: I learned that I really enjoy the process of going to airports and flying on planes regularly.

Favorite book: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

Favorite movie: True Romance

Favorite musical performer: Gov’t Mule

Favorite television show:
N/A. I’ll take this opportunity to suggest a second favorite book: Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander.

Favorite vacation spot: Lake Martin, Alabama

Hobbies? Making music, reading books, yoga

What made Gene such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

“Gene Gard talks a lot about aspiring to be ‘the competent (wo)man” — a jack-of-all-trades with wide-ranging skills, knowledge, and experience who can take on anything. Prior to the Wharton MBA Program for Executives, he mastered varied roles in a breathtaking range of endeavors — handling $1B in mutual funds as a portfolio manager, managing outbound operations at Amazon, writing speeches for the commander of NATO Joint Force Command Naples, serving on a nuclear submarine, earning a B.S. in engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy, leading his son’s Cub Scout den.

“In the middle of the EMBA program, Gene brought those experiences together to take the top spot as CEO of Auris Noble, a chemical company that recovers precious metals from industrial waste streams. On the personal side, Gene was just voted ‘most likely to go off the grid’ by his classmates because he and his family enjoy growing vegetables and eschew TV. He makes a long trek to Philly every other week, from Kentucky at first and now from Ohio, and is on track to graduate with honors.”

Peggy Bishop Lane
Vice Dean of Wharton MBA for Executives Program
Adjunct Professor of Accounting

DON’T MISS: CLASS OF 2016: THE BEST & BRIGHTEST GRADUATING EMBAS