2017 Best EMBAs: Fahad Ahmed, Columbia Business School

Fahad Ahmed

Columbia Business School

“Committed to family and giving respect to every person. Driven to do and be good.”

Age: 34

Hometown: Newburgh, NY

Family Members: Mahmood Ahmed (Father), Meher Ahmed (Mother), Usman Ahmed (Elder Brother), Imran Ahmed (1st Younger Brother), Zen Ahmed (2nd Younger Brother)

Fun fact about yourself: I am a New York Mets fan. That alone is not fun. How big of a fan I am, is. I go to Port St. Lucie in March every spring to kick-off the new season during Spring Training. When the team comes back to New York, I have my season tickets ready and same seat adjacent to Jerry Seinfeld’s suite waiting for me to cheer on the Mets (and try to sneak in a few pictures of Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David and Matthew Broderick).

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • State University of New York, New Paltz; Chemistry
  • Mercy College; Master Public Administration

Where are you currently working? Deloitte; Manager; Life Sciences and Health Care

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Selected by classmates as Class Speaker for EMBA graduation (May, 2017)
  • Dean’s List
  • Habitat for Humanity volunteer

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I started a podcast during my first semester of business school. In the executive MBA program I am a part of, students are only on campus four days a month. On these days, between the hours of classes and other obligations people have, there really is not a lot of time for classmates to truly get to know each other. There was a need to find a creative way for classmates to tell their story so that others could hear it and learn about their classmates when they were not on campus. So, I started a podcast. Whether individually or in pairs, one episode after another, students told their stories and classmates listened. They listened on their way to class. They listened while walking their dog. What was so fulfilling is that at different times, my classmates all listened.

Not only did this project show me how much I love to help people tell their story – this project helped my classmates commit to our network. It helped create a culture where people intensely wanted to learn about each other and form genuine long-lasting bonds.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? It was working as hard as I did to rise to the Director and Compliance and Privacy Officer level at Yale New Haven Health System as fast as I did. The promotions to this position came in the years immediately following the Great Recession. My father was hit unbelievably hard by the collapsed economy. Not only did the promotions in 2010, 2012 and 2013 provide my family with financial stability, they brought a steady dose of good news.

I am most proud this professional achievement was able to give my parents good news because I learned that when people feel that their world is falling apart – good news provides a desperately needed feeling of stability.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Malia Mason. The topic of negotiations, social judgement and decision making is very interesting to me. Most importantly though, just as smart as she is, her ability to teach these topics and appropriately apply them to so many areas, not just business and leadership, is so impressive.As I work towards developing a new project that will allow me to further a passion for helping others tell their story, she has been so helpful as a mentor. This speaks to that fact that she genuinely cares about her students. She’s not only interested in how a student is doing with the curriculum she’s teaching, but overall in life.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I discussed the idea of getting an MBA with one my mentors, Norman Roth. I’ll never forget what he said: “Fahad, if you’re going to do this, go for the gusto!” While there are many fine business schools, he encouraged me to go for the best one. I researched and applied to Columbia Business School, New York University Stern School of Business, and Yale School of Management. While all three meet Norman’s “gusto” criteria, Columbia Business School immediately felt right. There was this infectious feeling of academia, encouragement, humbleness, innovation, and respect. I wanted nothing more than to attach myself to this. I am so glad I did because Columbia Business School is this and so much more.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? On class days, walking from the subway stop on Broadway, through Columbia University’s quad on my way to the business school on Amsterdam Avenue, constantly reflecting on the idea that for ten hours, I will be surrounded by, learn with, but also learn from classmates and professor who are the very best in business.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? In my role at Deloitte, I was on a long-term engagement where I was serving as an interim-administrator at a hospital health system in the Kansas City area. For an entire year, on a weekly basis, I would have to travel from New York City to Kansas City. My first week on this client’s site was the week the 2015 World Series started. That year, my beloved New York Mets were playing the Kansas City Royals for the World Series Championship. The Mets had not been in a World Series since 1986, so for me and my family, this was a big deal. This week also happened to be the week of my Accounting mid-term, during my first semester at Columbia Business School, so a lot was at stake personally, professionally and academically.

What an executive MBA program teaches you is to use every single minute of your day productively. Time spent in the airport and on the airplane was used to master “T” accounts. The hours spent at work were, and still are, fiercely energetic and productive because if they’re not, you cannot responsibly go to the first two World Series games in Kansas City, surrounded by Kansas City Royals fans – you most certainly cannot join your family at every home World Series game once you get back to New York. Yes, I went to every World Series game in 2015.

The Mets may have lost the World Series, but that experience – juggling work, family and academic commitments, was an incredible growth experience because I felt so accomplished and encouraged that I would be able to juggle all three for the remainder of the executive MBA program. P.S., I got an A- on my midterm.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s executive MBA program? The concept of adding a Columbia Business School MBA curriculum to your life that is already full is rightfully a reason to worry and question if you’re a little bit crazy. Embrace this crazy feeling because Columbia Business School’s executive MBA program is full of students who are crazy enough to believe that through business, they can make real-meaningful change in the world. What Columbia Business School will teach you is that you’re not crazy – you’re exceptional! And with the classmates you will have and the professors who will teach you, you will absolutely do great things.

What was your biggest regret in business school? That I did not take more international seminars or classes. Columbia Business School teaches us how connected the world is and how

much we can learn from other societies and cultures. The international seminars and classes are designed to teach essential business lessons, but also allow students to learn about different cultures and societies. Also, it is by far the best way to create long-lasting relationships with classmates.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Lauren Dugdale; As part of the executive MBA program, students have their eyes opened to all the different opportunities they have. Lauren, through courses we were both in, realized that she could turn her passion for painting into a side business. Rather than storing all the pieces of self-painted art in a closet, she took a bold step and put her art out there for people to see and maybe purchase. It may not seem like a lot, but when you start to see how much talent and creativity people have inside of them – held inside because of fear that people will see and judge, watching people like Lauren do what she did is motivating and inspiring.

Overall, I admire her for confidence, creativity, courage, and humility. She is incredibly successful professionally, but you would never know it in the way she carries herself. No ego. Just genuine happiness to see people and know how they are doing. Most of all, she is a good person. This makes her an incredible leader. She is the person in the room who allows you to believe that it is okay to be exactly the person you are and sometimes, even leaders need to be a little silly.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…Gayle Cappozalo, Executive Vice President, Yale New Haven Health System promoted me to Compliance & Privacy Officer. I was only 27 and only had one more promotion available to me in the career track I was on. I could probably become Chief Compliance Officer of any health system in the country while in my 30’s, but that would be it. Not wanting to plateau, I knew that if I wanted even more success, reach even higher levels, so that I can find myself in a great position to drive meaningful change, I would need business education.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…struggling to break out of the healthcare compliance officer track, with an uninformed sense of all the options I actually have.”

What is your favorite company and what are they doing that makes them so special? Nike; While they have always been a global powerhouse, what is making them so special now is the leadership role they have taken on in promoting and prioritizing equality, diversity, and inclusion worldwide. Their campaigns, and the athletes they partner with, show that excellence is possible in all races and genders. Around women, their campaigns are so powerful as they show the strength of women. This has to be inspiring to young girls. Now, with the announcement of an athletic hijab, they are acknowledging a need for millions of women, but overall, showing a real connectedness to the people of the world and promoting what is right as it relates to equality, respect, diversity and inclusion.   

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the executive MBA experience? I would make sure, in both rhetoric and in program direction, executive MBA students truly believe that they are the very best of the entire institution their program is affiliated to. There are no other students of any other school or university program who, upon graduation, are able to implement positive change on day 1. There is no residency, like medical school graduates have. No clerkships, like law school graduates have. There is also no fighting to find a job, like regular MBA students have to do. I would make sure that executive MBA students, by nature of who they are, know that they will be able to do great things during the course of the program, and most definitely after they receive their degree.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To help people tell their story in a way that not only allows me to lead in a manner that inspires them, but also so that they believe their story can have an impact on another person.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? Obviously my parents. But second to them, Professor Pamela St. John. When I was 20 years old and in undergraduate school, Professor St. John was my thermodynamics and quantum mechanics chemistry professor. She expected excellence in her classroom. At first, I did not meet this one standard and I paid the price – I failed both of her classes. When I retook both of these courses, through the curriculum, she taught me how to really work. I learned so much from her, not just in chemistry, but in overall work ethic. When I graduated from undergraduate school, I applied the lessons she taught me in graduate school, but also in my professional career. I have no doubt that without Professor St. John’s lessons on how to work in a manner that steers a person towards achieving excellence, I would not have had any of the successes I have had to date (e.g. getting into & graduating from Columbia Business School).

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? In the way he carried himself and treated any person he met, he was always a good man.

Favorite book: To Kill a Mockingbird

Favorite movie or television show: The Sandlot

Favorite musical performer: Dave Matthews Band

Favorite vacation spot: Jaco, Costa Rica

Hobbies?

  • Surfing
  • Photography (including drone photography)
  • Music – trumpet player

What made Fahad such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“Fahad has demonstrated an enthusiastic, thoughtful and inclusive approach to student leadership and involvement. His unique manner has been very effective in bridging different perspectives and finding acceptable solutions to problems, but also in establishing himself as an essential community-builder within his EMBA class and generally at the Business School. He has been selected by his class for two of the highest honors at graduation – as their student speaker and recipient of the class Distinguished Service Award.

Some comments from classmates were: Fahad was the glue that bound the class together.  His CBS Matters programming and podcasts were amazing and he gave his whole self to making the programming the best that it could be.

Fahad in the unofficial 2017 EMBA class president. As one of our “CBS Matters” co-chairs, Fahad organized numerous events of personal and emotional significance. Our class is closer simply because of Fahad. He brings an openness and care to his fellow students, and his genuineness is unparalleled. Frankly, when I applied to CBS, it was because I expected and hoped that I would spend time with people of the caliber of Fahad.

Fahad put together events for bringing the EMBA community together. He is a kind soul who gives back to the community. He is nice to everyone and treats everyone with respect. He is incredibly genuine.

Fahad has consistently demonstrated a commitment to his classmates by promoting a culture of inclusion.  He can be considered a friend to everyone in that class, and will go above and beyond to help his fellow classmates. Fahad always wears a smile on his face and brings his positive attitude wherever he goes, and in turn, brightens the mood of anyone that interacts with him.”

Kelley Martin Blanco
Dean of Students
Executive MBA Programs