2015 Best EMBA: Ashley Sager

Ashley Sager

Ashley Sager

 
MIT, Sloan School of Management

What makes Ashley Sager special? You could say it was her perfect 5.0 GPA at Sloan. Or, it could be her fast rise through the corporate ranks that enabled her to enroll at Sloan early. In reality, Sager is truly special for her commitment to her classmates. Entering business school, finance is like a foreign language to many students who have a soft side or poet background. To help those struggling students, she created WebEx seminars, tip sheets, review sessions, and even one-on-one coaching to help her peers make it though. “In engaging in this extraordinary selfless conduct and beyond reasonable expectations, Ashley Sager represents the very finest traditions of MIT and the Sloan School of Management of giving back and helping others,” writes Johanna Hising DiFabio and Nelson Repenning, who oversee the EMBA program and faculty, respectively. In her spare time, Sager enjoys horseback riding and competes in show jumps.

Age: 32

Location: Boston, MA

Family Members: Brian Honeyman (fiancé)

Undergraduate School: University of Vermont

Undergraduate Degree: BS – Mathematics & BS – Business

Where are you currently working? Attivio – Director of Finance

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I graduated college! I’ve always enjoyed learning and had a love for school. When I graduated from UVM and started at Duff & Phelps I knew I wanted to go to business school eventually.”

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…Less. Less fulfilled, less educated, less happy, less confident, less tired, less understanding, less mature, less busy, just less.”

What are your long-term professional goals? I am a numbers person from birth (both my mom and step-father are math teachers) so I love analyzing and dissecting numbers. However, I find that my true passion is bringing strategy and numbers together. One of my professors at MIT said numbers without strategy is accounting and strategy without numbers is poetry – and I couldn’t agree more. I also think it can be hard to find a numbers person that can think strategically and vice versa but this is my sweet spot. I like to bring strategy and finance together and MIT has helped me do that by expanding my knowledge beyond my finance background. Ultimately, I’d like to find myself in a place where I can help influence the strategy of the firm based on a solid analysis and understanding of the firm, industry and overall economy. Right now, I think that will lead me down a CFO path but given that life does not always turn out the way you think it should, I’m expecting the unexpected.

Favorite Course: Organizational Processes

Which academic or professional achievements are you most proud of?

Academic: I had the opportunity to help my fellow classmates with a very difficult class, finance. Many EMBA students come from non-business backgrounds with no knowledge of finance and, as you would expect, MIT’s finance course is very thorough and rigorous even for seasoned finance professionals. Given that a large portion of my fellow students were struggling, I put together a series of review sessions to give everyone another opportunity to see the material. In addition to benefitting my fellow students and learning the material better myself, this also helped me attack my fear of public speaking as the sessions were in the classroom and recorded via WebEx. I’m incredibly lucky to have such a supportive group of classmates that welcomed me and helped put me at ease.

Professional: My first job was at Duff & Phelps in New York City. D&P has an incredible US training program for two weeks, the New York office then follows this up with two additional weeks of training in the office. These second two weeks were critical to my career as they provided hands-on understanding and analysis of modeling, valuation and Excel. When I transferred to Boston, there was no additional training beyond the general, two week U.S. training. I was able to take responsibility for our new hire program and develop a training curriculum similar to the NYC program in the Boston office. It took some convincing to get everyone in the office to agree to leave the new hires alone for another two weeks, but they came to see the importance. Additionally, this was a great opportunity for me to take on a leadership and mentoring role during only my second year out of school.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? Professor Jim Gatti from the University of Vermont. There were two courses from UVM that are very memorable for me and they both were finance courses with Professor Gatti. His first course was the hardest course I’ve ever taken and it pushed me to work harder than I ever had before. School has always come relatively easy to me and I had to study for hours on end to really earn an ‘A’ in his class. Professor Gatti’s second course, an amazing class where we flew to NYC and worked with analysts following and valuing a company, taught me to ensure I tackle problems from all angles. I still remember the glaring error I made evaluating GAP as an investment (I forgot to consider the massive leases they had). That error haunts me to this day and always pushes me to double check my work and ensure I’ve considered other possibilities. Needless to say, the lessons learned in Professor Gatti’s classes have had an enormous impact on my success.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program?I was lucky enough to be directed to MIT by my boss, Alan Cooke. He is a Sloan grad and knew that I wanted to get my MBA. He suggested I consider an executive MBA program at MIT (I don’t think he was too keen on losing me for two years). I looked at a few schools but it was really the info session that sealed the deal for me. At MIT’s info session, we had a short meet-and-greet with former students and then an hour long teaching session with Professor Roberto Fernandez. It was such an interesting and informative lecture that I knew MIT was the school for me. 

What did you enjoy most about the executive MBA program? The people have been by far the best part of the entire program. I realize this is a cliché answer but it honestly is the only answer for the MIT program. But the reason I enjoy the people the most is not simply because we have a group of extraordinary individuals (both staff and students). It is because all of these incredible people care about their fellow classmates and want to see them succeed in an incredibly selfless manner. I’ve never been at another institution (school, job, clubs, sports, etc.) where there is no competition among peers. Nobody in the program has a goal of being at “the top of the class.” Everyone’s primary goal is to further their education but I think as we have spent more time here a secondary goal has become evident. That goal is to ensure the success of our fellow classmates.

What is your most memorable moment from business school? MIT has a phenomenal tradition of fire-side chats. At lunch on Saturday’s, two individuals give a presentation on who they are and where they come from. The presentations are surprisingly honest and unsurprisingly fascinating. After listening to my colleagues for about a year, I was considering giving one while simultaneously convinced I was the least interesting person in the class (this can easily be supported by the fact that I am the youngest in the class with the least amount of life experience). However, one night while a few classmates and I were out for cocktails, I let a couple people convince me to sign-up. As I’ve mentioned previously, I am not overly fond of public speaking but my fire-side chat was easily the most memorable experience.  I was extremely nervous before my speech but was welcomed by loud applause and cheering from all of my friends in the class. The 20-minute chat I gave allowed me to be open and honest about who I am. I even confided in my classmates and told stories that I only trust to my closest friends. It felt like a quiet chat in a living room with your best friend, only this time it was a slide show in front of 114 of my best friends. The support I received afterwards was truly unforgettable.

Fun fact about yourself: I considered becoming a horse trainer. When I was 25, I convinced my employer to let me work half time remotely from 4-8PM. Then, from 7AM to 4PM I trained with upper level riders, first with an Olympic rider in Pennsylvania then for a few months in South Carolina (during the winter) and finally with a different advanced level rider in Kentucky. The funny thing is, when riding was my day job I actually looked forward to going home at the end of the day and using my brain. That’s how I knew I wanted to stick with finance and keep riding as a hobby, this way, the barn is always something I look forward to and it never feels like a job.

Favorite book: Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver

Favorite movie: Shawshank Redemption (but my guilty pleasure movie is How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days)

Favorite musical performer: Taylor Swift (I hate to admit it but can’t deny Taylor)

Favorite television show: Game of Thrones

Favorite vacation spot: Iceland

What are your hobbies? Horseback Riding

Twitter Handle: @Sager_meister (but it is rarely used –my friends created a twitter handle for my horse Paddy that is much more interesting. I think the twitter handle there is Ashley’s horse.)

What made Ashley such an invaluable addition to the class of 2015 for your executive MBA program?

“Ashley was one of the few candidates with ten years of work experience accepted to the MIT Executive MBA because of her steep career trajectory and rapid success [in] finance. She has very strong analytical skills, which she balances brilliantly with her people skills. Her thirst for knowledge, work with startups, and experience across numerous industries, products types and companies made her a natural fit for the MIT EMBA. While in the program she has excelled, not only in the classroom where she has a 5.0 GPA (MIT is on a 5 point scale system, where 5 = A), but also with her classmates as evidenced by her peers requesting her to be on their teams. In the fall of 2014 when the other students were struggling with the required Financial Management course, Ashley stepped up to the plate to help them. She took the initiative and spent countless hours of her own time preparing tip sheets and providing review sessions virtually and on campus after hours for the entire class; and this despite a phobia of public speaking! She repeatedly placed the class’s needs above her own making herself available before and after her review sessions, and accepting individual phone calls and texts from fellow students. In engaging in this extraordinary selfless conduct and beyond reasonable expectations, Ashley Sager represents the very finest traditions of MIT and the Sloan School of Management of giving back and helping others.” 

Johanna Hising DiFabio, MIT Executive MBA Program Director and Nelson Repenning, MIT Executive MBA Faculty Director