2016 Best EMBAs: April Salas, Cornell University (Johnson)

 April Salas CornellApril Salas

Cornell University, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

“I was very deliberate from the beginning about scheduling my work time, family time, and studying. There were a lot of late nights, going to bed at 1 a.m. after a 10-hour day at work, so that I could be at the dinner table to share a meal with my family or to put my children to bed at night. Having a strong support network is critical to success.”

Age: 35

Location: Washington, D.C.

Family Members: My husband, Zach, and three children, Jai, Adrian, and Natalia

Education: College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, Bachelor of Arts in International Relations/Pre-Law; American Institute for Maghreb Studies (AIMES), Tangier, Morocco, 
Intensive Advanced-Level Arabic Language Study at L’Ecole Américaine de Tanger; The American University of Paris, Paris, France, Master of Arts in International Affairs, Conflict Resolution, and Civil Society Development (thesis: Energy Poverty: The Impact of South Africa’s Rural Electrification Programs on Diminishing Development Inequities); L’Institut Catholique de Paris, Paris, France M2, Master de Recherche Sociologie des Conflits et Sécurité Internationale

Where are you currently working? The United States Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis, where I am the director for the Quadrennial Energy Review Task Force Secretariat, an administration-led interagency Task Force responsible for delivering a multi-year plan to the president outlining a comprehensive review of all aspects of U.S. energy supply and demand, resulting in a national energy strategy or roadmap.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles: I am always looking for opportunities to volunteer or give back to the community in some way. I love peer mentoring, have participated on master’s thesis review boards, I was the quartermaster and advancement coordinator for my son’s Cub Scout pack, I gave a talk on financial literacy at the Emerging Leaders Summit for young women, and I have volunteered with organizations such as Global Habitat for Humanity, Kidsave International, and Farmworker Justice Fund.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I did my first-year project on the market feasibility of a patient care delivery model that focused on integrated, preventive care. This was completely out of my comfort zone but I felt passionate about the approach, and it was holistically supported. I really hope to put my business plan to use some day.

I also am very proud of the fact that I made it a point to continue volunteering with my son’s Cub Scout pack. Even though I was working, in school, and had a million other things going on, it was such a treat for me to enjoy that experience with him.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? With over ten years of experience in developing and leading both large- and small-scale multi-national and national energy programs in both the public and private sectors as a Director, Senior Program Manager, Infrastructure Systems Analyst, and Consultant, two particular achievements stand out as more meaningful than others.

The first was simply my ability to manage through B-school while being a mom and while holding the challenging position of chief of planning and analysis for U.S. energy emergency response within the Infrastructure Security and Energy Restoration Division of the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability at the U.S. Department of Energy. I’m actually not sure how I survived that! But my job was to lead a team of analysts and engineers in developing all source analysis products that quantitatively assessed impacts to U.S. electric power, refineries, pipelines, ports, and other critical energy infrastructure affecting power delivery or impacting petroleum and national gas markets, following an incident (e.g. weather, cyber/physical threats, etc). We were on call essentially 24 hours a day for over two straight years responding to well over 30 incidents ranging from wildfires to floods, hurricanes, and propane shortages.

Secondly, I feel honored to have received the Civilian Meritorious Medal award while working at the U.S. Africa Command. Covering the Somalia desk and confronting multi-national challenges such as piracy and counter-terrorism in East Africa was no easy feat. I think the Department of Defense does an excellent job of recognizing hardworking individuals and it was an honor to receive this particular medal.

Who is your favorite professor? Professor Andrew Karolyi made Finance approachable and fun. He always found ways to tie current events into the curriculum, which really gave the course a greater sense of relevance.

Favorite MBA Courses? Business Strategy, Managerial Finance, and Valuation were by far my favorite courses.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Funny enough, it was actually my husband who signed me up for the information session while I was on a business trip. He then piled the kids in the car and actually drove me to the Palm, where it was being held. I believe I was one of the last applicants from my Boardroom to apply.

This, of course, was after looking at business schools for nearly two years. I ultimately chose Cornell because of the fit and the innovative program delivery method. Cornell is a world-class institution, the community is humble, warm, and inviting, and this format really worked within the constraints of my family and work commitments. It wouldn’t have made sense for me to stop working for the two years, given these demands. That said, I was looking for a program that didn’t sacrifice the full-time general management MBA curriculum or experience just because it was targeted toward executives, and this program delivered that, and much more!

What did you enjoy most about business school? Learning (of course) and my classmates. I attribute a great deal of my learning, exposure to new industries, and overall business school experience to the highly regarded faculty, my classmates, and to my boardroom environment. The boardroom concept is particularly innovative and my boardroom afforded me a safe space to experiment with concepts and test theories, which in turn, helped increase my knowledge base and confidence. I have gained lifelong friendships across North America as a result of this experience.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? The collaborative nature of the executive format. It was extremely competitive, but most everyone already had a great job. So overall it seemed that the focus weighted heavily on challenging each other but in a way that was supportive of individual learning objectives. I’d also mention that mentorship, networking, and career advice was another critical component to the program that happened very naturally between students. This is particularly important for executive students who may find it difficult to seek open feedback at work based upon their role or position in a company.

What was the hardest part of business school? I thought business school was incredibly fulfilling. I’d have to say the most difficult aspect was the fact that I had to really streamline my life. It was difficult to make time for friends or other extracurricular activities for a while. I started school with two children under the age of two. I didn’t want my pursuit of an MBA to negatively impact my family. While it was probably the most difficult thing I have had to juggle, it was one of my most rewarding experiences. I am proud that my children, especially my oldest son, are able to see first-hand that going back to school is always an option. Classes like Finance and Accounting were new for me given my education background, which was more heavily weighted towards economics and law. So I put a lot of focused energy and effort. It was extremely rewarding to work hard and successfully complete those classes!

What is your best advice for juggling work, family, and education? If you’re not an organized person who naturally plans, the balance will be a struggle, but it can be done! I was very deliberate from the beginning about scheduling my work time, family time, and studying. There were a lot of late nights, going to bed at 1 a.m. after a 10-hour day at work, so that I could be at the dinner table to share a meal with my family or to put my children to bed at night. Having a strong support network is critical to success.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your executive MBA program? I would say what someone said to me when I was applying: “Be yourself.” Your story comes across best in your application when it is authentic. There is no persona to embody when applying to B-school, so just relax and be yourself. Your story is compelling.

It is also a large investment in time, energy, and money, so be sure that you are ready to undertake the commitment while working. It will be challenging.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when …” I started thinking about a career after the government. I began taking up interests like trading stocks, which, until B-school, I had been a self-taught long-term value investor. I also wanted the tools to know how to successfully build and manage my own company.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be …” Contemplating business school for another few years, or dreaming of becoming a nuclear engineer.

Which executive or entrepreneur do you most admire? I actually admire ALL entrepreneurs for their courage and appetite for risk-taking. My hat goes off to anyone who is willing to put themselves out there and start a company for something they are passionate about.

What are your long-term professional goals? Upon completion of the Quadrennial Energy Review, I will be transitioning roles and taking on the position of executive director of the Revers Energy Initiative at Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. I couldn’t be more thrilled! My husband will be attending medical school at Geisel School of Medicine and I think this will be a meaningful way for me to give back to the community and to continue to shape complex issues that our nation’s energy sector faces. Longer-term, I hope to partner with my husband in putting my business plan to action. After that, I’d like for us to start a non-profit focused on bridging the gap between access to healthcare and lowering businesses energy costs for delivering that healthcare.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? This is a particularly meaningful question. I would have to hands down thank my secret weapon … the person that enables me the flexibility and support to accomplish my goals. That person is my husband. I could not have succeeded in business school without his buy-in and support. It would have been a very different experience for me had he not provided me the time and space I needed to meet with my team or work through assignments or complete my first and second year projects. As a close second, I would have to thank my mother and all of the strong, leading women in my family. Their success and strength have all taught me different and yet important lessons on breaking the glass ceiling, exuding confidence and how to balance my work drive with my desires to be the best mother and wife I can be.

Fun fact about yourself: I have lived in or traveled to approximately 60 countries

Favorite book: Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. While I love my energy books, I’m completely inspired by the dialogue that Lean In has created around women, the workplace, and family. I have this conversation all too frequently with young women who struggle with the perceived decision between family or a career. They are asking me how I do it. Which one I chose. My answer is always the same: There is no perfect timing to have children. I feel very strongly that life is about balancing trade-offs. If having a career and a family is important, then you need to figure out how to make it work.

Favorite movie: I love watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with my family. But I have to say my personal favorite is Gladiator with Russell Crowe.

Favorite musical performer: I love a diverse set of music … everyone from Adele to Dave Brubeck. In terms of musical performers, I’d have to say I’ve been most captured by Joshua Bell and Beyonce.

Favorite television show: “Code Black”

Favorite vacation spot: Difficult to narrow it down to just one. Of all my travels, I have particularly loved South Africa, Israel, Brazil, and Rwanda. But living in Paris and studying abroad in Morocco have captured my heart

Hobbies? Avid snowboarder, the arts, and of course, traveling

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

“April embraces every opportunity that she is given. Prior to joining the Executive MBA Americas, she had already earned two master’s degrees in international affairs and economics. She speaks four languages, and has worked and studied abroad in France, Germany, and Morocco.

“April brings an important international and government policy perspective to the class. In her career, she has interned for the United Nations, consulted for an international energy firm, and served as a foreign affairs specialist for the Department of Defense. Currently, she is a director in the Department of Energy.

“While in the Executive MBA Americas, April has been a constant source of support to her teammates and the program administration, as well as prospective students. She gives of her time freely, always with a smile on her face.

“April epitomizes the professional and industry diversity that we seek in the Executive MBA Americas. It is rewarding for us to know that she is using the skills that she has learned in the program to impact policy and initiatives in the area of energy delivery and infrastructure in the United States.”

Beta Mannix
Associate Dean of Executive MBA Programs & Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Management
Cornell University, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

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