2016 Best EMBAs: Luis Miguel G. Vaca, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Luis Miguel Vaca Northwestern

Luis Miguel G. Vaca

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Joint Program

“I feel the structured approach to strategy — whether it was in viewpoint of operations, marketing, finance, or economics — was incredibly fruitful for me. To constantly think of issues with a strategic framework in mind is changing my leadership style and enhancing the decisions I make.”

Age: 43

Location: Manila, Philippines

Family Members: My wife Tania, my daughter Sabina (7), my sons Santiago (5), Francisco (3), and Alejandro (1). Perfect tact time of 2 years!

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Asia and the Pacific (Business Administration)

Where are you currently working? UNAHCO Inc. (CFO), United Laboratories Inc. (Division Vice President, Finance)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles: Manila Polo Club (finance and audit committee)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am very proud of my involvement in Unilab Foundation’s Project Inclusion, which places people with special needs into the work force. I currently have two members of my team with autism and marvel at the development they have achieved in a positive work environment. As a parent of a child with Down syndrome, this project is close to my heart and I am very proud to be part of it.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I used to work for a private equity firm and was assigned as CFO of one of the investee companies we acquired. With no operating experience, I led a team that improved profit margins, increased cash flow and strengthened the balance sheet. In just a few years we were able to conduct a leverage buy out of the minority shareholders. The company continued to do well and we were able to sell the firm to a large conglomerate for a handsome return for our shareholders.

Who is your favorite professor? Gad Allon

Favorite MBA Courses? Operations Strategy (Gad Allon), Framework for Strategic Analysis (Jeroen Swinkels)

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I selected the Kellogg joint program because it ranked amongst the best in the world. I have several friends and colleagues who attended the EMBA and MBA programs at Kellogg and was well aware of its outstanding curriculum, faculty, and alumni network. Another important factor was that the class and travel schedule worked for me, my family and the company.

What did you enjoy most about business school? I enjoyed being back in school in a way fit for an executive. This program was my first formal scholastic experience in over 20 years and I loved every bit of it. From the classroom sessions, to the seasoned teachers, to the awesome admin staff, and to my classmates who were mostly at the same life stage as I’m in — the whole experience was curated with a perfect balance of student and executive. I also enjoyed having an excuse for having a few (sometimes not so few) cocktails with new friends.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? Aside from the wealth of practical information and useful tools and frameworks we learned from the professors, the biggest lesson I gained from school was learning to work in a group. I think the team set up improved my ability to deal with group dynamics. Equally, I feel the structured approach to strategy whether it was in viewpoint of operations, marketing, finance or economics was incredibly fruitful for me. To constantly think of issues with a strategic framework in mind is changing my leadership style and enhancing the decisions I make.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? Before I joined the program, the one thing highlighted by most alumni was that friendships for life were very likely to happen. I was, however, very dubious about the social element of it. I felt it would be difficult to make true friends given the time constraints of the program and the geographic dispersion of the class. I am happily surprised I actually made a bunch of true friends who I will continue to count as friends long after the program is over. The fact that many of the people you encounter in the program share the same or nearly the same life stage as you really bonds you to one another.

What was the hardest part of business school? The hardest part of business school was not juggling family, work, and studying, though that element was definitely challenging. For me, it was time away from my family, especially my wife, young kids, and my parents. During the course of classes, I missed a lot of firsts from my 1-year-old: his first steps and his first words. From my older ones, I missed school plays and birthdays. Looking back, those times seemed the most difficult but ultimately it was all worth it.

What is your best advice for juggling work, family and education? The best advice is to be up front and make clear to your partner and work teams what this EMBA entails in terms of time away. The process requires a team effort and it would be much easier if the whole team was on the same page. I was lucky my wife and bosses provided no less than their full support during my entire stay at the program and it was made clear from the start how much time I would potentially be away. With their awareness of these constraints, it was easier to manage expectations, which somewhat eased the stress of my absence.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your executive MBA program? My advice to any applicant would be to make sure this EMBA journey will have a value added to your career given your current life stage. An EMBA isn’t for everyone and having more experience enhances the journey by making most of what you learn immediately applicable in a leadership role. My other piece of advice is to make sure that your circle (family, friends and work colleagues) are very clear to the demands this EMBA will have on your time and ultimately on theirs (since they will be picking up your slack). You will also need these same people to be supportive of you while you undertake the process.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when …” After my first job, but I was not in a financial position to do so.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be …” In a much slower career path and a less fulfilled person.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? First, I would have to thank my wife for always pushing me to be a better person, my parents for showing me the blueprint to a happy life, and my kids for being “my kids.” I would thank our CEO for encouraging me to go through the EMBA journey and my work colleagues for their patience and stepping up while I was busy with school. My EMBA journey was a team effort and I have completed it only because of the great support of the people around me.

Fun fact about yourself: I enjoy anything to do with science, aerospace and technology. Nerd alert!

Favorite book: The Black Swan

Favorite movie: Usual Suspects

Favorite musical performer: Coldplay

Favorite television show: Currently it’s “Limitless”

Favorite vacation spot: El Nido, Philippines

Hobbies? Running, cycling, triathlon, diving

What made Luis Miguel (“Mike”) such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

“Mike has been a great contributor to the class. He enrolled in my Strategic Decision in Operations Course, which is taught during the international live-in week. Mike has been a significant driver behind the class discussion, continuously challenging me and his colleagues, to think about the main tradeoffs faced by firms in the current global economy. Mike has been also a major contributor to his group. In this course, groups submit projects, which require the students to apply the tools to a real problem they face in their current companies. Mike brought one of the issues he was facing, and challenged himself and his team members to rethink it using the new frameworks that were introduced in class, resulting in one of the best projects that were ever submitted in the course. Due to Mike’s relentless work in and out of the classroom, everybody involved had a much more engaging class.”

Gad Allon
Professor of Managerial Economics and Decision Sciences
Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management