NEARLY PARALYZED BOOTH GRAD CONSIDERS MBA KEY TO HIS RECOVERY
Behind these enviable professional achievements are normal people with some surprising backgrounds. Cornell’s Tavares Brewington, a former assistant U.S. attorney, played professional football in Austria after passing the bar. Cindy O’Malley, who was promoted to the C-Suite while she earned her MBA at the University of Pittsburgh, has completed marathons in 35 of 50 states. The University of Chicago’s Sarah McEneaney wrote a draft of her first book during her plane trips from Boston to the Windy City. Emory’s Lowell kept a pet kangaroo as a child. Virginia’s Katz lists swimming in a school of sharks — actual sharks, not figurative ones — as one of her favorite activities.
So what drew such a dynamic and disparate group back to campus? A yearning to make an impact was one reason. “I realized I wanted to be one of the people creating and defining organizational strategy, not just implementing it,” explains the University of Minnesota’s Audrey Klein, a foundation head whose research examines treatments for alcohol and drug addiction. Virginia’s Katz echoes Klein’s reasoning, adding that she hoped an MBA would give her an authoritative voice. “I kept identifying problems in my field and saying to myself, ‘If only I were in charge.’ I realized that if I wanted to help make some of the changes I thought were possible, I needed both the skills and the credibility to lead.”
For others, the decision was a concession that the window to go back to school was closing. “I realized that I would have to grow up someday and learn about something other than the SEAL Teams,” cracks UCLA’s Dunbar. And Georgetown’s Davis considers business school to be the natural extension of her passions. “I knew I wanted to go to business school when I got more excited about Fast Company and Harvard Business Review showing up in my mailbox than People magazine. I’m a learner, I can’t help it.”
For the University of Chicago’s Omri Krigel, a former Israeli Navy commando, an MBA degree was the culmination of a long and painful path. In a 2011 accident, he broke the vertebras in his neck and his doctors predicted he would be paralyzed for life from the neck down. Instead, Krigel embarked on a rigorous rehabilitation regimen that enabled him to eventually walk again with the aid of crutches — a “medical miracle,” according to his doctors.
“One of the most important rehabilitation steps for me was to re-pursue my MBA dream, as if the injury never existed,” Krigel confides. “Completing the EMBA was not only a dream come true for me; it was also an essential step in my complete rehabilitation.”
NORTH CAROLINA LEARNS LEADERSHIP ISN’T SO LONELY — WHEN YOU’RE AMONG OTHER LEADERS
Aside from a desire to serve and an openness to new ideas and experiences, the 2016 Best and Brightest EMBAs were further united by their love of business school. UC-Berkeley’s Sally Allain reported an immediate return from what she learned in class at her job. And the time crunch she endured came with an unexpected silver lining. “Not having the time has forced me to make assessments and decisions at a higher view and move on them faster,” she says. North Carolina’s Carfley found wisdom and solace through his classmates. “I have often commented that leadership can be lonely at times,” he notes. “I have truly enjoyed the camaraderie and most importantly the diversity in the perspective of the program. It’s incredibly empowering (and comforting) to have such a diverse level of subject matter experts at my fingertips as I work through my career.”
Georgetown’s Davis simply enjoyed the break from the breakneck pace of work. “There really aren’t many moments in life that I get an opportunity to tune out everything that’s happening elsewhere in order to just listen and absorb,” she says. “I will miss being in the classroom, phone off, mind open.”
Par for the course, these EMBAs benefited from experiences that they couldn’t get anywhere else. In UC-Berkeley’s entrepreneurship immersion, for example, Allain visited 28 companies in one week. “We were face to face with CEOs and founders of companies in different stages, from start-up to IPO,” she explains. And the biggest lessons and best memories weren’t always confined to class time, adds Virginia’s Katz: “From sitting in a symphony orchestra to learning to samba dance to bargaining in a Shanghai market, it was the learning that took place outside the classroom and all over the world during our global residencies — in Brazil, China, France, Germany, and India — that impacted me the most.”
‘KEEP CALM, STAY GROUNDED, TAKE BABY STEPS AND NEVER STOP SMILING’
Now that the 2016 Class has posted their diplomas in their offices, what advice would they share with the professionals who follow in their footsteps? Emory’s Henson warns his successors to prepare for a dose of humility. “I can be pretty competitive at work or in class, but being surrounded by such a high-performing group of peers really helped me to see the value in listening and understanding other opinions. … I have learned to value patience in decision-making and being humble enough to realize that my opinion isn’t always the best one.”
At the same time, UC-Berkeley’s Gorenflo reminds the Class of 2018 to focus on what they are trying to accomplish in how they devote the limited time they have. “Recognize when the perfect is the enemy of the optimal. In all of our courses, we could have expended much more energy to learn more, but finding the ‘knee of the curve’ in each class in terms of time/energy invested and material learned was crucial.”
When all else fails, London Business School’s Reem AlBanna encourages students to keep their wits.
“Keep calm, stay grounded, take baby steps and never stop smiling,” she advises. At the same time, she discourages the temptation to try to go it alone. “Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to put your hand up and say you need help, even if it’s just emotional.
“You will be amazed,” AlBanna adds, “by the number of people, colleagues, friends, and family who are willing to help.”
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