2017 Best EMBAs: Kelly A. Feist, Vanderbilt University (Owen)

Kelly A. Feist

Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management

“Driven, results-oriented, open to new experiences, adventurous, fun-loving and quick to laugh.”

Age: 50

Hometown: Ronkonkoma, NY

Family Members: Husband: Rob and Son: Matthew, 24 years old. Three brothers that I am very close with (all married, with two children each). I am lucky enough to still have both of my parents, who are healthy, happy, and active.

Fun fact about yourself: I am a second-degree black belt in karate and an accomplished photographer.

Undergraduate School and Degree: SUNY Stony Brook — Bachelor of Science in Cardiorespiratory Sciences.

I also hold a post-graduate certificate in Healthcare Information Technology from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Where are you currently working? Philips Healthcare. I am the VP and Business Leader for the Patient Care and Monitoring Solutions Business in the North American Market. I have been responsible for the leadership of this almost $1.8B business for the past three years and have delivered significant market share, profitability, and growth to the company.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: At SUNY Stony Brook, I swam on the Intercollegiate (NCAA Division II) Varsity team, played on the Softball Team as a successful walk-on, and coached winter and summer Special Olympics athletes and teams. I graduated cum laude, was a member of the dean’s list all 8 semesters, and was inducted into an Allied Health Honor Society prior to graduation.

During business school, my extracurricular activities include running, bicycling, and photography. I also mentor several people within my industry that are early in their careers. I have started a “speed mentoring” program for my extended team within Philips to provide individual contributors access and exposure to various leaders within the company.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my mentoring activities. I believe that my time at Vanderbilt has improved my skills with mentees — I hold more thoughtful discussions, ask better questions, and help them thoughtfully and deliberately plan their personal development activities with greater effect.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? It was the realization that sometimes you have to take a risk, stretch your boundaries and self-beliefs, and accept a role for which you do not feel qualified.

I accepted a role about 10 years ago in my career that I knew I was not qualified for, but I took the risk and jumped into it. I learned a lot, figured things out along the way, developed leadership and political navigation skills, and as a result, my career trajectory was forever changed. I catapulted from middle-management to executive-level responsibility and earning power. As a single mother at the time, it was a big risk, but the decision continues to boost my self-confidence, earning power, and leadership, political, and mentorship abilities. The decision has also allowed me to be a strong role model for my son and provide him opportunities.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Bruce Coiil (The Dean Samuel B. and Evelyn R. Richmond Professor of Management). I enjoyed Bruce’s teaching style, his humor, and the uncanny ability he has to really open student’s eyes to the power of statistical modeling. I apply the concepts and principles I learned in Bruce’s class to my work at Philips, resulting in significant market share growth and smarter placement and utilization of field-based resources.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose Vanderbilt over several executive programs that were closer to home for two simple reasons: 1. Vanderbilt was interested in me as a person and in the success of its students; and 2. Vanderbilt has an active alumni association with a valuable network and contacts.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? It was the exposure to new ideas, the challenge to my standard thought patterns, and the opportunity to learn from fellow students who have experience in industries different from my own.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? My husband’s mother was diagnosed with stage-4 lung cancer about 6 months after my executive MBA program began. As the family member with extensive experience in navigating our healthcare system, I helped arrange for a second opinion with a key thought-leader in oncology.  Knowing the family was relying on me to help provide guidance, research on options, and interpretation of results and care plans meant that I needed to be fully present for the family while keeping up with school requirements, my commitments to my C-Team members, my employer, the business, and the teams that I lead. This required significant juggling. What I’ve learned is that, somehow, it is definitely possible to make time for the things that are important.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s executive MBA program? Invest in some honest preparation for the GMAT, especially if you have been out of undergrad for more than 10 years. Also, don’t put off going back to school until the “perfect time” presents itself. There is no perfect time, there is only time.

What was your biggest regret in business school?  That I did not go back to school sooner in my career.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My classmates that have served in the U.S. military. They have served overseas, often in war zones, and they provide a perspective that prevents me from taking the stresses of an executive MBA program more seriously than necessary.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…my son graduated from college.”

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…trying to manage problems and challenges utilizing the same patterns of behavior and problem solving approaches that worked well for me earlier in my career, but don’t work as my responsibility within the organization grows. I would effectively have limited my ability to continue to grow in my career.”

What is your favorite company and what are they doing that makes them so special? The one I work for — Philips Healthcare. It’s a company that truly lives out its mission: to improve the healthcare of billions of people worldwide within the next 5 years.

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the executive MBA experience? I would ensure that all courses and the associated assignments actually contribute to the growth of students. Assignments that feel like busy work, and/or professors that do not provide thoughtful and timely feedback to submitted assignments limit their perceived value.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term goal is to get involved in private equity, specifically with firms that specialize in portfolio companies in the healthcare space.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My parents. They have instilled in me (and my brothers) a sound work ethic, a strong moral compass, an appreciation for the value of education, an understanding and appreciation for where we come from, and the inherent belief that we are competent people who are fully capable of achieving our goals.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me as an approachable and open person; someone who is competent, respected and respectful, and hopefully a resource to them in the future.

Favorite book: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Favorite movie or television show: Meet Joe Black

Favorite musical performer: U2

Favorite vacation spot: The low country of South Carolina. It invites you to simply be present, outside, and part of the environment.

Hobbies? Bicycling, running, traveling, and photography

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

“Kelly is an exceptional member of the class of 2017. She brings keen insight, maturity, and a sense of humor to all of her contributions in the learning environment. She is recognized by her peers as a thought leader, drawing upon her extensive knowledge of management, team dynamics and leadership to offer alternative views, provoke deeper thinking and stimulate learning.

As a member of a study team, Kelly is seen as a natural leader. She helped her team deliver exceptional work products and one of the top research papers in the class.

Many students note that classmates are a large component of their learning during the EMBA program. Kelly routinely taps into her experience as a leader of a large organization at Philips Healthcare to share practical advice, bring real-world issues into the discussion and support ideas that may not be intuitive to less experienced classmates. She shares her wisdom in a way that is encouraging rather than intimidating. As students completed their own class-participation self-evaluations, Kelly’s name was mentioned as a role model for superior discussion contributions.

As a professor, Kelly stood out in my class as a key contributor to the academic environment and to every class discussion. I particularly enjoyed her pragmatism, clarity of thought, and intellectual curiosity. She stood out among a class of 40 students as a star!”

Nancy S. Abbott
Adjunct Professor of Management