2017 Best EMBAs: Ryan Sparks, New York University (Stern)

Ryan Sparks

New York University, Stern School of Business

“Retired Marine Infantry Officer, Combat Vet, strategy and operations executive in technology and payments.”

Age: 42

Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri

Family Members: Spouse – Elizabeth, Daughter – Avery, Son – Nathan

Fun fact about yourself: I was featured in an HBO Documentary about the war in Afghanistan – “The Battle for Marjah”

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Kansas, Political Science; University of San Diego School of Business, MS Global Leadership

Where are you currently working? Director of Client Enablement, JP Morgan Chase, Merchant Services.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Previous Board Member, The Headstrong Project (501C3 that provides cost free mental health care to veterans).

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Helped Headstrong develop governance and an operating model to expand nationally in 2015.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In 2010, I organized, trained, deployed and led a 500-person joint USMC/Afghan unit through a deployment to Marjah, Afghanistan. Together, we defeated a 100-person Taliban force and established area security for 10,000+ Afghan nationals. Over 5 months, we developed and managed a $1.2 million in civic development and reconstruction, and worked with local leaders to build a legitimate thriving economy in lieu of illegal opium trafficking in a 10,000-person community.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Sonia Marciano – she is brilliant and presented a pragmatic view equally full of academic research and industry experience.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Glenn Okun, Managing Growing Companies – whether you are designing your career or looking for assets to generate cash flow, productive assets should be used for their purpose and no other.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? NYU is the only top program within walking distance to Wall Street, and it has the faculty to match that fact. It is balanced and diverse, located in Greenwich Village and sharing real estate with great film and art schools. It is well-rounded, focusing on start-ups and the world’s largest banks. It is NYC.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I enjoyed the journey, the crucible experience. Joining my cohort and, together, becoming more than I was when I started.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? The NYU program incorporates two global study tours. Our second trip consisted of a week split between Seoul and Tokyo. At the time, I was also conducting a strategic assessment of our global tech and ops centers at JP Morgan Chase. I was able to visit our locations in Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines adjacent to our trip. While this meant two weeks away from the family, I was able to gain efficiencies in the margins of travel and prevent any interruption of the family’s spring break or summer plans.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s executive MBA program? Be yourself and show the staff why you are a unique asset and how you plan to engage yourself to change your business or community. Explain why you should get to influence the rest of your student cohort.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That you don’t have time. Everyone has time in the margins they are not using. Commit to the goal, you can make it work, and it is worth it.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I let work interfere with my level of commitment. In the end, I finished the program, but I could have gained deeper understanding and knowledge with a higher level of commitment.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My close friend, Rachel Sackrowitz, left her position as the head of a hospital critical care unit to pursue a new career in tele-medicine, leading the medical staff of a global business.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I left the military and entered the business world. I wanted to be as fundamentally sound at my second career as I was at my first.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…in a smaller space at work, wishing I had.”

What is your favorite company and what are they doing that makes them so special? Amazon started as an online book store. Since then, it has found a way to scale the two most important 21st century traits – agility and adaptability.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I strive to be the CEO of a large business unit or independent company in finance or risk technology.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? Two people: my wife, Beth, who supported my long nights and weekends away; as well as my good friend and mentor, Matt Zames, who was an instrumental part of my recent success.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want to serve as an example of the possibility of transformation to my peers. I entered the program struggling to transition into my new post-military life. Experiencing the transformation alongside my classmates, I emerged as an executive at one of the most powerful financial institutions in the world.

Favorite book: The Old Man and The Sea – Ernest Hemingway 

Favorite movie or television show: The Empire Strikes Back, Game of Thrones

Favorite musical performer: Led Zeppelin, The Grateful Dead

Favorite vacation spot: Anywhere with warm water and waves

Hobbies? Surfing, Snowboarding, hiking, CrossFit, Guitar

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

“As a decorated combat veteran and finance professional, Ryan is a valuable addition to the NYU Stern Executive MBA cohort. Before his professional business career, Ryan commanded Marines for 16 years as an infantry and reconnaissance officer, providing him with a strong foundation in strategy and leadership which he brought to the EMBA classroom. Ryan is well-respected by his student peers for his positive energy, commitment to learning and problem solving skills – which he is excited to apply further at work in the changing finance industry. He is an active contributor to the Stern community and has served as an ambassador for the program, as a class visit host for prospective students. Ryan balances his school, work and family time with a commitment to The Headstrong Project, giving support back to war veterans. Ryan is a great example of Stern’s core value “IQ+EQ”.

Stefanie Milner
Senior Associate Director
Executive MBA Admissions & Marketing