2017 Best EMBAs: Hon S. Pak, University of Maryland (Smith)

Hon S. Pak, MD

University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith School of Business

“Physician executive, researcher and senior consultant with 25-plus years in healthcare strategic leadership.”

Age: 53

Hometown: Baltimore, Md.

Family Members: Wife, Sarah, and three daughters, ages 13, 18, 21

Fun fact about yourself: Upon immigrating to the United States, I attended an inner city Los Angeles school, where for the first two weeks, the English language that I thought I was learning from classmates turned out to be Spanish curse words.

Undergraduate School and Degree: B.S. in chemistry and distinguished graduate of the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY.; Doctorate of Medicine, Uniformed Services University, Bethesda, Md.

Where are you currently working? Chief Medical Officer, 3M Health Information Systems, Silver Spring, Md.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: President of the American Telemedicine Association; Journal of Telemedicine and eHealth editorial board member; frequent reviewer for the Journal of the American Medical Association; and founder of the Lavonne Morse Foundation, which supports educators assisting socio-economically disadvantaged students from outside the United States.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Establishing the Lavonne Morse Foundation has had significant personal meaning for me. Mrs. Morse, as my 4th grade schoolteacher, took me under her wings when I arrived from South Korea with my family as we struggled to make ends meet while adjusting to a new country and culture. She took extra time to teach me English, taught me to play common board games, and she shared meals and introduced me and my family to American culture more broadly on weekends and after school. She both inspired me and shaped my perspective on life — to live to serve others and to find meaning that is bigger than ourselves. Mrs. Morse’s service is a true example of the positive and lasting impact educators have on the lives of their students.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My selection by the Army as its first Chief Medical Information Officer recognized my accomplishment and contributions as a leader, researcher, clinician and change agent. The position was created to help address mounting health IT challenges faced by the Army Medical Department, an $11 billion healthcare system with more than 60,000 employees. The Army sought a physician executive who could bring change management during an era of significant change in healthcare, and I transformed IT into a business-focused discipline and restructured the organization to better support the Army’s strategic priorities for 11 major subordinate commands and its 36 hospitals.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Rajshree Agarwal. She is a very passionate teacher and shows students great care and attention. She also inspires a great deal of passion for strategy, innovation and management.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Corporate Finance. Having very little formal experience in finance, I had learned what I needed to learned via on-the-job training. This course was very well designed and well-taught. I was able to apply basic knowledge from the course to my professional career. I now have a much deeper understanding of how financial reporting for public company can vary and the components of such variance has allowed me to better understand the levers to better manage my financial responsibilities as a business leader at 3M.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose Maryland for its entrepreneurship and executive coaching programs. Regarding the latter, I especially was drawn to the individualized assessment process that pairs you with an executive coach and helps customize your own leadership development plan.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Engaging with a new network of peers who are interested in making a difference.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education?  As a Christian, I am active in serving my church and I make it a priority to attend Sunday service with my family – a good fit between Friday-Saturday UMD-Smith EMBA classes and my weekly work schedule. But few months ago, my employer assigned me to a strategic offsite assignment that would end on a Friday and in the middle of an EMBA weekend session. I managed the potential conflict with my school commitment by garnering accommodation from my boss, enabling me to complete my assignment by that Thursday evening, and take a red-eye flight home Friday morning — in time at least for the second half of my morning class at UMD. While it was not ideal, I discovered the need for balance between work, family and school. Since then, I have greatly appreciated the flexibility of both my employer and academic program that enabled me to balance and meet all of my commitments during that weekend.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s executive MBA program? The Smith School, with its individualized executive-coaching component I noted earlier, is especially ideal if you’re looking for a program to help you strongly define yourself and your career path, along with building and sharpening your leadership skills and wherewithal to be a difference-maker.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I initially anticipated it would be especially difficult to readapt to the rigors of textbook-reading and test-taking. While those factors have proven challenging, the coursework’s teamwork components, plus the support of classmates and camaraderie with them have been critical for me in successfully transitioning back to school.

What was your biggest regret in business school? The timing of starting a new job, while in the EMBA program, was especially challenging on both fronts.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Sean Buckley. While very quiet, he is among of the smartest people I have ever known. An IT leader, he exhibits a very high emotional intelligence level along with outstanding interpersonal skills. He cares deeply about others.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was in a job that paid well but I was no longer passionate about it.”

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…still be searching for my dream job.”

What is your favorite company and what are they doing that makes them so special? 3M. I increasingly appreciate this company, my employer, as highly ethical in how it operates and as an ideal fit for me. Its mission to transform healthcare matches my commitment to improving healthcare access and quality.

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the executive MBA experience? I would place more resources toward customizing executive coaching and creating a personalized curriculum for EMBAs.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To improve access to healthcare and make healthcare affordable and more sustainable.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My 4th-grade teacher, Lavonne Morse, who through her actions inspired me to strive to be the best that I can be. She also instilled a sense of duty to others and hope in humanity.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Hon is caring and intelligent on a personal level, while innovative and passionate about transforming healthcare.

Favorite book: The Shack

Favorite movie or television show: Shawshank Redemption

Favorite musical performer: Celine Dion

Favorite vacation spot: Paris

Hobbies? Fishing and Volleyball

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

“Hon is the complete package and an absolute pleasure in the executive MBA classroom. One of his professors has described him to me as “intelligent and wise, courteous and humorous, collaborative and challenging, and above all, has a thirst for learning and growth.” I’ve come to know Hon as a pleasure to interact and converse with and incredibly thoughtful. He has he regularly looked to assist his friends and colleagues. For example, he took the initiative to create small work-groups of his cohort-mates to help them develop their own strategic direction. In the process, he channeled his professor’s guidance to ensure they all were analyzing and planning their future with insight and alignment with strategic frameworks. That professor, Rajshree Agarwal, further says: “Across 20 years of teaching in EMBA programs in three different institutions, I can honestly say that Hon is the in the top 1% of executives I have had the honor to teach.”

Michael Faulkender
Associate Dean for Masters Programs
Robert H. Smith School of Business