2018 Best EMBAs: Amanda Pollak, IE Business School-Brown University

Amanda Pollak

IE Business School – Brown University

Thoughtful, ambitious, surprising, unflappable, observant, even-keeled, reliable, persistent, cautious, empathetic, positive thinking, sleep-deprived.”

Age: 47

Hometown: New York City, New York

Family Members: Husband and three children, ages 6, 12 and 13.

Fun fact about yourself: Waiting tables was one of my favorite jobs ever and I was really good at it. I think some of my best early business training came from juggling operations and personal relations in the restaurant.

Undergraduate School and Degree: BA, Carleton College

Where are you currently working? Producer, Director, Partner: Insignia Films

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Aside from being class parent at my son’s school and working with the local Quaker Meeting House to feed the homeless, I’m afraid that raising three kids, working full-time, and attending business school has had me maxed out!

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am proud of the fact that, despite often working 70 hours a week, I managed to sit down at the dinner table with my family nearly every night.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am proud of nearly two decades balancing the creative challenges of making nationally acclaimed films for public television, while also running a sustainable business where people enjoy working— all with no business formal training (I was a religion major in college.) It’s exciting to think what will be possible with my MBA.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Gayle Allard (Economics and Africa: The Last Development Frontier). Gayle was one of our first professors and her passion for economics and for teaching were apparent immediately. Despite an absolutely overwhelming amount of material to cover (micro and macro economics in 12 action- packed sessions), she was clear, concise, extremely approachable and made me really care about the subject. When we met her again in South Africa, it was inspiring to see how she put her knowledge and interest in economic theory to practice in the developing world.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? “Thinking about Thinking about Management,” (Taught by Catarina Moschieri) deftly wove together learnings from throughout the program, including corporate strategy, leadership, economics, philosophy and political economy. This course, more than any other, integrated the value of the humanities in its approach to understanding and practicing business and fundamentally changed my perspective on the tension between the individual and society as it plays out in business.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I was looking for a program that would give me new perspective on the work I am doing in the film industry. I knew that with its emphasis on the humanities, IE Brown would attract a cohort with a range of experience — not just from the financial/banking world. I also knew that the more quantitative business courses I needed would be more digestible to me within the more qualitative context of the humanities.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The thing I enjoyed most is also the thing that was the hardest. From day one, I was pushed to do things that were extremely unfamiliar and often uncomfortable. Whether that was public speaking or financial accounting or getting to know an entirely new group of people. At age 47, I’d gotten to a place where I felt pretty good about things, this experience pulled the ground right out from under me. Surviving and ultimately thriving has been quite a thrill.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Do not underestimate the importance of good teamwork or the work it takes to make an effective team. I have been putting teams together to make films for many years now. Most of the time it’s gone well, but there have, of course, been some challenges. Until this program I had seen those as isolated incidents with “problem” team members. Through the team experiences in this program, as well as the courses in leadership and some others, I have learned to look at the ethos of communities at work in a much more nuanced way. Most of all I have learned the key ways in which good management can have a positive impact.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Two weeks after returning from our first residency, I was invited to be on a panel for a six-hour PBS series I had co-directed and produced. It was the day that the forums opened for the week and I needed to complete the readings and make my posts by end of day. My husband was out of town and I had to coordinate the logistics for school pick-ups and the evening with the babysitter. I also had to get my thoughts together for the panel and get in the right frame of mind to talk about the film I had made. I got on the train to Boston and remember being completely paralyzed. I pride myself on being a good juggler, but I found it near to impossible to figure out how to prioritize amongst these competing responsibilities. Ultimately, I just did one thing at a time and made it through the day. Key lesson: don’t panic.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That it will take you out of your comfort zone. And in fact, that proved to be absolutely true for me.

What was your biggest regret in business school? That I didn’t push myself harder on the more quantitative courses that did not come naturally to me. I still think there’s a lot I need to learn… but at least I have the course materials to go back to once I have more time.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Gaute Solaas is the kind of classmate I was hoping to encounter when I chose the IE Brown program. He is whip smart and beyond proficient in the financial realm, but also has nuanced life experience and knowledge of fields beyond business, ranging from music to philosophy. He can talk on just about anything. He is also even keeled and respectful.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…a panelist evaluating a proposal for funding questioned why they should cover salary for a filmmaker. It’s about time this industry be treated as a business. But if filmmakers don’t have the tools, it’s not going to happen.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…wringing my hands over why our company is stuck in a rut— doing ok, but unable to grow.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I would like to play a meaningful role in transforming the business model of the documentary film industry.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? This is a quote from a professional note I received recently that puts it nicely: “You seem to be able to handle whatever comes your way with intelligence and grace! “

Favorite book: The Great Gatsby

Favorite movie or television show: Mad Men

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Take my family to Cape Town. Watch movies and do not open my computer for an entire week.

What made Amanda such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“Amanda Pollak is a documentary film maker running an independent production company in New York since 2001. She has over 25 years of experience in the film industry with a focus in History.

As a liberal arts undergrad with a focus in religion and academic focus on working with communities in the developing world, she was a perfect match for the IE Brown Executive MBA.

With her industry changing radically and the business model becoming more complex, she had to stop thinking of herself as an artist and more of a business woman. She needed exposure to the business thinking in a more formal way and decided to pursue the IE Brown for the combination of business and humanities. In this program, the historical, economic and social context is introduced as critical to managers to take decisions and an incredible coincidence took place when in the course “Understanding Health Disparities”: the faculty member showed a clip of a film to explain eradication of the yellow fever and it was a clip of one of her films about the construction of the Panama Canal.”

Patricia Carnicero Collado
Executive Director
IE Brown Executive MBA Program 

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