2018 Best EMBAs: Autumn Huiatt, Wharton School

Autumn Huiatt

University of Pennsylvania’s The Wharton School (San Francisco)

“I am driven by my commitment to changing the world through my talents and blessings.”

Age: 32

Hometown: Cavalier, North Dakota

Family Members: Jeffrey (spouse)

Fun fact about yourself: I can sleep anywhere: I have enviable stories of getting incredible rest when everyone around me is suffering in an uncomfortable vehicle or flight. Once on a plane after a long week of work, I fell asleep prior to takeoff, not realizing until we landed that there was a multiple-hour medical evacuation which had taken place prior to the flight taking off – a journey that I had slept through in its entirety.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Jamestown, Bachelor of Arts

Where are you currently working? I am the Controller of Sound Inpatient Physicians, Inc. Sound is a nation-wide physician practice.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Wharton Executive MBA Dean’s List (summer 2016, fall 2016, winter 2017, fall 2017 terms).
  • All as One, Board Member and Treasurer, Sierra Leone-based nonprofit, 2014-present;
  • Imaginare Studios, Founder, 2017 to present, media company dedicated to closing the gender confidence gap;
  • Deloitte sabbatical program with Habitat for Humanity, Altus, Oklahoma,

Summer 2010;

  • La Asociación Nuestros Ahijados de Guatemala, Volunteer, Antigua, Guatemala Summer 2007;
  • Washington State Business Week, Team lead, (Business camp for high school students);
  • Licensed Certified Public Accountant in Minnesota and Washington;

Member of AICPA; Member of WSCPA;

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The Wharton Executive MBA program offers the Global Consulting Practicum (GCP), that I was selected to participate in during my first year. Known as the “Ironman of Wharton”, the GCP is a year- long consulting project requiring copious time and dedication beyond our day jobs, and school.

Our consulting sponsor was an internationally famous not-for-profit dedicated to the eradication of poverty – our specific project was to support the access, adoption, and usage of mobile money by poor in East Africa. My team of six proceeded to then spend over 1,400 hours in expert interviews, secondary research, design thinking exercises, and field research in Kampala, Uganda. We literally became experts in this niche field overnight by studying how mobile money works and understanding the players on both an individual and institutional basis, such that we added to the existing body of research. In fact, we were invited to speak at a conference on mobile money adoption hosted by the international nonprofit, The Helix Institute. We unfortunately had to decline an in-person workshop, but did deliver a pre-recorded version in English that was later translated into French, based on high-demand for our insights!

While I personally honed my problem-solving and key interviewing skills, I am particularly proud of the fact that because of my involvement in this project, we advocated a risk-share arrangement among mobile money dealers to help protect their entrepreneurial investment in the ecosystem.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? After two years as a manager, I left Deloitte in 2014 to join a private-equity backed growth-stage organization dedicated to improving the quality of care delivered in hospitals around the United States. Today, four years later, the organization’s revenues are over $1 billion, approximately 450% of revenues when I joined. As controller, my team was directly responsible for developing accounting and financial reporting processes and internal control procedure to both enable the organization’s growth and facilitate public company investors in joining Sound.

About half-way through the MBA program, I was promoted from director to vice president, while keeping my functional job as controller. The promotion to vice president was 100% about me persuading the organization that my role was an executive role and that I already acted in an executive capacity on behalf of the organization, both via technical expertise gained at Wharton and Deloitte and through leading a team of 50+ professional across the United States.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Corporate Restructuring, taught by Kevin Kaiser. The course focused on the identification of value-producing activities, the process for refinancing, and restructuring debt both in and out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The biggest insight I gained focused on the way he required us to answer questions in class. He taught us a script to respond to any question posed: “I don’t know. What I think is x, because of y.” I appreciated his constant commitment to humility in and out of the classroom and his example to us in maintaining a questioning mind, and comfort with acknowledging we don’t know the answers on our own.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose Wharton because it is a quant school. I attended a liberal arts college for my undergraduate education and wanted to complement the education I already received. Wharton didn’t disappoint! I still remember sitting in my microeconomics class thinking to myself “derivative…I missed that in my undergraduate degree!” I later learned to master the derivative calculations, much to my sense of accomplishment.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? My classmates! Hands down, the experience would have been significantly less enjoyable without them. I am currently working with two classmates on a venture that began as a class project. It started with the question: why are there fewer females than males in C-suites and technical fields? Through our research with psychologists, teachers, counselors, and parents, we learned that it has a lot to do with self-confidence, the base components of which are developed in the brain prior to age ten. We are now working on children’s books designed to build confidence in young girls, and have our first book ready to launch in April 2018!

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Microeconomics applied to my professional career: the relationship between time and energy invested and outcome is nonlinear. There is a point of profit maximization where the ratio of input to output actually goes negative. In addition, WHAT I spend my time on matters a great deal. Certain investments (mostly listening to my team and investing in my ability to encourage and inspire them) have exponential returns, while other investments nearly always have negative returns. To maximize my value as an executive, I need to both be aware and choose to avoid them.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? As part of the Wharton MBA for Executives program, each student spends a week abroad studying a relevant aspect of business. I went to Buenos Aires, Argentina to study business in a turbulent economy. Prior to the week in BA, my husband and I flew down together to explore the coast of Uruguay on our own and to visit Iguazu Falls, Argentina with my classmates. We had such a great time together that he stayed with the class throughout the first half of the week.

During the day my husband worked from the hotel as I was out with the team, I would then spend an hour with him catching up on emails from work, after which he and I both would join my classmates for dinner and events in the evening. We took in our first international soccer match, observed theatrical tango, and consumed prime Argentinian beef paired with fantastic wine.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Do it! But ensure that your entire family is on board with your decision: it is a life-changing experience. Like most life-changing experiences go, it is simultaneously the most invigorating and most draining thing you can do. Because of that, your support network is invaluable. Additionally, plan-ahead to have other outlets such as fitness activity, reading, or a shared activity with your significant other; my outlet was (and is) my yoga practice.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I imagine most people step into the classroom fearing “there is no way I will be able to keep up.” I know I did. Once I started, and put one foot in front of the other, I realized it’s all possible, and that each of us begin the program with those same fears.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not having unlimited time to participate in every social activity and to take every class. The best part of business school is the breadth of experience. All tradeoffs are difficult to make as a large part of me seriously wanted to do everything, connect with everyone, and generally learn as much as possible!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire my classmate Rachel

Wolff. She is headed to Bangladesh after graduation to serve as the COO of the country-office for an international nonprofit. Rachel consistently has interesting classroom insights, mostly because her perspective is consistently different than those of us who come from more traditional backgrounds. In addition to loving her as a person, I am also keeping up with her intentionally because I have long had a dream of one day working in the nonprofit space.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I began asking my mentors about the power of the MBA experience, and the way in which it would bolster my more technical accounting undergraduate degree, to launch me into a broader business role.”

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…doing the same thing as the three years prior. Receiving my executive MBA has opened countless doors and the possibilities truly seem unlimited at this point.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To become the CEO of a company that makes the world a better place.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Autumn took the time to get to know me, she cheered me on, and she made me feel valued.

Favorite book: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I adore the protagonist Francie Nolan and seeing life (wonderful and painful) from her eleven-year-old eyes.

Favorite movie or television show: When Harry Met Sally. I just can’t quite tire of watching Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal fall in love. The interludes with couples talking about the way they met gets me every time.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Top: To operate as an entrepreneur. My husband Jeff and I regularly share ideas that we think of throughout the day or week to critique and continue to build upon. Favorite idea we will not pursue: an upscale home-baked pie shoppe with rotating and seasonal flavors, complete with a tea and coffee bar.

Close second: To work in a nonprofit as my primary job for a period of time. After graduation from university, I spent the summer volunteering at a nonprofit in Antigua, Guatemala, which provided a primary and secondary school for children whose parents couldn’t afford the cost of education. I have long cherished that experience and desired to return to a fulltime role as a volunteer, perhaps in retirement.

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

“Autumn is a vibrant, laser-focused example of the power of discipline. She draws out the best in others through her belief in the goodness of the human spirit, personified by her servant leadership. An indefatigable worker, she leads a 50-person accounting, tax, and compliance team in a startup turned $1+billion healthcare organization with the mission of improving the quality of healthcare delivery in US hospitals. As a testament to her ability to give 200% to competing priorities, while pursuing her executive MBA, Autumn was selected to serve on a pro-bono consulting team focused on eliminating poverty by increasing the access, adoption, and usage of mobile money in east Africa.

Inspired by the dearth of female peers, Autumn and two of her fellow students founded a start-up focused on solving the confidence gap between adult women and men by creating content for young children, structured around emotional development milestones. With the support of the program, Autumn also architected a compelling business case and influenced a successful promotion by creating a vice president role in her organization where none previously existed. When not at school or work, Autumn is also a military spouse supporting her husband’s love of country, and practices yoga to keep herself grounded and humble.”

Bernie Britt
Executive Director of the Wharton MBA Program for Executives (San Francisco)

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