2018 Best EMBAs: Erik Day, Southern Methodist University (Cox)

Erik Day

Southern Methodist University, Cox School of Business

“A driven, energetic & caring leader; devoted husband; dog lover; human rights and LGBT+ advocate; comedian; friend.  

Age: 42

Hometown: Austin, TX

Family Members: Craig Bowman (Spouse), Chester & Chase (Dogs), Janet Day (Mom), Mary McBain (Step-Mom), Matt & Andy Day (Brothers), 2 Sisters- in-Law, 3 Nephews, 3 Nieces

Fun fact about yourself: If I could do anything else, I would be on Broadway. I love Musical Theater, but can’t hold a tune to save my life.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Southern Methodist University, BA Psychology

Where are you currently working? Vice President, Small Business North America for Dell Technologies (Austin, TX)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

PRIDE ERG (Employee Resource Group) Global Executive Chair, Board Member Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, Marjory Stoneman Douglas (Class of 1994) Mobilizing Alumni (HS Shooting in Florida), Avid Tennis Player & Peloton Cycling addict

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During the mobilization of Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) alumni after the school shooting on February 14th this year, alumni friends of mine drove a program to get MSD alumni to hand write letters to the returning student body. I was lucky enough to be asked specifically to write a letter to the Gay-Straight Alliance Members. I simply told them my story about how my high school experience paved the way to my success in becoming a VP at a major company and getting my MBA. I was hoping to give them encouragement to be strong and work hard, but in the end they taught me that their determination and courage is what will change the world.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? How failing forward landed me into an executive role. I got to interview our Vice Chairman, Jeff Clarke, during the program for our Leadership Class. He taught me that failing is part of the game, as long as you learn from your mistakes and are accountable for them. I have always been a passionate and fast-thinking person. While this has been a strength, it has also been a liability. Speaking more than listening led to many mistakes and loss of credibility throughout my career. I worked with amazing leaders and mentors who believed in me, took time to give me the right guidance, and they held me accountable. I turned those failures into learning how to round out my executive craft without losing my true self.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I am a bit of a rule bender, so I have two favorites: Strategically, Tassu Shervani. Every time he lectured, I felt myself getting smarter on the economy, the foundations of a good marketer and the responsibility I have to make the world a better place. For my current job, Robin Pinkley. I thought I was a pretty good negotiator until I met Robin. She made me so much better because she reminds us of the human element in negotiating – that behind the emotion there are human tools you can use to “Max Own” during a negotiation.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Marketing Strategy. Professor Shervani taught a simple, thought-provoking model around the Determinants of Business Performance = Marco Environment + Industry Structure + Management Quality + error. He taught us why the debate around globalization is necessary to grow our economy. We explored the difference between specialists and full line generalist firms, S-Curve innovations, and how tech cycles are changing the way companies are innovating. Finally, we looked at how the 4 P’s work, building a business model, having the right marketing organization, and implementation will make or break a firm’s success. I think about and utilize his model daily in the way I bring a product to market, how I am thinking about my organization and its business performance, and how we are working with university programs to get the very best talent.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? First, SMU is my alma mater. I was in the marching band as an undergraduate, and I am incredibly proud to be a Mustang. Next, MBA programs have become very regional. If you are in a “tech bubble,” like where I live in Austin, the EMBA program at UT seems to have an I-T slant to it. I wanted to build my network and learn outside of I-T. In the SMU Cox program, the diversity is outstanding: from doctors and medical to energy to finance to defense support services. Our program is 50-50 Male/Female and the age and position diversity has also been outstanding.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Given that I was already an executive when I came to the program, I enjoyed the learning, but more so, being a mentor to my fellow classmates. One of my fondest memories is a friend of mine was given the chance to interview with one of her dream companies. She called me multiple times to help her with interview strategies, negotiations and to give her a motivational push that she could excel at this job. When she got the job, the authenticity of her “Thank You” was worth every cent of this program.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education?I won’t lie, this experience was HARD. Traveling from Austin to Dallas every other week for 2-3 days, missing many Fridays from work and missing many date nights at home for studying was hard. However, even without school, life isn’t always easy. Life constantly throw baseballs at you that you have to catch, dodge or hit – just don’t strike out. Adding school to the mix was simply adding another pitch. Setting expectations up front was very important. At home, it was important to schedule set times that I would NOT work or do school so that I could focus on family. At work, it was important to give my leadership team presentations about my progress and share how what I was learning was improving my work. I brought everyone on my journey with me. It allowed me to hit the ball out of the park.

 What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Do it. You will question the investment. And no matter what kind of ROI model you build to see if you will end up making more from it or not, it is the intangibles of the program that make it worth it. The friendships you make are truly for a lifetime. The network you build will give you opportunities you didn’t think about. The education will make you a better executive, no matter the curriculum.

What was your biggest regret in business school?  I don’t have a single one. I don’t believe in regret – I only believe in lessons learned. One lesson learned: maybe I should have enrolled when I was single.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My good friend Sarah. She is the head of the Cath Lab at UT Southwestern – a full-fledged Cardiologist MD. She helps save lives by putting little itty bitty catheters in your heart, works tons of hours, sometimes can’t come out with us because she is on call, is an amazing mom to her two dogs, and is getting her MBA. She is my hero. We also both call Chicago home and dream about doing amazing things in that city one day.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I stopped traveling all over the world for work and was in one place, had the right team in place to help be off a few days a month and I got the itch to learn again.”  

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…helping my husband with our little cottage on Glen Lake, Michigan or on the tennis court.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to be the President of Global Consumer, Small Business at Dell or even of all Client Solutions. I have been at Dell now for almost 19 years. I started as a temporary employee and would love to be the first president at Dell who started as a temp.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Erik is a friend who will always be there to help me professionally or personally and can always be counted on for a fun time.

Favorite book: A Long Way Home – Saroo Brierley (an unreal story about the connection of family)

Favorite movie or television show: Downton Abbey or The Crown – I am obsessed with English Period Pieces

What are the top two items on your bucket list?  

  1. Run for an office to make the world a better place.
  2. Go to all four Tennis Grand Slams in a calendar year.

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

Erik Day joined the Cox Program as Executive Director and General Manager, North America Small Business and commuted each weekend to Dallas from Austin, Texas.  One of his goals was to get promoted. He will finish the program as a vice president at Dell. Another goal Erik expressed in his application was a do-over academically from his undergrad performance. He succeeded in his goal by making a cumulative GPA of 3.9, which ranked him #8 in a class of 72.

Not only did Erik succeed individually, he was extremely participative in class and was always available to help his classmates. He was a role model academically and continually provided acts of leadership. One example of that leadership occurred after the recent and latest mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Erik is a graduate of the school and led an effort for his classmates to write notes of encouragement and love to the students and families to help them deal with this tragic event. That’s Erik. Never forgetting what’s really important in life. Erik is invaluable to the SMU Cox EMBA Class of 2018 because he is concerned about everyone succeeding.”

Tom Perkowski
Assistant Dean
SMU Cox EMBA Program

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF 100 BEST & BRIGHTEST EXECUTIVE MBA GRADS OF 2018