2018 Best EMBAs: Kafi A. Joseph, Georgetown University, McDonough

Kafi A. Joseph

Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business

Age: 36

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: If I were to use outcomes from assessment tools used in our MBA program –

  • Influencer, Activator, Strategic, Learner, Achiever;
  • Motivated by: Leading, learning, global opportunities, playful relaxation

Hometown: Born in San Fernando, Trinidad moved to and later grew up in Mitchellville, MD

Family Members:

  • I was born in the Caribbean (Trinidad) raised primarily by my mother Beverly with strong influences from my late grandmother Ursula. I’m fortunate to have a fantastic blended family consisting of my one sister and two brothers on my dad’s side and my two sisters through my step-dad. I have a 9-year-old niece and during this program added twin nephews and a Godson to the mix of kiddos to love and support.
  • My extended family is scattered across the US, Canada, Europe, and the Caribbean. We have this comically large group chat on WhatsApp where we celebrate, share, and support each other’s accomplishments and activities from afar.
  • I also have a tribe of sister-friends with whom I’ve forged a bond through our time spent at West Point. These women are fiercely loyal, highly motivated and hugely successful in each of their chosen paths in life. I love them each and appreciate our unique bond and friendship through the ups and downs of life – we are always there for each other.

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve visited five of the seven continents, 21 countries, lived in four of them and only have 18 states left to visit in the USA. I’ve visited these countries: Canada, Mexico, Korea, Kuwait, Iceland, Iraq, Ireland, Germany, Qatar, St. Maarten, Peru, Belize, United Arab Emirates, Oman, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, South Africa, St. Lucia, Trinidad, Vietnam.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • S. Military Academy (West Point), B.S. Geospatial Information Science – 2003
  • The George Washington University, M.S. Systems Engineering – 2015

Where are you currently working?

  • Accenture, Commercial Director (Family)
  • Commercial Director for Homeland Security Family in Accenture Federal Services. Partners with the Leadership Team to implement the strategy, financial objectives, and operational goals.

 Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles:

  • Class Representative
    Selected as one of three class representatives for our EMBA cohort. Served as a liaison between fellow students and the Georgetown administration.
  • Volunteer with The Mission Continues (TMC)

TMC empowers veterans facing the challenge of adjusting to life at home to find new missions. We redeploy veterans in their communities so that their shared legacy will be one of action and service.

  • Member, Board of Governors – West Point Society of DC and the National Capital Region
    Led a committee responsible for the planning, coordination, and execution of the WPSDC’s annual Founders Day Gala. The event draws upwards of 600 people each year and includes fundraising and sponsorship, and some proceeds benefit the philanthropic arm of the society.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During my time as a class representative, I was able to work closely with classmates to organize big impact gifts to welcome babies born into the cohort to four of our first-time parent classmates and their families. This is just one of the many ways our cohort demonstrated camaraderie and shared a bond, and is one of the many reasons I’m proud to be a member of this cohort.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I served as the first team captain and, along with a small group of women, founded the Women’s Rugby team at West Point in 2002. It’s been quite an experience to watch the team as it evolved over the years from a club sport to a National Championship team, and most recently, a earned its designation as a varsity sport. The desire and drive, leadership and camaraderie the team has come to represent for over 15 years are humbling.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? It’s clear from day one, the professors at Georgetown care deeply about their field of expertise and about equipping us as MBAs with the ability to think beyond the “books” and classroom, to challenge our perspectives and leverage each of our experiences as learning points.

Professor (Dean) Paul Almeida was my favorite professor for the above reason and more. My first encounter with Professor Almeida was at an open house for Georgetown where I participated in a mini-lecture based on the Strategy course he would teach. Professor Almeida’s energy and encouragement for each of us to share and draw from our collective professional experiences certainly made the course impactful. As the-then, Senior Associate Dean for Executive Education, he often shared his vision for the EMBA program in the classroom, demonstrated practical applications of the strategic concepts through examples of initiatives and actions he’d taken with the EMBA program. As a student, it was particularly impressive to have the dean continue to make time to engage with students as a professor.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Negotiations with Professor Tinsley was my favorite course. Professor Tinsley helped to alter my perspective on negotiating. Before the course, I confined my view of negotiating to stereotypical things like salary and no kidding business deals. Before jumping into “how” to negotiate, Professor Tinsley discussed and busted many negotiation myths, presented data and research on gender biases vs. actual negotiation outcomes and just how and why individuals are generally ‘bad’ at negotiating. The course stretched me to recognize the myriad of negotiations I encounter throughout a typical week, well beyond the stereotypical. In recognizing each encounter, I’ve been more thoughtful of how I approach ‘negotiation’ interactions and significantly increased the opportunities I have to practice and hone negotiation skills!

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Growing up in and around the Washington, DC area, Georgetown University is well-known and highly respected. When I decided it was time to pursue my MBA, not only was Georgetown was at the top of my list, it was my list! I took a big swing and made it, as Georgetown was the only program to which I applied. In retrospect, I’m not sure I would recommend this approach to others seeking programs. For me, it was Georgetown all the way!

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Like many others in my MBA cohort, I tend to be very “achievement” focused. What I enjoyed the most about business school, notably with being in an executive program, was the ability to make personal and professional connections that I know will last a lifetime. The richness and diversity of the cohort’s professional and personal backgrounds added to the experience. Inside the case rooms, professional experience and real-world examples gave depth to our discussions and knowledge. Outside of the classroom, many of us connected on shared interests and to expand on ideas and concepts mentoring, coaching, and supporting each other’s career and personal endeavors.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it to work? Although not necessarily a lesson, I appreciated that we had the opportunity to tackle ‘real life’ problems and challenges in the program and to leverage the minds and experiences of other students to bring a solution to bear. During our accounting course, we each had the opportunity to present an accounting challenge as the basis of a team strategy and cost assessment. The team selected my real-world challenge, which centered on the practice of cost smoothing instead of rolling up project costs to the organization level. We identified the practice of smoothing as the primary driver of cost variances leading to cost overestimates in some value streams and underestimates in others.

A few months after we shared our project data, the company’s updated Project P&L Reporting now included unit-by-unit costs (so tracking per unit, not in aggregate); direct labor is detailed by the department, which was a key finding from our report); overhead applied is detailed by the department.  The most noticeable impact is how the more granular cost captures resulted in ~$250K difference in costs between the old method and new method, thus allowing us to be more accurate and experience less ‘surprise’ cost variances.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? I participate in and co-plan an international biennial girl’s trip with my sister-friends, the 2017 trip was to South Africa. I had competing deadlines for a presentation for our M&A class, transitioning out of my role at my company and the added challenge of being in a completely different time zone than anyone else. Similarly, when I traveled to Korea for our Capstone project, I had the challenge of keeping up with work while away for school.

The essential elements that worked for me: involve people early and often, clearly identify who will be responsible in my absence, and communicate, communicate, communicate. In each of the above instances, I set up regular calls to check in before, during, and after to ensure no requirements slipped through the cracks.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Don’t concentrate on the grades, enjoy every bit of the experience.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I’m not the sort of person who really believes in “regrets.” As a matter of fact, I have a sign in my living room that says simply: No Regrets. What that means to me is to be deliberate in my actions and to take the lesson and thrive from every experience that is sent my way!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire my classmate Simona Rosu. Simona and I have sat next to each other since the second week of class. In that time, we’ve worked on several projects together and became fast friends. Although hers is not my story to tell, know she is an impressive woman – having immigrated here from Romania and established herself as a personal and professional success while overcoming life-changing challenges that would debilitate individuals not as strong-willed as she.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was promoted to my first executive-level role at EnPro Industries (Fairbanks Morse Engine). After one of my first staff meetings with the other VPs and Directors the President of our Division said to me “Kafi, you ask very pointed questions, and you’re a quick study, but I really believe that getting your MBA will help you to round out the on-the-job experience you’re getting here and make you that much better of an executive leader.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…(still) be poking around at webinars, MOOCs, and other external resources to bridge the gaps in my knowledge, but I would have been unlikely to have the global experiences and lifelong friendships and expansions to my network.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Leaving behind a Legacy. I would like to establish a summer experience for young women teaching them the ABCS of being their best selves. To be authentic, brilliant, brave, composed, and selfless.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d like my peers to remember as someone who pushed them forward when they stalled, encouraged them when they faltered, supported them when they were tired, and applauded them when they achieved success.

Favorite book: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKewon

Favorite movie or television show:

  • Current running: The Flash
  • Not currently running, but all time: The Cosmos

What are the top two items on your bucket list? 1) Being a mom and 2) being able to see the earth from space.

On being a mom: Full disclosure, I am not yet married, nor am I a mother! The idea of raising, nurturing, and watching my kid(s) grow into wonderful human beings and watching and having a hand in their potential as it unfolds as well as the impact they will have on the world is humbling and something that I would love the opportunity to do.

On going to Space: It would literally be an awesome experience! I’ve heard about the overview effect (google it!) and experienced a lesser version in my short-lived skydiving hobby. The following quote by Davinci fuels my desire for the experience: “For once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”

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

“Kafi Joseph brings exemplary leadership presence to our current EMBA class. A former Army Officer who led men and women throughout her military service, she has received six medals ranging from Meritorious to Commendation and Achievement.

Her leadership is not about dominance but rather inclusion and acceptance of others. She is a collaborator who brings people together and sees strengths in everyone. Besides her leadership in the military, she has managed consulting team, manufacturing team, and sports team. One of Kafi’s strengths is her calm composure under uncertainty; her focus becomes laser sharp and allows her to breakdown complexity while managing team members’ unique capabilities to achieve optimum outcomes.

One of her recommenders wrote, “…she is courageous in the face of chaos and adversity, she embraces taking the lead and assumes responsibility when others would avoid taking on difficult challenges.” Kafi is a genuine leader who cares about others; she builds long-lasting relationships and makes everyone around her feel special. Her authenticity, positive approach to solutions, and caring brought incredible value to her EMBA class at Georgetown.”

Elie Farhat
Associate Dean for Admissions, Career Management, and Executive Outreach
Executive Degree Programs

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