2018 Best EMBAs: Mark Flynn, ESADE

Mark Flynn

Georgetown (McDonough School of Business) – ESADE School of Business and Law

Global healthcare executive leading through innovation to realize patient needs and answer global health challenges.”

Age: 46

Hometown: Newcastle, Australia.

Family Members: Traci (wife), Oliver (son, 12 years) and Mattias (son, 8 years).

Fun fact about yourself: I know far too much about airline mileage programs!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

BSpPath (Hons), La Trobe University, Australia

GradDipAud, University of Melbourne, Australia

PhD (Medicine), University of Melbourne, Australia

Where are you currently working?

University of Newcastle (Australia)

Executive Director, Global Impact Cluster for Better Health, Healthcare and Treatment

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • I enjoy working with start-ups that are trying to solve unique challenges in health. Given my experience, I provide direction, expertise and some days simply a sounding board for their thoughts. Being at the university provides me with an excellent opportunity to give this back.
  • I love traveling, especially in search of unique wine and food that is a reflection of where I am.
  • I have rediscovered running. Each year, I compete in a number of competitive events, up to and including half marathons. I have yet to be convinced of the necessity of going for the marathon distance.
  • One of my greatest leadership challenges was being selected as one of the two class representatives for our EMBA cohort. It was an honor and an opportunity to represent the views of a diverse and exceptional group of leaders.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Consulting for Infosys in Bangalore (India) was awesome! We had to deconstruct their business model, understand the market and propose concrete strategies to increase their monetization from R&D spending. I was fortunate to be teamed with four other leaders (Olayinka Akisanya, Maksim Altmark, David Hochberg and Santiago Osorio), working collaboratively and collectively to take apart the Infosys business model and propose clear recommendations to their R&D leadership team on how they could improve the monetization from innovation. I loved this topic, as it directly applied our learnings in finance and strategy as well as my experience with innovation and R&D.

Given that Infosys has an exceptional track record of innovation and consistent profitability, this was no small challenge. Bringing together our collective insights from various industries enabled us to think outside the box to determine solutions that were practical and feasible to increase the profitability of the business unit. The work over the prior months under the guidance of Professor Javier Busquets, combined with the reality that we were in Bangalore presenting our findings to a group of exceptional Infosys R&D leaders, was one of the richest experiences of my professional career. I was fortunate to have a group of colleagues who were inspirational, balanced and committed to the project, and this enabled us to deliver the results.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Providing the gift of hearing to so many people. In my previous roles, at Oticon A/S and Cochlear Ltd, I was fortunate to lead projects developing implantable hearing solutions for people to retain or regain the gift of hearing. Working where I could see the direct impact of my achievements every day was truly special. This was brought home to me at a recent function, where I met a business leader who was benefiting from a medical device I worked on a few years earlier. Discussing with him the benefits he derived and how we need to continue to innovate in the health sector drove home the need for our work to be tangible and meaningful.

Similarly, I am proud of the work that our cohort completed as part of the GEMBA Legacy Project to assist refugees and other displaced persons. It is crucial to give back whatever you can to enable people in different circumstances to succeed at a time of need.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? For me, the best learning environment was when the professors co-taught. It is rare that you have two esteemed experts, teaching simultaneously, pushing, joking and challenging each other with great rhythm and timing. Importantly, they had great openness and trust in the way they worked with the class. This is the value of business school, where you recognize the brilliance that comes from teamwork.

Professors Paul Almeida and Pedro Parada excited the class in international business management and strategy by providing views of business and experience from both sides of the Atlantic. Their unique method of working together and the shared years of experience lifted the course to a higher level.

Later in the program, we benefited from Professors Ricardo Ernst and Kasra Ferdows, who set the class alight with the exceptional way that they approached the topic of global operations and supply chain, examining logistics and the supply chain with a journey from Benihana to Zara via Lego and Li & Fung Ltd. They excited us to come into their world and empowered us to look at businesses in ways that we never had before, making the supply chain a part of our competitive advantage.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Personally, the course that brought much of it home was an elective delivered by Professor Michael O’Leary that focused on delivering organizational change through leading high-impact teams. It is the human element of leadership and how we build culture and respond to crises that is required to create and lead high-performing organizations.

Little did I know that in a few months I would be asked to acquire an additional portfolio: leading our Newcastle innovation team through a period of organizational and cultural change. I drew back to our discussions and analyses of case studies of leaders in similar situations to put into place the actions and tools required to build a new team, set clear KPIs, instill culture, and set a new direction.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I selected the Georgetown-ESADE joint EMBA for three reasons.

First, the diversity of cohort in terms of gender, age, countries and mix of profit vs. non-profit backgrounds. By actively engaging with diversity, we all gain from a multiplicity of insights and perspectives.

Second, it was a truly global program, with six modules shared across the world. As we globalize, it is crucial to experience and immerse ourselves in the global environment. As a GEMBA, I would be consulting in India while developing, together with Vince Bertram and Karyn Page, the strategy and operations to implement a non-profit STEM education program in Oman as part of my master’s thesis.

Third, the inclusion of the School of Foreign Service provided an insight that is invaluable to gaining an understanding of the global situation from, and (most importantly) how to actively use non-market forces to grow and protect your organization.

The balance of academic excellence and social responsibility as provided by the combination of ESADE and Georgetown, based on Jesuit values, was not overtly part of my original program selection. However, once in the program, it was clear that the balancing force of social responsibility was critical and provided the program’s unique perspective, which is critical for today’s challenges. While in Spain, a group of my cohort were fortunate to spend an additional day following in the footsteps of Saint Ignatius during his time in Barcelona and his resulting pilgrimage to Montserrat and nearby Manresa. Understanding and respecting Jesuit values and how they apply to the development of leadership and the education of leaders underpins the necessity of morality, balance, and responsibility in the companies we lead.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? It was not a school, but a unique and treasured time where senior leaders were thrown together to openly discuss, learn, and practice the skill sets that will take each of us to the next level in our careers. I was truly fortunate to be part of this experience.

In each module, we learned the tools and acquired the confidence we needed to apply them directly in our workplaces. The immediate challenge by the professors to apply, practice, and provide feedback between modules fostered an excellence in education.

As this was an EMBA program, we all came with experiences from our rich careers. The excitement of class discussions, where we would reflect on the case studies and play out a series of “what ifs” and reflect on what worked and what did not work in different industries and cultures. One of the liveliest discussions was on the nature of corporate gifts and entertainment and the differences between industries, countries, and cultures.

I gained immensely from the cohort. It was not like a typical classroom, where the professor is the expert in the room. Here, we were all equal experts and the professor’s job was to be our coach, encourage creative debate and reflect on our experiences. With each discussion, we grew as leaders.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The program was one large lesson with multiple direct applications to the work environment. The most important lesson was the simplest one. After the very late nights of module one and feeling that I was always behind, it had escaped my attention that it was not just about the readings and the final exams after each module, but that we were also expected to deliver several assignments and other tasks during the module. Given that our day started early, consisted of field visits, classroom sessions and business dinners, and that the weekend was simply a time for more classes, the time to work on these additional assignments did not exist. At first, I felt it was best to complete these assignments after the lectures, field experiences, and discussions for the best outcome. This left me playing catch-up and being totally exhausted as the late nights ran into the necessity to wake early and finish assignments.

I took stock and, despite the pain, promised myself that for each module I would come prepared with at least drafts of each assignment. Although the drafts had to be updated based on the class discussions and lessons, this meant that I was better prepared, more relaxed and sufficiently rested to absorb and gain from the experience.

For the real work environment, the improved skills in time management, the quality of the deliverables, and my improved perspective on the effectiveness of delivering in full and on time was an unintended benefit of the program.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? An EMBA requires considerable skills in balancing all of life’s needs. It is about project management and clear communication. Coming later to business education meant that I had to juggle work, the needs of a growing family, and the EMBA program. It was not a winning negotiation strategy to say that the EMBA would come first for the duration of the course and that everything else would be put to the side. Of course, there was family relief and celebration when the program was complete.

Each year, we take a ski trip to Trysil in Norway with friends, and there was no way that the EMBA would deprioritize that. Everyone would have gone without me and I didn’t want to miss out on either event! For me, this trip happened the week before the India module. A week spent skiing meant that all my readings, assignments and activities needed to be completed a week early. Dinner conversations after skiing with our friends were spent on what exactly I was learning and sharing perspectives on strategy and leadership with my friends. After we drove the five hours back from Norway, I picked up my prepacked bag, said my goodbyes, went to the airport and flew straight to Bangalore. It was funny to reflect that on Saturday I was in the order and snow fields of Norway, and by Sunday I was in the vibrancy and hustle of Bangalore. I am extremely lucky that my family could provide me with this sort of understanding and opportunity.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? To go for it! It will cost money, absorb your time, and leave you exhausted. An EMBA is a life-changing program that prepares you for the next level of leadership and will be the foundation for your career. I encourage anyone to invest the time up front in figuring out which program is best for them. We all come with different backgrounds, experiences, cultures and ambitions. Take the time to determine which program is going to meet your needs and serve as the ultimate preparation for the rest of your life.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth is that the world has enough MBAs and its value is diminished. For me, the MBA was not so much about the degree, but the opportunity to take time to recalibrate your career, set career goals, build connections and fill in the professional gaps to enable you to take the next step in your professional journey. The opportunity to be part of the successful cohort and to take the time to focus on your knowledge, leadership and perspectives is invaluable.

What was your biggest regret in business school? That I did not join karaoke in Shanghai!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I was blessed to be in a cohort of such strength and diversity. I admire every single one of my classmates for the enormous success they have had and for what they will go on to achieve. In each module, the class discussions, group work, and extra-curricular activities provided me with the opportunity to learn and grow from my colleagues’ experiences, perspectives and feedback. It was clear that I was in a cohort of people hand-picked to be the next leaders for the world.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized I had reached the ceiling of my leadership in global R&D. To make the next step in healthcare leadership and innovation, I desired the knowledge, practice and wisdom that an EMBA would provide.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…incomplete as a leader. I needed formal guidance and exposure to other industries to enable me to realize my full potential as a leader in a fast-moving, innovative environment. We become caught in our bubble of industry-specific knowledge. The MBA provides the opportunity to break out of the bubble and be challenged by new perspectives. I now have the academic and professional depth I need to move to the next level.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? For me, it is about how leaders string together a succession of short-term successes that ultimately becomes a long-term legacy. My goal is to lead my team, impact others and set a direction with responsibility, accountability, alignment and a clear vision for the future. If I manage to achieve that, I will happily reflect on my career and tick off the goals as I move forward.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Mark is a passionate leader who has the time to share knowledge while being positive and cheerful in all activities, no matter how late at night.

Favorite book: The Inspector Morse series by Colin Dexter. The winning combination of Oxford, obscure crimes and the curious character of Inspector Morse is fantastic.

Favorite movie or television show: Each time I watch Lord of the Rings, the fantastic four years I spent in New Zealand come flooding back. My only professional regret: that I declined being an extra. How cool would it have been to say at networking events that I was an Orc! When you are offered opportunities, make sure to take them…

What are the top two items on your bucket list? To learn to fly a glider and to take the family on a safari in Africa.

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

“During the past year, I travelled with our GEMBA group to different locations around the world in order to have a first-hand experience of the modules of the programme. In each of those locations, I listened (often more than once) to how Mark answered the question ‘what are you from?’ He could easily talk for at least five minutes explaining his connecting roots around the world, making me feel every time that we had truly global participants and a perfect fit for our global programme.

It was no surprise when I learned that he was one of the class representatives for his GEMBA cohort. In that responsibility, he was highly active, constructive, and always ready to make suggestions to improve and fine-tune our global GEMBA.

In his role of global healthcare executive, Mark has managed to lead through innovation to improve the health of patients, especially in helping people retain or regain their hearing. He was also crucial in his cohort’s work in assisting refugees and other displaced persons, as part of the GEMBA Legacy project. Mark truly understands the importance of giving back, he embodies that balance of academic excellence and social responsibility that is at the core of ESADE’s and Georgetown’s values.

In the graduation ceremony, he approached to me to tell me that he had accepted an academic position in Australia – his next move around the world.”

Fernando Ballabriga
Academic Director of ESADE-Georgetown GEMBA

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