2018 Best EMBAs: Michael Zak Barber, North Carolina (Kenan_Flagler)

Michael Zak Barber          

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

Passionate, curious, entrepreneurial business leader in the health care industry.”

Age: 44

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

Family Members: Lisa Dawn Barber (spouse), Britton Edward (son, 10), Brooke Cameron (daughter, 10), Blair Rose (daughter, 7). Rocky (Aussie Doodle), Mr. Biggs (giant orange Tabby cat)

Fun fact about yourself: Saltwater fish tank fanatic

Undergraduate School and Degree: College of Charleston University, Charleston, S.C.

Where are you currently working? General Electric – Healthcare Division (GEHC)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • NCAA Division 1 soccer player at College of Charleston
  • Manage GEHC’s new cybersecurity eastern division for medical devices, working with product teams and leadership to develop a new cybersecurity offering to secure our clients most valuable assets and data from numerous nefarious cyber terrorist activities

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My life is very busy as a father of three, an MBA student and a GEHC executive. Dawn works-full time in the medical device industry, so we are both very busy. My wife and I have been able to keep a sane household and marriage during this MBA program, while also making sure our three children are very happy. My family is my number one priority and I am very proud of our accomplishments during this busy time at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Also, as a busy executive and after being out of school for quite a while, getting back into the routine of studying had its challenges. However, I’ve held my own (especially in the business strategy and entrepreneurial classes!) and am extremely proud of my dedication.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?

Currently I am managing GEHC’s cybersecurity initiatives for the eastern region of the U.S. This position includes managing our go-to-market strategy and working with product development and other leaders in the business to solve a major problem within health care cybersecurity. I have had a successful 20-year sales career and am most proud of transitioning from a sales person into a business leader who is working on a critical solution for the protection of our clients’ well-being. The lessons learned from my UNC Kenan-Flagler education have had a direct effect on my performance, business acumen, and success. I decided to get my MBA so I could advance my career and it is already showing a positive return on investment.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Bill Putsis’Marketing Management course was very timely as I had to present a marketing and analytics plan to my leadership around our cybersecurity initiatives pertaining to medical devices. I used Bill’s paper as the tool to develop a marketing strategy and presented the results to my leadership. The presentation was well-received and it helped me gain clout and credibility within my organization. Also, my recommended direction from the paper is the direction we have chosen for this start-up business within GEHC. This is one example of how the UNC Kenan-Flagler curriculum has been influential in my career and has prepared me for more executive responsibilities.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? UNC Kenan-Flagler has a very supportive, easy-going atmosphere which was apparent during my interview and on site observation of class. Also, the curriculum has a very strong entrepreneurial and business strategy track. Finally, Anne-Marie Summers, Weekend MBA program director, has been wonderful to work with and was very impressive during the interview process. Go Heels!!

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The camaraderie and shared experiences with my fellow students! I have learned so much from my classmates, and I am amazed at how funny they are in class. The personalities, when combined, create a very positive, learning enabled environment. I look forward to staying in touch and leveraging the UNC alumni network.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I have learned so much that will be used at work. However, I would say the Emotional Intelligence framework will be the most valuable. Self-awareness is so important in life and is critical to anyone’s success in the corporate world. Understanding and controlling my emotions while also being empathetic to others is essential if you expect to be persuasive and respected as a business leader.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I have several but am probably most proud of the time I asked my dad to take my daughters to the father-daughter dance at their school. The dance conflicted with my MBA and my parents were willing to drive up from Atlanta to attend. It created an unforgettable memory for my dad and daughters!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? I would tell them to do a weekend or evening program instead of online programs. While the education is most likely comparable, the student interaction at an in-person program is priceless.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth about going back to business school is the GMAT requirement. Being accepted to a top MBA program shouldn’t require the GMAT and I believe this scares off a lot of top talent from getting their MBAs. With a lot of hard work and the help of foundational preparation work in key subject areas, I was able to get up to speed. The technology and support during my MBA was much better than undergrad and will position you for success.

What was your biggest regret in business school?I truly don’t have any significant regrets, but would say that living in Charlotte has made it difficult to be more involved in the extracurricular activities in Chapel Hill. I would have liked to be more involved but family, work and location prevented my participation.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Hadley Calloway. He is one of the most intelligent, humble and generous people I have had the pleasure of knowing. Hadley is on my study team and is always dedicated to the work at hand while also making sure to help his teammates if needed. I consider Hadley a great friend and am grateful to have spent so much time together in the program.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…my business failed and I knew I lacked skills needed to successfully run a business.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…stuck in a corporate sales job with limited upside into management.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To run my own business or a business within a corporation that stimulates my business acumen and passions.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I hope my peers remember me as a kind and helpful person while also a respected contributor to class discussions.

Favorite book: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Favorite movie or television show:

Fishin’ with Orlando Wilson – favorite TV show

Game of Thrones – close 2nd

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef
  2. Play Augusta National with my dad and two brothers

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

“Mike Barber leads by example and thereby earns the respect of his classmates and instructors. What makes Mike such a pleasure to teach is his enthusiasm and commitment to the program. My course is a technical one and I know that Mike found it challenging, but he set out to prove that he could master the material and gutted through it. His approach is what I hope all students would take: challenging himself to push beyond what he thinks he is capable of, while also reaching out for help before getting discouraged. With this dedication and positive attitude, Mike is truly making the most of his EMBA experience, reaping the benefits of skills and network development. In class, Mike exhibited thoughtfulness, humility, genuine curiosity and a sense of humor. When Mike asks a question, his classmates nod. Inevitably, they had the same question, and Mike is not afraid to ask it. With Mike’s investment in his own success and his natural leadership style, I have no doubt that he’s going to continue to be an impactful business leader.”

Adam Mersereau
Associate Professor of Operations and Sarah Graham Kenan Scholar
UNC Kenan-Flagler

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