2018 Best EMBAs: Tami Licht, University of Pittsburgh (Katz)

Tami Licht

University of Pittsburgh, Katz Graduate School of Business

Active yet calm, reliable and pragmatic, I listen attentively, lead when needed, and laugh easily.”

Age: 55

Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

Family Members:
* Sons: Jonathan (age 29) and Steven (age 26)
* Mother and Dad: Lydia and Richard Schwirian
* Sisters: Stefani Kowalski and Letti DeSantis

Fun fact about yourself: I am a twin.

Undergraduate School and Degree:
* B.S., Computer Science with Math Minor, University of Pittsburgh, 1984
* M.S., Information Science, University of Pittsburgh, 1993

Where are you currently working?
* Development Dimensions International
* I am the Director of Customer Experience. In this role, I lead teams devoted to various levels of technical support and delivery services for DDI’s external customers. * I also influence strategy for service design, voice-of-the-customer, and customer journey mapping activities.
* Tenure: 20 years

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:
* Elder, Pleasant Hills Presbyterian Church (2009 – present)
* Chapter co-author, Next Generation Technology-Enhanced Assessment: Global Perspectives on Occupational and Workplace Testing (2018)
* Mission Trip to Haiti participant (2016)
* 1st place Finisher in age group, Izzie’s Dash 5k (2016)
* Cumberland to Pittsburgh GAP trail cyclist – in 4 days (2013)
* Chair, Pastoral Nominating Committee (2013)
* Judge, International Science and Engineering Fair (2012)
* DDI Team HeroZ award (2001, 2003, 2005)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?
Our final project in Chris Kemmerer’s IT & Business Value class challenged us to “Prepare a ‘business case’ for an innovative use of Information Technology by [our] organization five years from now.” A major portion of our grade, this assignment stretched my knowledge, encouraged me to think strategically, and inspired me to reach out to colleagues at DDI to bounce my ideas against. I submitted final product to my CEO, who let me know that I wasn’t far from the mark in terms of where DDI may very well be headed.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? (And why?)
Getting published. My boss, an experienced author, asked me if I’d be interested in penning a chapter on software design and development for a new text on assessment technology that he was co-editing. This was after several years of my volunteering to go above and beyond normal workload to submit and present papers on various technology topics at annual SIOP (Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology) conferences, for which he served one year as president. That event was historically shy of technology content. As technology has played an increasingly more prominent role in the I_O industry, software and other IT-related topics have become more popular at this conference. This books chapter would fill a particular purpose: providing an overview of the software development process in non-technical terms for the I_O practitioner involved in the assessment world. It was a two-year endeavor, over and above my normal workload, that I co-authored with a senior I_O psychologist colleague with whom I’d worked on several IT-related projects over the years at DDI. It allowed me to share both the vast amount of knowledge and experience I’d accumulated over the course of my career, and the skills I’d developed in communicating with the business. The book (and our Chapter 4) just came out in January.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My Financial Accounting professor, Elise Boyas. This was a new, and scary, topic for me, never having taken an accounting class in my past educational endeavors. Elise not only explained the course topics clearly and concisely, but she also made herself available inside and outside of class when help was needed – which was often! She leveraged (Zoom) technology to make recitations as accessible as possible around full-time work. And she provided a complete set of baseline materials to help those of us novices get up to speed and ready for the main course content. She pushed and challenged us, but it was clear that she earnestly wanted us to learn and grow as professionals.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it?
Information Technology & Business Value. I’ve been working in IT since 1983 and figured I “knew it all.” As such, I assumed that this class would pretty much be review for me. Not so! Prof Kemmerer brought entirely new perspective to the world of IT, helping me to see it from a completely new angle, a business angle. While IT is an industry in itself, it enables almost every other business, at an increasing rate. This course helped me to more accurately position the work I do at DDI, from a business value perspective.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program?
Years ago, at a women’s luncheon, one of my acquaintances was raving about her recent graduation from her EMBA program. Never having heard of such, I asked to hear more. As she elaborated, I was intrigued, and a seed was planted in my mind. When my opportunity to attend came into being a few years ago, I queried all of the colleges and universities in the Pittsburgh area to see which carried an “E”MBA. Once I found Pitt’s program, it was a shoe-in. Having earned both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees here, I already knew this program would be a winner. After reviewing its content and meeting with the administration, I was sold.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general?
Working with my team. Very thankfully, Katz EMBA administrators and our professors afforded us flexibility in determining our own team members most of the time. By 2nd semester, we had determined our ‘dream team.’ We were all equally engaged and committed to our work, and we each brought unique perspectives and skills to our projects. Those activities kept us in touch with each other during and between class weekends. I wish I could hand pick such a winning bunch at work! This group will be sorely missed after graduation.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work?Data has great power in the business world. I have learned how to leverage data as a business tool well beyond financials in areas such as applying regression analyses to business problems in Stats and IT classes; using financial data to make venture capital determinations; analyzing customer data to make marketing decisions; and leveraging time series data in forecasting models, I’ve approached a key data analyst on staff at work regarding use of conjoint analysis in our product development areas. And I have begun using influence to shape a new, data driven, voice-of-the-customer program in my role as Customer Experience Director.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I learned through happenstance that my adult sons were planning a vacation to South America during my younger son’s August break from Pitt Dental School. By quickly comparing calendars, I realized they would be overlapping my global forum in Brazil by one weekend. Since I typically see my older son only a couple of times a year (he is in the military stationed in SoCal), this was a fabulous opportunity for multiple wins. That is, by extending my EMBA Brazil stay by a few days, I could catch up on work from the hotel until they arrived, and then vacation with them for the remaining weekend. Lots of pieces had to fall in place with little room for error. The reward was well worth the extra planning effort.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program?
Make sure it’s the right fit for you, in terms of what you can bring to the table experience-wise. Also, clear your schedule of extra-curricular activities in order to make room for study and assignment time. It took me almost a year to bow out of or go on hiatus from my various non-work commitments. I’m very glad I did.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school?

Myth: It’s like riding a bike; you get right back into the groove of studying.

Reality: Not so for me. It’s been over 20 years since my last degree, and my skills at focused studying and regurgitating material have gone soft as my career has developed more fast-paced decision making and presentation skills. My advanced years have also contributed to needing new study habits and time allocation methods. This gal can no longer pull all-nighters!

What was your biggest regret in business school? I regret not taking advantage of the additional (bookend) trips offered during our global forums. At those times, it was stressful enough just getting the logistics together and attending classes. Looking back, however, it would have been great to explore some of the lusher areas of Brazil and more of the historic sections of China.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Deanna Carvalho. She is always on top of every assignment. In fact, she’s usually ahead! At the same time, she is juggling a demanding full-time job and raising a young child while her husband is often away on business. She is also not afraid to ask questions. I admire her energy and her co-existent vulnerability and strength.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…my boss nominated me for DDI’s acceleration pool, where I started to learn more about the business side of our industry. It energized me. I wanted to know more.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…in the same (old) job, feeling less confident, and stressing out about next step career options.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I’d love to give back by sharing all that I’ve learned and experienced, possibly through either teaching or consulting.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?
She was the matriarch of our class who led by example and proved that age is just a number.

Favorite book: The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman

Favorite movie or television show: Lord of the Rings trilogy

What are the top two items on your bucket list?
*
Cycling tour of Europe
* Cruise to Alaska

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

“If we could have an ideal student in our EMBA Worldwide Program, it would be Tami Licht. She is young at heart and wise in spirit. Tami takes the time to celebrate her classmates as well as to devote the time needed to conquer the courses in the program. Tami is respectful in all of her dealings with both her colleagues and the professors – even when she disagrees with them. These conversations where Tami is challenging long-held beliefs and theories are wonderful; everyone learns from these discussions including the professors! Tami will say that she wants to be known as the matriarch of the class – what she really be remembered as is a kind and knowledgeable leader who will be sought after in the future for advice.”

William T. Valenta, Jr.
Associate Vice Provost for Professional Programs
Assistant Dean MBA & Executive Programs, Katz Graduate School of Business

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