An Executive MBA program is no place for dilettantes. Balancing work, family, and school, EMBAs face a daily test of wills, where impossible hours and unrelenting demands stir disruption and doubt. Making it through takes more than pushing the pace and cutting wasted motion. It requires a certain grit, the courage to get better and the conviction to push on. Few students did this better than Georgetown University’s Jason Pak.
A West Point grad and senior manager at Boeing, Pak isn’t your run-of-the-mill MBA. Instead of sharing his story on a TED platform, he has spoken before such dignitaries as Colin Powell and John Kerry. Like any great story, Pak’s journey opens with a defining event. In 2012, as a lieutenant serving in Afghanistan, Pak was leading a routine patrol when he stepped on an IED – claiming both of his legs and several fingers. His immediate response, according to one of his generals, was pure Pak: He wanted to know if all of his solders were OK.
Three months later, Pak was standing at his father’s retirement ceremony from the U.S. Army. When it came time for business school, he continued to heed the call to look after his classmates. He acted as more than an inspiration at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business. He served as a role model who elevated everyone around him, says Elie Farhat, associate dean for admissions, career management, and executive outreach. “Jason brings that spirit to the EMBA program. A spirit of optimism, camaraderie, and an appreciation for life. He influences other cohort members to remain positive, to stay humble, and to appreciate life to its fullest.”
A SAXOPHONE-PLAYING CEO AND A GRIDIRON ANGEL
Pak is just one member of this year’s “Best & Brightest Executive MBAs” from Poets&Quants – our 4th annual feature that honors 100 EMBAs who “personify excellence” at the world’s top executive MBA programs. It is a class that comes from all walks of business (and life). They include the usual finance, marketing, tech, and operations wizards – not to mention CEOs, filmmakers, pilots, television producers, surgeons, and entrepreneurs. These titles and roles, however, barely do these graduates justice.
Take the University of Oxford’s Shafeena Yusuff Ali. By day, she is a director at a hospitality investment firm that’s busy converting the former Scotland Yard headquarters in London into a luxury hotel. By night, she is the CEO of Tablez Food Company, which is franchising food and beverage concepts, apparel, and even a restaurant brand in India. Oh…and she is raising four children at the same time. Then there is Justin Keith, a 37 year-old CEO of a concrete paving company whose work can be found in the airports in Langley, Charlotte and Nashville – not to mention high traffic interstates across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. Outside the C-Suite, this Ohio State grad cuts loose as a semi-professional saxophone player…when he isn’t teaching college courses to engineers, that is.
Ali and Justin are hardly the only jugglers in the 2018 Class. A decade ago, Notre Dame’s Corey Mays was a starting linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs. Fast forward to now and he serves as an angel investor whose portfolio includes investments in clean energy, travel software, a brewery, and wine. Outside of being a Middle East regional director for Honeywell, the London Business School’s Omar Rhiman devotes his passion to the non-profit sector: The Jordanian Orphan Relief Agency (JORA) and the Ramadan Toute L’Année (RTA). The former has already expanded to serve children in Nicaragua, Algeria, and Turkey, while the latter – which distributes food to vulnerable populations during the month of Ramadan – is growing even faster.
WARRIORS, INNOVATORS, AND LEADERS
Speaking of duality, Pascal Larose is a Best & Brightest who embodies the warrior philosopher of old. The chief of staff for the 35th Canadian Brigade Group, Larose helped oversee the admission of 25,000 Syrian refugees into Canada in 2016 along with the government’s response to this past year’s “devastating flooding” in Eastern Canada. So what does this McGill-HEC Montreal EMBA do for fun? Aside from making his own maple syrup, he authored a prize-winning treatise for La revue Philosopher. And what would possess Purdue’s Lucy Houchin to re-locate to the United Kingdom right before her EMBA started? Simple: She took over a molding manufacturer – the one her grandfather started 50 years ago. It was a decision that transformed how she viewed herself…and the people who now depend upon her.
“Until I joined the business he started,” she admits, “I largely viewed my professional development selfishly: what skill gaps did I need to fill to get to the next level, next raise, next recognition? However, to contribute to my grandfather’s legacy is an honor I take very seriously. With this opportunity comes great responsibility. Not only do I want to successfully execute my day-to-day responsibilities, but I also needed to equip myself with tools necessary to support and guide the business toward long-term financial stability, strategic market development, and overall growth and positioning within the global composites industry.”
Houchin isn’t the only 2018 graduate who came to campus with a mission. Just head to the Windy City. As one of the handful of female CIOs in the Fortune 100, Northwestern University’s Rachel Parent hopes to leverage her executive role to “promote diverse talent in technology.” Across town, the University of Chicago’s Stephen Pedron – a fetal medicine physician – trekked back to campus at 58 for the most profound of reasons: He wanted “to learn how the world really works” so he could reinvent himself and tackle public policy.
Want responsibility? As a senior vice president at GameStop, Southern Methodist University’s Jason Cochran oversees 4,000 stores and 28,000 employees in the U.S. Want history? MIT Sloan’s Amy Huchthausen was the youngest NCAA sports commissioner when she took the reins of the America East Conference in 2011…and she’s still the youngest today! Want courage? Before heading to Austin to become a Longhorn, Kim Schaerges spent five years defusing bombs for the U.S. Army. Want innovation? Forget Silicon Valley and hang out with Claudia Desilets on the farm. She has taken sustainability to the next level, creating a process where manure is recycled into organic fertilizer using just the natural heat of her hens. “[Claudia is] solving two big issues – what could farmers do with their manure? And how could growing practices be made more ‘green’?,” explains Louis Hébert, Desilets’ management professor at McGill-HEC Montreal.
2018 EMBA BEST & BRIGHTEST EXPANDS TO 100 GRADUATES
This year, P&Q reached out to 45 schools with leading EMBA programs to participate in the Best & Brightest, with programs chosen from existing MBA rankings at U.S. News, The Financial Times and The Economist. Each school was asked to choose two nominees for inclusion. Although programs were given latitude to select 2018 EMBA graduates based on their criteria, P&Q encouraged them to factor in such variables as “class contributions, academic performance, extracurricular involvement, professional achievement, personal intangibles and unique personal stories.” Overall, 43 EMBA programs responded, with P&Q receiving a record 91 nominations in the process (up eight from the previous year).
On average, the class is 39.5 years of age, down from 41.3 in 2017. Not surprisingly, men outnumber women on the list, though the 53-to-47 margin marks a stark contrast to traditional EMBA programs, where women accounted for just 30% of the EMBA student population in 2016. By the same token, the list features 10 international EMBA programs, along with 34 graduates who hail from outside the United States. What’s more, 62 of the 100 students were married, with 65 raising children. In other words, these graduates weren’t just shouldering major responsibilities at work. Nearly two-thirds were also heads of their households.
The 2018 Best & Brightest EMBAs also reflect a major departure from the previous three classes. Traditionally, P&Q staff have evaluated submissions and selected the Top 50 for inclusion on the list. This year, we boosted the list to 100 graduates. The reason was simple: The quality was simply too high, with most submissions receiving a score that would’ve enabled them to make past lists. To ensure this 2018 list measured up to past incarnations of the truly Best & Brightest, P&Q doubled the number of graduates who qualified.
BEST EXCUSE TO LEAVE CLASS? ‘I’M HELPING MY BOSS BUY A MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL TEAM’
It’s a good thing, too, as the 100 members bring 100 cocktail stories you’ll never forget. At 21, Emory’s Andy Noktes moved to Thailand…without speaking the language or having a job. Think that’s gutsy? Get ready for Northwestern’s Hans-Martin Hellebrand. He packed up and moved his wife and two kids to Silicon Valley to start his own business…even though none of them had ever been to the United States. That’s still inherently less risky than Berkeley Haas’ Katherine Mansalis white water rafting down the Nile and the Amazon (home to the ever-cheery Nile Crocodile and Green Anaconda, respectively).
Alas, Notre Dame’s Jennifer Mahlerek has seen her share of unfriendlies during her eight years as a surface warfare officer, where she was involved in capturing pirates and striking ISIS. She had support from guys like Clay Berardi, a TopGun grad and senior officer with the United States Fleet Forces who earned his MBA at Duke University. How is this for a prediction? In high school, Stanford Littwin was voted “most likely to sell drugs” and “get rich doing it.” Turns out, Littwin ended up as part of the anesthesia team on President Clinton’s heart surgery!
Impressed? Let’s introduce you to Victor Limjoco. A University of Pennsylvania (Wharton School) EMBA, Limjoco has produced nearly 500 stories for NBC News – and collected three Emmys along the way. The University of Maryland’s Chintan Fafadia shares a byline in the Journal of Applied Physics with Dr. Alan MacDiarmid, a Nobel Prize winner. Speaking of bylines, Berkeley Haas’ Amarpreet Singh co-authored a chapter found in the Oxford American Handbook of Psychiatry. Perhaps his next collaboration could be with Mansalis, a classmate who “designed and implemented the first Physician Wellness Program at the Department of Defense’s largest medical center.”
How is this for an excuse to sneak out of class? While earning his MBA at Columbia Business School, Kyle Moran was busy spearheading an investor’s bid to become chairman and principal owner of the Miami Marlins’ major league baseball franchise (with Yankees great Derek Jeter as a co-investor). “It gave me a lot of opportunities to apply lessons that I was learning in the classroom, but it was also a tough juggling act,” he admits. “I was often up into the early morning hours reviewing ever-evolving deal documents and frequently had to walk out of classrooms to place or take phone calls regarding the transaction. Ultimately, our success earned me the highest praise of my career.”
(TO READ IN-DEPTH PROFILES OF THIS YEAR’S 100 BEST & BRIGHTEST EMBAs, GO TO PAGES 3-4)