2019 Best EMBAs: Jennifer Braly, MIT (Sloan)

Jennifer P. Braly

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sloan School of Management

Gay military veteran driven by a desire to connect communities, amplify quiet voices, and organize chaos.”

Age: 40

Hometown: Denver, CO

Family Members: Edward Braly (Brother), Vanessa Rankin (Sister), Ivy Braly (Sister), Patricia Empain (Mother), Terrell Braly (Father)

Fun fact about yourself: I am a non-drinker. The fun fact is not that I don’t drink, but rather how I decided not to do it. Rarely will an 11-year-old make any important life decisions, but this was that one. In 5th grade, my favorite teacher Ms. Curtis asked us to write the day’s journal entry on what we were proud of about ourselves. On the chalkboard, she etched an example and read it aloud: “I am proud that I have never smoked, drank, or done drugs in my entire life…” She was at least fifty, a lifetime away in my eyes. When I heard these words and saw the conviction with which she said to them, I made that same promise to myself. I want to be able to stand in front of a mirror, and share the same story. To this day, I can.

Undergraduate / Graduate School(s) and Degree(s):

  • Graduate School: Central Michigan (CMU)
    • Degree: MS (Public Administration)
  • Undergraduate School: University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB)
    • Degree: BS (Exercise Science / Kinesiology)

Where are you currently working?

  • Company: Takeda
  • Role: Head of Strategic Program Management Office

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

School Leadership Roles and Honors:

  • MIT Sloan Class Senator (MIT EMBA – 2019)
  • Chair, Women’s Group (MIT EMBA – 2019)
  • Graduate Women of Excellence Award (MIT Sloan – 2019)
  • Summa Cum Laude (CMU – 2011)

Community Work – Diversity and Inclusion:

  • Founder of Global Women’s Alliance’s RISE [Resourcing Innovative Stretch Experiences] program. Partnered with executives to secure innovative assignments and design thinking coaches to teach and apply key principles.

Professional Leadership Roles:

  • Shire’s Tech Ops lead to integrate Baxalta, post-acquisition; comprised of process optimizations, people/product transfers, and new construction.
  • Led contract proposal team on $1.7B PMO contract to establish solicitation requirements to replace the largest private IT network ($3.5B Navy Next Generation Enterprise Network) with a new vendor (Hewlett Packard).
  • Commanded organization of 38 military and 230 civilian personnel. Managed 11 facilities that provided services accessed by 65K+ users.

Professional Honors:

  • Recognized industry leader and mentor: Project Summit Business Analyst World Advisory Board member for 2016; (1 of only 7).
  • 7-time Shire “Celebrate” Award recipient: impressed leadership with people-focused management style, paired with the realization of desired benefits.
  • 3-time John Hancock “Going the Extra Mile” recipient for leading activities to transform firm from Waterfall to Agile project management methodology.
  • 3-time Booz Allen “Performance and Team Award” recipient for leadership impact and embodying the firm’s core values.
  • 2-time Air Force “Officer of Year” (#1/80 in Region).

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Having witnessed the close connections other class’s women, I created a unique forum to unite our female community. With the objectives to provide a safe space for women to seek advice, share career insights, and to build foundations for lasting relationships, I crafted the following concept. Coined as the “Three Lenses of Women (“3LOW”) Forum, each session would generate dialogue around three “lenses”: 1) professional, 2) personal, and 3) gender-related topics. I started the first few gatherings with the woman each writing three questions they had for one other, (one question per lens). Then, sitting in a circle, each woman selected and answered only one of the questions. This established a foundation of trust and ensured each participant only shared what they were comfortable sharing,

To ensure all voices were heard, I soon shifted the forum into spotlighting only two women’s lenses per week to allow for more two-way dialogue. Though early in the morning, it was lauded as one of the key reasons we built such strong connections and alliances. I am very proud to have been an amplifier in building this strong community. My role in this group is directly related to why I was awarded MIT Sloan’s Graduate Women of Excellence Award by my peers.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When I came aboard Genzyme in a portfolio management role, the department’s focus was solely on completing projects “correctly.” This led to the approval of 150 projects and overallocated resources. However, there was no direct connection between the projects and strategy. Was leadership allocating resources to the wrong projects? How could I help expose this and help leadership link their strategic objectives to current projects?

Expecting resistance, I had to be creative. I designed a workshop with posters, each labeled by key strategic objective. Each leader was provided Post-Its. They were asked to post their projects on the corresponding poster whose strategic objective most closely aligned with their project’s objective. Though skeptical, dialogue flourished. Noticing many white boards were almost blank, they asked one another if they were working on the right things. Incredibly, they canceled projects that lacked alignment. Where they identified gaps, they initiated new projects. With my innovative process, leadership realized the importance of approving the right projects to enable corporate strategy.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite course was Operations Lab (O-LAB). I gained significant insight on how to create process efficiencies and differentiate between process versus studio work. This shaped the way I built my change management plan approval process. When charged with implementing and managing change for large scale M&A integrations (i.e. site divestitures, product transfers), I developed a process to build and gain approval for a communication plan and stakeholder impact roadmap. Recognizing the number of change management models available, it was clear that other parts of Shire would be managing changes in different ways if we did not scale this process.

Having learned about dynamic work design in school, including studio versus process work, I created a scalable process for managing global changes consistently, including how to measure the impact and gain leadership endorsement on the plan. It will also ensure leadership considers how each stakeholder group is impacted and when throughout the change process. Succeeding at demonstrating value, with Takeda recently acquiring Shire, this process is being leveraged for use in our current M&A integration. I am proud of this because the real impact was the shift from a project to a people focus.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? MIT’s EMBA aligned directly with my purpose, principles, and learning style. With its unrivaled expertise in science and technology, what further differentiated this program from its peers is its emphasis on quantitative reasoning skills, action learning, and innovation. I chose this program to gain the necessary data-driven problem-solving skills, entrepreneurial knowledge, and access to diverse perspectives from an elite circle of global industry leaders.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? In life, when I notice issues, I am compelled to be part of the solution rather than simply point them out. With this in mind, unsurprisingly, I enjoyed most how it made me feel equipped to solve more problems. Unlike when I pursued my Masters in Public Administration, I’d learn concepts (like decision trees or feedback loops) on Friday in school and then be able to apply those same lessons to solve problems the following Monday at work.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? As mentioned in the section about my favorite teacher (#13), I gained significant insight into how to prepare stronger business cases. Almost immediately after class, I converted a business case’s options from its original standalone boxes (with pros, cons, costs, and risks) to show similar components, but extend them over time. This helped to indicate how these factors may not all be the same at the same time point. For instance, it may cost $200M to build new capacity because we don’t have a replacement drug, but if we wait six months to determine if a new drug in phase 3 is approved by the FDA, it could only cost $10M to upgrade equipment to the new technology. This new perspective has led me to question and adjust many of the executive’s program documents to ensure they are armed with the ability to make the right decisions at the right time. Now, with this new way of thinking ingrained in my mind, I can’t believe it wasn’t always how I thought. I am forever changed.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Many people have one life change at a time. They move cities, start new relationships, change jobs, or start school. For me, I did them all within two weeks of each other. I moved from Watertown to Lexington, MA. I started a new relationship and moved in with my significant other. I left John Hancock and started an Integration role at Shire. The icing on the cake was starting school and attempting to do all the social activities, serve as a student senator, and lead the women’s group. Recognizing the number of changes and roles I simultaneously took on; something was going to give.

After my girlfriend stated that she felt more like my maid than my partner, I realized that I had to create a better balance. I sat down and conveyed how important each of these roles was to me. She then expressed that she wants me to get everything I want out of the program, but also needs there to be time carved out for us; she can’t feel like a backup plan. We agreed on a solution. School was bi-weekly, on Friday and Saturdays. Every Friday, I would plan on attending all the school events, alone, to build my individual connections. Saturday, we would jointly decide to attend any events. Then, that Sunday became a partner-only (school-free) day. The next 18 or so months remaining, we stuck to this schedule and became stronger because of it.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Make sure your spouse is ready for your commitment. It takes time away from them more than anyone. It also increases their spouses’ home and parenting responsibilities because you won’t have the time you used to have to be a joint partner. Figure out a schedule that allows for you to put them first sometimes, but also allows for you to be actively involved in the EMBA program.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I regret not being more involved in MIT’s Media Lab and entrepreneurial network. I have never considered myself an entrepreneur, but have found that as I approach the end of this program, I wish I tapped into that side of me a little more and challenged these preconceptions I have about myself.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Stacey Cox is the person I admire most. She is humble, likable, non-confrontational, and comfortable saying she doesn’t know. Perhaps the most impressive thing about her is that she decided what she wanted to be (biomedical engineer) when I was still trying to decide who was my favorite comic book superhero. Further, she leads a team of engineers, in a room where she is the only female. Against all odds, she is also advocating for women and attempting to stand up a pipeline program for women engineers to bring in more gender equity. I continue to admire her attitude, smarts, and efforts to change the world.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that I was regularly in a room with leaders who didn’t have the answers and didn’t know how to get them; I needed to gather new insights and access new minds.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Inspired by the desire to help others, my ultimate long-term goal is to be COO. Often, people ask me why I wouldn’t want to be CEO. The answer is simple. I like translating strategy into results. I like being the one who enables another’s success. My satisfaction comes from bringing joy to others… even CEOs.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like to be remembered as an authentic, likeable, selfless, enabler of others, connector and diversity advocate.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? I would like to visit my maternal grandfather’s home country (Belgium). As the Baron of Belgium, my grandfather (deceased) is remembered for his very publicized kidnapping and ransom drop in Paris, France that led to a shoot out and his release. I would like to see what his life was like before he resided in Paris. The other item on my bucket list is to finally learn to play the guitar. I have started to play on three separate occasions, for only one-month intervals. School or my shoulder surgery got in the way. Once this program ends, I will learn to play. I already bought my guitar as motivation.

What made Jennifer such an invaluable addition to the class of 2019?

“It is our distinct pleasure and honor to nominate Jennifer (JB) Braly for Poets & Quants Top 100 Executive MBA Graduates from the MIT Executive MBA Class of 2019. JB has brought a new level of community to the MIT EMBA that is beyond something we see in the average EMBA student. As a class senator, she is a voice for her class in the MIT student government, in which she not only makes changes for the good of her class but the MIT community as a whole. Throughout her time in the program, JB has strived to challenge the convention of what it means to be a woman in a male-dominated industry of not only pharmaceuticals but also in the military.

JB leads her cohort’s women’s group, where they discuss professional, personal, and gender-related topics. JB works to instill a confidence and power into her female classmates, building a supportive community that shows they are not alone in the issues they face in the corporate world. JBs infectious leadership style is one that draws people to her. She is the example of the MIT Sloan mission of a leader that can change the world from the ground up. She exemplifies this by being a resource to her classmates in need, whether that means being their tutor in a subject in which she has excelled or simply reaching out to them if she sees that they might be going through a personal struggle; JB is the exemplar of the student motto “no EMBA left behind.”

JB’s dedication to mentoring and drive to make changes to improve the student experience is why she was nominated and selected as MIT Sloan’s Graduate Women of Excellence for 2019. She is the first EMBA to ever receive it. JB additionally spends some of her time helping the program as an ambassador to prospective students by answering questions they may have about the program, in terms of balancing family life and work. Additionally, she is a vital resource to those in the military community that are considering the MIT Executive MBA. JB is always willing to share her perspective on the support the active military and veteran members in the program give each other, and how they can better take on the transition into civilian life, once they leave the service. We have watched as JB has brought the current MIT EMBA cohort together to become a stronger community. That is the legacy that she will leave behind in the EMBA when she graduates.”

Johanna Hising DiFabio
MIT Executive MBA Assistant Dean
Georgia Perakis
MIT Executive MBA Faculty Director and Faculty

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE BEST & BRIGHTEST EXECUTIVE MBAs OF 2019 or RANKING THE BEST EMBA PROGRAMS IN THE U.S.