2019 Best EMBAs: Nina Lotfi, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Nina Lotfi

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

An energetic and inclusive change agent committed to becoming the best version of myself every day. I am passionate about investing, economic development, early childhood education and my family.”

Age: 39

Hometown: Devon, PA

Family Members: Steve (Husband), Kian (son age 8), Lana (daughter age 4)

Fun fact about yourself: I was born in Tehran, Iran. I’ve lived in four countries, nine cities, and two states. I moved to the U.S. at the age of 10 and grew up in a Missouri town called Defiance. It has a population of approximately 150 people and is best known for being the final home of frontiersman Daniel Boone.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Temple University, Fox School of Business — Master of Science in Finance(2007)
  • Louis University, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration– Majors: Economics & Marketing (2003)

Where are you currently working? Vanguard, Head of Program Transformation for Vanguard’s Client Experience Initiative

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: During the EMBA program, I reassembled my priorities to narrow my focus on three buckets: work (a transition occurred while at Kellogg), the program, and my family. My husband and I love to cook, host dinner parties, and bring interesting people together for entertaining and thought-provoking dialogues. Over the years, I’ve been active in Vanguard’s diversity and inclusion efforts, involved in United Way, Junior Achievement, and other local community efforts.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My team’s project for our Global Elective in India was focused on the intersection of emerging technologies and health care. We visited public and private hospitals and interacted with health care professionals and health tech companies. We examined artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities and challenged ourselves to think outside of the box about how these emerging technologies could help solve for access, affordability, and quality of care. There is no doubt in my mind that technology can help solve for scale in India.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?  I’ve spent a large portion of my Vanguard career working in the defined contribution retirement business. Employer-sponsored retirement plans (i.e. 401Ks) are the primary vehicle for retirement savings for millions of American workers. My colleagues and I have spent a great deal of time working with employers to architect choices to boost participation, increase saving levels, and drive diverse investment selections. Growing up and watching how hard my parents worked to provide for my siblings and I shaped my perspective. I am deeply passionate about solving the financial challenges the average worker faces and their ability to access financial independence.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Larry Franklin (Deal Making in Asia). He provided us with a straightforward synopsis of complex real-world problems. No fluff. Then he pushed us to step back and seek perspectives through the lens of the lead dealmaker/negotiator, investment bankers, consultants, investors, and governments. The course was highly interactive and he didn’t back down until he pushed your thinking.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? TechVenture India. This course was a summation of all that I’ve learned at Kellogg. While the course was focused on emerging technologies and innovations, it provided a much broader perspective. The immersive experience helped provide context for the unique challenges faced when entering an emerging market. It was a crash course in strategy, economic development, and international business.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? It was personally important to me to join an institution that showed a commitment to diversity and inclusion, provided a global perspective, cultivated collaboration, and challenged my thinking. Kellogg has done just that!

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The people – You have access to people with a tremendous diversity of experiences and expertise. They are there to support you as you take on new opportunities and challenges. It’s like having 70+ consultants on speed dial! In addition, I have formulated deep friendships and shared a lot of laughs along the way.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Capacity creation. You have to be able to deliver at work, deliver at school, and be present for the people that matter to you. The reality is that you can’t do it all at the same time in the exact way you may want. The program forces you to learn to make tradeoffs. Sometimes you learn from the mistakes and other times by watching and learning from your classmates.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? Where to begin? I was attending a week-long course and was missing my daughter’s 4th birthday. On the day of her birthday, 20+ of my classmates joined me on Facetime to sing her a birthday song. She was so excited, it helped ease my ‘mommy guilt’ and made it a memorable and fun experience for her. Overall, I found that my support system was really important. You have to engage in two-way communications and step back every so often to ask how it is going and if anything needs to change.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? “Education is what people do to you and learning is what you do for yourself.” With that in mind, think deeply about what you need to be your best learner. Screen for those qualities when evaluating programs.

What was your biggest regret in business school?  Lack of discipline in focusing on my health, especially the first year. Too often I sacrificed sleep and picked up bad eating habits (there were desserts every time I turned around!). I’m focusing on building stronger habits when it comes to meditation, healthy eating, and exercise. You have to take care of your mind and body.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Salena Whitfield. I admire Salena’s eloquence, intelligence, resiliency, and discipline.  She has a strong sense of self, lives with purpose, and has the ability to motivate. In fact, she managed to motivate quite a few of our classmates to attend her turbokick class at 6 a.m.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…a mentor called me out on being indecisive. It was something I had always planned on doing but was starting to feel maybe it was too late or not the right time. I needed the nudge to step back and recognize that the right time was now or never.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Regardless of the role, I am in, I aim to inspire those around me to achieve their full potential, bring diverse thinkers together to solve problems, and be a change maker in my firm and community.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?  As someone who earned their respect and someone they could reach out to no matter how much time has passed.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?  Hiking Machu Picchu with my husband and writing a memoir with my sisters

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

“I had the pleasure of getting to know Nina very well while teaching my TechVenture India course in the Kellogg EMBA program. This course is unique because I spend ten days interacting one-on-one with a group of 30 EMBA students as we visit technology companies in India during the field visit component of the course. During this time, I had the opportunity to learn about the innovative work that Nina is doing to transform the client experience at Vanguard. She has excellent insights on collaborating with the Vanguard business teams in driving change and securing executive buy-in for innovation initiatives that require going beyond business as usual. She has a great understanding of customer-centric innovation and she is an excellent change agent in a large organization like Vanguard.

Nina really stood out in our company visits in terms of the probing questions she asked of the companies we interacted with. In many instances, the questions she asked really drove to the heart of the business models and strategic challenges that the companies were facing. She is very quick on her feet – she can quickly size up the business context of a complex technology company, appreciate their opportunities, and challenges and articulate her point of view on their business with a rare depth of insight. On a personal note, Nina is a wonderful mother and a popular friend in her cohort. She adds depth and diversity to every conversation she is in and she has been a valuable asset in my class. She truly deserves to be on the list of the best and brightest EMBA students. I wish her continued success in her professional and personal endeavors.”

Mohan Sawhney
Clinical Professor
Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University

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