2019 Best EMBAs: Rika Kari, Southern Methodist University (Cox)

Rika Kari

Southern Methodist University, Cox School of Business

Devoted husband and father. Dog person. Avid outdoorsman. Advocate for a better world.”

Age: 39

Hometown: Plano, Texas

Family Members: My wife Ali and two daughters, Emerson (4) and Colbie (1)

Fun fact about yourself: I went to culinary school and worked as a chef at a four-star restaurant.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Texas at Dallas, BS in Economics and Finance

Where are you currently working? Health Care Service Corporation: Executive Director, Financial Planning & Analytics responsible for the financial strategy of the consumer solutions division.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I’m committed to my children and family, my church, and the mentoring and development of underprivileged kids. In my free time, I love all things outdoors: backpacking, camping, hunting, fishing. You learn a lot about yourself staring into a campfire.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am proud of the fact that I finished school with a 4.0 GPA. Some classes were easier than others, but in order to earn all A’s there were a few times I had to dig deep and work my way out of a hole. That discipline reminded me of what I was capable of doing.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of all of the teams I’ve built. All of my success has been the result of the hard-working men and women who have worked for me, and I’ve tried to return the favor by developing them, pushing them into new and expanded opportunities, and welcoming them as peers when they advance. I would happily work for any one of them.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor was Bill Dillon. Beyond the fact that he’s brilliant, he showed me that analytical people can be effective marketers in a way that made me feel foolish for doubting it. He was extremely approachable and would always make time for me. I continue, to this day, to stop in and talk to him about what I’m working on or to just catch up.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Market Strategy My favorite MBA course was Market Strategy with Tassu Shervani. His frameworks and lessons helped me make sense of market dynamics that I used to believe were random. Understanding how the market is evolving is critical to guiding an organization from the C-suite. Professor Shervani helped us realize how to do it while leading an incredibly engaging and often funny class that I didn’t want to end. Everyone feels smarter leaving his classroom or office.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Texas has one of the best economies in the country and SMU Cox is well positioned in the state as a premier business school. It boasts an extensive alumni network of business leaders across the country. After an informal poll of mentors and other executives at my company, I decided the Cox School was the right opportunity for me.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? All of it. SMU has a terrific faculty that will go above-and-beyond for students. Classes were challenging, and I learned a lot more than I thought I would. My peers were also great. They were supportive, fun, and talented. I feel like I made friends and found both employees, employers, and future partners among my classmates.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Our leadership class included a personality assessment that absolutely nailed me and some of the challenges I have with other personality types. The lessons in that class helped me become more self-aware and applying the steps from my action plan has improved my relationships at work while increasing my influence and effectiveness throughout the organization.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? This was the hardest thing for me. I had a very talented team working under me at work and they stepped up big time to cover for me while I focused on class. I also had a very supportive management team and our company believes in employees developing themselves. So work was never an issue. When I started, I had a two-year-old and a newly pregnant wife. I carved out time each day to dedicate to them after work and then tried to get the rest done after they went to sleep. After the first year, the work became overwhelming and I had to have “study time” where I would go to my office to work alone. My wife was the real hero here. At eight months pregnant she was chasing a 3-year-old around and playing with her while I was reading a book on the couch. She grew and birthed a human while I was at networking happy hours. She’s an inspiration to me and I constantly reminded myself whenever it got tough, that if she could be that amazing, I could finish that 20-page strategic management paper.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I researched school and asked a lot of people about their experiences, so I wasn’t very surprised. I think that a realistic view of participating in an MBA is critical to setting yourself up for success, but the one thing that I was not 100% prepared for was how much work it was. Whatever you think it’ll be, double it. Then double it again.

What was your biggest regret in business school? It was very minute I missed with my wife and kids. I missed 46 Saturdays with Emerson and 29 with Colbie over the 21-month program. That doesn’t include the nights I couldn’t play because I was finishing a paper or meeting with my study group. I regret that I didn’t enroll before I had children.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Andrew Savage. Andy and I lucked into the same study group together. He is secretly brilliant, but I would never tell him that (except here). He did not have an undergraduate degree, so choosing a program as challenging as SMU was a risk that I admire. He embodies the self-made man having started as a professional rugby player and then working his way across the globe to run airport logistics for Siemens in the US. He got here on grit and determination. He’s a genuine person who would give you the shirt off his back and is always good for a laugh. I consider him a close and life-long friend.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…my father told me I should. Years after ignoring that terrific advice, I researched programs and had decided on SMU, but I hesitated to take the final step to enroll. Then at a chance dinner with Chris Hamlin, who graduated a year before me, he described how he was able to balance a family, work, and school showing me it was possible. That conversation led me to apply the following day.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term goal is to become the CEO of a global Fortune 500 company focused on making the world a better place.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d like my peers to remember me as serious when he needed to be, fun the rest of the time, and always there for us.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? 1. I can’t wait to see my daughters become healthy, happy and successful women; and 2. I’m always working to deserve my beautiful wife who is CEO of our house and the only reason I made it through this program.

What made Rika such an invaluable member of the Class of 2019?

“Rika Karl entered the Cox EMBA program with goals for success that he executed with laser precision. In class, he was always prepared, attentive and eager to learn. Outside of class, he took advantage of every enrichment opportunity the Cox program offers. Our Business Leadership Center (BLC) organizes a series of seminars and workshops throughout the year, designed to help MBAs enhance soft career skills. Over the course of his two-year EMBA program, Rika made time to attend more than 40 BLC sessions. He also made a point of getting to know each of his classmates and develop positive professional relationships, as well as some close friendships. in return, he never lacked for teammates who wanted to work with him on class projects. I’d say that makes Rika a networker extraordinaire.

Among the EMBA faculty, Rika’s strong desire to learn and his demonstrated work ethic made him a favorite. In fact, Rika’s hard work earned him a perfect 4.0 GPA, which never wavered once throughout his entire EMBA program. Rika Karl’s exemplary efforts to maximize his own MBA experience benefitted everyone in the Class of 2019.”

Tom Perkowski
Dean, SMU Cox Executive MBA Program

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