COVID-19 wasn’t part of the plan for the Class of 2020. This spring, executive MBAs were planning to wind down. They were polishing off electives and picturing life without 10 p.m. team meetings. At work, they were applying class takeaways to boosting trimming steps not overhauling operations.
For Jeffrey Jhang, that wake-up call came in late February. That’s when the first COVID-19 patient was diagnosed in New York. Since then, says the 2020 Rutgers Business School EMBA, his world has been turned “upside down.” After all, outside class, Jhang serves as the medical director for the Center for Clinical Laboratories at the Mount Sinai Health System. At the same time, he is vice-chair for Clinical Pathology – i.e. disease diagnosis – at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. These roles placed Jhang on a collision with the century’s most lethal pandemic in the country’s biggest hotspot.
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
“I have been working 18- 20-hour days setting up diagnostic testing for suspected Covid-19 patients; collecting and transfusing convalescent plasma for the treatment of deteriorating Covid-19 patients, and developing and obtaining FDA approval for an anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibody test that will be used to help re-open the country.”
Jhang even managed to squeeze in time to appear on The Today Show to discuss his COVID-19 test – described as a game-changer by CNBC. So what brought a wunderkind like Jhang – once an MIT-trained electrical engineer – to business school? Simple: he had been sizing up the business of medicine. To produce better decisions, he needed to supplement his medical prowess with a deeper understanding of “budgets, staffing, corporate relationships, and supply chain.” Turns out, the MBA was worth the investment. A year into the Rutgers EMBA program, Jhang was elevated to medical director – a position that required a steep transition from operations to strategy and leadership
“I was always mindful that operational efficiency is not strategy, something I learned [from] Barry Karafin,” Jhang tells Poets&Quants. “In order to make the greatest impact on my institution, I set aside time each day to contemplate strategy rather than trying to operate incrementally better.”
NEGOTIATING A $150 BILLION DOLLAR UNION DEAL
Jhang is one of the Executive MBAs honored in the 2020 Best & Brightest Executive MBAs. Now in its 7th year, the Best & Brightest EMBAs features 102 graduates from 53 top programs, including Wharton, INSEAD, MIT Sloan, Northwestern Kellogg, Berkeley Haas, and Columbia Business School. Ranging in age from 30 to 59, the Best & Brightest were selected by their schools for their “contributions to the class, academic performance, extracurricular involvement, personal intangibles, and unique personal stories.” In class, they are courageous enough to ask the scary questions – and humble enough to listen, adapt, and learn. They bring a love for growth and a distrust of the status quo. Most of all, they set the bar for their peers, always pushing to take ideas further and their implementation faster.
This year’s Best & Brightest includes graduates from business royalty. The list includes senior executives from market leaders like PetSmart, Coca-Cola, Booz Allen Hamilton, and State Farm. That’s just the start. While studying at USC’s Marshall School, Ben Wells headed up marketing for the re-boot of ABC’s Rosannne, which reached 27.3 million viewers during its premiere. The Wharton School’s Eric Winston started 119 consecutive games in the NFL. However, that wasn’t his biggest contribution to the game. Winston was so respected by his peers that he was elected three times to serve as President of the NFL Players Association. In March, he helped strike a 10-year collective bargaining agreement with NFL team owners – one that gave players a larger share of the league’s $15 billion dollar annual pie.
And if you’re enjoying an Egg McMuffin for lunch, you can thank Ofelia Kumpf, a McDonald’s executive who ranks among Fortune’s Most Powerful Latinas in the U.S. “My San Diego market was the test market for what later became the phenomenally successful national launch of All Day Breakfast in the US, explains the 2020 USC Marshall grad. “Under my vision, advocacy, and risk-taking leadership, along with my franchisees in San Diego, I am enormously proud of our work to impact our brand and most importantly, to meet our customer wants and needs.”
DOCTORS, ENTREPRENEURS, HUMANITARIANS…CHANGE AGENTS ALL
The Class has certainly racked up its share of accolades. Take the University of Maryland’s Kimberly Lumpkins. She was named one of Baltimore Magazine’s Top Doctors in 2019. That year, the student council at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine also honored her with the Best Clinical Faculty Award. Impressed? It’s hard to top an endorsement from Oprah! That’s what Hema Vallabh enjoyed, being “branded as a Change-Maker” in Oprah Magazine. And that doesn’t count the University of Oxford grad winning the Fortune/Goldman Sachs Global Women Leader’s Award in 2017. MIT Sloan’s Andrew Surwilo found his purpose and prestige in entrepreneurship. He is a two-time Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist along with twice making the 500 Fastest Growing Companies list from Inc. Magazine.
“I am proud of having built and grown my current company and the hundreds of people we have been able to support directly and indirectly,” he tells P&Q. “Starting in an attic 15 years ago, we have created and built several award-winning consumer brands and supported hundreds of well-paying jobs with benefits. Entrepreneurship is not often cited for its contributions to the social good, but it is hard for me to imagine being able to affect and raise the quality of life for so many people more meaningfully without having built my current business.”
One reason why the Class of 2020 fills up their trophy cases? They aren’t afraid to take risks, let alone lead high profile projects. Take the London Business School’s Kimberly Brown. By day, she headed up humanitarian policy for the British Red Cross – a role that came after she spearheaded policy initiatives at UNICEF UK and Save the Children UK. At MIT Sloan, Catharine Smith was hired to be the CEO of the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, which targets health inequity. When he wasn’t a student at Chicago Booth, Eric Gené was designing, building, and equipping schools and hospitals in Africa.
“The achievement I am most proud…was to design, build and equip a Maternity, Neonate and Pediatric ICU emergency project in Ghana within six months, to help alleviate a health crisis where up to seven neonates died daily,” Gené writes. “There is nothing more satisfying that knowing our work saves thousands of lives every year.”
“NO PHYSICIAN LEFT BEHIND”
There is a joke that the unofficial motto of Executive MBA programs is “No physician left behind.” With the Best & Brightest, it was often the physicians who were leading the charge. Exhibit A: David Cohn. The Ohio State EMBA serves as a chief medical officer and cancer surgeon – when he isn’t heading up community engagement and philanthropy at his hospital. Sound exhausting? Well Cohn’s scientific research is also funded by the National Institute of Health to the tune of $5 million dollars! Despite these responsibilities, Cohn has managed to make the “Best Doctor” list for 8 straight years and rank among the best nationally for “Patient Satisfaction” for the last five.
The University of Georgia’s Michele Johnson also belongs in elite company. After all, she is one of only 25 board-certified academic neurosurgeons in the United States! If you need complex spine and deformity surgery, she is one of the few who operates in this area. In a 168 hour week, Johnson makes use of nearly every single one. Working 80-100 weeks, she chairs the Department of Neurosurgery and Neurology at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, while also serving as the managing partner for a private practice devoted to brain and spinal care. On top of that, Johnson is raising two sons who are in the 4th and 2nd grades. Still, she managed a perfect 4.0 GPA in business school – gaining tools that were quickly put to the test the day after her MBA classes ended…the day COVID-19 emerged in Atlanta.
“All of my post-MBA plans went out the window,” she writes. “Our focus shifted from elective neurosurgery to crisis management. The knowledge gained from my MBA was put to work earlier than I had anticipated. What we had learned in operations and supply chain management was invaluable. Eventually, we created a recovery plan for the hospital system using everything from statistics and finance to observational behavior and marketing to try to reopen the hospital system. Although we never saw the pandemic coming, the timing of my MBA could not have been better. It has been tested and used to figure out how to effectively deliver healthcare in our community to save lives.”
Go to Pages 4-5 to access 102 in-depth student profiles of this year’s Best & Brightest Executive MBAs