2019 Best EMBAs: Emily Yu, New York University (Stern)

Emily Yu

New York University, Stern School of Business

“Hard-working, ambitious, loves to laugh, dreams big, enjoys a good pun, goes with her gut.”

Age: 40

Hometown: Washington, DC

Family Members:  Husband, Bryan Speelman; daughter, Jane Speelman; and two cats, Jonsi and Catalina

Fun fact about yourself: I can juggle (literally and figuratively)

Undergraduate School and Degree: Georgetown University, BS and certificate in Asian Studies (Hoya Saxa!)

Where are you currently working?  The de Beaumont Foundation, which advances policy, builds partnerships, and strengthens public health to create communities where people can achieve their best possible health. I serve as the Executive Director of the BUILD Health Challenge, a funding collaborative and national awards program that aims to drive sustainable improvements in community health, contain downstream health care costs, and promote health equity.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

In 2018, I was honored to be named a fellow by the Terrance Keenan Institute for Emerging Leaders in Health Philanthropy, in affiliation with Grantmakers in Health.

I love to cook, read and hike. In support of my community, I organize several drives each year to collect supplies and raise funds for our local animal shelter.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Making it through Principles of Financial Accounting is the achievement I am most proud of during business school. This wasn’t an area I had much experience. However, I committed to working hard and trying my best. This meant many late nights reviewing material, asking a lot of questions, and attending many review sessions. In hindsight, I appreciated this experience not only because I gained a well-rounded knowledge of accounting practices, but more importantly, it helped me reflect on why I am pursuing my EMBA and how to better balance all of life’s responsibilities to achieve this goal.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I have the honor and privilege of working with communities across the country to help change how we in the US think about and work to improve health for everyone. In my current role with the de Beaumont Foundation as the executive director of the BUILD Health Challenge, I work with 11 foundations (e.g., Kresge, Robert Wood Johnson, W.K. Kellogg, Blue Shield of California), 19 communities (e.g., St. Louis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Des Moines, Cleveland), and dozens of partners. Together, we are focused on community-driven, cross-sector partnerships that drive sustainable improvements in community health. BUILD collaborations are working on tackling a wide variety of root causes contributing to chronic disease, in areas such as transportation, food insecurity, violence, and maternal and child health. Helping to launch and support these community projects is by far the greatest achievement of my professional career. Together, we are shifting systems and policies that impact our collective health. To date, BUILD has invested more than $12.5 million to support 37 communities in the US.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I’ve really enjoyed engaging with all of the professors who we’ve had so far. However, if I had to pick just one, I’d say it is Professor Aaron Tenenbein. Since regressions and standard deviations aren’t exactly high of my list of favorite things to spend time on, that’s saying a lot coming from me! He teaches our statistics and data analysis course and is really an exceptional professor. Since this course content is all relatively new to me, it’s a real struggle sometimes to get comfortable with the materials. Professor Tenenbein goes above-and-beyond to not only be knowledgeable and engaging but also to make sure his students understand why we are learning this content and how to apply it. He is also with us during our 7:15 a.m. math review sessions on the weekends before class starts and somehow always seems fresh and energized during the four-hour blocks of classes we have with him.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite course to date has to be Leadership in Organizations taught by Professor Anat Lechner. This course covered everything from artificial intelligence and change management to team dynamics and how to lead. I liked how broad it was in terms of topics covered, but how at the same time our discussions always felt central to the idea of what does it mean to lead. Professor Lechner also used a challenging class structure with case studies, presentations dissecting the cases, and voting by the class as feedback to help us think through different concepts. My two biggest takeaways from this class were: 1) you’d better be thinking about artificial intelligence and how it will impact your profession in the next decade or risk being left behind, and 2) you need to know how to think differently about the role of innovation in the workplace and all the various forms and shapes it can take. An unofficial third takeaway that I enjoyed learning about was how not to be a jerk when leading an organization. Or alternatively, if you happen to work with one, what you can do to mediate the situation.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I really needed an MBA program that would align with my personal and professional goals, connect me to an amazing network, and fit with my schedule—all while not compromising the quality of the program. I feel lucky to have found the NYU Stern program when I did since it had just started in Washington, DC. After doing my research on schools and talking with a few other MBA graduates, I found that NYU Stern would address everything I was looking for in a school: give me access to top quality classes and professors, inspire me to learn, and connect me to a world-class network. And unlike many other EMBA programs, NYU Stern had a once-a-month, three-day weekend option that would be intense, but allow me the freedom to have the usual second class weekend to be with my family.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Having space and time set aside to learn. At the age of 40 with a family and full-time job, being able to take time to learn and pursue ideas or areas you’re passionate about is really much more of a novelty. Committing myself to business school not only holds me accountable and keeps me focused on these courses, but it also signals to others that I am taking the space to do this and that it is a priority for me. Each time I work on a project, sit down for class, and email with my cohort member, I am thankful that I have this experience and get to share it with such a great group of interesting, diverse, and dynamic individuals.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I thought I was past expert-level at time management and was pushing myself as far as I could possibly go. Since entering this EMBA program, I have realized that I have the potential to do even more, to go even further so long as you understand the trade-offs. To juggle classes, group assignments, and speaker series discussions – all while working full time and raising a toddler – definitely has pushed me further than I thought was possible. There were definitely trade-offs to be made such as time with family and friends, traveling on vacations, and sleep – but I firmly believe that they are worth it during this two-year period. As Beyoncé said in her documentary Homecoming, “I definitely pushed myself further than I knew I could and I learned a very valuable lesson: I will never push myself that far again.”

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? I think everyone who makes it through an executive MBA program with a family and who is working full- time is a master juggler, but they most certainly did not do it all alone. Credit for me being able to stay and thrive in the program goes to my husband. Without his support and his own set of sacrifices, I would not be able to be in the program today. To juggle work, family, and education requires the understanding that you’re on a team with your partner and it requires a laser-like focus on planning ahead, coordination, and clear communication with others in your life.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Do it! If you love learning, want to better yourself, and are ready to prioritize school for the next two years, then you should definitely do it. You will have to make real sacrifices to achieve this goal, but it’s worth it.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I was incredibly nervous about going back to school. It had been almost 20 years since I had graduated from undergrad and the thought of being graded, having homework, and group assignments weighed on me. Within the first month, my fears were assuaged. I realized that my years of work experience really have changed me and were assets in this new environment. I also am much better able to manage my time and commitments and to prioritize what needs to get done. Realizing that my school experience was for me to define, and not be defined by, was liberating.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I feel lucky enough to say that I don’t really have any regrets. Sometimes, I do wish I would’ve spent more time with my classmates at social functions like happy hours after class, but that would come at a trade-off with time spent with my family. I’ve come to terms with that and am happy with my choices.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This would have to be Laurette Dade. She is one of the most dedicated and hard-working individuals in our cohort. Moreover, she is always asking great questions in class and makes a point to look out for other students in terms of helping them whenever she can. She’s the type of person you know you’ll stay friends with even after the program ends and who you want in your corner in life. She works in international trade and development, has a family with a husband and two children, and speaks four different languages!

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that I could unlock infinitely more doors and minds related to social change if I could better understand and navigate the business landscape.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? One day in my future, I would like to lead the social change division of an international company: one that recognizes that innovation, leadership, and profits are all inherently connected to one’s ability to create a better, more sustainable, and healthier world.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? She always had some big bold ideas to change the world and never shied away from trying to make it happen.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

Give a TED talk (topic TBD)

Take my daughter to see the new Seven Wonders of the World: Great Wall in China, Taj Mahal in India, Petra in Jordan, Colosseum in Italy, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, Chichen Itza in Mexico, and Machu Picchu in Peru.

What made Emily such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“Emily is a strong addition to the NYU Stern Executive MBA cohort. She brings a unique professional background to the class having worked with various foundations to make a positive impact on communities across the US. Throughout her career, she has developed and executed programs that tackle a wide array of challenges in new and innovative ways. Her peers in the cohort recognize Emily’s strong leadership abilities as well as her talent for working collaboratively with diverse individuals. We look forward to seeing Emily leverage her learnings from the Executive MBA program to continue to make a strong impact as a leader in this space.”

Neha Singhal

Senior Director, Executive MBA Admissions & Marketing

NYU Stern School of Business



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