Best Advice From The ‘Best & Brightest’ EMBAs

Louise Richer

Louise Richer


Perhaps the hardest part of the EMBA experience involves juggling work, family, and school. Sometimes, as some Best and Brightest EMBAs lament, they couldn’t always be there, particularly for family events. To reduce conflict and hard feelings, McGill’s Louise Richer, who helms Canada’s National Comedy School, recommends that students paint a picture of what their loved ones and employees should expect — and what’s expected from them. “Prepare everyone around you for what you are about to live. Your colleagues, your team, as well as your family will become active partakers in this endeavour — whether they like it or not!

SMU’s Brian Scott Cossiboom, vice president of operations for the George W. Bush Foundation, takes it a step further. His advice: “Get buy-in from EVERYONE before you start.” Even more, he reminds future EMBAs that sacrifices sometimes need to be made. “Birthday parties may be missed, a work deadline may slip by, and at some point an hour of sleep will be more valuable than having spent a little extra time on a paper to move it from ‘A-‘ material to ‘A’ material.”

Kirsten Castillo, who commuted to the Duke campus from the Twin Cities, would enlist help to get through the rough patches. “It takes a team,” she says. “I have lots of helpers. I am not one to ask for help often, but during an EMBA you must be realistic about how much time you will have when spending 15-20 hours on schoolwork outside of a full-time job.” At the same time, Castillo suggests setting boundaries with commitments. “My advice is to define your non-negotiables. If you need to be at a concert, a hockey game, a dance competition, make time and be there.”

The same applies to creating and following a plan, adds USC’s Daniel Tarbutton, a Marine helicopter pilot. “From my perspective, the most important thing is to set priorities for your time and stick with them.  I found that having my priorities set allowed me to plan out my time so that I could get everything accomplished.” However, Tarbutton credits his secret weapon for holding him to his plan. “It is helpful to have someone keep you grounded when you stray from your priorities. My wife was especially helpful in reminding me to come up for air once in a while to enjoy my family and a little time off.”


USC's Ellen Wu

USC’s Ellen Wu

As the Class of 2018 embarks on their EMBA journey, several Best & Brightest graduates tailored their advice to the bigger picture. The University of Chicago’s Omri Krigel, for one, directs his successors to do everything they can to get the most from their time.

“When I started the 21-months-long program,” he reminisces, “it seemed that the finish line could not be seen on the horizon. But, as our program office and faculty team initially warned us, time flew by very quickly. Therefore, my suggestion for an executive MBA applicant is to maximize their experience as much as possible. In other words, to spend as much time with your classmates as you can and engage with them both on a personal and professional level; to constantly be curious and challenge your professors; to participate in many of the after-class events that the program offers; and, if needed, to use the career services as early as possible.”

While Krigel implores first years to do everything they can, USC’s Ellen Wu cautions them not to try to be everything to everyone. “Don’t try to be the Superperson,” she says. “Many people in an EMBA program likely have perfectionist tendencies; however, we quickly realize we can’t do everything and certainly not as well as we may expect from ourselves. Don’t be too hard on yourself, ask for assistance, pick your battles, and spend time with the family.”

In the process, adds the University of Minnesota’s Jarrad Roy, enjoy the ride — and don’t take it for granted. “Ensure your thoughts are profound, your words are meaningful, and your heart is grateful for every moment of the experience. Live it and you’ll love it, guaranteed!”


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