2015 Best EMBA: Gregory A. Fortner

Greg Fortner

Gregory A. Fortner


University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

Gregory Fortner admits that he was surprised that he was actually accepted into Ross. A musical arts major as an undergrad who “never had a lot of academic honors,” Fortner eventually earned Beta Gamma Sigma at Ross. However, Fortner prefers to focus on the accomplishments of his cohort–and this selfless attitude is epitomized by his mantra: “How can I serve the audience?” Fortner currently works as VP of Product Experience at IDAvatars.

Age: 40

Location: South Pasadena, CA

Family Members: Wife: Heather Bair, Dashiell (Son), Adelina (Daughter)

Undergraduate School: University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance

Undergraduate Degree: Bachelor of Musical Arts

Where are you currently working? VP of Product Experience at IDAvatars

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I watched my father, then in his late 50’s, manage our small family bakery through some very tough economic downturns in mid-Michigan. His struggles were mine and made me realize that I needed business school to take the next step.”

What are your long-term professional goals? To always stay curious and open to new opportunities.

Favorite Courses: I have seriously loved them all, but I have a soft spot for anything with the word “Global”, “Strategy”, or “Economics” in the title.

Which academic or professional achievements are you most proud of? I am most proud of having been able to teach my cohort to sing “The Victors”. Academically I am most proud of the high achievement of my teammates at Ross. I never had a lot of academic honors and was surprised when I even got into the program. I was really happy that, as the program went on, I realized that not only could I do it, but that if I stayed focus I could be a part of creating something with my team to help us all excel. On each of my teams, we made each other better and that is an amazing gift. Professionally, I am most proud of the opportunities that I have sought out to create experiences that leave a lasting impact on everyone that lives them. From large scale opera and theater projects around the world to tech projects in science education and wellness avatars, the guiding principal is always the same: How can I serve the audience? It took me a while to learn to focus on that, but doing so is the thing I am most proud of and what drives any success I might enjoy.

Who would you most want to thank for your success (and why)? This thank you is not for an individual, it is for a community. One that is made up of my family, friends, neighbors and cohort each of whom has been there for me when I needed help. What has made me successful is understanding that I am a product of a much larger mutual support system. Without my wife’s patience, my children’s understanding, my cohort’s confidence, my parents and in-laws wisdom, and babysitting skills, I couldn’t do it.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? The programs values matched mine and it was strong in the areas where I wanted to develop. I also loved the diverse backgrounds of the cohort. Most of my projects involve bringing people from different professional backgrounds together and that is exactly what the Ross EMBA program does.

What did you enjoy most about the executive MBA program? Being challenged not only by the content, but by the collaboration. Working with a room full of really smart people is exhilarating, but you have to learn very quickly when to lead and when to follow. And you have to understand that you WILL need to do both to bring success to the team. This was an amazing lesson to learn and taught me that it is not just asking the right questions, but knowing WHEN to ask them.

What is your most memorable moment from business school? One of my teammates had been struggling with the finance classes from day one of the program and has recently been getting down on herself whenever she came into contact with the subject. However, when it got time to come to take our elective classes she chose Global Finance. I told her how happy I was to see her in the class and she replied “I am here to learn and I can’t give up on myself just because it is hard”. That moment really optimized the quality of the people with whom I am surrounded at Ross. Being with a cohort like that makes you better and does it in a way that doesn’t feel like a chore, but more like a privilege.

Fun fact about yourself: One of my first jobs was a production assistant on Michael Moore’s movie “Bowling for Columbine”. On the last day of filming he had me dress up in a deer suite, like a team mascot, complete with orange safety vest and go into a hunting store in Michigan to try and buy a hunting rifle. The funny thing is that it was the end of hunting season and the store was packed with hunters…an experience that I won’t forget for a long time.

Favorite book: The Tell-Tale Brain

Favorite movie: Young Frankenstein

Favorite musical performer: Nobody turns a lyric like Nina Simone

Favorite television show: Frontline

Favorite vacation spot: Any National Park

What are your hobbies? Yoga and a passionate fanaticism for Michigan Football are about the only things I think I can call a hobby. The other things that I tend to enjoy such as studying world cultures, art and fashion history, neuroscience and aesthetics, theater, fashion history, and a whole host of “-ologies” in the social sciences are all part of my work, but that doesn’t make them any less fun to do.  I have also been learning about soccer since my son has taken an interest in it.

Twitter Handle: @Gregory_Fortner

What made Gregory such an invaluable addition to the class of 2015 for your executive MBA program?

“Gregory Fortner is the type of student every MBA program would love to have – an accomplished person with a liberal arts background and a demonstrated interested in business and entrepreneurship. Students like Greg come to business schools for the transformational experience and bring with them perspectives that benefit their classmates and broadly the business school community. Greg embodies all these qualities. Even among liberal arts students he is a rarity because his undergraduate degree is in music and his interests are in theater – a true “poet.” 

He is also an entrepreneur having founded three firms. His latest startup, Sky Arts, provides creative direction and production management services to international opera companies, commercial theaters, and experiential design companies throughout the world. Greg has excelled academically and is in line to graduate with “High Distinction.” More importantly, he is respected by his classmates, faculty, and Ross EMBA program office for his leadership. We are confident that he will be a wonderful representative of the Ross School of Business. We are proud to call him our own. He is the ideal representative from Ross – a poet who is now also a quant.”

– MP Narayanan, Robert Morrison Hoffer Professor of Business Administration, Professor of Finance, Faculty Director, Executive MBA


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