2015 Best EMBA: Robert B. Ford

Robert Ford

Robert B. Ford

University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business

For nearly his entire career, Robert Ford has worked for Abbott Laboratories. Unlike many students, he didn’t enroll in Haas’ EMBA program to boost his income. Instead, he looked at innovations in the medical industry and realized that he needed to push himself and learn even more. Despite overseeing hundreds of people at Abbott, Ford made a splash at Haas, epitomizing the school’s principles and becoming a go-to guy to his classmates. And his efforts were rewarded, as he was promoted to executive vice-president of medical devices just before he graduated.

Age: 42

Location: Danville, CA 

Undergraduate: School: Boston College 

Undergraduate Degree: Communications

Where are you currently working: I am president of Abbott Diabetes Care Inc., in Alameda, CA. I’ve worked at Abbott since 1996, starting my career with the company while living in Brazil.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I attended a Berkeley-Haas information/mixer session at Berkeley.” 

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…getting more sleep!”

What are your long-term professional goals: I plan to continue to make a difference in the healthcare industry, impacting peoples’ lives so that they can be their best. Once I started working in healthcare I realized it’s just amazing to help bring new things to market and innovate. It’s cool to do apps for Google or Apple, but (impacting) people’s lives is cooler.

Favorite Courses:  Operations and Accounting 

Which academic or professional achievements are you most proud of? In 2008, my family – including my wife, my then-3-year-old son, and our then-newborn – packed up and left our home country of Brazil for California, where I was offered a job at Abbott Diabetes Care. The job, vice president of Abbott’s global commercial organization, was too exciting to pass up. It was definitely a challenge for our family to learn how to live in a new country, while I was taking on the challenge of operating in a global business environment. Yet I am very proud of where we are today as a family and for making that decision to move. 

Who would you most want to thank for your success: My parents, who provided me with my education, my values, and my drive; and my wife, who has supported me in every way and at every moment.    

Why did you choose this executive MBA program: I didn’t get an MBA to get a better job or better salary, I did it to broaden my learning and thinking. I chose Berkeley-Haas for its core Defining Principles (Question the Status Quote, Confidence without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself), its reputation, the schedule, and a belief that it would challenge my paradigms and stretch my understanding of the future of the business environment.

I worked at Abbott for 18 years in healthcare and as time progressed the healthcare industry changed so much with all of the innovation in medtech and I just felt that something in me was looking for a different kind of learning challenge. It boiled down to a phrase by Michelangelo, who said at age 87: “I am still learning.” I believe that to my core. I thought the MBA could give me a different learning experience and curiosity drew me down that path.

What did you enjoy most about the Executive MBA program? Without a doubt, I have most enjoyed the people I have met, and the relationships that I have formed. I learned just as much from my classmates as I did from a case or professor.  My class included an extraordinary group of people with complementing skills, capabilities, and experiences.

What is your most memorable moment from business school: Silicon Valley Immersion week during the infamous December rain storm of 2014. It was amazing to be trekking through a network of local start-ups in San Francisco in the pouring rain. Despite the storm, it became so evident to me during that week that Berkeley-Haas is a unique and central part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem.

Fun fact about yourself: I was born and raised in Brazil by an American mother and a Brazilian dad and spent 14 years at British boarding school. I like to call it: “Pink Floyd, Brazilian style.”  I also met Princess Diana at school when I was 18. 

Favorite book: Jim Collins’ Good to Great 

Favorite movie: The Warriors (A 1979 American cult thriller)

Favorite musical performer: Stevie Ray Vaughan

Favorite television show: Walking Dead (on AMC) 

Favorite vacation spot: Fazenda Sao Domingos (Brazil)

What are your hobbies? Playing guitar, cooking, and relaxing with family.

What made Robert such an invaluable addition to the class of 2015? 

“Robert first stood out in the admissions process not only because of his depth of leadership experience at Abbott Diabetes, but equally because of who he is as a person. He truly represents our Defining Principles (Question the Status Quote, Confidence without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself), and this came across loud and clear in his letters of recommendation, essays, and interview.  

While Robert has had many successes, he is still incredibly humble and down to earth. He is not one to tout his accomplishments. A good example is when his team at Abbott Diabetes recently won a 2015 East Bay Innovation Award. When I congratulated him, he attributed it to his team and was beaming with pride about their performance. 

The admissions committee also valued the personal and professional experiences Robert brought to his class, having been born and raised in Brazil and having conducted business all over the world.  

We have found Robert to be a student who is eager to learn and fully engages in the Haas community. He is well liked and respected by his fellow classmates. 

Doy Charnsupharindr, a lecturer in Robert’s Leadership Communications class, recalled that in a small breakout session, during which students were asked to share leadership stories about what has made them who they are today, Robert’s storytelling shined. 

“What I’ll always remember about Robert is that he was there to support his classmates 100 percent,” he said. “He helped me make it easy for others to step forward and let their voices be heard. He’s passionate, authentic, and he’s an inspiring storyteller/communicator. He’s the kind of MBA student who really represents what our school is all about.” 

Somehow, Robert manages to balance a big job (overseeing hundreds of people), school and a young family. He finds time for fun somewhere in between! I enjoyed seeing him play with his boys at the program’s tailgate party right before the big Real Madrid vs. Inter Milan soccer match at Berkeley last year. It’s clear what he values the most: his family.  

In admissions, we look beyond the basics of an application to fully understand a candidate. And Robert truly embodies our culture and the type of person we want to represent the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program.”

– Marjorie DeGraca, Assistant Dean, Admissions

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