2016 Best EMBAs: Adam Harpool, Columbia Business School

Adam Harpool Columbia

Adam Harpool

Columbia Business School

“Know your values, know your priorities, and synchronize your calendar and your daily choices to them relentlessly and consistently. The notion that you’re going to magically ‘have it all’ is a myth. We have in abundance only the things to which we assign priority, importance, and time.”

Age: 29

Location: New York, NY

Undergraduate School and Degree: I earned my BS from the University of Florida, where I majored in Decision & Information Sciences, minored in French, and completed the Honors Program. I also hold a MS in Information Systems Management from Carnegie Mellon University.

Where are you currently working? RSM US LLP (formerly known as McGladrey) as Manager, Healthcare Consulting and Technology GRC Leader. I have a diverse portfolio which includes leading IT consulting engagements for healthcare clients, serving as a National SAP Champion, helping manage and grow our New York Risk Advisory practice (including responsibility for the career development of five direct reports), and working with service line leaders to develop our client-facing technology governance, risk, and compliance (“GRC”) service offering, platform, and strategy.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: On campus I’m most actively involved in Cluster Q, the Columbia Business School LGBT student group, as well as being a member of the Management Consulting Association, Healthcare Industry Association, and the Black Business Students Association. I was elected as the Honor Board Representative for my student cluster, and I also served on the Dean’s Advisory Board during my first year.

At RSM, I am involved in the employee resource groups for LGBT employees and professional women. I was on the RSM New York Philanthropic Committee from 2012 to 2014, and in 2013 I co-led RSM’s inaugural “Birdies Fore Love” fundraising program in our New York Office. Finally, I have been involved in fundraising for the AIDS Walk since 2010, first in Miami and since 2012 in New York.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Without campaigning for it, I was selected as one of the three finalists to be student commencement speaker for my EMBA program.  While I did not win on the final ballot, it was an incredibly humbling – even surprising – moment to have so many of my peers give me this supreme vote of confidence and deem me worthy of such a prestigious honor. I’m very proud to have been able to build such deep, hopefully lifelong, ties with many of my classmates.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Two accomplishments with a related theme come to mind:

When I was a Senior Consultant at Ernst & Young (EY) in 2012, I was chosen to serve as Team Leader for the firm’s AIDS Walk New York team, which involved coordinating the efforts of more than 100 fundraisers. There was political infighting – some viewed me as too green to lead the effort – and at the time EY was moving to a new, targeted corporate social responsibility approach which would minimize support for events such as this. Many thought we were headed for disappointment. Instead, we rallied together and raised over $33,400, EY’s best ever fundraising in the Walk and our first ever finish in the top 10 teams.  As a result of our fundraising success, several colleagues and I attended the NYSE Opening Bell Ceremony as invited guests.

Shortly after joining RSM, I was presented with the opportunity to sell a piece of work for our firm unlike any we had ever won before. Again, there were naysayers who insisted that we had little chance of winning the work against our “Big 4” competitors, that even if we won it we couldn’t deliver it, and that the pursuit was distracting me from existing billable projects. I wrote the proposal and we ended up winning the firm’s first ever comprehensive SAP security assessment, as well as a new state government client. We assembled a team from around the country and spent a good chunk of 2013 executing this engagement – which in the end was delivered, on-time and slightly under budget, to a delighted client.

The common theme is clear – it’s hard to understate the importance of perseverance and courage when forging ahead into uncharted territory and dealing with the “it can’t be done!” crowd.

Who is your favorite professor? In undergrad it was Vassiliki (Betty) Smocovitis, who taught a seminar in biological ethics and the history of science in the UF Honors Program. It was a class which really challenged how I thought critically about fundamental yet ambiguous issues; as a STEM major, I found it especially rewarding.

At Columbia, my favorite has been Donna Hitscherich, who teaches the fast-paced but immensely valuable Mergers & Acquisitions elective.

Favorite MBA Courses? Leadership & Organizational Change (L&OC), Corporate Finance, Mergers & Acquisitions, Brand Management

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Columbia has a “one MBA” philosophy; full-time and EMBA students receive the same degree, follow the same curriculum, are organized in the same cluster/learning team structure, and spend the same number of hours in class. The only difference is the schedule format. Given the major investments in time, money, and energy required to earn an MBA, it was critical to me that my credential be on equal footing with any other MBA in the market. Columbia’s prestige, Ivy League status, and vast alumni network were also major influencing factors.

What did you enjoy most about business school? Definitely my classmates and the camaraderie we have developed over the last two years.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? How to manage more effectively in situations involving emotion, ambiguity, and organizational politics.

What was the hardest part of business school? Heavily quantitative courses sometimes proved to be intense. This often was driven by difficulty finding enough hours in the day to do enough practice problems to truly master the content.

What is your best advice for juggling work, family, and education? Know your values, know your priorities, and synchronize your calendar and your daily choices to them relentlessly and consistently. The notion that you’re going to magically “have it all” is a myth. We have in abundance only the things to which we assign priority, importance, and time.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your executive MBA program? To the extent possible, know exactly what you’re looking for and what you hope to get out of the EMBA; well before applying, I knew what I wanted to do immediately post-Columbia, as well as at 5, 10, and 25 years after graduation. Of course those plans will shift, but the act of planning it all out is critical. And anecdotally at least, it seems that my peers who had a clear vision of what they planned to do with the EMBA have been generally happier than those who weren’t as sure about their plans.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…” I realized that I needed additional skills and an additional credential to drive my career to the long-term goals I’m targeting.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…” Ten pounds lighter, better rested, and not addicted to Red Bull Sugarfree.

What are your long-term professional goals? I strive to make Partner at a large management consulting firm before turning 40. At the pinnacle of my career, I hope to be either one of the most senior Partners at my firm or a C-suite executive at a Fortune 500 healthcare or consumer goods corporation.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My mom, who passed away in 2008 from kidney disease. She grew up poor in Kentucky at the tail end of the segregation era, was the first in our family to graduate from college, and raised me as a single parent with limited resources. The sacrifices that she made to put me on the right track as a child are ones that I can never repay, and in many ways I consider my own career to be the epilogue to her life story.

Fun fact about yourself: I grew up in Florida, and as such never saw snow until I was well into my teen years. As a kid I thought it was normal everywhere in the United States to eat Thanksgiving dinner outside, wearing shorts and sandals.

Favorite book: Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Favorite movie: Titanic

Favorite musical performer: Would have to name a few: Rufus Wainwright, John Mayer, Michael Jackson, and Mariah Carey

Favorite television show: “Meet the Press”

Favorite vacation spot: Southern California, particularly Palm Springs and West Hollywood. Brazil would be a very close second!

Hobbies? Global travel, reading, wine/champagne, Manhattan nightlife, karaoke, and long days catching waves and sun at the beach.

What made Adam such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

“Adam has been a tremendous member of the CBS EMBA Community and the larger Business School community throughout his time in the EMBA-NY Saturday program. He served as one of the Honor Board student representative for his cluster, and participated in various school-wide CBS clubs, from Cluster Q, Columbia’s LGBT Business Association, to the Black Business Student Association, as well as Professional Clubs, from the Management Consulting Association to the Healthcare Industry Association. He also served on the school’s Dean’s Advisory Board. Adam’s classmates describe him as someone who lives and breathes Columbia Business School culture, and his level of involvement is unique and impressive.”

Felicia Goodman

Senior Associate Director, Academic and Student Affairs on behalf of the EMBA Programs Team

Columbia Business School



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