2016 Best EMBAs: Christian Dunbar, UCLA (Anderson)

Christian Dunbar UCLA

Captain Christian Dunbar

Anderson School of Management, UCLA

“Christian has also become a natural leader in his EMBA class, naturally commanding respect from his fellow classmates for his sense of purpose, his sense of service, and commitment to achieving his career goals. We value the military students that attend our executive MBA program. They bring with them a level of professional maturity and leadership experience not always found to the same degree in a corporate environment. Christian’s strength of character, integrity and inspiring leadership raise the bar for the other students in his class as well as for our executive MBA program, which is what makes him such a valuable addition to the EMBA class of 2016 at UCLA Anderson.”

Age: 45

Location: Coronado, CA

Family Members: Wife Kelly of 17 years, Abigail (13), Amelia (8), Lenox (6), Eleanor (3), +1 due in July

Education: ’93 B.S., aerospace engineering, University of Notre Dame; ’98 M.S., defense analysis (irregular warfare), ’98 M.S., space systems operations, Naval Postgraduate School

Where are you currently working? U.S. Navy, Naval Special Warfare Center, Coronado, CA

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Current Community Work, Leadership and Recognitions:

  • Founder and Director of The ETHOS Project combating sexual assault on college campuses by providing resources, organization, and content to student leaders to bring about lasting culture change;
  • Adviser to University of California Task Force on Sexual Assault and Sexual Violence Prevention for advanced programs for athletics and Greek systems;
  • Adviser and leader on the Southern California-based Prevention Coalition, synchronizing and sharing best practices for sexual assault prevention, reporting, support, investigation, and advocacy programs on college campuses;
  • Adviser to UCLA Title IX Coordinator, Athletic Department for developing education and training programs for athlete ethics, leadership and positive behaviors;
  • Advising the revamping of the John Wooden Academy for developing values based student-athlete leaders;
  • Qualified as DoD Sexual Assault Victim Advocate;
  • Academic Award — John Wooden Global Leadership Fellow;
  • Academic Award — Pat Tillman Foundation Scholar;
  • Personal professional awards: the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, 4x Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device “V,” Defense Meritorious Service Medal, 4x Meritorious Service Medal, and multiple Joint and Navy Commendation and Achievement medals.

Extracurricular Activities:

  • Volunteer Performance Programs Coordinator Surf Soccer Club (youth soccer club). Athlete performance programs resulting 4x State Championship teams;
  • Adviser to multiple professional sports teams on athlete development, performance, and behavior programs;
  • CEO of Hyperion Inc., a sports performance technology start-up providing elite sports psychology and behavioral assessment and training.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? While absolutely not satisfied, I am most proud of the level of momentum behind the development and pockets of expansion of my burgeoning national-level social enterprise called The ETHOS Project, which focuses on combatting sexual assault on college campuses. After recently being informed about the alarming, and very real, rate of sexual assault on college campuses — one in four during their time at school — and being a father of five (soon) and four daughters, I felt the deep calling to take on this national problem with the same vigor and leadership that I have applied to other international-level problems. The ETHOS Project focuses primarily on mobilizing and supporting specific groups of student leaders to develop, organize, network, and lead lasting cultural change on their campus and in their life. The programs and methodology are adaptive of highly successful programs we have implemented in the military and the SEAL Teams. Originally based on mobilizing veterans on campus, The ETHOS Project has evolved to encompass other on-campus student leadership cohorts while expanding to other campuses such as Arizona State and Harvard’s Kennedy School. We’ve expanded our leadership team beyond just veteran leaders to include professionals in the education and training field as well as Ph.D.s with expertise specifically in teaching and training sexual assault and gender violence prevention programs. We look forward to more progress and growth over the next six months as well as over the long term.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Across my 23-year career as a Navy SEAL officer, I have had many truly amazing opportunities to accomplish very remarkable things in the most challenging environments. I’ve spent nearly half a lifetime of tackling unique security, development, and geopolitical challenges in over 44 countries, each having their own significant story, recently culminating in my leadership role during my last (11th) deployment overseas in Afghanistan. While enrolled in my EMBA program, I was abruptly deployed to Afghanistan after my first quarter. I was hand-picked by the commanding general of the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command (in charge of all special operations inside of Afghanistan), to lead the number-one strategic priority mission of developing the strategy and plan for aligning U.S. and coalition partners and conducting a highly sophisticated campaign against the largest and most dangerous terrorist network threatening the strategic outcome of the future of Afghanistan. The “achievement” wasn’t that I was chosen to lead this effort, nor was it the overall success of effectively neutralizing the sophisticated network thwarting their unrelenting barrage of high profile and highly lethal attempted attacks. I view my greatest professional achievement embedded in the HOW I accomplished success. I am extremely proud that I was able to rapidly build the required enthusiasm, trust and relationships to construct a synergistic learning, adaptive and self-directing network of organizations across 11 different battalions, from seven different countries, 13 different governmental and non-governmental agencies with over 6,000 personnel with NO positional authority over the networked organization. It was rewarding to look across video teleconferences, conference rooms, and executive briefing tables and see the level of buy in, cooperation and partnered leadership occurring on a daily and minute-by-minute basis at the executive leadership levels. But more rewarding than achieving alignment and passionate action was to see and hear what was happening at the lowest levels in the network. When travelling across Afghanistan and meeting and talking to the people on the ground and in first-line leadership positions, I was impressed and awed with the shared deep understanding, vision, passion, and minute-by-minute interactions that were truly getting the mission accomplished. Truly remarkable and rewarding!

Favorite MBA Courses? My favorite MBA courses are those that are non-core classes. I absolutely cherish the ability to expand my learning by taking other diverse classes related to business: International Immersion Programs, Sports Business, Entrepreneurism, and Social Responsibility. Every one of these classes is eye-opening and expands the EMBA experience beyond the traditional scope of Finance, Operations, Marketing, and Strategy. These classes, coupled with the Entrepreneurism track available at Anderson, have had a profound impact on enabling me to find my way as a career shifter as well as find the right path for me and my family.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose UCLA Anderson for a lot of reasons. The EMBA program at Anderson has many attributes that were very appealing, from the ability to take a wide array of electives, the global immersion opportunities, going to class on campus, the quality and breadth of experience of its professors, the wonderful staff, and the ability to come back after graduation and take classes for continuing executive education. But more than anything, I chose Anderson because of its focus on value-based leadership and how those values were reflected in the institution, staff, professors, and the course content.

What did you enjoy most about business school? The thing I enjoyed most about business school was the interaction with my fellow students in the learning environment. The student base, not only in the EMBA program but also the Fully Employed program when I took electives, was an outstanding resource for broadening my education and personal and professional development. UCLA Anderson has done the absolute best job at recruiting and assembling a remarkable cross-section of executive learners who “up the game” of the classroom instruction, peer-to-peer mentorship and professional network.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? The biggest lesson I gained from business school is to follow your passion in work and business and to “do what moves you.” Business school has emboldened me to make career-changing decisions with confidence and a great deal of personal gratification. I will be retiring from the military soon and continuing my life of service in the social responsibility enterprise sector and the learning experiences garnered from business school have been nothing less than life-altering.

What is your best advice for juggling work, family, and education? My best advice for juggling work, family, and education is to not follow my example. I love to learn and took so many electives that I likely stressed work and family a little too far. I took a “military deployment” mindset while pursuing my EMBA, doing more and more on less and less. I have been extremely fortunate to have been able to add more diverse courses to my over the years but NOT in balance. I likely owe my wife and kids a couple of extra vacations after graduation.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your executive MBA program? My best advice to an applicant to UCLA Anderson would be to be themselves and be open to learning from your peers and sharing and mentoring your peers. If someone wants to go get an MBA to check a box, don’t go to Anderson; you’re the wrong person. Come to be an ACTIVE member of the learning environment and do as much as you can — it goes to fast.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when …” I realized that I would have to grow up someday and learn about something other than the SEAL Teams.

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be …” Disappointed that I missed the opportunity to learn the business skills to be able to scale and develop a national-level social enterprise to take on the most dangerous threat to our young people during their most formative and most vulnerable time in their lives (the first time they live away from their families).

What are your long-term professional goals? My long-term professional goals include transitioning from the military into the role of leading values-based organizations with direct impact on developing people and bettering their lives and enabling them to pay it forward as values-based leaders. While I’m not completely sure what career that entails, I am certain that I will know when to take or create opportunities to make significant positive social impact.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I certainly owe my wife the absolute biggest thanks for my success. As my soul mate, partner, guide, and family leader, I would not have been able to even think about going to school, let alone surviving 16 years of marriage with four kids and one on the way while being an active-duty Navy SEAL officer with 11 deployments. She is the cornerstone of our life and our success is OURS.

Fun fact about yourself: I am a third-generation Eagle Scout

Favorite book: Any original James Bond book by Ian Fleming

Favorite movie: Any and all James Bond, to include the old black and whites. Fifty years of Bond — my dad and I shared them growing up and now I’m going back and watching them with my oldest daughter

Favorite musical performer: I am partial to Angus Young, the lead guitarist of AC/DC, but recently with her song “Till it Happens to You” Lady Gaga jumped on my radar

Favorite television show: Toughy! I’m a sucker for “American Pickers” right now. It’s a great look into Americana as well as a great study break at 10:30 p.m. before going in for round two of homework

Favorite vacation spot: Kona, Hawaii

Hobbies? Family and kids’ sports. A lot of home renovation. Ironman racing. Anything at the beach, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, and surfing. Hiking and camping — I recently summited Mt. Whitney (highest peak in the contiguous 48) with my daughter when she was 10

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

Christian Dunbar (EMBA ’16) has been an active Navy SEAL for 22 years. He is a U.S. Navy captain and deputy commander in the Naval Special Warfare Center, responsible for all West Coast SEAL teams. He’s made nearly a dozen deployments, many in combat, and most under his leadership. In fact, the most recent deployment actually interrupted his EMBA program and required him to take a leave of absence to run Special Operations in Afghanistan — he returned the following fall and will now graduate with the 2016 EMBA class.

“When Christian returned to the EMBA program, he was selected as one of four recipients of the John Wooden Global Leadership Fellowship, one of the highest honors at UCLA Anderson. In the essay that Christian wrote for his Wooden Fellowship application, he talked about how Coach Wooden actually had a role in shaping his leadership development and his ability to motivate people effectively after years of managing them. He said that in 2005, he had just changed jobs, switching from a Special Ops Command position to leading a SEAL team as director and deputy commander of operations. His team, a Special Operations task force, was preparing to deploy to Iraq in 2006. When he was in real need of some leadership inspiration, his wife, a former Marine, suggested that he read the book Wooden on Leadership. The book was deeply inspiring to Christian and he was able to apply many of the leadership ideas that Coach Wooden wrote about in his book to successfully manage his SEAL team.

“Prior to enrolling in the EMBA Program here at UCLA Anderson, Christian had already obtained master’s degrees in space systems operations and unconventional warfare (which he describes as the “science of counter-terrorism”). Christian’s motive in pursuing an executive MBA is because he’s developing a ‘sports performance’ consulting business. In his consulting work with different sports teams, he teaches the highly successful approach inspired by much of the training that Navy SEALs receive, specifically, better ways to cope with the stress and the power struggle they deal with on the field, in order to also address sexual assault and domestic violence. As founder of his consulting business, The Ethos Project, Christian has already begun to work with some major sports teams as well as with the athletic departments at some large university systems here in the U.S.

“Christian has also become a natural leader in his EMBA class, naturally commanding respect from his fellow classmates for his sense of purpose, sense of service, and commitment to achieving his career goals. We value the military students who attend our executive MBA program. They bring with them a level of professional maturity and leadership experience not always found to the same degree in a corporate environment. Christian’s strength of character, integrity and inspiring leadership raise the bar for the other students in his class as well as for our executive MBA program, which is what makes him such a valuable addition to the EMBA class of 2016 at UCLA Anderson.”

Susan Dearing

Executive Director and EMBA Career Coach

Professional MBA Career Management Center

UCLA Anderson School of Management


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