2016 Best EMBAs: Christopher Yarbrough, University of California, Irvine (Merage)

Chris Yarbrough UC Irvine

Christopher Yarbrough

University of California-Irvine Merage School of Business

“He is one of those rare people in life that sees the good and believes there is always something to be learned, no matter the lesson. He is well liked by his classmates, sought after on small teams and always takes the time to be inclusive with his classmates, especially with those who seem to be on the outside looking in. He has truly engaged in this experience to learn and meet new people and for us, is an exemplary student member of our community.”

Age: 46

Location: Orange, CA

Family Members: Candice Yarbrough (spouse), Harlow (our Golden-Doodle)

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Arizona, BS optical engineering

Where are you currently working? II-VI Optical Systems, design engineering manager (previously the director of program management)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles: I participate in at least one charity event per year, with the most recent being for the Special Olympics organization. Professionally, I have received many achievement awards and recognition certificates from Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and JPL. To highlight my favorite, in 2010 I received an Achievement Award from NASA for personal contribution to the Juno Mission. The Juno spacecraft will start collecting images and data in June 2016. I am also an active member of SPIE (Professional Society for Optics and Photonics Technology, founded in 1955).

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Pride is a funny thing. I never spend much time thinking about what I have accomplished, so populating this nomination form has been challenging. I suppose I am most proud about my dedication to learning and my ability to juggle it all, especially having not been in an academic setting for so long. I am very thankful that I was blessed with an inquisitive mind. Finding opportunities to learn, to grow, and then to share that knowledge is what brings me the most joy in my life, both professionally and personally.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I have had the good fortune to be a part of some of the most sophisticated and complex space-based optical systems in the world: HiRISE (Mars), Rover Cameras (Mars), Context Camera (Mars), Juno (Jupiter), Galex (history of star formation), Deep Impact (Comet, Templel 1), NAC & WAC (Lunar Orbiter), GLM (Geostationary Lightning Mapper) … and all the ones I can’t tell you about!

Who is your favorite professor? Professor Richard Chandler. I am fascinated by his background and the opportunities he has had in his career. I also appreciate his teaching style … real-world, straightforward, and to the point.

Favorite MBA Courses? Practice of General Management, Macroeconomics

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? My selection criterion was to attend a top 25 business school that offered an EMBA program in Southern California. After interviewing with the Paul Merage School of Business at University of California-Irvine, I determined that the EMBA program format, timing, and content was the right fit.

What did you enjoy most about business school? Learning! I was watching the news the other day and my wife and I started having a conversation about the economy, the business environment, and the implication of the upcoming presidential election. My wife stopped halfway through our conversation and said to me, “You didn’t talk this way before business school.” That is the best compliment I could hope to receive and it is hard evidence of the merit of the program.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? I thought I was good at balancing workload prior to the program. I soon realized that I had a lot to learn. I assumed I would cut back on work and ramp up on school and that would have a net zero impact. Yes, I was able to shift the balance, but I did not anticipate the variance between work tasks and EMBA tasks. I have become much better at multi-tasking a diverse set of responsibilities. I do not believe this learning opportunity would have presented itself without introducing the EMBA.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? It had not occurred to me that an EMBA program was also a perfect networking opportunity. The Paul Merage School of Business really does a fabulous job emphasizing the networking aspect and providing opportunities for the students to establish business relationships (inter-school, across alumni and with industry partners).

What was the hardest part of business school? Work-School-Life Balance … or lack thereof. For most of us, we are only doing an EMBA once in our life. It was very important for me to put the time in and get the most learning I could from the process. That requires a 21 month shift in priorities; which can be very difficult when the realities of life kick-in.

What is your best advice for juggling work, family and education? Determine (prior to going in) what your expectation is. Once you have made up your mind, make a personal commitment to that expectation. Most importantly, be honest about that expectation with yourself, your family, and the teammates you work with during the program.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your executive MBA program? Be present and enjoy the opportunity to learn and network. Be open to new ideas and contribute to discussions. I gain a tremendous amount of insight from the contributions other fellow classmates.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when …” I became a project engineer. Once I had responsibility beyond an individual contributor role, I knew that I would go back for my MBA at some point in my career.

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be …” Eating dinner with my wife more than once a week!

Which executive or entrepreneur do you most admire? Admittedly, I do not know the man, but Richard Branson seems to approach business and life with humble intensity. A colleague of mine once interviewed for Virgin Mobile and told me that if you wore a tie to an interview you would be turned around at the door.

What are your long-term professional goals? I would like to look back at the end of my life and know that I made a meaningful contribution to society, to my industry, and, most importantly, to those around me.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I would be my mother for raising me to think; my father for his unwavering character; and my wife for providing more love than I could hope to receive in a 100 lifetimes.

Fun fact about yourself: I have no musical talent whatsoever!

Favorite book: Wikipedia!

Favorite movie: Memento

Favorite musical performer: Lindsey Stirling

Favorite television show: “My Favorite Martian”

Favorite vacation spot: In the winter it would be Steamboat Springs, CO. In the summer it would be Ko Phi-Phi, Thailand.

Hobbies? Any outdoor activity, yoga, meditation, and any opportunity to learn something new

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

“Chris is an overall outstanding student and person. I still remember the day I met him and his wife; I was taken with his story, which is different than the average EMBA student. After high school, he worked as a construction laborer for seven years, which afforded him an independent lifestyle early on. Due to the physical nature of the work, he realized he would not be able to do that kind of work forever, so at 25, when most of his peers were in their first professional job, he went to the University of Arizona to pursue his undergraduate degree in optical engineering, finishing his program magna cum laude. From there, he has had a brilliant career in the aerospace, defense, and space technology industries, working with many of the leading organizations in these industries on projects that impact our country’s safety.

“He is bright, inquisitive, engaging, and always elevates the classroom discussion to the next level. For 21 months, every weekend of EMBA class, he was the first student to arrive just as we opened the doors at 6:45 a.m. And in June, he will graduate at the top of his class with a near-perfect GPA. Beyond the classroom, we are most impressed with his good nature and humility. He is one of those rare people in life who sees the good and believes there is always something to be learned, no matter the lesson. He is well liked by his classmates, sought after on small teams, and always takes the time to be inclusive with his classmates, especially with those who seem to be on the outside looking in. He has truly engaged in this experience to learn and meet new people and for us, is an exemplary student member of our community.”

Coni Zingarelli

Director, Admissions / Interim Director, Program Services

Executive MBA Programs, The Paul Merage School of Business


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