2016 Best EMBAs: Cynthia O’Malley, University of Pittsburgh (Katz)

Cindy O'Malley Pittsburgh

Cynthia O’Malley

University Of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business

“Be very critical of commitment selections so that you are not diluting your focus beyond what is optimal for career, family, and education. I have also learned that flexibility is crucial in temporarily shifting focus to the most critical issues at hand and then in returning focus to the planned tasks that lead to desired outcomes.”

Age: 47

Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Family Members: Dan O’Malley (husband), Aubree Fairfull (daughter), Andrew Fairfull (son)

Undergraduate School and Degree: Pennsylvania State University, B.S. food science with a concentration in organic chemistry

Where are you currently working? Professional Services Business Unit manager, vice president, KTA-Tator Inc.


  • Growth champion: Sustaining growth of KTA Professional Services Business Unit, contributing to company vision and strategy; supporting processes to improve short, intermediate and long-term financial performance (profitability and share value); enhancing KTA’s reputation;
  • Leader: Leading the adaptation of policy and procedure; taking the lead in ensuring that decisions made, actions taken and emotions created are all in alignment with intended, common goals; identifying and meet the legitimate needs of all staff and removing all the barriers, so they can serve the customer;
  • Technical resource strategist: Identifying and aligning technical resources and performance objectives to ensure what is accomplished impacts company success; implementing responsive long-term strategies and short-term business development tactics accordingly; entrepreneurship;
  • Innovator: Envisioning the future of what KTA can become; promoting new products, services, and internal business systems based upon defined customer needs; industry champion;
  • Business manager: Personal accountability for the success of Professional Services’ financial performance;
  • Client relations manager: Cultivating relationships with key clients and prospects; exploring opportunities to add value; championing all customer focus.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles:

Extracurricular Activities:

  • Boston Marathon qualifier and finisher (2009)
  • 50 States Marathon Club (completed 35/50 U.S. states)
  • Assisting in the advancement of the culture of the coatings industry by playing an instrumental role in the establishment of the SSPC Women in Coatings Forum. This forum recognized that change was necessary to close the gender gap for the overall benefit of the coatings industry, including a cultural shift to support a more inclusive network where gender is not a limiting factor.

Industry Volunteer and Community Leadership Roles:

  • University of Pittsburgh BOV EMBA program student representative
  • NACE Women in Corrosion Leadership Committee
  • NACE International STG-04 vice chairman and incoming chairman (2016)
  • SSPC Women in Coatings Impact Award 2015
  • SSPC certified protective coatings specialist (#442-199-0327) (2005-2016)
  • Past president of the Pittsburgh Society for Coatings Technology (PSCT) (2013-2014)
  • ASTM International D01.21 chairman (2016)
  • Technical adviser to the Steel Water Pipe Manufacturer subcommittee of AWWA
  • SSPC Presidents Lecture Series Award

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am proud to have assisted on the leadership committee to develop an industry workshop on engaging women in leadership. The workshop was conducted at NACE International Corrosion 2016 Exposition. The workshop was designed to:

  • Enhance networking opportunities intended to inspire attendees to pursue leadership positions;
  • Provide insight into career advancement through personal and professional development strategies;
  • Deliver ways to support and mentor others to leadership success;
  • Convey ideas about organizational preparedness and awareness of the need for diverse leadership teams.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As a laboratory services manager of KTA, I was proud of initiating a rigorous process of assessing the talents and skill sets of each member of our staff, resulting in individualized development plans. These plans challenged each person to go beyond their comfort zones in their present roles and envision future possibilities.  Development plans addressed technical skills and knowledge, but also extended to supervisory and leadership skills, industry participation, and personal pursuits. Laboratory staff responded enthusiastically to the challenges and “stepped up their game,” allowing me to assume greater responsibilities at KTA. I was asked to assume management of the consulting department as well, which allowed for expansion of the talent base and careers of KTA’s high-end professionals.

I enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to become further entrenched with the growth of both KTA staff and the company as a whole. KTA has integrated this approach to personnel development into a broader talent management initiative for all of KTA. This broader initiative is the result of engagement with executive management in the development of best practices for human systems. We executed a program within the departments that revealed the potential of people who are working together and leveraging their strengths and abilities to create something extraordinary.

Favorite MBA Courses? Financial Accounting, Financial Management, and Information Technology and Business Value

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Before enrolling in the program, I had the opportunity to observe the level of discussion that occurred during classes. The interaction aligned well with the level of engagement I was looking for in an EMBA program. The depth and breadth of the experiences of the student body, combined with the professors’ business experiences, resulted in intellectually stimulating debates and new approaches to current industry challenges. I was immediately drawn into the challenges and opportunities that were being discussed and desired to be a part of the Katz learning community.

What did you enjoy most about business school? The diverse professional experiences of my cohorts.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? Reasoning and decision-making is a skill that can be optimized by challenging pre-conceptions, and engaging in professional debate.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? I love the quantification coursework! The amount of information that requires assimilation prior to application of business concepts is a challenge but I have found that I thrive on learning these applications.

What is your best advice for juggling work, family and education? Be very critical of commitment selections so that you are not diluting your focus beyond what is optimal for career, family, and education. I have also learned that flexibility is crucial in temporarily shifting focus to the most critical issues at hand and then in returning focus to the planned tasks that lead to desired outcomes.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your executive MBA program? Stretch your perceived limitations and take some professional risks. The environment of the program is uniquely suited to this type of personal growth.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when …” I was positively impacting my company through my contributions and understood the additional potential value I could bring to the organization by developing and honing my business acumen.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be …” Finishing the 15 of 50 marathons in U.S. states that I have not completed. I intend to complete the remaining 15 states following graduation.

Also, I would have faced significant challenges and perhaps obstacles that would have prevented me from expanding my responsibilities at KTA had I not gone to business school. I recently transitioned from consulting and laboratory services manager to vice president of KTA and Professional Services Business Unit manager. I am confident that my studies and application of learned business concepts from the EMBA program directly resulted in that opportunity to expand my role at my organization.

Which executive or entrepreneur do you most admire? Dan Adley, KTA’s current CEO. Dan led the organization from private ownership to ESOP by understanding the critical role of the people within the organization. He grasped the need to establish the shift of mindset from employee to that of employee-owners. He communicates clearly on where the company is headed; how it’s going to get there; and how each employee plays a vital role on this path. At the same time, he is at all times accessible, personable, and transparent to employees. Dan also knows how to motivate employee-owners and rally the troops to get the job done.

Because of the manner in which Dan is leading the company, employees respect him, appreciate him, and want to work hard for him, which has led to business success and growth.

What are your long-term professional goals? CEO of KTA-Tator Inc. My recent promotion to vice president has clarified my value to KTA and revealed my alignment of values and goals with those of the organization.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My family and a supportive friend. My husband’s patience, my children’s understanding, and my father-in-law being the cheerleader in my life during the program were all necessary aspects of my success.

I developed many close friendships while in the program and one of these friendships was significant as a source of unexpected support. There was a time in the program when I was challenged to my personal limits due to expansive company growth and multiple health issues within my family, all occurring at the most intense semester of the program. Sometimes you don’t know you need assistance until someone provides the emotional support that’s needed. I’ll always be grateful for the unselfish support provided by that friendship and look for an opportunity to pay it forward.

Fun fact about yourself: I’m intensely driven and focused and love to relax and leave all the details of vacations to someone else. Vacations are most enjoyable because I don’t have to make a single critical decision.

Favorite book: The Oz Principle by Craig Hickman, Roger Connors, and Tom Smith

Favorite movie: It’s a Wonderful Life

Favorite musical performer: I’m very eclectic with music so I would have a best favorite top-three: Louis Armstrong, Bono, and Pink.

Favorite television show: “Criminal Minds”

Favorite vacation spot: Secluded mountains or a beautiful, quiet beach. Dream vacation: African wilderness

Hobbies? Distance running and developing my wine palate

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

“Cindy O’Malley started with KTA-Tator Inc., a company offering solutions to corrosion protection and aesthetic challenges to the industrial and commercial markets, in a technical position as the quality assurance coordinator. She achieved stellar results and increased her responsibilities every year to become an integral member of her company’s leadership team as the consulting and laboratory services manager. Under Cindy’s leadership and direction, KTA-Tator Inc. has expanded into international market sectors and obtained accreditation by the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation.

“To help others under her supervision and throughout the company to grow the company and their careers, Cindy established a rigorous process of assessing the talents and skill sets of each member of the laboratory staff, resulting in individualized development plans. The development plans address technical skills and knowledge, but also extend to supervisory and leadership skills, industry participation and personal pursuits. This approached has been integrated into the broader Talent Management initiative for the entire company.

“Cindy is a leader not only in her company but also in the industry. She was the founder of a forum — Women in Coatings — that has become an integral part of the annual national conference of The Society of Protective Coatings (SSPC). Locally, she is also a member of the board of directors of the Executive Women’s Council working on its Women in Board initiative. The initiative is designed to achieve more equitable female representation on boards of directors for public, corporate, and influential not-for-profit organizations.

“Cindy is an outstanding example of a University of Pittsburgh executive MBA Worldwide student. She is kind and caring about those who report to her, while always keeping the company’s goals and bottom line in sight.”

Christine Kush

Director of Operations, Executive MBA Worldwide and The Center for Executive Education

Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, University of Pittsburgh


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