2016 Best EMBAs: Ellen Wu, University of Southern California (Marshall)

Ellen Wu USC

Ellen Wu

University of Southern California Marshall School of Business

“What I value highly are the different approaches and perspectives I’ve learned from interacting and working with my EMBA classmates and the relationships I’ve built with them.”

Location: San Diego, CA

Family Members: Nick Carbone (spouse), Jack (son), Sara (daughter)


BA Chemistry, St. Olaf College

PhD Pharmacology/Toxicology, University of California, San Francisco

MBA, University of Southern California

Where are you currently working?   

Senior Director and Business Strategy/Operations Lead for Pharmacokinetics, Dynamics & Drug Metabolism (PDM) at Pfizer Inc.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Member of global discipline leadership teams for my division and department in Pfizer
  • Chair of multiple committees, teams, and initiatives, including that of worldwide Pfizer PDM Science Board
  • PDM lead on Pfizer Oncology initiative to expand into Asia
  • Head of PDM R&D multi-discipline groups focused on drug discovery and development in various therapeutic areas within the Pfizer portfolio
  • Pfizer Worldwide R&D People Leader Awards recipient
  • Volunteer member of Medical Emergency Response Team and Crisis Management Team at Pfizer
  • Community service volunteer (Rady Children’s Hospital Celebration of Champions, Habitat for Humanity, Father Joe’s Village, Food Bank, local schools)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The entire EMBA experience (coursework, professors, classmates, projects, international study, etc.) has broadened my understanding and perspectives on operating a successful business amidst the pressures from various stakeholders and influential factors. After immersing myself in the rigors of the coursework and projects and by developing relationships with my peers and professors, my proudest achievement is having made the last two years really count toward my self-growth, career, and future.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I have had multiple cross-discipline roles in the pharmaceutical industry and have been able to experience many aspects of the multi-faceted drug discovery and development process. I have been extremely fortunate to lead groups that worked on multiple drugs now approved to benefit patients in the areas of oncology, anti-HIV, ophthalmology, and neurosciences.

I have also been acknowledged in two separate years as a Pfizer People Leader for my leadership in people management, modeling leader behaviors, mentoring and coaching, and developing the next level of leaders.

Favorite MBA Courses? Strategy, Finance, Operations, Accounting.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose the USC Marshall EMBA program because of its reputation and distinguished faculty, the integrated curriculum, and the opportunity to be part of the vast global alumni (Trojan) network. I made the correct choice because of the caliber of my classmates, the strengths each professor has brought to the program, the scope of the materials covered, and the new horizons now open to me with an EMBA degree.

What did you enjoy most about business school? I most enjoyed interacting with my incredible study group members, classmates, and professors, and learning the course materials. The exposure to all the various business-related disciplines and in the company of culturally and professionally diverse individuals has been a wonderful journey for someone like me with a science background.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? The biggest lessons I’ve gained from business school are to take advantage of networking and to get to know people and what they do as much as possible, as well as to absorb all I can from the coursework in areas of my interest. What I value highly are the different approaches and perspectives I’ve learned from interacting and working with my EMBA classmates and the relationships I’ve built with them. Moreover, the structured general management education and Marshall’s specialized curriculum have provided me with strong foundational skills to become a senior strategic leader at my current company or an executive at a smaller firm. Because of the EMBA program, I have already explored different roles within my current company by participating in job rotations to accomplish short-duration projects.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? I knew I would be challenged and enjoy being in an EMBA program, but the level of appreciation and enjoyment has exceeded my expectations because of what I am taking away: a broadened and sharpened ability to understand the economic and financial forces that drive the marketplace, which will help me to develop and build cultural and organizational values, influence organizational design and structure, and be better equipped to manage risks and be a strategic leader.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your executive MBA program? Determine what your most important objectives are in obtaining an EMBA. Speak to as many alumni, current enrollees, and professors as you can. If you want to learn in a program with an academically rigorous curriculum and an excellent reputation and have access to a strong alumni network, USC Marshall certainly offers those.

While in the program, dive wholeheartedly into assignments that may take you out of your comfort zone. For me, that meant broadening my network and sometimes reaching out to complete strangers for interviews and discussions on their careers, industries, how they became self-made successes, etc. By embracing these assignments, I discovered two things. One, people are very open to speaking to and assisting a student. More importantly, however, from these networking opportunities I’ve learned about possible exciting future roles for myself both within and outside of my current company. Because the EMBA program engaged us in multiple networking opportunities, I am now much more comfortable with reaching out for informational interviews and will continue this practice going forward.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when …” I decided that an EMBA would be a great career development opportunity because it fit my interests and would transform my career progression in the pharmaceutical and biotech/start-up industries. I knew I wanted to be part of the Marshall EMBA program when I attended the information session, visited the campus, and spoke with program coordinators and alumni.

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be …” Uninformed about the many new career directions I could take just within my current company, let alone the possibilities that exist outside my firm. I am very invigorated and excited by the prospects!

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I attribute success in the EMBA program to my amazing and supportive husband and children, mentors at my company who championed me and provided the opportunity for me to go back to school, my EMBA professors who shared their advice and experiences, and my smart, successful, fun classmates.

What are your long-term professional goals? There are various possibilities within my current company for which I am now well-equipped to enter as a senior strategic leader, perhaps in the Strategy & Portfolio, Business Development & Alliances, or Innovation groups. Outside of Pfizer, there are opportunities in other large pharmaceutical companies, in biotech and medical device start-ups, and in consulting. The ideal position will utilize my scientific background and leverage my MBA training to allow a more strategic and hands-on approach to operating a forward-looking and successful company.

Favorite book(s): The Emperor of All Maladies; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Songs of Fire and Ice series

Favorite movie(s): Goodfellas; Lord of the Rings trilogy; Sense and Sensibility

Favorite musical performer(s): Adele, Fall Out Boy, Ed Sheeran

Favorite television show: “The Good Wife”

Favorite vacation spot(s): Italy, France, Maui, Lake Tahoe

Hobbies? Pilates, traveling, skiing, diving/snorkeling, hiking, backpacking, cooking, languages, reading

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

“Ellen Wu is an exceptional EMBA student at USC Marshall School of Business, part of the San Diego cohort. She is a scientist with a Ph.D. in Pharmacology/Toxicology. Her interests in business management and leadership moved her into a position as Senior Director and Business Strategy/Operations Lead for Pharmacokinetics, Dynamics & Drug Metabolism at Pfizer. While Ellen has been recognized many times for her leadership roles, she wanted to increase her impact on strategic decision-making, but felt her limited exposure to business-related disciplines prevented her from moving in that direction.

“Ellen enrolled in the Marshall EMBA program to obtain understanding of areas such as finance, strategy, operations, and marketing. Even with relentless demands at work, she gave her all to the EMBA program and immersed herself in study and forming bonds with her classmates to make the most of the experience. Her enthusiasm, dedication, and diligent hard work kept her a top performer and set her as an inspirational example to her peers. Colleagues in her study group benefitted from her focus, schedule discipline, willingness to help, and an infectiously positive attitude.”

Razvan Neagu

CEO / Founder

KoMotion Inc.


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