2018 Best EMBAs: April Wolfe, Vanderbilt University (Owen)

April Wolfe

Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management

A creative spirit with drive and compassion to impact the world as a strategic leader, friend, and coach.”

Age: 36

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Hometown: Murfreesboro, TN

Family Members: Jeremy Evans (Spouse) & Roadie Wolfvans (dog child)

Fun fact about yourself: I love cheesy jokes!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Middle Tennessee State University, Bachelor of Science in Organizational Communication with a minor in Leadership Studies

Where are you currently working? Senior Manager Human Resource Business Partner @ Nissan North America

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Mentoring has by far been my biggest side gig during the MBA program.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Passing Statistics class!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The success of the Sales Leadership Program, measured by career growth of the participants. This was a program I developed for growing future sales leaders by bringing in business acumen and leadership development together in an experiential environment.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Michael Burcham; his course stretched me and my team, and I took away lessons to apply not just in launching a new venture but in my corporate career as well.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Leading a global innovation strategy with Dave Owens. This may be silly, but one of my biggest insights was to just do it. I pitched our Launching the Venture idea to him, and he said, “This is a business you could start tomorrow.” I was so constrained by my personal beliefs about what it takes to get a new business off the ground that I hadn’t even considered just starting.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? First, I never thought it was possible for me to be here. I grew up very poor, barely graduated from high school, and when I decided to go to college, it was because I wanted to be more, but I didn’t really know what that meant. My passion for making business more effective through the use of people landed me in HR, but HR has so much untapped potential. I know that in order to tap into that potential, I needed to have a better understanding of business, which is why I decided to pursue an MBA. I chose Owen, because it was one of the few top MBA programs that emphasized business learning in an experiential team environment, which is where business actually takes place. It was one of the best choices I made on this journey!

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The people, for sure! I’ve learned so much from my classmates and the faculty both at Owen and at their international partner schools.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA, and how did you apply it at work? Alignment of incentives. After Froeb’s class on economics, I started applying this to every part of my work, specifically in leading cross-functional work.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? There was a moment at an early stage in my MBA when I was riddled with guilt over not having time to spend at home with my husband or taking care of the house.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Don’t hesitate!

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That graduate school is like undergrad, just harder. It’s nothing like undergrad. The learning experience is much richer because the students are all working professionals and the professors are often working professionals who bring their experiences to the classroom.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not going to more of the networking events.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Maria Jose Calva – she is brilliant!

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I saw my company struggling and wanted to help be part of the solution in a bigger way. “

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…a different person.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I have two goals: 1) Be a global HR leader responsible for enabling the business strategy through human capital plans and organization development; and 2) Start my own business and do it in a way that enables other women

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would love it if my peers from this program remembered me as someone they can count on, an authentic leader who also knows when to follow, and a strategic thinker.

Favorite book: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; I love a good thriller that gives me access to another part of the world.

Favorite movie or television show: Good Will Hunting and The Office

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Hike the Appalachian Trail and learn a second language.

What made April such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“I served as the Capstone coach for April’s Capstone team project based in Nashville, TN, giving me the opportunity to observe April in a leadership role from 2017-2018. April demonstrated three key qualities that impressed me: confidence, strategic thinking, and collegiality.

First, April comes across as a confident yet humble person. This combination of confidence and humility allows her to quickly earn trust. People naturally gravitate toward her leadership. She offers a clear vision of the future after truly listening to each team member. She gains buy-in from all team members because they have been included and respected. These attributes will serve her very well in her career.

Second, April is a strategic thinker. Keeping the end result in mind, she balances vision and effective project planning. Importantly, she does not micromanage or try to do other people’s work. This allows each team member to contribute to his or her full potential. April leads like a conductor leads an orchestra – focusing on the end result and not each note. This will give her the strategic mind to grow in new roles in her career.

Third, April is very collegial to work with. April works well with teammates from around the world.  Observing her team in action was a true pleasure. Each person or sub-team was on task, knowing what they needed to accomplish and eagerly working to complete it. I have seen other groups where everyone waited for the leader’s instructions, half-listening while being occupied on their phones.  April’s team looked nothing like that. It was obvious that she had effectively empowered each person with clear deliverables and confidence in their work. Personally, I keep this image of what true teamwork looks like when I try to emulate April’s style in my own work.

April is a mentor to many people, including those whom she calls her mentors, although she may not realize it. I imagine I am not the only person who has learned more from April than I have been able to share with her.”

Erin Raccah

Chief Counsel, Information Technology and International Trade International Paper Company


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