2018 Best EMBAs: Carolyn Disbrow, Columbia Business School

Carolyn Disbrow

Columbia Business School

Age: 40

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Conscientious, curious, hard-working, ethical, self-possessed, independent, loyal, smiley, positive, pragmatic, family-oriented, disciplined, clear-eyed, loving, and passionate

Hometown: New York, New York

Family Members: Well, there’s Mom and Dad, my two older sisters (Catherine and Elaine), their husbands (Matthew and Eric), my three nephews (Connor, Christian and Chase), one niece (Lauren) and, of course, there’s Fenway Bark the dog.

Fun fact about yourself: I once built a rocket in a science class that set a school record for best launch.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

University of Virginia, Bachelor of Arts, Major in Government

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Master of Science, Concentration in Broadcast Journalism

Where are you currently working? CNN, Senior Director

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Community Board Representative Class of 2018

Media Management Club Vice President EMBA

Commencement Class speaker 2018

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? When I started school, I had never taken a single finance class. The classes here start at a high level, so making Dean’s List meant a lot to me because I had to work so hard to achieve it.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At CNN I have had the opportunity to work with some of the world’s best journalists and to learn from them every day. I am just proud to be their colleague.

During my time at CNN, I have had the chance to work on many successful projects and to lead some great initiatives. However, I am most proud that I began an informal mentoring project for entry level women. I am honestly so impressed by what those women have achieved at CNN and in other companies. Sometimes you just need an opportunity and someone to show you the way. I am thankful I was able to help.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? This is impossible— there are so many fantastic professors. Every professor I had was an expert in their field and was focused on my learning experience. In that way, they were all my favorites.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Columbia has a class called Personal Leadership, of which I was not only a participant but also acted as the teaching assistant. The class centers on the idea that in order to lead others, you must first know how to lead yourself. The experience is an intensive and immersive one, taking you along a path of increasing self-discovery. Every person who takes Personal Leadership is changed for the better.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I only applied to Columbia and I thought that if I didn’t get in, then I would be glad that I tried and maybe that was a sign that business school was not for me. I applied to Columbia because of the culture of the school, the academic rigor, and the outstanding alumni that I know personally. It was the only place I wanted to be.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I have never met a more extraordinary group of people in my life. They have been nothing but supportive, helpful, enthusiastic and kind.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Business school is about leadership and making good decisions. The biggest change I have noticed since I started at Columbia is my ability to make more rounded decisions, pivot as needed in the light of incoming data, and how to better lead my people through change. Given this decision making framework, leading by my values has never been easier.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? The trick for me was to wake up and start working at 6 a.m. from my home before work. I would then study on the subway or bus during my commute; I would work during lunch hours. I used every free minute for school so that I still had some (albeit much less) time for friends, family and the rest of my life. I have definitely had to make sacrifices on the personal front. It wasn’t easy, but I now feel there’s no challenge that I can’t handle. I even managed to complete the purchase of my first apartment in New York City and travel to ten countries during the program. It has been transformative for me.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Talk it over with family, friends, your boss and people who may have been through a similar experience. In the end, however, only you will know if it is the right decision. Follow you heart. Do it. You won’t regret it.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I have heard people say that you don’t have time for anything other than school. While there is some truth to that, my classmates and I did find time for the things that were truly important. Business school and its rigorous schedule actually made some of those decisions easier.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I wish I took more pictures. It is really the people that make the experience so great and I wish I had more pictures of some of our moments together as a group.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire my classmates who are doctors. I truly respect them for the selfless nature of their jobs and how dedicated they are in everything they do; family, work, school. They are such an inspiration.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I met some very successful and extraordinary women at a Time Warner leadership conference in Los Angeles and I knew if I was ever going to be able to keep up with them at work, I needed to get an MBA, STAT. The weekend I returned home to New York, I started my application to Columbia.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…$200K richer and applying to EMBA at Columbia.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Using the lessons from my time at Columbia, I want to build and lead an organization that speaks truth to power on behalf of its listeners and viewers, provides an amazing growth experience for its employees, plays a positive role in its communities, and provides a satisfying return for its investors.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? She’s the one who made us all laugh.

Favorite book: Cash: The Autobiography by Johnny Cash

Favorite movie or television show: The Godfather I, Charade, Anderson Cooper 360, Fareed Zakaria GPS, 60 Minutes and Frontline

What are the top two items on your bucket list? By the time I hit my next milestone birthday, I want to have climbed Kilimanjaro and have learned to fly.

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

“Carolyn was an invaluable addition to the class of 2018 because she was a dedicated leader with a collaborative approach and positive attitude, making her a great ambassador to the administration as well. She served as a class representative, volunteered to lead the effort to secure a graduation keynote speaker, and was one of a handful of students chosen to be part of an initiative to feature faculty and students in podcast interviews distributed to the entire Columbia Business School community. She was chosen by her classmates not only to serve as class graduation speaker, but also to receive the prestigious “Distinguished Service Award.”

Comments from fellow students include: “Carolyn led the charge on CBS Matters, which caused a sea change in the community we built.”; “Carolyn has embraced this program to the fullest extent possible. Her contributions to bringing this class together make her a shining beacon. She has overcome more than anyone can imagine and should be applauded for her efforts.”; “Carolyn has been an extraordinary asset to our class. She is a recognized leader and connects each of us to the CBS experience by introducing and including us.”

The EMBA Administration



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