2018 Best EMBAs: Lisa Fahl, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Lisa M. Fahl

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

Age: 35

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: I’m a driven leader and optimist who inspires others through my work ethic and passion.                        

Hometown: Mount Pleasant, South Carolina

Family Members: Husband, Brian

Daughter, Elena (2 years old)

Fun fact about yourself: I love science fiction. As a kid, I watched Star Trek religiously. I also like time travel books and movies. It is intriguing to think what we could learn and experience if we could do so. 

Undergraduate School and Degree:

BS-Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering – Purdue University (2005)

MS-Mechanical Engineering – University of Washington (2011)

MBA – UNC Chapel Hill, Kenan-Flagler Business School (2018)

Where are you currently working? The Boeing Company – 787 Affordability Leader, Boeing Commercial Airplanes

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I mentor 10 engineers at Boeing and recently began the mentoring program at Purdue University Women in Engineering Program.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Through coursework in Entrepreneurship during my MBA program, I developed a business idea that was voted “best in class.” I developed a founding team and we are now pursuing seed funding to develop and mature our start-up.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of being the engineering leader at the ground floor of a new division of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. Through my efforts, the team I developed became the highest performing organization with one of the best cultures I’ve ever worked in.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Adam Mersereau was my favorite professor who taught Analytical Tools. He made a pretty dry topic interesting by creating fun stories in the homework and acting scenarios out in class.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite course was the Leadership Initiative that focused on how to implement large-scale change into an organization. I learned how important communication is: the message, the frequency, the buy-in. It is critical that you bring people along on the way to implementing major change and not simply drop it on them to go execute without the “why” and “how did we get here.”

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I wanted a top MBA program that allowed me to continue working full time while also having in-person class experience. One key factor on selecting this program, other than the stellar faculty and facility, was the frequency that the classes were held. The Executive Weekend MBA Program at UNC Kenan-Flagler meets every third weekend, which is somewhat atypical to most weekend programs that meet every other weekend. The three-week spacing helped me balance, work, family and school and made doing an MBA achievable. I also selected UNC-Chapel Hill because of its proximity to my residence in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I enjoyed learning from and working with my MBA classmates. Through our classroom interactions, I learned how other companies approached issues and operated. From these interactions, I have brought back innovative ideas to my company and I am optimistic it will propel us forward.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The biggest lesson I learned in business school is how the global economy works and the impact technology has had on changing the global industrial landscape. Macroeconomics gave me a valuable understanding of how each country’s economy impacts each other that is critical to my success as a leader in the global market. We must understand how global business is growing through the advancement in technology and how we can leverage it to stay ahead.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? The first week of the MBA program, I was promoted to a new position and tasked with resolving a significant production issue. The MBA program at UNC Kenan-Flagler is most intense in the first module. Coupling this with an increased amount of work responsibilities and an 18-month-old daughter (who was getting sick regularly from daycare) made it was an extremely difficult time. I didn’t sleep much to say the least, but I persevered and made it through, as we all do when we put our minds to something.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth I busted was that you have to sacrifice having a life during business school. This isn’t true. It just takes good time management and choosing what you need to do and what you have to let go.

What was your biggest regret in business school?My biggest regret is not having the time to do all the reading that I would have liked to do and taking advantage of all the resources UNC provides. That said, the balance I’ve been able to maintain among school, work and life has been worth the loss.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire Hadley Callaway. He has a significant responsibility and leadership role in the medical field and yet finds time to do all the school work and do it well. Additionally, I admire his passion for learning. Even after nearly a decade of medical school, he continues his education. He is a role model for other leaders.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I decided I want to lead at an executive level and have the business acumen to do so well.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…reading several self-development books and taking certificate programs.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To lead with courage, compassion and inspiration at the highest levels of executive leadership. I want to have a positive impact on the company and make Boeing an even greater place to work for all of its employees and, by doing so, increase the company performance.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me as a determined, intelligent and capable leader who also is fun to be around.

Favorite book: Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Favorite movie or television show: Apollo 13

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

Visit Macchu Picchu

Sky dive

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

“Lisa is a great member of the Class of 2018 for a number of reasons, perhaps the most important is that she is both a poet and a quant. An engineer by background, she truly has a “rocket scientist’s” mastery of quantitative material. At the same time, her writing (and speaking) flows naturally, tying abstract concepts to concrete issues with compelling precision. In my course, I rarely give high marks for written analysis, in part because students need to be pushed recognize the importance of effective communication. In Lisa’s case, I not only gave top grades, I added a bit of extra credit, as the work was a pleasure to read.

Her presence in class exuded a model of quiet competence, balancing both a will to listen to other’s views, and a skill at compelling attention due to the elegance of her comments. She represents the model of an effective executive for the 21st century. Comfortable with the demands of a global career, focused on others in both family and community, a leader who builds confidence in those who work with her. A great choice to represent what is truly a great class – the Weekend Executive MBA Class of 2018.”

Hugh O’Neill

Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and Edward M. O’Herron, Jr. Distinguished Scholar


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