2019 Best EMBAs: Carl Douglass, University of Minnesota (Carlson)

Carl Douglass

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

“I am an entrepreneur passionately driven to make a positive impact for customers and employees through business.”

Age: 40

Hometown: Spicer, MN

Family Members: Karen Douglass

Fun fact about yourself: I briefly pursued a career in acting and modeling during my professional career as an engineer

Undergraduate School and Degree: Ohio Northern University – BS Mechanical Engineering

Where are you currently working? I’m the co-founder and president of DI Labs

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I like to spend as much of my free time outside – hiking, running, biking, or boating. I am a member of a coworking facility and enjoy being a part of a rural entrepreneurial community where I get to share stories and provide advice to others starting their own venture. There hasn’t been much extra time in the last several years with school and the growth of our business. It’s a goal of mine to find more balance for extracurricular activities in the near future.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Early into my first semester of the EMBA program, I decided to expand and diversify our business with our first major capital investment in commercial additive manufacturing equipment. A year later, our business had doubled in size. I am not sure how I was able to maintain the rate of growth for our business while not losing traction in the MBA program. There were many times I wanted to surrender and drop out, so I’m glad I persevered.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I left a great senior leadership position in corporate America in 2016 to commit to our startup full time. It was a decision that took tremendous courage: I jumped from a cliff without wings and successfully built them on the way down. We continue to take similar calculated risks in our business. Now, I am fortified with business education to maximize our success further.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Aks Zaheer. Aks teaches strategic management, and he does it both with rich content that’s filled with examples of applied practice and with a level of dramatic entertainment one might expect from a Broadway theatrical production.

What was your favorite MBA course, and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Corporate strategy was my favorite course. The class forced me to think more deeply about what it is our company does and what industries and segments where we can provide unique value. I find myself continuing to reference the class slides and notes as I develop our company mid- to long-term vision. 

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? We competed in the MN Cup Business Competition several years ago with another of our businesses. As semi-finalists, we were able to attend classes taught by Carlson professors, I was extremely impressed with the curriculum and the professors, so I decided I wanted to get an MBA from the Carlson School. My sentiment was confirmed after I attended a prospective student day.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I enjoyed being a part of the cohort and learning from their experiences. The class was very diverse and offered many different perspectives; I enjoyed the richness of experience from the cohort the most.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA, and how did you apply it at work? As Professor Rick Nelson would say, “Get the cash, get the cash.” In all seriousness, looking at our business through a trained financial lens has been extremely helpful to better plan and monitor our fiscal health. Rick’s financial management class provided some practical tools to manage our operating expenses better and plan for necessary working capital as we continue to grow.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? In the first year, I was consulting on a client project that required extensive travel, so I was traveling as much as a month at a time, come back to Minnesota on the weekend, and then return to the client’s location. That was probably the most intense period of my career – all I had was work and education. I survived with the support of my friends and family, and I even returned for year two of the MBA!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? It’s an incredible experience. Be prepared to be pushed, not just in terms of intellectual enrichment but also in time management, prioritization, and learning from top industry professionals. My advice – don’t wait, do it sooner than later.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Business school is still quite close in the rearview mirror and not enough time has passed to develop any major regrets, I do, however, wish I had pushed myself further outside my comfort zone earlier in the program to be less introverted and connect with the cohort. Quite honestly, I was very intimidated by my classmates for a while.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is a tough question – the easy answer is that I admire each classmate for their unique contributions. One, in particular, was Chris Vogtman. Chris was in my first-year team “in it to win it.” He had a very level-headed demeanor and was a great friend. I leaned on Chris through the challenging times of the program and he is primarily responsible for influencing my decision to return for the second year. I appreciate Chris’s friendship and admire his leadership and his wit. Chris sets a great example of leadership, tactful directness, and professionalism for those around him.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I competed in the MN Cup business competition, and as a semi-finalist, I had the opportunity to experience some classes taught by University of Minnesota professors. I knew then that I wanted the full education, not just a few classes.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My goal is to continue to grow and diversify our business. I am not interested in building a business as a means to an end. Instead, I want the business to allow for a life-long, fulfilling journey for me and those who are a part of it. I want the business to be sustainable and outlive my involvement, continuing to make a difference long into the future.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Well, I am very much an introvert, so they’ll remember me as quiet. I hope to be remembered as an introspective, thoughtful entrepreneur.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? The last six years have been intense – starting two businesses and getting an MBA. I want to take a year off and travel around the globe to experience other cultures. While traveling the globe, I’d like to parasail in Nepal.

What made Carl such an invaluable addition to the class of 2019?

“While a fair amount of our EMBA graduates become entrepreneurs once they have finished the program, Carl came to us already in the thick of growing his own business. He had previously enjoyed a successful career as director of engineering at a large manufacturing organization. From there, he had launched both a new technology business and consulting practice that was taking off, and he had recently competed in the MN Cup (a startup competition for Minnesotans co-founded by another Carlson Executive MBA alumnus).

Having a student come into the program understanding how an established organization works and possessing the knowledge of what it takes to launch and grow a new business from scratch made Carl invaluable to the cohort. It became clear to me during his admission interview that he was a creative thinker and one of those leaders who can manage change and ambiguity and use it to his advantage. It was also clear to me that Carl made decisions that were good for the business, because he considered and cared about the people he works with. This is not something that is always top of mind in entrepreneurs but says a great deal about the kind of leader that he is.

During his time in the Executive MBA program, his business grew tremendously. This is something any entrepreneur works toward and hopes for, but it presents unique challenges – not everyone can work overtime as they build a startup while going to school full time on the weekends. Carl juggled both of these monumental commitments successfully. As a teammate and student, he always worked hard and showed the same level of creativity, thoughtfulness, and drive that have made him a success as an entrepreneur. He is respected by faculty and peers as the personification of a great leader.”

Robyn Wick

Director, Carlson Executive MBA (CEMBA) Program



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