2019 Best EMBAs: Devin Baer, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Devin Baer

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

“First, I’m a husband and father. Second, I lead revenue-generating teams for tech startups.”

Age: ​34

Hometown: ​Provo, UT

Family Members: ​Brittni (wife, 33), Briger (son, 8), Emmi (daughter, 5), Weston (son, 2)

Fun fact about yourself: In 2014, I broke a Guinness World Record for organizing the world’s largest scavenger hunt. My team at Google partnered with dozens of local businesses around the city to develop a set of tasks that participants needed to complete. Thousands of people showed up to complete the hunt, which included tasks like kissing a llama, learning to breakdance, or getting a selfie with the mayor. This event was one of the most fun and stressful experiences of my life. I learned how to mobilize both well-known influencers and grassroots advocates to multiply my efforts.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Brigham Young University – Idaho. Major: Business Management, Minor: Philosophy.

Where are you currently working: ​Google, Inc, National Head of Sales (Google Fiber)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles​:

  • United Way of Utah County (board member)
  • Downtown Provo Inc (board member)
  • BusinessQ Magazine (editorial board member)
  • Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce (board member)
  • Utah Valley 40 Under 40 – Award Recipient

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? There are so many things I’ll treasure from my time in this program. Most importantly, they are the things I’ve learned about myself.

When I started in the program, I imagined each of the activities in my life as individual spinning plates: family, work, school, religion, and community. I decided I was just going to have to run faster to keep each one gyrating atop the pole. And from time-to-time, one was going to fall and there was nothing I could do about it.

As time went by, I realized that I could use the lessons from one activity to make me better in another. I could take the principles I learned at school and immediately apply them to become a better husband and father at home. I could bring work challenges into the classroom and problem solve with my peers. Instead of thinking about the activities in my life as individual spinning plates, I started to think about them ​as gears, leveraging the momentum of one to turn the others.

Have I broken any plates? Heck ya – but I’ve also accomplished more these past two years, with less time, than any other period in my life.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? A few years ago, I was selected to join an expedition to fight child-trafficking in Nepal. This experience changed me forever. Our small group spent two weeks meeting with rescued victims in hidden orphanages, investigating criminal hotspots, and deep-diving with local NGOs.

As a third world country, Nepal is vulnerable to human trafficking because of its lack of infrastructure, education, police, and judiciary system. We were tasked with building tech for local NGOs so they could better lead the fight on the ground.

I’ll never forget how happy a group of rescued children were to play “duck, duck, goose” with our small team. These kids, who had all been to hell and back by age 10, were thanking us for spending time with them. Little did they know the lesson ​they taught methat day.

As business professionals, our lives are busy and stressful. We have early morning meetings and are sending emails late into the night. We travel… and travel… and travel some more. We give a lot and are sometimes recognized too little.

And at the end of the day, we are incredibly, wonderfully, and often-undeservingly, fortunate.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I was lucky enough to take two classes from Leigh Thompson, Professor and Director of the Team and Group Research Center at Kellogg. She teaches a module on how to extract creativity out of those you lead. It was powerful and practical. She taught me the framework on a Saturday and I started putting it to work on Monday!

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? I recently took a course called “Phase Zero,” focused on developing ideas into prototypes and ultimately into businesses. We discussed how it’s not ​what consumers are doing that is interesting, but ​whythey do it. To make it more difficult, many individuals don’t know why they do what they do, until they are asked the right questions. Knowing how to get find “the why” behind human behavior can be an incredibly powerful tool both personally and professionally.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I’d find a business school that was going to be the right fit for me. I thought I’d find competitive classmates, pontificating professors, and zero-sum cultures. Instead, I found Kellogg. I’ll never forget the first question I was asked in my interview: “What role do you think luck has played in your life?” At Kellogg, I found individuals whose bravery, creativity, and talent were rooted in self-awareness, humility, and kindness. These people were high impact and low ego. School or otherwise, I wanted to surround myself with people like that.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Every weekend when I stepped foot on campus, I felt a different kind of energy. At work, there are always strings-attached trade-offs and hoops to jump through. At school, we had incredible debates and deep discussions with people from highly diverse backgrounds, openly and objectively. Spending time each month with brilliant people outside of work was so rewarding. I’m lucky to be able to now call these talented, crazy, and fundamentally good human beings my friends.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? During a Personal Leadership Insights class, we dug into the individual experiences, motivations, and emotions that drive our behaviors. I learned a lot about why I think and act the way I do. Understanding this has helped me be more aware of my blindspots, be more open with my team, and have deeper empathy for others. It sounds really touchy-feely but it’s also been incredibly practical.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I taught myself to juggle (for real) when I was in elementary school. I remember starting with two tennis balls then moving to three. While I never graduated to knives or chainsaws, I did get better with practice. I remember just keeping my eyes in the same spot, keeping the tosses consistent, and moving my hands to where the ball was going to be. Over-and-over.

Juggling life, while doing an EMBA, has been similar. I had to get into a routine and be consistent with my motions. I decided early to get ahead of deadlines so I could limit having to make tradeoffs in other areas of my life. If I kept my focus on always accomplishing the most important things first, I would generally keep the right balls in the air.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Here are three pieces of advice:

  1. Just do it. It’s never going to be the “right” time. In fact, things will arguably only get more difficult the longer you wait.
  2. Find a program that fits your personality, values, and life goals.
  3. Pick a good partner, make sure they are fully invested, then thank them every day.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Going back to school is a bit of an out-of-body experience. I remember packing for my first weekend: loading up my backpack right alongside my oldest child, who was getting ready for his first day of kindergarten. We were both a little nervous for many of the same reasons. True story, my wife took pictures of both of us on the front porch before we left the house.

My first week was full of activities that helped me acclimate to my new environment. I remember doing improv and realizing that everyone else felt just as uncomfortable as I did. We did exercises in authenticity and vulnerability that helped us grow closer together. Like my son, I later found myself missing my friends when I was away and looking forward to reuniting with them in our next class.

Going back to school is uncomfortable. That said, I believe that getting out of your comfort zone is the only way to really progress in life. Walking into class that day with crisp notebooks and sharpened pencils was intimidating, but it was also the beginning of a life-changing journey.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I think anyone would look back at this experience and wonder where they could have given more, listened better, or networked more effectively. That said, I can honestly say that all I feel is tremendous gratitude. I have an amazing family who has shouldered this burden with me every step of the way. I work for a company that has provided me the flexibility to be able to participate in this program. I have learned from some of the world’s best professors, sitting side-by-side with incredible professionals I can now call my friends, mentors, and family.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Every one of my classmates had amazing journeys before arriving at Kellogg. Many of them had come from very little, beating the odds to rise in the corporate ranks, and landing at a top 10 business school. Some of them were single parents, trying to balance spending time with their children versus setting examples for them. Some were entrepreneurs, whose employees counted on them every day for their livelihood. Each of my classmates had a story worth sharing and a lesson worth learning.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…​​a dear friend (whom I owe a lot to) told me how his time at Kellogg changed his life. That moment lit a fire in me and I never turned back.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to start a company that really stands for something. I want every employee to be able to bring their best and real self to work. I want to challenge the status quo. I want to build something that leaves the world better than I found it.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I have a doppelganger (named David) in my class, so at a minimum, I hope they remember that my name is Devin. But more than that, I hope people remember that I pushed myself and those around me to be better.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Launch and build a non-profit
  2. Run for public office

What made Devin Baer such an invaluable member of the Class of 2019?

“In the executive classroom, students are challenged with business problems that require exceptional quantitative skills and also thoughtful people skills. Devin Baer is the rare executive student who possesses both a formidable quantitative mind and a big heart. Devin’s presence in a group immediately creates a high-performing and collaborative team environment. Devin is completing the challenging EMBA program of study while also leading his company as the Head of Sales at Google. Devin has endured long travel to demanding classes and navigates a complex, matrix organization.

In my negotiations course, Devin immediately distinguished himself as a powerful, but unassuming force in the class. For example, in the first complex business simulation in the class, Devin led his team to create a mutual agreement that reflected the greatest win-win value across the class for the business partnership. Devin thoughtfully and analytically shared his thought process on how his team was able to collaborate in a successful fashion across the table. All the while, Devin put the focus on others. Because Devin is generous in his business relationships, people gravitate to him. For example, in a subsequent learning simulation, Devin was a member of team that could have “lawyered up” and made demands; however, this is not the path that Devin took. Instead, he collaborated with the “opposing team” and created an integrative set of terms that preserved and enhanced the long-term business relationship.

On one occasion, I (half-way) joked with Devin that he could make a good living as a social scientist because he takes the point of view of the researcher-as-learner. For example, in the “Leading Teams” course, Devin was actively mapping the lessons in class to his own highly matrixed organization. We exchanged emails in-between class meetings. Devin’s thoughtful questions prompted me to do some digging in the research literature and inspired me to add some new content to the course. Students like Devin are a gift both to the executive classroom and to their organization.

I’m confident that Devin’s powerful, yet unassuming mindset, “I’m learning to improve my team” served as a role model for the other students in the class.”

Leigh Thompson

Kellogg School of Management


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