2019 Best EMBAs: Dick Podiak, Notre Dame (Mendoza)

Dick Podiak

University of Notre Dame, Mendoza College of Business

“I’m passionate about continually learning, developing winning strategies, leading people, and being known by results.”

Age: 49

Hometown: I grew up in Kettering, OH but currently live in Greensboro, NC

Family Members: Wife (Bonny), two Daughters (Claire and Molly) who are both undergraduate students at the University of Michigan.

Fun fact about yourself: I am the youngest of eight children and am the first one to graduate from college.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Marquette University, BS—Business Administration with a specialization in Finance and a minor in Naval Science.

Where are you currently working? Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. in Thomasville, NC where I serve as the Vice President of Marketing and Communications.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society
  • Finance Council Member at St. Catherine Catholic Church
  • Lector at St. Catherine Catholic Church

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During my time at the University of Notre Dame, I have had a couple of opportunities to guest lecture in marketing for the full-time MBA students. That was quite an honor to be asked to do that while I was pursuing an MBA myself. I was able to use my professional experience from my time at both Procter & Gamble and Kellogg’s to help bring theory to life with real-world examples.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I have had so many fantastic opportunities in my professional career ranging from launching new products, being selected for challenging assignments, developing sports and music sponsorship programs, and now leading marketing for a $4 billion company that is a leader in its industry. While I have enjoyed many successes in my career in the corporate world, I am the proudest of having served as an Officer in the U.S. Navy.  On one occasion, I helped direct a counter-narcotics operation that resulted in one of the biggest at-sea drug busts in the Navy. I served on the commissioning crew for a guided-missile destroyer, where I established the safety program that became the standard for the ship class. I served as navigator for that ship on a deployment to the Arabian Gulf which included transits through some of the most crowded and dangerous sea lanes in the world.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I had Professor John Affleck-Graves, the Executive Vice President for Notre Dame, teach Financial Statement Analysis. As the key financial leader at Notre Dame focused on the University’s finances as well as being overall responsible for the University’s endowment, he was able to make the content of the class relevant and interesting. With his experience both as a professor and as a leader in the University, his examples of how he used the material to make business decisions on a regular basis deepened my understanding of the class topics.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? I have several favorite courses during my time in the program. One that proved to be particularly timely was Macroeconomics. While in the class, as a country, we were going through tax cuts, interest rate increases, tariff challenges, and Brexit looming on the horizon. As a business leader, this helped me think through the implications of these events on both consumer and customer demand and how to create strategies that would lead my company to continued growth.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I was seeking a program that is values-based with a strong focus on leadership. The Notre Dame EMBA program has incorporated this into each part of the program and challenges students to make business be a force for good.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I have met some amazingly talented people that have become close friends. Coming into the program, I knew that I would meet new people, but I am thankful and blessed to have developed such strong bonds with them.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I learned that it is important to always be focused on learning, to recognize the times in your career when it is important to sharpen and renew your skills, and apply new learning to help your organization to create needed change.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? Shortly before starting the program at the University of Notre Dame, I moved to a new role as the Vice President of Marketing for the Frozen Foods business unit at Kellogg where I was leading the Eggo and MorningStar Farms business. So starting at Notre Dame, I was still learning my job while jumping into to academics with both feet. My older daughter was just starting her freshman year at Michigan and we were going through the college selection process with my younger daughter. I was also spending a significant amount of time volunteering at my church.

A year-and-a-half into the program, I received a job offer to go take on the VP of Marketing and Communications role for Old Dominion Freight Line in Thomasville, North Carolina. I accepted the job and my wife and I moved to Greensboro, North Carolina. That was a whole other level of challenge as we needed to put our house on the market, find a new house, get accustomed to a new city, and start at a new company in a completely different industry.

There were two key things that were critical to being able to manage it all. The first was to stay as organized as possible with academics. Being able to view what assignments were due and their deadlines helped to prioritize my effort. That has been a major help especially when times have gotten exceptionally busy. It also helped me work ahead so that I did not end up leaving everything to the last minute.

The second thing was to not be afraid to ask for help. Bonny, my wife, helped me tremendously by managing more of the household chores and was understanding when I had to spend most of the days on weekends doing school work. She supported me so much I would not have been able to do it without her.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Determine if you have the personal capacity to fully commit to a rigorous academic program while managing family responsibilities and work responsibilities. While you are not in class every day as in a full-time program, successful completion requires that you are putting in the effort on a daily basis. You should also look for a program that will challenge you with new concepts and a cohort make-up that is different from the people you work within your business career. Career diversity among the cohort helps you truly broaden your understanding of how the subject can apply across industries.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? There seems to be a perception that business school is highly competitive amongst the students in the cohort. That has not been my experience at all. At the University of Notre Dame, I have developed fantastic friendships. There is a sense that we are all here to support each other and help one another get through this program with success.

It’s not uncommon that on the evenings before a big exam, there are a handful of students working together to go over the material when someone needs a bit of help. The teams to which we have been assigned have been extremely supportive and helpful when someone has a strength in an area and someone else is having a challenge with that area.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I don’t have any regrets.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? There are so many remarkable and resilient people that it is hard to choose. In some groups, there are clear standout players, but the program at Notre Dame is made up of a group of outstanding people that I am proud to call friends. We have a former explosive ordnance disposal officer from the U.S. Army who has made a successful transition to corporate life and is working hard to propel his career. We have a person leading their family business in a declining industry who is working to innovate and transform it into a completely new line of business. We have someone who was very successful in their firm but chose to leave when he learned about potentially unethical behavior within the company. We have a classmate with a doctorate degree who is the only African American male professor at the university where he works who overcame incredible challenges to get to where he is today. The class is filled with stories like this and I am in awe of each and everyone there.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I wanted to go to business school immediately after I left active duty in the U.S. Navy. I loved learning and I really enjoyed my time at Marquette. However, when I left the Navy, I had a great opportunity to join Procter & Gamble in the marketing function so Bonny and I moved from Hawaii to Cincinnati. I always intended to pursue an MBA, but a year or so after the Navy, we had our first daughter followed not too far by our second one. I just felt that while my children were young, I couldn’t devote the kind of time that I thought would be necessary. It was only after the first one left for college and the second was a senior in high school did I feel like I could manage the commitment.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I would like to continue to advance my career and broaden my skills so that I can lead a large company as a CEO. I have developed a passion for teaching and coaching with a long term goal to transition to a role as a college professor at some point in the future.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like them to remember me as a kind and helpful person that hopefully added meaningfully to their MBA experience.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Visit Cuba before it becomes commercialized. While I was in the Navy, I was stationed in Key West where our primary mission was keeping drugs out of the U.S. in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard.  I got to see Cuba from afar as we passed the western tip between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula so many times, but we were unable to stop there.

Hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail with my wife, Bonny. I think that it would be a challenging and rewarding hike with the intention of leaving all devices behind and relying on our skills to be successful.

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

“Dick Podiak is the definition of a leader whose influence comes from his combination of intellect, experience, and poise under pressure. I had the pleasure of working with him in two courses during his EMBA program and was able to see how he handled assignments that ranged from in the classroom to consulting with multiple organizations on-site in Santiago, Chile.

During the Consulting Immersion in Santiago, Chile, Dick quickly emerged as not only a thought leader for a group of almost 50 fellow EMBA students but also as the voice of reason, focus and diffusing confrontation. His fellow students looked to him for the design, approach, and delivery of recommendations to both a local non-profit organization and an international CPG company.

Dick quietly embodies the type of push-back you hope to see in an EMBA program. He has deep business experience that consistently drove his probing questions as well as his specific examples during class sessions. The embodiment of an EMBA is that each student is able to use the material from a course immediately in their work environment and this was Dick’s approach to the whole program.”

Charles E. Bamford, Ph.D.

Adjunct Professor of Strategy & Entrepreneurship

University of Notre Dame



Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.