2019 Best EMBAs: Gretchen MacLeod, University of Maryland (Smith)

Gretchen MacLeod

University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith School of Business

“Driven, relentless, sagacious, loyal and empathic.”

Age: 44

Hometown: Portland, Oregon

Family Members: Wife Kristen; children Samuel (11) and Madeline (8); and Belle (Black Lab)

Fun fact about yourself: I only recently realized that “one-horse slope and slay” was “one horse open sleigh.”  

Undergraduate School and Degree: BA in Accounting and Management and a Certificate in International Service from Seattle Pacific University

Where are you currently working? Director of Finance and Administration, PATH (an international health technology nonprofit)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: CDC Charles Shepard Award (along with the malaria vaccine clinical trial team), volunteer service in youth swimming/soccer coaching and as an Episcopal Eucharistic minister and children’s church teacher; and distance running (including D.C.’s Cherry Blossom 10 Miler

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Although there were many times that I felt I wouldn’t get through the endless hours of reading and class preparation, I kept going. I made it to every class, on time and (nearly always) prepared.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Being part of a multi-disciplinary, multi-partner team conducting the largest-ever malaria vaccine clinical trial in Africa. This 5-year trial, designed to provide the first regulator-approved vaccine against the mosquito-borne disease, was a joint project between GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and PATH. As a team member, my role was to provide financial expertise (i.e. contract and budget negotiations) to build a network of 13 clinical research centers, while also building sustainable, financial management capacity. It’s been especially gratifying to maintain relationships with many of the principal investigators and financial managers, who, as a result of the training my team provided, are successfully operating multi-million-dollar research budgets. Previously, these centers operated with budgets of just a few hundred thousand dollars.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Data Modeling. Ironically, I was initially petrified of this course. Afterward, my feeling is completely the opposite. The fear dissipated as soon as I began learning the theories and running the models. The course not only sharpened my ability to examine data and understand trends, but I also find myself more critically considering the information at work as well as findings reported in the news.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? In addition to proximity, Maryland Smith’s solid reputation for both entrepreneurship and leadership attracted me. But what sealed the decision was visiting a class and sensing certain energy and connection between members of the cohort in that classroom. Add to this, Professor Gilad’s engagement with the class. I instantly could foresee special connections with peers who have unique professional and life experiences I could benefit from understanding.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The camaraderie and connections I’ve made within my cohort. I feel I’ve learned as much from them as the coursework – from what they bring to the table simply as individuals with unique life and learning experiences.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? High-quality work is not always perfect. I entered the program as a perfectionist – demanding such for both myself and employees. Though I am still a perfectionist, I better-realize the value of prioritizing the quality of collaboration and the advantages of a diverse team.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? Spare time being rare (i.e. a luxury) is a given; I was prepared for this. However, there was one specific situation for which I could not prepare: As I was returning home from a class weekend (where we were assigned a major team project due the next week), I was notified of a workplace crisis that required me to travel immediately to Geneva, Switzerland. I became so overwhelmed and truly believed there was no way to get through, except by possibly quitting school. In addition, I was worried about the effects of missing personal time with my kids. So, I stepped back and told myself, “For the next two hours, I will block out all thoughts of school and work and play checkers with my daughter.” This connection refueled my inner resolve, allowing me to refocus on these challenges, not in terms of solving everything, but in terms of addressing how to solve each issue, one at a time. I frequently think back to this “checkers” moment as a turning point of sorts in successfully managing the challenge of adding this MBA program to an already busy life.

What was your biggest regret in business school? In the beginning, I don’t feel as though I focused enough on the add-on benefits of the program, such as career counseling and extracurricular activities with my cohort. I realize now that these are some of the most valuable attributes of the program and wish I had learned this sooner.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Aliya Jones. She is highly accomplished as a psychiatrist, but also business leader, role model, and mom. She is the quintessential example of someone balancing everything with grace and ease. She’s not egotistical, though she could be. When so many people are judgmental, she is not. When all seems so incredibly stressful in the classroom, Aliya is the one who takes the step back and pulls us back together in laughter.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…playing “make believe” as a child always was based on operating a business, whether a gas station, grocery store, or church.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Serve in an executive leadership role, in an organization that drives positive change, and where I impact and better peoples’ lives.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Remember me as authentic and inspiring and as a brilliant leader driven by integrity, kindness and caring for individuals from all cultures and areas of life.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Ride an elephant in Thailand and complete the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage (of 500+ miles through Spain to the shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great).

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

“As Cohort Director of the Executive MBA program at the University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith School of Business, I had the pleasure of knowing Gretchen MacLeod since January 2018. Gretchen was one of the very few students who earned an A+ in my Accounting for Senior Management course. More importantly, she is one of the most thoughtful, diligent and insightful EMBAs we have had in our program. She is truly an exemplary leader within the cohort. She is always willing to share her knowledge and experience with her cohort. Not only does she strive for excellence in all she does, but she also inspires everyone around her to reach their potentials.”

Progyan Basu

Clinical Professor of Accounting

Robert H. Smith School of Business


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