2019 Best EMBAs: Jacob Gelbaum, Georgia Tech (Scheller)

Jacob Gelbaum

Georgia Institute of Technology, Scheller College of Business, EMBA

“Bringing passion, curiosity, personal excellence, and positivity to all that I do in my life.”

Age: 41

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

Family Members: Tiffany (Wife) and Lily (Daughter)

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve completed two half-ironman triathlons (1.2-mile swim /56-mile bike/13.1-mile run)

Undergraduate School and Degree: Georgia Institute of Technology, Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, International Affairs

Where are you currently working? I am working at Anthem Inc. as IT Strategy and Program Director. I started in this role the beginning of May in 2018. Prior to Anthem, I worked for Booz Allen Hamilton for nearly 16 years. I spent 12 of my Booz Allen years working for the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community and transitioned into the health market where I worked on contracts for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Since transitioning to Anthem, I’ve been working on a variety of technology strategy projects. These efforts support the Chief Information Officer, the Chief Digital Officer, and all of their direct leadership team. I have worked as a part of the team that revised Anthem’s overall technology strategy and worked with the CIO of our Diversified Business Group to align his technology goals to the overall technology strategy. I have collaborated across the organization to improve how we build our technology workforce, growing talent in all manner of roles and skill levels.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Reading, yoga, and running. I just began serving as a board member for the Data Science and Analytics Society of the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud of being able to methodically complete a job search and change careers during the MBA program. The program itself was quite a bit of work, on top of the day-to-day of the job. I had to be very deliberate, setting a plan, and pacing my activities over months to do the research, outreach, connecting, interviewing, and transitioning.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m proud to have dedicated eight years of my professional career to supporting a military command whose mission was to limit the impact of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on our service members and allies around the world.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Keith McGreggor is my favorite professor from Scheller College’s Executive MBA program. He taught classes that defined our Management of Technology (MOT) focused program. His classes taught me about the foundational and continuous customer discovery that is at the heart of all successful business models. I also came to some important personal realizations. The preconceptions we have about learning come with us into any learning environment. I had to recognize mine before I could leave them behind. Over the course of an intense presentation to local investors, and an emotionally charged final class, these realizations crystalized for me and provided a true “capstone” to the program.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Management of Technology classes taught by Keith McGreggor. In business, “Know Your Customer” isn’t a one-time thing. Continuous customer discovery is required to be successful in any business model.

Why did you choose Scheller College of Business? Georgia Tech, and more specifically the Scheller College of Business, operates from the belief that interdisciplinary approaches better reflect the realities of the world. My undergraduate degree reflects that technical approach to the liberal arts. When searching for a business school, I wanted one that similarly reflected that philosophy. There was no better school, or location, for that combination than Scheller College, located in Technology Square, in Midtown Atlanta

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? This program offered just the right level of support to make completing the program possible within my busy professional life. The Scheller EMBA team delivered. All the administrative and career support we needed was run incredibly smoothly and professionally.

As a business student in the heart of Tech Square, how do you think Scheller College embodies the intersection of business and technology? There is no aspect of the degree program that doesn’t reflect that interdisciplinary approach. That’s striking. It’s not a subset of classes that discusses how technology impacts on business. It wasn’t a few specific technology classes filtered into the curriculum. The program’s center of gravity is the intersection. The Tech Square ecosystem “around” Scheller, and all the integrated extra-curricular activities (hack-a-thons, innovation studios’ events, panel discussions, etc.), reflect this as well.

What is your best advice to someone interested in getting their MBA at Georgia Tech Scheller College? When you start in this MBA cohort, you will build your personal brand over 17 months; you better know what you want that brand to be.

What was your capstone project –provide details re. project, product, company, etc. Our company was called Poppin. Our goal was to remove the pains associated with a food truck and property manager connecting for proper placement. We also created significant gains by increasing the likelihood of a profitable site placement. The intermediary business has a few target customers and relies on achieving a critical mass of aligned food trucks and property managers in specific geographies.

What did you think about the final presentation before the judges? The final presentation provided great motivation to be thoughtful and creative in telling the story of our team. We discussed our early customer exploration, our business model roadblocks, and how our pivot put us onto the right path. Our hand-shot video of Legos and action figures was a microcosm of our team-members dedication and work ethic. Our high scores on the overall project are still a source of pride.

How do you feel your capstone experience has prepared you for post-graduation? While the education about customer discovery was important, the real value I’ve found post-graduation is in the realization that our preconceived notions about learning can limit our ability to grow.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The friendships.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? The most important balance was done just before the program. The decision to start was a family decision from the very beginning. We originally put it off for some time due to other life priorities. Some of the other life events cleared up just as the program was beginning to start up. My wife and I had a deliberate conversation about the tradeoffs and decided as a team to go for it.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Set some goals for the program. Focus on accomplishing them. However, be flexible enough to know that your goals may not be realistic and they may not be complete. Be ready to change.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Hunter Dreidame. Hunter and his family made the decision to move to NYC early in the program. He committed to not letting the distance and travel be an impediment to performing his best scholastically throughout the program. On top of all that, he gracefully handled all of life’s challenges and a complex career change. Throughout all that, he was also a good friend.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that it was time to start considering a career change.”

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…bringing my values to some other employer, and likely not in as good a fit as I was able to find.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Continuous learning, increased responsibility, and the opportunity to develop leaders.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Committed to balancing hard work and professional drive while maintaining the family and friend relationships that are truly important.

Favorite book:  The Count of Monte Cristo – unedited of course – The most incredible story of love, revenge, and overcoming obstacles. Though a dark turn, there is a point in the story, where Edmond Dantes honors true devotion and friendship in life-altering ways. And, knowing that he must move on from that great joy and happiness, to take down his enemies, he says “And now, farewell kindness, humanity, and gratitude! Farewell to all the feelings that expand the heart! I have been Heaven’s substitute to recompense the good – now the God of Vengeance yields to me his power to punish the wicked!” What theater!

Favorite movie or television show: Jaws

What are the top two items on your bucket list?  

  1. Seeing Aurora Borealis from the comforts of a bed, looking out through a panoramic glass ceiling
  2. 5-7 day camping/rafting adventure through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River

What made Jacob such an invaluable member of the Class of 2019?

“Jacob has been one of the most involved and engaged students in the Executive MBA program and a positive role model for others. He is active, engaged in class discussions, and always very well prepared. He is the sort of student that makes teaching the Executive MBA class a stimulating experience for faculty. Every time I teach in the program, I learn something new from students like Jacob that broadens my perspective. Even outside the classroom, Jacob volunteers to help his classmates with networking opportunities and even helps us connect better with companies in Atlanta. He has a true interest in helping us continuously improve the program and provides constructive feedback that is positive and actionable.”

Saby Mitra

Professor of Information Technology Management


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