2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Alexander Ding, Wharton School

Alexander Ding

The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania (Wharton San Francisco)

“Health care leader, practicing physician executive, innovator, and entrepreneur, health advocate.”

Age: 40

Hometown: Cupertino, CA

Family Members: Married, with two young children (5 and 3)

Fun fact about yourself: Love traveling. Once camped out in the deep Amazon rain forest.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • The University of California, Berkeley, BA Economics
  • University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, MS Health and Medical Sciences
  • University of California, San Francisco, MD
  • Harvard University, Postgraduate Residency in Diagnostic Radiology
  • Harvard University, Postgraduate Fellowship in Abdominal Imaging and Interventional Radiology

Where are you currently working?

  • California Advanced Imaging; Managing Partner, Board Director, Corporate Treasurer
  • Sutter Health Mills Peninsula Medical Center; Chief of Radiology, Medical Director of Imaging, Attending Physician
  • San Mateo Medical Center; Attending Physician, Former Vice Chief of Staff
  • University of California, San Francisco; Clinical Faculty

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles:

  • Wharton – Directors List x5 terms, 1st-year Honors
  • Consultant to multiple companies including Google, Altis Labs, Genetesis, Eko Health, and Doximity.
  • Councilor, Council on Science and Public Health, American Medical Association
  • Councilor, Council on Legislation, California Medical Association
  • Board of Directors, CALPAC
  • Board of Directors, Breathe California
  • Board of Directors (Gubernatorial appointee); Health Professions Education Foundation, Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, State of California
  • Former Trustee, American Medical Association
  • Former President, San Mateo County Medical Association

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  My business school experience, like all of us, was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a physician in a leadership position in my practice and at my hospital, I expressed my concern about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for our front-line staff to my classmates over our group chat. My classmates immediately mobilized and started a campaign to raise funds for PPE, which has now received more than $120,000 in donations. We have developed procurement and distribution mechanisms and gotten masks out to our frontline staff across the country, who need them desperately.  I have been so impressed by our group and its ability to perform and have seen the power of the Wharton network.  This work is ongoing, and I am so proud of and grateful to my Wharton classmates for stepping up, leading and supporting.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of playing an influencer role to push the American Medical Association (AMA) to support the Affordable Care Act. Then, as a member of the AMA’s Board of Trustees, I had the opportunity to help with its implementation.  I strongly believe that everyone should have access to quality and affordable healthcare in this country. At that time, a large percentage of Americans were uninsured and were unable to access the health system. I’m most proud of this because of the enormous impact this legislation has had on expanding care for a large swath of the American people.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I selected Wharton not only because of its international brand but also because the program is known for its rigor, including its equivalence to the regular MBA program in terms of faculty, course hours, and workload. I also selected Wharton because of its commitment to accessibility to its exceptional faculty and the opportunity to network and learn from accomplished classmates from a multitude of backgrounds and experiences. In particular, I wanted to do a generalist MBA rather than a health care specific MBA, because I strongly believe in cross-pollination and learning and taking best practices from other industries and applying them to healthcare.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? While the academic component of business school was fascinating, it was really the networking both with professors, staff, and classmates that was by far the most enjoyable and fun part of business school. To be able to converse and learn from such accomplished people from a diversity of experiences and backgrounds is an unparalleled opportunity.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I had thought that the most important academic lessons from business school would be deep technical skills, such as in financial modeling. However, the biggest surprise for me was how interesting, important, and readily applicable the soft skills taught in business school were: lessons on leadership, influence, negotiations, etc. I have found these skills are universally applicable and I have relied on them heavily in managing my practice and hospitals during this crisis period with COVID. I have found that understanding the frameworks and using the tactics from those courses have really made me more effective in my organizations.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? The whole story of my executive MBA is about balancing work, family, and education. A lot of credit goes to my family and my work colleagues who have been nothing but supportive and have sacrificed on their end to help me make it through my executive MBA. I hadn’t realized that there would be so much studying outside of class with the program and so every day after work, after family time, and after everyone went to sleep, I would study for three hours between 10 p.m. – 1 a.m., religiously, every day, even on non-class weekends.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth about an executive MBA is that it is less work than a regular MBA and the work is much easier. My experience was that the class hours were exactly the same and the homework load was comparable. The way they cram it all into two years is via two extra terms (in the summers) and also significantly fewer vacations.

What was your biggest regret in business school? The biggest regret in business school was the abrupt halt of in-person classes due to the COVID pandemic. This was supposed to be my final term and the time to integrate our learnings, but also to network more, spend time together with classmates, celebrate our accomplishments, and get closure on this wonderful time in our lives. Unfortunately, the COVID pandemic meant all of the planned social gatherings and activities were halted and canceled, including our graduation ceremony. Specifically, I wanted my two young boys to see their father graduate in a ceremony to impress upon them the importance of education and life-long continued learning.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I am not going to name a specific classmate but rather a specific group of classmates that I most admire. Our class was amazingly fecund and almost 20 babies were born or conceived during our two years. The people I most admire are those classmates who had kids while in school, especially the mothers, many of whom still came to class at 39+ weeks pregnant and returned to class just one weekend postpartum. As a father, I know that this is an impossible feat, and I’m just in such awe of them and inspired by their capability and capacity to do it all!

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I recognized the inadequacy of medical school training in leadership, and organizational and people management.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? In the long-term, I am hoping for the opportunity and privilege to go into public service. I’d like to be able to leverage my healthcare, innovation, and leadership experience into the honor of serving the people of this country. As an immigrant, I have tremendous gratitude to the multitude of opportunities afforded me in this country and I would like a chance to serve the public as a way to give back and show my appreciation.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my classmates to remember me as someone who was a great team player, an academic intellectual, an engaged leader in our community, and someone who was fun to spend time with.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? One of my top two bucket list items I was actually able to do while in business school, which was to go to Cuba and swim in the Bay of Pigs. Another one was to be invited to attend the US State of the Union, which I was able to do in 2013.  At this point, everything else is gravy!

What made Alex Ding such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Dr. Alex Ding is the best example of why executive MBA programs exist and are so impactful. Alex could not and would not take a break from his medical career to pursue an MBA and yet what he has gained in this program is making him an even more impactful leader and manager in his hospital and in all of the organizations he works with. He is one of the busiest people I know and yet he remains in the top of his graduating class while battling COVID-19 on the front lines and above all he is a devoted husband and father. He talks above of the diversity of his classmates and how impressed he is with them and their experiences, yet he has raised the bar for all of us.”

Bernadette Birt
Executive Director
Wharton MBA Program for Executives, San Francisco

“While working on the front lines in the hospitals, Alex still made time to be an impactful member of every class session. Hours that were opportunities to sleep and regenerate were better used to reenergize with classmates and in academic pursuit.”

Kim Cowperthwaite
Class Director
Wharton MBA Program for Executives, San Francisco

“Dr. Alexander “Alex” Ding is remarkable. He makes juggling a young family, a demanding career as a physician, and a Wharton MBA look easy. He is an exceptionally well-rounded, calm and cool leader. Even in the most stressful situations, Alex remains positive, steady, and approachable, thereby gaining the utmost admiration and trust of those around him.”

Barbara Craft
Director of Admissions
Wharton MBA Program for Executives, San Francisco

DON’T MISS: THE FULL LIST OF THE TOP 100 BEST & BRIGHTEST EXECUTIVE MBAS OF 2020

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