2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Andrew Surwilo, MIT (Sloan)

Andrew Surwilo

MIT, Sloan School of Management

Innovative leader and thoughtful problem solver who believes success is always the result of teamwork.”

Age: 50

Hometown: Allendale, New Jersey

Family Members: Wife, Leslie; daughter’s, Dillon (17) and Clare (15); parents, Vincent and Maggie; brother David; sister Jenna; 4 dogs; 1 cat.

Fun fact about yourself: I love collecting memorable adventures rather than physical things and I am trying to instill this love in my daughters. Examples of this are climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, running with the bulls in Pamplona, remote whitewater rafting with my older daughter, and hiking Machu Picchu with my younger daughter. Material things can be taken away, but experiences and adventures are yours forever.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Richmond, BA Economics

Where are you currently working? Chief Executive Officer, Atlantic Coast Brands

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles:

MIT Sloan Senate; COVID-19 Policy Alliance, Founding Member; FreedomUnited.com (Fighting to end global slavery), Board Member/Founding Partner; UNC Shuford Entrepreneurship Program, Board of Advisors; OmniX Labs, Board Member; ICMAD Marketer of the Year 2018; NJ Chamber of Commerce #1 Fastest-Growing Company; 2-Time Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist; 2-time Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Companies; Ridgewood Soccer Association Coach 10 years; Honorable Discharge, US Army Infantry.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? In light of the COVID-19 crisis and the extraordinary circumstances under which our program was coming to a close, I am most proud of being a founding member of the COVID-19 Policy Alliance. This effort sprang from the desire of our class to have a positive impact on the global community, while our program was ending amidst the crisis. Within hours of sending out a class-wide request, we came together to form teams to manage communications, operations, supply chain, public sector outreach, telehealth, data analytics, and medical research. So far, we have developed risk analytic and optimization tools to identify the most vulnerable populations, and formed partnerships with private industry to deliver PPE to locations in need, engaged state agencies, public health, and state command center policymakers supplying them with resources, models and toolkits to inform their decisions to flatten the curve and save lives. This has proven to be a perfect capstone project, allowing our class to apply all of the learnings and values imparted to us during our MBA program in a real situation.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am proud of having built and grown my current company and the hundreds of people we have been able to support directly and indirectly. Starting in an attic 15 years ago, we have created and built several award-winning consumer brands and supported hundreds of well-paying jobs with benefits. Entrepreneurship is not often cited for its contributions to the social good, but it is hard for me to imagine being able to affect and raise the quality of life for so many people more meaningfully without having built my current business. Being able to tell my company teammates during the recent economic shutdown that their jobs were secure is one of my proudest moments and is a testament to the amazing people I have the privilege to work with every day.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? This is a very difficult question to answer as all of my professors have had a meaningful and immediate impact on me as a leader and businessperson. Two of my favorite professors are Georgia Perakis and Roberto Rigobon. Professor Perakis teaches one of the legendary courses at MIT:  Data Modeling and Decisions (DMD). The course is difficult, but Georgia goes out of her way to make sure the students have all of the resources they need to learn and succeed approaching topics with practical use case examples and a warm sense of humor.  he fact that there is an 8-hour time limit on the final speaks to the challenging subject matter covered in the course. Roberto Rigobon’s teaches Applied Macro-economics and students who are not even enrolled in the class attend lectures due to Roberto’s dynamic teaching style. Roberto’s out-of-the-classroom work on ending human trafficking is inspirational and he has become one of my role models.  Both of these professors embody the American dream overcoming difficult obstacles and rising to the top of their professions while remaining humble and kind people.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I began exploring the MIT Executive MBA programs specifically for a course of study focused on innovation and practical analytics with a world-class faculty that also attracted a student body with cultural values consistent with my own.  MIT’s motto is “Mens et Manus” or “mind and hand.” This reflects the educational philosophy which permeates MIT: the classroom education is meant to be practically applied in the real world. The Sloan School of Management’s mission “to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice” aren’t just words on a wall. This is at the core of everything that is the MIT Sloan School of Management. I decided that if I was going to invest the time, money, and effort and ask my family and work to be accommodative for two years, I had better make sure the program was aligned with my goals. I am happy to report it’s been worth it.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Without a doubt, the most enjoyable part of my MBA experience is the extraordinary classmates I have had the pleasure of learning and working with during the program. I am humbled to be included in this class and am quite surprised at how close we have become over the course of our studies. On more than one occasion, I have wondered how in the world I slipped passed the admissions team to be included in such an accomplished group of people.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work?  The biggest lesson gained at MIT Sloan is to resist the temptation to jump to a solution before exploring the system dynamics which are causing or contributing to the problem and to solicit the input of teammates with different perspectives to ensure the problem you are trying to solve has truly been identified. At work, we tested and then implemented cross-functional teams to tackle issues and new initiatives to foster collaboration and teamwork which is core to the MIT EMBA learning structure. The results have been higher morale, a greater understanding of what others do in the organization, and increased profitability.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? I live in New Jersey, so part of the challenge in this program has been commuting. To be more efficient with my commuting time, I took the 3.5-hour train ride to Boston to attend class weekends. This was productive work time as I was able to hold conference calls and work while traveling. On one particular weekend, I was on non-stop calls while on the train, attended a management seminar, and helped my daughter with her math homework via skype during one of the seminar breaks. Technology has made this pursuit much more manageable than it once was. Truth be told, my wife deserves a lot of credit for her hard work and sacrifice which allowed me to get through the program successfully.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program?  Make sure you pick a program that is aligned with and attracts classmates that share your values. The curriculum, professors, and structure all matter. I would also advise anyone considering an EMBA to make sure your family and employer are 100% onboard and you plan specific times for study and group projects.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret is not spending more time in the greater MIT ecosystem outside of MIT Sloan with my classmates. There are so many remarkable things happening at MIT, when we’ve ventured out into the wider community we were always welcomed and treated to some amazing research, innovations, and personalities.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I cannot think of a classmate who has not earned my admiration, but the one who stands out most in my mind is Anh Vu Sawyer. Anh came to the US as a refugee after the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War. Her life-story is fraught with hardships and challenges which would break anyone’s spirit. Yet, in spite of this, she remains a beacon of joy and life to everyone with whom she comes in contact with. Anh has been a success in business while living a selfless life in giving her time, efforts, and attention generously to those in need, no matter the circumstance. Anh Vu Sawyer has been a treasured addition to my life and the lives of our entire EMBA class.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized the rate of change in the world is only accelerating and I had better continue learning and improving as a leader or risk becoming obsolete!

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I believe the entrepreneurial process can be applied to solve complex public sector problems and would ultimately like to bring public and private enterprises together to solve difficult issues to raise the quality of life for people who have been left behind in the local, state, and world economies.  My work with Freedom United is a first step in this direction.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like them to remember me as a thoughtful leader who is generous with his time, uses humor to diffuse situations, and is always willing to help a friend in need.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Bicycle across Italy with my family; Have a cup of coffee with Keith Richards & Richard Branson.

What made Andrew such an invaluable addition to the class of 2020?

“It is our distinct pleasure and honor to nominate Andrew Surwilo of the MIT Executive MBA Class of 2020 for Poets & Quants’ Top 50 Executive MBA Graduates.

Andrew is a humble leader who has academically pushed himself to be one of our top-performing students. He is an influential voice within his cohort as a Senator and has helped in planning diversity programming in order to broaden the perspective of his class. Andrew possesses a relentless focus on impact and is quick to step up and assist others. His latest endeavor finds him as one of the founding members of the COVID Alliance at MIT. Partnering with MIT Sloan faculty and other members of the MIT community, they have mobilized to help get PPE to hospitals in need, develop tracing capabilities, and connect those with much-needed resources to get through this pandemic.

Outside of the classroom, Andrew built his company, Atlantic Coast Brands, from the ground up as it now employs over 250 people and manages brands such as Christie Brinkley’s and Keranique. On top of all his responsibilities, Andrew is always willing to take time out of his schedule to meet with prospective students for the program, as well. He is a fantastic ambassador for the MIT EMBA program—often speaking at MIT Sloan and around the country—about how his experience in the program has made an indelible impact on him. Andrew is a practical problem-solver and a distinguished leader that pushes those around him to turn their visions into reality. We couldn’t be prouder of all he has accomplished.”

Johanna Hising DiFabio
MIT Executive MBA Assistant Dean

Georgia Perakis
MIT Executive MBA Faculty Director

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