2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Ayotunde Gibbs, Texas Christian University (Neeley)

Ayotunde Gibbs

Texas Christian University, Neeley School of Business

“Like a duck in water, calm on the outside, a whirlwind of activity on the inside!”

Age: 37

Hometown: Currently, Flower Mound, Texas. Originally from Ibadan, Nigeria.

Family Members: Husband – Howard Gibbs; Daughters – Anaya and Kira Gibbs

Fun fact about yourself: I learned to speak like a native American – with a slight Texan accent – by watching Family Matters and Full House. Then my husband taught me all the bad words!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Texas Tech University – Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science with minor in Management Information Systems and Math

Where are you currently working? GameStop – IT Global Director of Store Systems

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles: Honored to receive the Nancy Nix Heritage Endowed Scholarship Award during the EMBA program.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I had the great opportunity to work with some amazing women as part of the Women’s Leadership Council at GameStop. Two accomplishments continue to stand out for me today. First, we established a series of Excel courses for employees at our distribution centers who previously did not have easy access to computer training. We recruited Excel gurus from the corporate office and even taught some of the classes ourselves. It was amazing to see how people responded, many of whom did not have basic computer skills. I heard many stories about how they continued to use these skills in their personal and professional lives. There were over 50 people who participated in the first series I helped establish, and the concept is still going strong today.

Second, we coordinated an art project where employees from the corporate office and distribution centers that normally do not interact on a day-to-day basis got to put handprints on canvas as a sign of unity. This touched me in multiple ways because it reinforced some of the concepts I learned in the EMBA – the power of ‘Yes, and’. As the ‘serious type’, this would not have been an activity that I would participate in, let alone play one of the leadership roles! Today, the artwork is displayed in a very prominent place in our headquarters and is a constant reminder of what can happen when a few people have an idea even with little to no resources.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I have been very fortunate to have great sponsors at GameStop who gave me a lot of autonomy and challenging work. Due to this, I have been able to lead multiple projects that stretched my capabilities. On one such project, I led a redesign of the Point of Sale used in our retail stores. This was an innovative project that I spearheaded over the course of three years. It began as a grassroots movement to bring in more modern systems. It survived a change in senior executives when other projects didn’t, largely because we had positioned the initiative to deliver incremental value in an innovative and agile manner. At the end of the project, the new system was rolled out to over 3,500 retail stores and tens of thousands of associates. Did I mention the small fact that this system was the entry point for 90% of the $5B revenue for the US GameStop market? No small feat at all!

This continues to resonate with me today because of the amazing team that I led that kept me on my toes because they brought their game every day, so I knew I had to bring mine. Also, I had serious self-doubt that I could accomplish the goal but I kept forging forward – outward calm, inward whirlwind – and in the end, I proved that I was stronger than I imagined.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Getting my EMBA has been a goal of mine for years. So, I have been on the lookout for programs and the right time to begin. The TCU EMBA provided some key benefits that I was looking for – a reputable, nationally-recognized program; top-notch faculty; curriculum focused on leading in an ever-changing, complex, connected world; an environment where I could focus on learning; a network of individuals who share a passion for learning and that can be a stepping stone to other opportunities outside my current industry or area of expertise. I researched multiple programs and the TCU value proposition for me was the best. This was also supported by alumni and co-workers I spoke to who had gone through the program.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I was surrounded by cohorts and faculty that were on top of their game in their area of expertise. I was surrounded by people who were smarter than I was and who challenged me to step up my thinking. There were passionate debates that challenged my long-held thought processes. I learned more about myself in that 18-month period because I was in an environment where I could absorb, reflect, project, and practice new concepts rapidly in a safe space.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I come from an engineering background, specifically computer science. It is easy to hide behind a screen or behind the technology and churn our new applications and new features. Previously, this was success to me. Bits and bytes. What I gained most is how to connect the bits and bytes into dollars and cents. How the technology drives business goals and how I can make better decisions as a leader because I can now directly connect the bits and bytes to dollars and cents on the balance sheet. How I interact with my business is evolving every day with all I learned. I am no longer standing in technology looking at the business and asking how I add value. I am moving toward that space between technology and business where the intersection drives transformation. Many enterprise companies cannot thrive today without technology. Therefore, that is exactly where I need to be an effective leader in my company. I know now I am going to get there with the new skills and networks I have gained through the TCU EMBA.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? While the program has been a personal goal of mine for many years, I also did it because it was important for me to leave a legacy of the importance of education and continued learning to my two young daughters, in the same way that my parents had passed it on to me. Saturday classes were especially tough because it took away from family time and the Saturday mornings spent on softball fields watching my girls playing and my husband coaching. So I needed to find ways to make this connection with my daughters. First, we had a little internal family rivalry going between my husband, who is a Texas Tech University Red Raider fanatic, and my daughters, who were Red Raiders in training, and my new Horned Frog allegiance! Then, my daughters and I shared contests with our grades. I proudly showed off my Dean’s List certificates and they proudly showed of their A’s. In the end, I could tell they were really proud of what I accomplished because they would show off to their friends and teachers that mom was going to school and graduating from college. I think the experience has left an impression on them about the value of education and hard work.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Take time to reflect on what you want to get out of an executive EMBA program. Do not enter it lightly because it is an investment of precious time and resources. Carefully choose a program and a format that works for you, your goals, and even your immediate family in terms of duration and support. Don’t forget to set expectations with people close to you and your work about the support you will need. My husband’s support was critical for me especially with two kids and a fulltime job. After you start the program, be all in! Make the most of the opportunity.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school?

Myth – It will consume all your time: Yes and no. In my personal experience, it came in waves. There were certain classes where I had to spend more time and burn the midnight oil and there were other classes that required less time. There were periods in between where I could focus on things outside the EMBA. Better time management would have been really helpful to prevent everything from seemingly piling up at once.

Reality – Everyone is an adult and ready to learn so no need to deal with people problems. For an in-person EMBA this is one aspect that I was not prepared for. Yes, everyone is an adult but there will still be interpersonal dynamics just like you would have in the workplace, especially in team settings.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I had an amazing experience at TCU. I met some amazing people that I will leverage in life and career and who broadened my perspectives to concepts I would never have encountered. I don’t have any major regrets, just future aspirations about where I can go from here.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? There was such a high caliber of people in my cohort that contributed to my learning and personal growth, and I am indebted to each of them. Brian Faz was one of those students who challenged me to do more and be more because of his unwavering support and passion for learning all the material.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I started reading about great business leaders and realized that I was ready to venture out from my narrow focus and one day be one of those great business leaders.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Technology is my area of expertise and my passion. However, ultimately, my goal is to lead a company or major company division.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Conscientious, humble, reliable; a person who pulls people together to accomplish great things that they didn’t think was possible.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Live in Australia and learn the accent the way I learned the American accent.
  2. Write and publish a fiction novel.

What made Ayotunde such an invaluable member of the Class of 2020?

“Ayotunde is energetic, enthusiastic, and open to ideas. She always demonstrated thoughtful analysis, a willingness to get engaged in activities, and an ability to build an esprit de corps in the class.”

Dr. Ray Smilor
Professor Emeritus in Entrepreneurship

“Ayotunde Gibbs asked interesting questions that illustrated a deep understanding and agility to apply what she was learning to diverse situations.”

Mary Stanford
Accounting Professor

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

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