2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Ben Wells, USC (Marshall)

Ben Wells

University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business

Age: 40

I’m resilient and gritty! Deeply curious, with an insatiable appetite for challenging the status quo.”

Hometown: Springfield, IL

Family Members:

  • Wife: Kayla
  • Son: Maddox
  • Dog: Daisy
  • Mother: Janet
  • Father: Stephen
  • Stepmother: Sherry
  • Brother: Matt
  • Niece: Sofia

Fun fact about yourself: My first job was as a lifeguard/swim instructor, and it had a profound impact on my life. Lured in by the sunshine, I came away with a deeper understanding of responsibility and a more exceptional ability to focus.

Undergraduate School and Degree: UCLA School of Theater, Films, and Television, B.A.: Theater

Where are you currently working? Walt Disney Television, Writer | Producer, ABC Creative Marketing

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles:

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  I was forging a connection and new path for EMBA students, by being the first EMBA board member and V.P. of EMBA relations for The Graduate Marketing Association (GMA), and Business of Entertainment Association (BEA). I am equally proud to have found two phenomenal first-year successors to continue the progress, Jenny Liu (GMA) and Meg Schmidt (BEA). Many underestimate the value of the other cohorts (Full Time, Part Time, I.B.E.A.R.) and clubs.  Developing these relationships will pay dividends down the road, and I am proud to have been part of something that will change the lives of students and leaders for years to come.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I was lead marketing producer on the re-boot of “Roseanne,” which premiered to 27.3 million viewers and earned a record-breaking 8.1 rating in the key demo (adults 18-49).

In the summer of 2019, I lead a series of strategic ideation and innovation workshops for ABC Marketing Senior Leadership and Operations Teams. These sessions generated outside of the box ideas that were executed for priority launch campaigns and led to enhanced operational processes.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? To start, two of my mentors at ABC: Erin Weir, SVP of Marketing Strategy (USC Marshall EMBA Alum) and Stephen Bushong, SVP of Marketing Operations. Both highly encouraged me to take a look at USC Marshall. The Trojan Network carries real weight in Southern California, particularly in the entertainment industry.

However, UCLA, my alma mater, was also high on the list. I did campus visits to both programs and sat in on their respective marketing classes. At the time, I was conducting a competitive analysis of 360 marketing campaigns for ABC After the classes were over, I requested interviews with both the USC and UCLA professors for my research. While they both graciously agreed to the meeting, after reaching out, I never heard back from the UCLA Anderson professor.

Meanwhile, USC Marshall Professor of Marketing Gene Del Vecchio went above and beyond the ask. Not only did he spend an hour talking to our team, but he also put together a fifty-page PowerPoint deck that proved to be incredibly valuable to our project.

It was a pretty easy decision at that point.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I had been working on the “creative” side of entertainment for over fifteen years. While I have enjoyed it, I found myself longing for more. I put “creative” in quotes because areas like Operations, Strategy, Engineering, and Technology are often not labeled as such, and that’s a misconception. Going back to get my MBA allowed me to shore up my problem-solving, strategic thinking, finance, and leadership skills. Additionally, being surrounded by successful professionals from a wide array of industries added substantial richness to discussions and debates.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA, and how did you apply it at work? Tradeoffs!

Perhaps that’s overly simplified but understanding that every decision or lack thereof comes with a tradeoff; from the way you manage a team to how you execute your competitive strategy, nothing is immune to tradeoffs. Evaluating those opportunity costs reaches far beyond the P&L or balance sheet.

Entertainment marketing for broadcast television moves marketing content at high volume and a breakneck pace. The challenge is to craft compelling and engaging stories in 15 to 30 seconds, the average length of a television promo, to generate audience awareness and intent. Resources are strained continuously, and the explosive growth of digital ads increases every year. Efficiencies are not only significant from a time/money perspective but also a quality one. If we’re locking up our talented craft editors with nuts-and-bolts content, what high skill work is being delayed or rushed? This can lead to stale and repetitive creative which leads to lower ratings.

Recognizing those tradeoffs and applying enhanced value chain theories and innovation strategies have helped our team maximize the output from our most valuable assets, each other.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? The most challenging aspect of going back to school mid-career is hands down juggling work, family, and education. As a lifelong learner and avid reader, when given the time, I will devote countless hours to studying. But as we get further into our careers, time seems to be the most limited resource. Everything gets shorted a little bit.

My wife, Kayla, also works full time as a procurement manager in the aviation industry. The demands of her job are equal to that of mine. Add in our highly energetic five-year-old, and there aren’t enough hours in the day.

I’m an early riser and would often leave the house before anyone was awake. I find the mornings are quieter at the office, so I could get readings and casework done before everyone arrived. Then the evenings, especially as school project deadlines approached, were filled with study group meetings. There was an entire week where I didn’t see Kayla or Maddox in waking hours. I don’t recommend that as a wise course of action for the record. My main point is that it takes a lot of sacrifice and support from others to juggle it all, and it’s not going to be perfect.

There are those that you depend on at work. Your team is taking on more at times to support your education. Their sacrifice is also not to be taken for granted.

In short, it takes a village to raise an EMBA

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? It’s about the work. Everything comes with a tradeoff, so make sure you are making the most of this time. Go after the things that scare you. Fortify your weaknesses and explore the unknown. Become the teacher on areas of strength but let someone else take that heavy lifting if it’s your expertise or it comes naturally to you.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My most significant regret was not making myself unavailable to the office when I was in class. We all want to do a great job and be there for our work teams, but there some days where if you answer one email, you will end up answering one thousand. Entertainment Marketing can be fast-moving with heavy volume, especially for a broadcast network. I wish I had really given myself a hard OOO and delegated the work to others to provide school 100% of my attention.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Anuj Bhatiana, Senior Finance Manager, AECOM.

Anuj and I found ourselves in the same study group early on in the program. I was the ‘Marketing Guy’ and he was the ‘Finance Guy.’ As I mentioned earlier, I pride myself on my grit and work ethic. Anuj shares a similar value and work ethic. He believed in putting in the time and doing the work. We both decided early on that we didn’t want to walk away with any regrets. If I was grinding late, working in the early morning, or squeezing in a session over lunch, odds are it was probably with Anuj. Some of the best memories I will have from Marshall are digging in on a project with Anuj when everyone else had called it a night.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…Channing Dungey, former President of ABC, said to a small group of us at ABC “I got to the top of the creative mountain, and it was a bunch of numbers.”

Business school was already something I had been kicking around, but that sealed the deal.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Ultimately, I would like to develop lasting and impactful solutions for humanity’s most challenging pain points. I believe this can be accomplished through innovation, creative thinking, hard work, and building a phenomenal team.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like to be remembered as an in the trenches leader who never gave up on his people, their projects, and goals.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Become fluent in Spanish and Mandarin
  2. Contribute an article to a top tier business review.

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

“I have known Ben Wells for over a year. He was a student in the core operations and supply chain class that I taught in the Executive MBA program in spring 2019. He was among the two best students in my class of 72 students. In addition, I would rank him as among the top 1% of the 2,000+ students that I have taught over the past decade. He had no background in the topic I taught before my class, yet he mastered it. He participated actively in my class and contributed great ideas and comments. What set him apart, though, was the manner in which he went above and beyond in his contribution to the class. This was apparent not only during his thoughtful participation in class discussion but also in the projects he did as part of a team in class. He showed a remarkable combination of initiative and leadership.

His initiative and leadership qualities became even more evident in March/April of 2020, when he initiated and organized a webinar for EMBA students and recent alums on the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and supply chains. He reached out to three of the EMBA faculty, gently encouraged us to participate in the webinar, and suggested a plan for the webinar and organized all the details. This event was a great success thanks to Ben. Ben personifies excellence and professionalism in everything he does and is yet humble, which I find very appealing.

I cannot think of a better student to recommend for this award.”

S. “Raj” Rajagopalan
Data Science and Operations Department
Marshall School of Business
University of Southern California



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