2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Cornelius T. Cook, Georgia Tech (Scheller)

Cornelius T. Cook

Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business

“Ambitious professional who enjoys learning from others as well as teaching others.”

Age: 32

Hometown: Opelika, AL

Family Members: Mom, dad, and sister

Undergraduate School and Degree: The University of Alabama / Finance

Where are you currently working? American Commerce Bank, N.A. – Chief Credit Officer, Senior Vice-President

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles:

  • Teaching financial literacy
  • Weightlifting
  • Making craft cocktails
  • Taking cooking lessons

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Thus far, I’m most proud of the completion of the Capsim simulation during our Strategic Management class. The simulation was a spirited competition among six teams. Each team was responsible for essentially running a company and making decisions regarding investments in R&D, production, marketing, and finance for eight rounds. In running the simulation, I not only learned a tremendous amount about successfully leading a private organization, but also long-term strategy planning, industry and market assessment, competitor analysis, and teamwork. Having only recently been exposed to these types of decisions and consequences of those choices in my work life, I found the round-after-round lessons to be invaluable. My team had a very successful run of the simulation as we began in fifth place but finished in second.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? To date, I am most proud of my 2019 promotion to Chief Credit Officer at American Commerce Bank. Having worked in commercial banking for my entire professional career, I have only had one clear goal and that was to become the Chief Credit Officer of a financial institution. I take great pride in the role as it comes with a significant amount of responsibility in that its primary function is to ensure the healthy growth of the bank’s assets. To properly perform in this role, one must possess the technical quantitative skills, the “qualitative” skills required to deal with external parties, and effectively combine the two.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I chose the executive MBA program at Georgia Tech largely because of the format/balance the program offers with a compressed and fairly regimented schedule. However, I also chose it for its broad curriculum that offered exposure in areas in which I wanted to develop skills and competency. Furthermore, the staff and program coordinators all diligently provide the resources and support their students need to obtain success. I was also very impressed with the international residency exposure. Lastly, having been relatively new to the city of Atlanta, I was personally interested in building a professional network, and Georgia Tech facilitates that in the best way possible.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I enjoy the open discussion during class. One of the most valuable components of the Executive MBA program is that you are surrounded by individuals who are, by and large, mid-to-senior-level management professionals with a significant amount of experience in their respective industries. During class discussion, you are afforded the opportunity to hear various perspectives on a wide array of topics, and each opinion is essentially a chance to learn something new. It’s quite common to view things through a very specific lens based on your experience but hearing the views of others can be an enlightening and educational experience.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The biggest lesson I have learned is how to effectively manage a team. After becoming the Chief Credit Officer of my bank, I became the manager for three different departments: Special Assets, Loan Operations, and Credit Administration. I approached the role as manager with a very specific management style and the expectation that my staff should adjust to that style. However, after taking the Cross-Cultural Communications class offered during the first semester of the program, which focused on the different communication styles most effective for different situations, I learned that it is more effective to communicate with your staff in a style that individually motivates. Learning that has not only made me a better manager, but also increased engagement in my staff and consequently productivity.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education?

This story is not specific to me, but to all my classmates given the current environment. COVID-19 has impacted the entire nation in a way that no one could have predicted. I work in banking, and my profession is considered “essential needs,” so traveling to and from the office is not only allowed…it’s expected. Coping with an increased workload during this unprecedented time while managing classroom instruction and homework now provided in a radically different format has been a challenging growth experience.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program?

  1. Make sure you are at a place in your career where you have a work-life balance schedule that will allow you to devote extra time and energy on a project that will require attention most weekdays and weekends.
  2. Despite the need to complete all the assignments, study, and focus on the academic requirements, remember there is a social learning component to the program. I would encourage all executive MBA candidates to spend as much time with their classmates as possible. There is so much to be learned academically, professionally, and socially from your fellow MBA students.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school?

“If you don’t go right after undergrad you’ll never go”

This was not the case for me, as I am currently enrolled in a post-graduate program. However, one aspect of the myth is true in that it took me longer than I had hoped it would to convince myself to go largely because I was trying to find the “perfect time.” In truth, there is no “perfect time.” After enrolling in the program, I now more than ever realize there is always something else I could be doing, but the decision to go back was a priority for me, and I committed to giving it all of my attention. The only positive caveat I would add to this myth is that going back to school later in your professional career can deeply enrich the experience. The skills and professional/life wisdom you acquire with age are assets that you bring to the program and share with your cohort.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Cihan Uzinipar. Cihan is extremely academically accomplished already in that he has a Ph.D. in Polymer/Plastics Engineering. I have become friends with Cihan and learned that his motivation in obtaining his MBA is a combination of a thirst for more knowledge as well as professional development. Cihan is also a very new father and only recently within the last six months moved to Atlanta. His already accomplished career in addition to a very active personal life is admirable and motivates me to work hard, as it confirms that you should never settle or give up on your goals. The only thing that can stop you, in the end, is yourself.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when….I told myself in high school that I wanted to be a “business executive.” My family has always instilled within my sister and me a drive to succeed and to push ourselves to grow. When I was younger and contemplating this, I recognized how hard-working and influential business executives were in my town and in most communities. Ever since then, I have wanted to go to business school to count myself among them one day.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term professional goal is to work in a business strategic capacity for a Fortune 500 company before becoming a chief operations officer at a firm and then opening my own company with a business partner.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want my peers to remember me as someone who consistently wants those around him to succeed as much, if not more than him, and was always willing to help them achieve this.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  • Skydive
  • Visit South Africa

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

“Cornelius has been a wonderful addition to Scheller’s Executive MBA program. He has more than 10 years of experience in the banking industry and is currently the Chief Credit Officer at American Commerce Bank. He brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and passion to all of his classes. In particular, in the core finance class, his insights into financial markets has stimulated great class discussions, especially around the impact of Covid-19 on financial markets. On a personal level, Cornelius is charismatic, hardworking, and a great teammate.”

Jonathan Clarke, PhD
Associate Professor of Finance
Scheller College of Business
Georgia Institute of Technology


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