2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Cynthia Stanton, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Cynthia Stanton

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

“Passionate, driven, productive businesswoman, wife and mother of four, who likes bringing organization to chaos.”

Age: 41

Hometown: Glens Falls, New York; now live in Cary, North Carolina

Family Members:  Husband: Brandon; 4 sons: Grayson (5), Ryan (9), Anthony (11) and Shawn (13); 1 sister in Saratoga, New York, with her husband and 3 boys; parents, aunts, uncles and all other family in upstate New York

Fun fact about yourself: I skinned and fileted 50-pound mahi-mahi that we caught deep-sea fishing off the coast of Costa Rica. The captain said no one had ever wanted to skin and filet fish before after they caught them – he and his mate usually did that. But I really wanted to learn how to do it! We brought it back cooked it and ate it, too!

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of North Carolina at Greensboro; bachelors, international business and operations management

Where are you currently working? BASF – Supply Chain Operations Manager for North America for the Agricultural Products Division

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:  In my professional role I lead seven teams: supply planning, demand planning, export business, distribution, logistics and warehousing, and three customer service teams. I serve as a member of the North American Supply Chain council in BASF. I am a member of three employee resource groups at my company, including Women in Business, Parents, and Awareness of Invisible and Visible Disabilities, where I am a board member. I volunteer to help with set up/sign in, etc. for the Children’s Liturgy during Sunday mass at St. Michael parish in Cary. And I have four boys in three different schools (pre-K, Elementary and Middle) where I volunteer and keep engaged with. I have been a chaperone on a fifth-grade field trip to Wilmington, but I would rather manage my team of 50 at work any day! 

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Helping get a new Employee Resource Group (ERG) started at my company for “Awareness of Invisible and Visible Disabilities” (AVID). I am on the first board for the new ERG as we are getting it off the ground. Even though my time is limited with business school right now, I knew it was important to do what I could to help and bring what I have learned. And we have just received approval for funding!

I have a son with special needs, and I see how important it is to reduce stigma and provide opportunities for people to bring their differences. It has real value for organizations; the more diversity of thought, the more creativity and innovation we bring. People need to feel comfortable and accepted. Meeting and learning from adults who have the same disabilities as my son and have been successful has helped me to better understand what he needs. Even more, I am more aware of the value everyone brings, even if they don’t think or behave in exact “normal” ways. It is clear to me now, that there is no real “normal” and that is a good thing!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Winning the Agro-Business Award for a project called ATLAS at BASF. When I started with the company, it was in a newly created position, tasked with building a new group and rolling out a strategy for export business within North America. Up until then, there had been no dedicated team and no clear direction for how the business should be handled. The only other company example was from Europe, which did not really seem to fit, so we had to develop our own processes. My third week on the job, I received a call from the head of South America’s supply chain in Brazil telling me how terrible the export business from North America was and listing all the things wrong. I told her I would improve it. We built a team, rolled out a new process globally that I personally traveled to four continents to present and collaborate on, and then executed on it with that new team. Through a lot of change, 18 months later in a global supply chain conference, that same person from Brazil made a public statement that South America’s preferred supplier was now the AP division in North America. It was a huge turn-around and, even more satisfying, is that even though I no longer manage that team directly, they are still successfully following the process and strategy we put in place almost seven years ago.    

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Edward McCraw, who taught “Corporate Reputation Management.” He spent his career in the business world, including C-Suite at two major global corporations. Hearing his behind-the-scenes insights of how decisions were really made – and what really happened in the C-suite – was enlightening. Interspersing those real-life experiences made his teachings so much more impactful. I never respected our communication team at BASF as much until I took his class, and now I see them in a completely different light. I also see more clearly how my role as a leader means that my behaviors, and the perception of my behaviors, can have an impact on our company’s reputation.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? The value for education combined with the opportunity to meet and learn from a pool of strong and talented individuals. I knew several other executives at my company who have a UNC MBA – and I knew of several who had not been accepted. This made me confident that I would be learning from highly qualified individuals who could have a real impact on my overall experience. I wanted to expand my learning and experience, not just check the box for my next role that “Yes – Has MBA.”

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Meeting the professors and other students. As I hoped, I learned as much from my cohort as I did from professors. I loved that our professors didn’t just introduce their academic qualifications, but introduced themselves as people with kids, interests, failures, and histories that they freely shared. It showed that there is no one path to success; it is individual for everyone.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work?  Self-awareness and change management! Right as I was starting my MBA, my company announced a large $9B acquisition that closed right before I started classes, and I was on an integration team! Learning about how to manage through multiple changes, learning about how I handled change, and how to guide a team through changes, while I was in the midst of an integration was invaluable.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education?  Travel was difficult during school since I did not want to miss my in-person classes. I also didn’t want to be seen as not pulling my weight at work because I was getting my MBA. So sometimes I negotiated so things could work out. First year, I was asked to lead a workshop in Canada to help set up their Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) process, and the date hadn’t been set yet. I managed to convince everyone to have the workshop on a week my husband had no travel and a light schedule and to start the workshop mid-morning Tuesday (so everyone could travel on Monday…). From there, I took a 5 a.m. flight on Tuesday so I would not miss my Monday night class, drove straight to the office, began the workshop by 9:30 a.m. and no one was the wiser. I would do my homework in the hotel at night. In the mornings and evenings, I would facetime with the kids, especially my youngest, who was 4, so they could see me every day and I could stay in touch with what was happening with them. I’m very lucky to have such a supportive partner in my husband to take care of the kids when I am not there!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Don’t do it right away after undergrad. Gain some professional experience first, manage people if you can. You will get so much more out of it if you are in a position to apply it soon, rather than in 10 years. You are never too old to learn and change; in fact, it will keep you young and in touch.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That professors are egotistical and will be unnecessarily difficult or try to make things as hard as possible. I was impressed by all the professors we had, how dedicated they were to everyone actually learning and understanding the material, not just getting the grades. How willing they were to make the time, and take however much time was needed, to help students learn and understand.   

What was your biggest regret in business school?  That I did not partake in as many of the social events as I would have liked. Balancing family and career while in school, I was already taking a lot of time away from my kids, so I passed on many social events to avoid missing more weekends or dinners with them. While it would have been nice, I feel comfortable I made the right choice. You have to know what your priorities are and what you value; it will help prevent you making the wrong choices in life.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Kaleeswar Baburaj (KB) was instrumental in a lot of my learning. He was in my assigned team the entire first year. We learned to balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses and had mutual respect for each other Not just because he was bright and a quick learner, he was also a hard worker. He was always willing to go the extra mile to put in his best, even if that meant staying up until 3 a.m. to find an error in a regression! He was always willing to help. Whenever I had a question, he would pick up the phone or schedule a quick Zoom meeting for us to work through it (and he had a full-time career and kids at home to deal with as well!). He was courageous enough to ask questions in class. Many times, I think he asked the question that was on others’ minds but were afraid to ask. And he always had a smile. And he did all of this, while learning in his second language! He has a vision for what he can do; he truly believes that with the right education, he can make the changes he wants in his career – and I believe he can. He has inspired me to reach higher and think bigger, and keep going even when I’m tired! I truly admire him and am grateful I was able to get to know him through this program.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…the position I was currently in was updated to state “MBA preferred.”  I had been considering it for years and I had waited long enough.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To be a global supply chain leader or senior VP where I can help design and implement the strategic vision for my company.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As having added value to their educational experience.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? To visit Pompeii, Italy. On my first attempt in 1999, I got on the wrong train and ended up on the wrong side of Naples. There wasn’t time with our trip schedule to make it back, so 20 years later I’m still planning to visit there!

The second is to have a lake house. I grew up near Lake George, New York, which was a beautiful mountain lake area. Canoeing, hiking, camping, bonfires and just sitting in Adirondack chairs. I spent the summers at my parents’ log cabin on the lake and that is still my ultimate relaxation.

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

“I have frequent interactions with Cynthia and her classmates when they attend class each week. I have known Cynthia since she started the Evening MBA Program in October 2018 and have continued to be impressed by this gifted leader. She has had tremendous success and career advancement as a supply chain professional earning a number of promotions and advancements with several employers. At BASF her hard work and expertise have earned her frequent promotions and also  a reputation as an emerging influencer within her organization.

There are several characteristics that distinguish Cynthia, but the one that comes immediately to mind is her dedication to professional and personal development. Obviously earning an MBA while working full-time is a significant investment, but she always goes above and beyond. She has taken advantage of a number of certifications and leadership development programs to further equip herself and her teams. This dedication to continuous improvement allows her to be relevant, results-oriented, and an incredibly valuable asset to her employer.

On a personal level, Cynthia is incredibly generous. Even though she has the demands of school, work, and family, I know for a fact that she often mentors and consults with both classmates and students from other cohorts. She has a well-earned reputation at Kenan-Flagler as both a thought leader and role model to be emulated.”

William O. Faulkner
Associate Director of Career and Leadership, UNC Kenan-Flagler

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

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