2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Jeff Larkin, Michigan State (Broad)

Jeff Larkin

Michigan State University, Eli Broad College of Business

Age: 30

Hometown: Canton, MI

Family Members: Melissa (spouse)

Fun fact about yourself: I am a 3-handicap golfer

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Michigan, Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science

Where are you currently working? Lear Corporation (Southfield, MI), Director of Financial Planning & Analysis

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I serve as a mentor to students at Cornerstone Schools in the Detroit area as well as was a Beta Gamma Sigma honoree / inductee upon graduation from MSU.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the successes that our study team achieved during the EMBA program. Though we endured many long meetings and conference calls, our work was always completed with a high level of effort and pride because we couldn’t bring ourselves to commit anything less than 100%. We leaned on each other’s knowledge and experiences heavily and I can confidently say that my successes, including this nomination, would not have been possible without them. Michigan State’s program is very heavily team-focused and I think it’s only appropriate to think of our achievements as a collective group—I know that the rest of my teammates would agree.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Early in my career, I accepted an assignment in the Birmingham, AL area and took a role in a new facility that we were opening, which required moving away from home, my family, and my now-wife. About eight weeks after arriving, I was moved into a different role as the Assistant Financial Controller role for the facility due to some personnel moves that had taken place—not the role that I was sent to fill nor one that I had nearly enough experience for. The finance lead for our business unit challenged me to grow and assured me that I would learn on the job, but I was petrified, especially to have a role in a new facility that was garnering a significant amount of attention. The nearly two years that I spent in our plant provided me a period of intense personal and professional growth and at this point, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Instead of worrying about not being qualified, I decided to work to embrace the experience and apply extra effort to ensure that I wouldn’t let my employer or our team down. Being put in a position that I wasn’t ready for all while being relocated helped change the trajectory of my career for the better and prepared me to take on the increasing roles that I have since been offered.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor was John Wagner who taught our Organizational Analysis class at the beginning of our program. Professor Wagner’s class was highly relatable and allowed me to see some of the roadblocks and pitfalls that face my organization more clearly. Most importantly, class taught me to think differently about my organization and work design—I continue to utilize my learnings from this class and apply them to this day.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I was fortunate to have been nominated by my employer as one of two scholarship recipients to attend MSU’s program. It was a no-brainer to accept the nomination when I was approached. I had already worked with several colleagues who had completed the program from Lear and hearing their testimonials about the value of both the program and the relationships that they developed with classmates to their futures both personally and professionally.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? It was the camaraderie that I shared with fellow program members and especially my teammates. When balancing school along with personal and professional lives, our shared bond of experiencing the additional challenge of adding school into our lives together as a group helped us navigate through the program and understand the stresses and pressures that presented themselves. Additionally, I can say without a doubt that my exposure to others from different professional and personal backgrounds greatly enhanced my learning as a part of the program itself. While professors are often experts in their field and possess a great deal of knowledge on their areas of focus, learning from my classmates was equally as valuable.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? One of the biggest lessons was the continued reinforcement to always look at situations holistically and to ensure a range of strategies and solutions are developed and applied to everyday challenges. Our program did a great job of driving this mindset and was well-rounded in terms of class topics, classmates, and the work itself. I have used this mindset more often in my professional life as a result of the program and it pays dividends, even when thinking “differently” puts you at odds with others. Just as it was important to express wide ranges of opinions and solutions in our team scenarios as part of the EMBA program, it is crucial that we use holistic thinking professionally to advance our careers and drive successes for our employers.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? A long-standing joke during our program (and I’m sure many others) are the 3 “don’ts”: change jobs, have kids, or move. My wife and I ignored the move “don’t” and decided to build a new home in the middle of the program. To complicate things, we experienced a 3-month lag between the sale and move-out from our former home to the completion of our new home (shout-out to my parents for hosting us in the interim!). During the sale and move-out process of our former home, I was in the middle of our busiest point on the annual financial calendar at work—budget season—and my wife was doing a ton of work beginning her MSU EMBA journey as she entered the program a year after me.  To top it off, our move to our newly completed home was during our year-end financial close at work which also led to some interesting days! Looking back on the experience, I’m still not sure how we managed to pull it off other than to say that period will never be matched in terms of our time management abilities!

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? For me, I was worried about jumping back into school after being away from it for several years—did I remember how to write papers or how to take tests? It came back easier than I thought it would. While work itself isn’t exactly like taking a quiz or writing a paper, professionally our jobs are a series of tests each day in remembering or processing information and communicating with others, which is more similar to a school program than I believed it would be.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire?  This doesn’t just go to one classmate—all of my teammates from my Team 13 cohort—Carrie, Joel, Randi, & Hale—were instrumental in getting through this program. It was incredible to be a part of a team that came from totally different careers, backgrounds, and life situations and navigating everyday challenges and pressures in both our professional and personal lives. Sitting back and thinking about it now makes me realize how significant our accomplishments are. The relationships that we built and tested throughout the program have created relationships that will last a lifetime.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I wasn’t accepted to business school as an undergraduate. I still had great experiences as an undergrad and took many business courses, but I still wanted more. Even though I did not have that experience, I had an employer that offered me a job after two summer internships and the rest is history. I’m especially thankful that they took a chance on me then as a Finance employee with no business degree and am honored now that they chose to sponsor my continued development as a part of MSU’s EMBA program.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term goal is to continue to seek out greater responsibilities and leadership opportunities with my current employer. I believe that my MBA education has made me an even more valuable asset to our team and I look forward to continuing to apply the knowledge that I gained to my work.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me as a passionate, holistic thinker who challenges both himself and others to be the best version of themselves.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Travel to Scotland on a golf trip with my dad and brother to play rounds on several of the game’s greatest and oldest courses
  2. Begin training and eventually obtain my pilot’s license

What made Jeff such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Jeff was all we could have wanted in an EMBA student: thoughtful, caring, inquisitive, and an extraordinary contributor. From the first day of the program, Jeff worked to not only build his own capabilities but those of his team and cohort. As an expert in finance, Jeff brought his knowledge and insight to his study team and cohort in a generous and understanding manner. His even-tempered, self-effacing, and kind presence elevated the entire program. I have no doubt that he will continue his steady career growth and make a remarkable impact on his organization and community.”

Gregory Janicki
Director, Executive MBA


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