2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Michele M. Johnson, University of Georgia (Terry)

Michele M. Johnson

University of Georgia, Terry College of Business

“Devoted mother and wife, a driven, compassionate neurosurgeon, visionary leader, mentor and advocate for others.”

Age: 48

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

Family Members:  I come from a military family. My father served in the US Navy for 20+ years as well as my husband. My husband Anthony is now the COO of an international telemedicine company. We have two very active sons, ages 9 and 8 in the 4th and 2nd grades.

Fun fact about yourself: I am a foodie! I love to experiment with food and entertain. Food Network is my favorite channel to watch on TV followed by the Hallmark Channel. My family finds it amusing that I often try to recreate or perfect dishes from our favorite restaurants. Our seasonal dinner parties are popular with friends and colleagues. If neurosurgery didn’t work out, I think I would have started my own event planning and catering business.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

University of Oregon, BS with Honors and Summa Cum Laude

Yale University Medical School, MD

Where are you currently working? Atlanta Brain and Spine Care and Piedmont Atlanta Hospital

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Leadership Roles at Work

Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and Neurology (Neuroscience) at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital

Chair of the Clinical Governance Committee for Neurosurgery and Neurology (Neuroscience) for the entire Piedmont Healthcare System of 11 hospitals

Managing Partner for Atlanta Brain and Spine Care (private practice neurosurgery group)


As a Neurosurgeon:

  • Clinical duties on the front lines seeing COVID-19 with Neurosurgical conditions in the ER and ICU due to the increased risk of large vessel occlusions and strokes in the COVID-19 patients.

As Chair of the Neuroscience Department and Chair of the Neuroscience Clinical Governance Committee (CGC):  (put the MBA to good use)

  • Developed and coordinated systemwide operating room COVID-19 preparedness and protocols
  • Developed and coordinated service line COVID-19 recovery plan, algorithms and protocols to reopen the hospital when ready
  • Coordinated COVID-19 surge planning


Atlanta Community Food Bank volunteer (activity for the whole family)

Team Mom and supporter for my son’s fall and spring baseball teams

Host Committee Member for Georgia Make-A-Wish Foundation

Pace Academy (where my 4th and 2nd graders go to school):

  • Trustee serving on the Governance, Diversity and Strategy Committees; Involved in developing the school’s next five-year strategic plan
  • Volunteer in various school activities, including the Fall Fair, Pace Race and Parents Club
  • Volunteer guest speaker for lower, middle and upper school to discuss medicine, neuro-anatomy and serve as a mentor to women and underrepresented minorities

Neurosurgical Organizations:

  • Executive Committee for Joint Spine Section (and PR chair)
  • Scientific Program Committee for American Association of Neurological Surgeons
  • Scientific Program Committee for Georgia Neurosurgical Society

Women in Neurosurgery and Women in Spine:

  • Chair and teach the Women in Spine Symposiums/Cadaveric Courses for the top 3 industry leaders in the private sector
  • Mentor to women on the executive track within these 3 companies
  • Mentor to medical students
  • Mentor to other female neurosurgeons in residency and in practice
  • Visiting surgeon program in Atlanta for other female neurosurgeons
  • Case review and advice for complex and difficult patients
  • Contract negotiations and coding/billing assistance
  • How to build and market your practice

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? GPA of 4.0 while working 80-100 hours a week as a neurosurgeon and remaining a very active and involved mom and wife.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of being one of only a handful of board-certified female neurosurgeons in the country who has been an academic neurosurgeon and is now the Chairman of the Neurosurgery and Neurology Department at our Hospital and the hospital system. I am one of the few complex spine and deformity neurosurgeons in the country. I have had many mentors in my past and now serve as a role model and mentor to other women.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program?  First, it was the location. Given my rigorous schedule and family, I couldn’t leave Atlanta. I researched each program in Atlanta and chose UGA Terry because of its reputation and broad education. Many of the programs focused on one area such as international business or technology. I was looking for a program with a well-rounded education and top-notch faculty to build knowledge, skills, and connections that would benefit me for the rest of my life. I didn’t need the letters MBA after my name to further my career but I need the knowledge that came along with earning an MBA to help change healthcare and how it is delivered.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general?  To my surprise, I enjoyed my teams the most. Before starting my MBA, I dreaded team projects as I usually ended up doing most of the work. But, this was not the case in my MBA program. I had a diverse team and learned as much from my team as I did from the professors. I enjoyed the camaraderie and getting to know others from different industries I would never have met if it wasn’t for my MBA. The quality of students in the program rivals the caliber of classmates I had in my Ivy League medical school.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? “The busier you are, the most you get done.” I learned that the busier I got, the more organized I became and more strategic I was in my decisions and choices. I chose how to best use and divide my time between work, school, and family. I learned to say “no,” which I really had never done. I prioritized my life. My family came first, followed by my patients and then school work. I admit to not taking much time for myself but had a wonderful support group. It was a team effort and took an army to get through the two years unscathed. My parents helped out, friends pitched in and drove my kids around and my amazing husband was a “single dad” on the weekends. I was not alone at work either. One of my neurosurgery partners was in the MBA program with me as well. He is my “work husband” and understood everything I was going through at work and at home, which was a blessing.

After we completed our MBAs, I had grand plans to spend more time with my family, go to the gym on a regular basis, and reconnect with friends. The day after our last class, the world changed. COVID-19 was here and nothing would ever be the same again. All of my post-MBA plans went out the window. Not only was family vacation canceled but so was school for my kids. As neurosurgeons and physician leaders, our purpose and daily schedule in the hospital changed. Our focus shifted from elective neurosurgery to crisis management. The knowledge gained from my MBA was put to work earlier than I had anticipated. What we had learned in operations and supply chain management was invaluable. Eventually, we created a recovery plan for the hospital system using everything from statistics and finance to observational behavior and marketing to try to reopen the hospital system. Although we never saw the pandemic coming, the timing of my MBA could not have been better. It has been tested and used to figure out how to effectively deliver healthcare in our community to save lives.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not being able to celebrate our accomplishments and graduation together as a class because of the COVID-19 crisis. But prior to that, my biggest regret was the many weekend baseball and basketball games I missed while in class. The weekend family time was the hardest hit due to weekend classes. I made a bigger effort on non-class weekends and during the week to make as many of my son’s activities and events as possible.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Rich McCraw. Rich was by far one of the smartest people in our class and was a technology genius. He had started his own company, was very successful and sold the business. All he knew about business he had learned as an undergrad or graduate student and then applied it to the real world. He is one of the most humble people I know and was always volunteering to help others understand the concepts outside the classroom. Even though he traveled, he never missed a team conference call. He always put his family first and managed to fit everything else into his schedule. He never complained, went with the flow, and always had a positive attitude and smile on his face. He is an understated, well-rounded great person with integrity and compassion. I am fortunate to now call him a friend.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was sitting in a meeting and the hospital CEO and CFO were talking in a “language” I did not understand and had to rely on their interpretations of the information to make decisions.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate goal is to impact or change how healthcare is delivered. Healthcare is a complex business industry and leadership requires additional skills that are typically not learned in medical school or in practice. Earning an MBA will immediately provide more clout in decision-making scenarios within the hospital system and help to transition into hospital leadership or management roles such as CEO. As CEO of a hospital system or a leader within the healthcare insurance industry, I would be well-positioned to make key decisions and deliver compassionate, quality care while lowering healthcare costs.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?  I would like my peers to remember me as someone who is driven, collaborative, and always the first to volunteer and lead the way.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Take our two boys to South Africa to continue to trace and understand their African-American roots and lineage
  2. Write a memoir for my sons to read when they are older and parents of their own.

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

“Michele Johnson is a reckoning “force”. She is a leader, mentor, thought-provoker, and game-changer. As a neurosurgeon, Michele has traversed and succeeded in the male-dominated field of neurosurgery. She is one of only 25 academic neurosurgeons in the nation. Michele tackles everything she does with compassion, trust, and dedication — all the qualities needed when people put their lives in her hands. She demonstrates these values outside of work too, with her family, in the classroom, and in her volunteer efforts. For instance, she is a strong contributor and mentor to women in her field, helping women to grow their skills and in leadership. She also was an unforgettably motivated yet kind student. Her ability to address challenges with thoughtfulness, positivity, calmness, and gusto — all while balancing work-life and family needs — was impressive. It is incredibly important to also relay that Michele has put on pause needed downtime post-EMBA to help with world challenges, aiding her hospital and clinical systems to address front-line needs in light of COVID-19. I have no doubt that her help in the fight is value-added. It is these same wonderful qualities, skills, and abilities Michele brought to the classroom and in team activities. She leads with passion and dedication that inspires others and creates unity.”

Marie S. Mitchell
Professor of Management


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