2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Michelle Sauer, Vanderbilt University (Owen)

Michelle Sauer

Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management

Age: 29

Motivated and ambitious but with an equal dose of light-heartedness and humor.

Hometown: Avon, Indiana

Family Members:

  • Ron Sauer (Father)
  • Melissa Sauer (Mother)
  • Blake Sauer (Brother)
  • Brooks Herrick (Partner)

Fun fact about yourself: I can solve a Rubik’s Cube, which Professor Brian McCann made me prove live during our Business Strategy class.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Indiana University, Kelley School of Business, Bachelor of Science in Business

Majors: Business Economic Consulting and Public Policy Analysis

Where are you currently working? Brown-Forman, Global Brand Manager, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire and Rye

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: (Include school awards and honors)

  • Owen Honor Society (2020)
  • Ingram Scholar (2018-2020)
  • Forte Scholar (2018-2020)
  • Phi Sigma Theta National Honors Society (2013)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the results of our Launching the Venture competition. Dr. Burcham’s Launching the Venture is a challenging and exciting glimpse into the world of entrepreneurship and angel investing. We work throughout the semester on an idea, primary research, and business model, culminating in a final pitch presentation to potential investors (a la Shark Tank). I’m proud because we took my original idea (sustainable packaging) and stretched it, tested it, and ultimately pitched it to great success. Standing up and presenting an original idea is very nerve-wracking! However, it’s extremely rewarding, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity. We ended up finishing third in terms of the total amount that would be invested, but I’m most proud that Dr. Burcham told me he’d pay me to pitch his next idea for him! Quite a compliment.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Currently, I am most proud of what my company is doing to give back to our community during this time of crisis. Brown-Forman has donated over $1 million to COVID-19 response funds specifically focused on supporting the bartender community, which is really hurting right now.

Our cafeteria staff is also making and distributing approximately 2,000 bagged lunches a day for the surrounding community during the entire month of April. This effort is keeping our staff employed, making every effort to not waste food or end food contracts with our suppliers, and supporting those most in need in our community. Finally, at Jack Daniel Distillery and other production distilleries, we’ve dedicated partial distillery capacity to making hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray that is being distributed to first responders and healthcare networks. None of these is a personal accomplishment, but it is what I’m most proud of professionally right now. It is so rewarding to work for a company that walks the talk and genuinely cares about its employees and the communities in which we operate.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Vanderbilt’s MBA program came highly recommended from a good friend, who completed the full-time program. I knew I wasn’t interested in pausing my career, so night and weekend opportunities were the only things I considered. I live in Louisville, and Vanderbilt’s Executive MBA seemed like the perfect fit – only a 3.5-hour drive for a well-respected and highly-ranked program.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I enjoyed getting to know my classmates the most during my time at Vanderbilt. It gave me a glimpse into other careers, cities, and lives. I made friends I’ll have forever and contacts I can call on during my career.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Learning the true meaning of competitive advantage – and how to identify it for my brands – was one of the most valuable lessons I gained during my MBA experience. I applied it to my brands, and it has helped me focus my creative briefs, conversations, and, ultimately, budget. Thanks again, Professor McCann.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? Launching the Venture forced me to overcome my jet lag. I had a work trip to Germany, and having an assignment and team call on the afternoon I landed forced me to stay awake and overcome my jet lag. It felt surreal worrying about a fake company on my first trip to Germany, but I was very thankful for marching through that afternoon with a mission in mind and teammates to keep my accountable.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Know what you want out of getting your MBA and tell recruiters, alums, and mentors to make sure you find the right program for you. You want to go back for the right reasons, whatever those are for you! Don’t go back just because you feel like you should. Have concrete goals. It will make the experience much more worthwhile.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I think one of the biggest myths about graduate schools is that it will automatically get you a job or a better job. I wasn’t looking for a new job during school but I did get one. However, I believe my job experience, interview skills, and network had more to do with it than the fact that I was going back to school. Getting the job of your dreams still takes a lot of work; school alone won’t do it for you.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret is not spending more time with my classmates. I was a travel student, driving from Louisville, Kentucky, to Nashville, Tennessee, so I often left immediately after class to make it home. Stay!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Rodrigo Guerrero – Rodrigo is completing an advanced degree while on a short-term assignment in the U.S. He’s from Chile. I’m beyond impressed with him for a number of reasons. First, he’s completing a MBA in his second language! Second, he had a very interesting perspective on how businesses operate, what’s important, and how to cut to the heart of complex issues. I found myself leaning on him during our finance classes to help explain a valuation or DCF. I also love his perspective and outlook on life – he lives in the moment and always takes time to have fun!

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I spoke with my mentors who recommended an MBA for long-term success!”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To have a long career with a lot of interesting stories to tell.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me as insightful, helpful, and as a person who wasn’t stingy with the Jack Daniel’s.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  • Visit every National Park
  • Take surf lessons

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

“Michelle is a driven, talented, and compelling young professional who showed tremendous leadership, acumen, and dedication during her time in my course. Launching the Venture requires a high level of commitment, in time and teamwork. Moreover, it requires a willingness to present a concept, take feedback, and iterate – it’s a process of refinement that goes on for weeks. Michelle and her team moved through that process and developed her idea, which was initially quite raw, into a viable business concept. She’s an excellent presenter, and if she so chose, might find great success as an entrepreneur. Whatever the path, Michelle certainly has a bright future as a leader in the business world. It was a pleasure to teach her.”

Michael Burcham
Senior Lecturer of Entrepreneurship
Faculty Director, Center for Entrepreneurship


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