2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Milo Thomas, Penn State (Smeal)

Milo Thomas

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), Smeal College of Business

“Driven, passionate, leader that loves seeing dreams come to reality for myself and others.”

Age: 42

Hometown: Detroit, Michigan

Family Members:
Wife: Kristin Thomas
Daughter: Kendall Thomas

Fun fact about yourself: I am a Moo Duk Kwan, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jujitsu practitioner. At age 42 I still compete in tournaments.

Undergraduate School and Degree: BS is Computer Science with a minor in Mathematics, Eastern Michigan University

Where are you currently working?
Company: Avail Technologies
Role: Director of Customer Experience

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles:
* I am a martial arts practitioner and instructor.
* I serve as a mentor.
* I am a Member of the Project Management Institute and hold a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.
* I am a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? While in business school, I competed in grappling tournaments. There were victories and losses, but overall, I am proud of the cognitive stamina I had to maintain to even step on the mats. This all took place while flying across the country regularly to meet with customers and work on client engagements while pursuing my EMBA.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am proud to work in public transportation. Not by choice, public transit was a significant part of my life growing up in Detroit.  Working at Avail Technologies allows me to work with cutting edge technology and stay connected to the communities that rely on public transit all across the country.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor was Dr. Ralph Angelo Olivia, Uncle Ralph. I first met Uncle Ralph while he was presenting on the customer value proposition during an EMBA residency weekend. His passion and energy during his presentation captured my attention.  When I had the privilege to be a student in his Integrated Strategic Communication course, the subject itself, coupled with his professional experience and academic genius, activated cognitive perspectives for me that I did not know existed.  I will never look at customer relationships with brands the same again.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? The fanaticism and dedication by previous graduates of The Pennsylvania State University, the Smeal College of Business’ reputation of excellence, and the incredibly proud alumni network are the reason for my decision. PSU did not disappoint. I could not have made a better choice.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The most enjoyable part of business school was my classmates. I may never experience such a diverse, talented, driven, and compassionate circle of people again in my lifetime. I was absolutely amazed at how PSU could gather such an extraordinary group of people.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The biggest lesson I learned was to always think strategically and take actions toward the desired outcome, despite how you may feel about the current circumstances.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education?
Many weekends, I would leave class late Saturday afternoon to fly from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, CA.  Homework was the primary focus on the flight. I would listen to course-assigned periodicals on my 2-hour drive through LA traffic to the hotel. I attributed more effort to school at the hotel and would finally go to sleep once my body forced me. On Sunday, I prepared for the workweek, completed school assignments, and enjoyed video conference time with the family. The week would consist of client meetings during the day, team meetings at dinner, and business school meetings and homework in the late evening. I would speak to my family via video conference early before my daughter went to school, and my wife went to work.

Also, I often caught red-eye flights from the west coast and went directly into class after a busy client-facing work week. I learned to take advantage of every waking hour. Achieving this EMBA taught me that with laborious effort, whatever it is, I can make it happen.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Be prepared for personal growth and work. Also, pick the right program. The non-academic side of the program is just as important as the academic side. The university must know how to support high performing professional leaders with families through the business school experience.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth is that time has passed you by. If you are go-getter, well, go get it.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret is not traditionally completing the program with my classmates due to the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 will forever be a part of Penn State University, Smeal College of Business, Executive MBA Program class of 2020’s history.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Christopher Donnelly the most. Chris is the owner of Donnelly Plumbing Heating and Cooling. The first iteration of teams in business school were assigned before the cohort’s first in-person meeting.  Chris sent out an email to our group, letting us know that this was not the bush leagues, and we needed to come prepared to work. I instantly thought I am going to like this guy. Chris did not disappoint. His work ethic, teamwork, and creativity all shined as we worked together on a fantastic team that came to be known as the ‘Justice League.’ My biggest compliment for Chris is that he was in this program to build his business. As a CEO, to recognize that you need more education to align your skills with your vision is a sign of humility and drive. That really impressed me.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…my wife helped me realize the transformative process I would experience with additional education if I went to the right school.  Penn State did not disappoint.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term professional goal is to obtain a doctorate in business administration and have the privilege of teaching and inspiring future business leaders. I plan to have made my mark on the business community before then, of course.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Fun, driven, and a kind person that took pleasure in seeing others perform at their best.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? One bucket list item is to play a role in creating an organization that can be a lighthouse for humanity. The other is to achieve a black belt rank or its equivalent in three martial arts.  .

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

“Milo is an exceptional student and role model. Milo comes to every class prepared, focused, and ready to learn and share. He is a consummate classmate as he supports and encourages others. Milo’s life is incredibly busy with family, work, school, travel, and martial arts. However, he is always prepared for class and offers no excuses. When I talk to Milo, he is always positive and driven to succeed. One of his biggest measures of success is how he can be a role model for others. He is most excited about encouraging others to overcome their challenges to succeed.”

Lou Gattis
Clinical Professor of Finance, Residential and Executive MBA Faculty Director


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