2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Sara Jo Grethlein, Indiana University (Kelley)

Sara Jo Grethlein

Indiana University, Kelley School of Business

“I’m a dynamic physician executive who loves to build programs that matter.”

Age: 57

Hometown: I live in Carmel, Indiana – but Brooklyn, NY is my hometown

Family Members: Husband – Chris, Daughter – Karen and Son – David

Fun fact about yourself: I am distantly related to British nobility

Undergraduate School and Degree: BS in Chemical Engineering (with an English Minor) from Washington University in St. Louis, MD from SUNY Health Sciences Center at Brooklyn

Where are you currently working? Indiana University Health – Medical Director of both the NCI Designated, Comprehensive Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center and the Joe and Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center at Indiana University Health North Hospital

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Indiana University Health Dan Evans Healthcare Leadership Fellow, Indiana University School of Medicine Excellence in Faculty Mentoring Award, Lawrence Einhorn Fellow Teaching Award, Indiana University School of Medicine

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I did the Susan G. Komen 60 mile 3-Day walk in Philadelphia to raise money for breast cancer. This was a physical achievement that I couldn’t have done a few years ago. It allowed me to directly benefit my patients (I am a cancer doctor), and it is something that I share with my children. It brings many of the important parts of my life together to intersect.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I was one of the leaders of a team that brought the dream of a new academic community cancer center to life. I worked with an incredible group of professionals, and I learned an enormous amount about design, finance, philanthropy, construction, process development, negotiations, and leadership. This project spanned the same timeline as my MBA, and it served as a living laboratory for much of my project work.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? As a physician leader, the Business of Medicine Physician MBA Program at the Kelley School of Business promised to help make me more effective in my role – and it delivered in spades. It had been a really long time since I took formal classes. The hybrid nature of online distance learning and in-person weekends was manageable with my chaotic work life, and it also led to the development of deep friendships and professional connections that will last a lifetime.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The people, the simulations, the class trips, and the atmosphere. Medical school was cutthroat. When we started this program, we were told the motto was – “No physician left behind,” and they meant it. When I was struggling in a class, my professor called me on a Sunday and spent 45 minutes with me to make sure I understood what I had missed. My classmates were fabulous, and the professors and professional staff were all focused on making sure that I learned and enjoyed what I was doing. This is profoundly different than my memories of medical school. I also love having an executive coach, who has helped me work through some interpersonal challenges in the workplace.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I’m an intellectual. Okay, I’m a nerd. In order to understand issues, I need to gather data and get a handle on the angles. But to lead, I need to address emotions, not solely facts. In several of our classes (ex. Leadership, marketing), it became apparent that I need to consciously address the emotional and not solely the intellectual. This shows up in pitching ideas, negotiating, and many other aspects of business.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? During a particularly critical part of the cancer center’s development, my team chose to work on a challenging situation that I was facing at my day job as our team’s project. It was like getting four consultants to help me problem solve. I had to go out of town on a business trip during that time, and my colleagues and I worked on our presentation via conference software while I was in a hotel out of state. Our group was heterogeneous in regard to stage of life, and we were able to juggle our home responsibilities to find meeting times that accommodated us all.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? I would suggest that you make sure you are ready to commit to the program. The team worked incredibly hard to minimize busy work and nonsense. That means that what was left was intense and high quality – You can’t really afford to miss much as there is little to no “filler.”

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Hmm. Probably that it is “too much” to do. The professors were really aware of how real life intersects with school responsibilities. There was a lot of reading, but it was laid out really well so you can make it fit around your other work. The online lectures are recorded, and no one makes you feel bad if you have to watch it later. The entire team was focused on helping you succeed.

What was your biggest regret in business school? There are some members of my class I wish I got to know better.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Dr. Jackie Holder is a physician executive whom I deeply admire. She has a great ability to separate personalities from problems and has insight into hospital administration. On several occasions, she has offered useful perspective that have helped me lead through difficult circumstances with strength, fairness, and compassion.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I sat in meetings in which I did not fully understand the issues being discussed and could therefore not effectively move my agenda forward.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to be in a position that allows me to significantly impact the health of a community through patient care and education.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Sara Jo was fun, smart and a good teammate who helped me get the most out of the program.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  • I would like to take a hiking vacation – walking from town to town somewhere beautiful or historic.
  • Learning to tap dance.

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

“Dr. Sara Jo Grethlein was a diligent and prepared learner. Given her senior leadership role at the cancer center, she had many experiences to draw upon while engaging with the theoretical and practical exercises of both the physical and virtual classroom. When teaching physician MBA students, faculty benefit from a truly bi-directional learning experience. Sara Jo delivered as much knowledge to her colleagues and professors as she was taking in. There is no doubt in my mind that she will continue to embody the vision of our program by being an effective physician leader who will make the health care system better for patients, doctors, administrators and others.”

Nir Menachemi
Fairbanks Endowed Chair and Professor of Health Policy and Management
Indiana University Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health

  • Menachemi teaches health policy courses in the Business of Medicine Physician MBA Program.




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