2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Sunil Verma, U.C.-Irvine (Merage)

Sunil Verma  

The Paul Merage School of Business, University of California-Irvine

“Diligent, inquisitive, empathetic, expects the most of others.”

Age: 42

Hometown: Selma, California (small farm town outside of Fresno, CA)

Family Members: I have a wonderful wife named Rakhee who is a radiologist but more importantly a stellar mother of three and the pillar of the house. My children are Akshay (12), Avi (8) and Reva (4). I also have two sisters named Natasha and Nisha who are also physicians and my parents Yash (physician) and Anjana still live in the Central Valley.

Fun fact about yourself: I love to cook and have and traditional Indian tandoor (oven) in my backyard.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Doctor of Medicine, M.D., M.D. Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California;

A.B. Geography and Chemistry, Dartmouth College

Where are you currently working? Assistant Dean, Clinical Affairs University of California, Irvine School of Medicine

I am a full-time surgeon/clinician and medical director of the Department Otolaryngologist-Head and Neck Surgeon and UCI School of Medicine. I am also the medical director of the department. Day-to-day, I am a voice doctor, believe it or not!

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Making it to the end! It has been a long, but worthwhile, road.  Being a full-time surgeon, father, and leader in my organization all the while being a student hasn’t been easy. But it was worth it.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Being appointed an Assistant Dean in our School of Medicine. I care deeply about my organization and this provides an opportunity to work hard to improve it.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? It would be unfair to state one person’s name.  It sounds cheesy but I really did find value in every professor for a unique perspective that he or she gave me.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I believe in UCI. I am a professor in the school of Medicine at UCI and it only made sense to “double down” and fully invest in my university by being educated at UCI at the Merage School. I’m hoping one day it leads to starting a multidisciplinary program between the business and medical schools.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Learning about my strengths and more importantly my weaknesses. It provided a wonderful environment to make myself not only a better physician and leader but a better friend and father.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? You can’t rely on yourself in an organization to get things done. It takes a team to get things done.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? There isn’t just one story…it was the whole program. Take the first week as an example; I started the program in 2018. Before applying to school, I had planned a wonderful 40th birthday party for my wife at our house. It turned out that the party fell the night of our opening residential program dinner.  Sadly, I couldn’t attend the program dinner which was our first night to all celebrate. That being said, I was there for my family. That was just the start of the juggling act.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Prepare your family for the significant time investment it requires to learn and succeed.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? It is an individual sacrifice. It’s not true… it’s a professional, personal and family sacrifice. But that’s why it’s worth it!

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not enrolling a couple of years ago.  I wish my kids were younger so that I didn’t have to divide my time up so much between school, work and family.   At the same time, professionally, it was the perfect time to go to school again.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Byron Ferrisse because he works so hard to master the material and is always thoughtful when he speaks. He demands the utmost out of himself and his classmates as well.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was at a national conference with my chairman (boss). During happy hour, four different leaders from other universities stopped to talk with us and all universally recommended I go to business school. That was the moment I knew I had to apply.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Lead an organization of physicians.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As a hard-working, dedicated surgeon, father, and student who tirelessly hopes to make his organization better.

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

I am pleased to provide this letter in support of Dr. Sunil Verma’s nomination as Poets and Quants Executive MBA 2020 Best and Brightest. I have had the pleasure of interacting with and getting to know Dr. Verma as a student in my class, Competing With Digital: Technology, Analytics, and Business Models. Dr. Verma is a professional of extraordinary ability and he is already demonstrating his leadership abilities, applying his learnings from the Executive MBA (EMBA) program to great effect at UCI Health.

By way of introduction, my name is Vijay Gurbaxani and I am Taco Bell Endowed Professor of Business and Computer Science and Director of the Center for Digital Transformation (CDT) at the Paul Merage School of Business, University of California, Irvine. My research involves specialized areas of knowledge, especially digital economics and digital transformation.

When Sunil joined the Merage EMBA program, he was a renowned ENT surgeon. He had begun to recognize the scope of the healthcare challenges in the country and understood that leaders with new capabilities were necessary to address these challenges. More directly, he also grasped that effective management of the practice of the ENT group at UCI required sophisticated managerial skills, including financial management, people skills, and change management. To acquire these capabilities, he decided to enroll in the Merage EMBA program.

Since he began the program, he was quickly recognized as an emerging leader and appointed as medical director of otolaryngology which means he directs all clinical operations in the department. More recently, he was appointed as Assistant Dean of Workforce Planning reporting to the Vice Dean of Clinical Affairs.

In this capacity, he is already applying his MBA education in core tasks: evaluating the efficiency of current processes within physician clinical operations; working with the revenue cycle department to optimize their operations; using data analytics and benchmarks to identify clinical programs that can be improved; and implementing change across the institution. At the strategy level, he is working to create a new business plan for UCI Health. As you can infer, he has become a physician executive, while maintaining an active surgical practice. This demonstrates that his peers and superiors have recognized his growing expertise in management and his rapidly developing leadership capabilities.

Focusing more specifically on the learnings from my course, Sunil came into the program with very limited exposure to digital technologies, and specifically how to frame and evaluate the competitive advantage they offer. My class provides a framework to understand how business transformation is occurring in all fields using digital technologies as the means. As luck would have it, my class was offered between January and March 2020, coincident with the emergence of COVID-19.

Prior to the class, Sunil shared that his experience with technology at work was primarily in using the Electronic Health Record platform which he saw as a necessary tool. After taking the class, in which he excelled, he now understands the broader competitive implications of technology. He is able to articulate and argue for the strategic importance of the Epic MyChart platform that UCI uses, focusing on how it can be leveraged to build a healthy ecosystem, and capture flywheel (synergistic) effects similar to companies like Amazon and Netflix. At work, he has been able to make the case for strategic use of technology, arguing that as patients engage with the platforms, and also use the app, they can communicate with them directly, develop a comprehensive view of the patient, serve them at multiple clinics, creating new efficiencies and growing the business in the long term.

Once the COVID crisis hit, UCI Health transitioned within a three-week period from an in-person organization to one in which patients can now be virtually seen through video visits. Sunil, understanding the importance of virtual visits, was a champion of this mode of interaction, but also recognized that this mode did not work well for less tech-savvy audiences such as the elderly who are also demographically more likely to require healthcare services. Applying his MBA education, he was able to understand the barriers to deployment, and find creative solutions to these challenges, and scale the technology for widespread use.

Our hope, for every student who enrolls in our program, is that they build on their prior education and experience to become responsible and ethical leaders in the digital world in which we live.

Dr. Verma epitomizes these ideals of The Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine.”

Vijay Gurbaxani
The Paul Merage School of Business
Taco Bell Endowed Professor of Information Systems 
Director, Center for Digital Transformation                                 




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