2020 Best & Brightest Executive MBAs


Tyler Jones, Northwestern Kellogg

Throughout the program, explains Texas A&M’s Courtney Collier, EMBAs “experienced lay-offs, divorces, the switching of jobs, illness, and family deaths.” One example: Minnesota’s Erik Erickson endured a semester-long stretch where “my mother had a severe accident, my father was diagnosed with stage four cancer, one of my sons required emergency surgery, and I was promoted to a new leadership position on a stressful program.” How could anyone cope with so much coming so fast? Tyler Jones has a few ideas. A medical director with two young children, he commuted to Chicago from Oregon. Jones believes he made his MBA work at Northwestern University because he accepted that there were “no perfect answers.” More than that, he adds, he wasn’t afraid to let go and empower the staff around him.

“I was able to apply time and priority management skills I learned at Kellogg,” Jones explains. “Developing succession planning at work and delegating for aspiring leaders to develop new skills, being clear about my expectations and priorities, saying ‘no’ to more projects, and trusting in the support and talent of all of those mentioned above made it come together. Now I wonder what I was doing with all the time I had before I started. The lessons learned have given me more time to focus on what’s truly important to me.”

John Robert Foley made it through Notre Dame by cutting back on TV and getting “accustomed to waking up early and staying up late.” The University of Toronto’s Taya Cook carved out time specifically for family, with Sunday dinners turning into a special time when she’d focus fully on her husband and son. Some Best & Brightest even managed to blend their school and family lives. That was the case for Arizona State’s Chris Martell when his daughter was born.

“The night she was delivered, I was sitting in the hospital room with my brand-new baby girl on my chest while I worked through writing an ethics paper before transitioning over to working through an Economics of Healthcare case. This is all in the dark, so my wife got what is probably the last peaceful night of sleep she will likely experience for at least the next decade.”

Anita Valdez, University of Texas (McCombs)

Beyond memories like these, the MBA experience comes with serious perks. Just ask Sydney Storey. Thanks to being a Notre Dame student, she was able to hold her dream wedding at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Anita Valdez’s clients gave her deeper access to their organizations so she could complete projects at the University of Texas. Pradnya Parulekar was able to listen to and meet everyone from Nobel Prize winners to Fortune 100 executives thanks to conferences and speakers at UCLA.

Sometimes, students created the benefits themselves. “One of the best things about my Executive MBA experience was my cohort—especially the time that was spent outside of the formal classroom environment,” writes Arizona State’s Chris Martell. “From the weekend of our orientation to the final in-person weekend, there was a group of about 12 of us who would arrive early and have breakfast together, discussing everything from work and school, to family and free time. Mainly, this was our time to just relax and joke with each other prior to a day of classes. In effect, this was “The Breakfast Club” of W. P. Carey.”


Like the Breakfast Club, these classes hail from all walks of life, In Catharine Smith’s Go-Lab team at MIT Sloan, you would’ve encountered “a biophysicist, a media revenue expert, a non-profit executive, a finance guru, a high-rise construction executive, and a gastroenterologist.” Such diversity made the executive MBA all the more transformative for the Class of 2020, says the University of Oxford’s Hema Vallabh.

“To be part of a cohort of 70 incredible people, coming from 40 different countries, makes for an extremely enriching experience. The invaluable interactions range from deeply intellectual conversations, to exploring blue-sky wild ideas, to sharing ideas on how we can change the world. We would just simply have immense fun winding down at the end of the day during an otherwise intense and demanding module week.”

Sometimes, as the Wharton School’s Alexander Ding learned, classmates lend more than just their expertise. “As a physician in a leadership position, I expressed my concern about the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for our front-line staff to my classmates over our group chat. My classmates immediately mobilized and started a campaign to raise funds for PPE, which has now received more than $120,000 in donations. We have developed procurement and distribution mechanisms and gotten masks out to our frontline staff across the country who need them desperately.”


Of course, business school learning trickles down to more than students and their employers. Jeremiah Christopher Clark commuted from Virginia to Utah for classes at Brigham Young’s Marriott School. Each trip, he would bring one of his four children along with him. In the process, one of his children absorbed a lesson that may possibly shape his life.

Natalya-Marhiyeva, INSEAD

“One particular flight, I was struggling while trying to explain a topic to my nine-year-old son from my homework (I found teaching a child is the perfect test to see if you really understand a subject),” Clark writes. “He turned to me and said, “Dad, I will pay better attention in school so that I don’t have to do it again when I am your age!”

Yes, spouses, co-workers, parents, and even children are often the real heroes behind this year’s Best & Brightest Executive MBAs. As executives continue to weigh the pros and cons of adding business school to their plates, they have plenty of advice to share. In the end, the Class of 2020’s advice boils down to two words…

“Do It!”

“[I’ll give] the same advice I was given on day 1: You will be presented with new ideas and opportunities at a quick pace,” writes Cornell University’s Daniel Lakoff. “Now is not the time to overanalyze or to avoid the opportunity because you are too busy – now is the time to challenge yourself to build and grow. Take the chance and try something new, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.”

“Do it with your eyes open,” adds INSEAD’s Natalya Markhiyeva. “Be ready to share and be ready to learn. You will need a lot of self-discipline and a very supportive surrounding. Be ready that your world will change completely and that you will become a different person. There is no way you will stay the same person, and you will have to learn what to do with this new version of yourself.”

Go to Pages 4-5 to access 102 in-depth student profiles of this year’s Best & Brightest Executive MBAs

Comments or questions about this article? Email us.