2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Ari Betof, Cornell University (Johnson)

Ari Betof, Ed.D.

Cornell’s Executive MBA Metro NY program, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

Age: 41

“Father, husband, leader, and consultant dedicated to organizational stewardship and sustainability.”

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Family Members: Shauna (wife), Anya (daughter), Kayla (daughter), Praia (dog)

Fun fact about yourself: I have biked across Iowa, twice.

Undergraduate School and Degree:
University of Pennsylvania, Ed.D. in Educational Leadership
Guilford College Honors Program, B.S. in Physics and Mathematics

Where are you currently working? Co-Founder & Partner, Mission & Data, Inc. and Chief Advancement Officer, Minerva Institute for Research & Scholarship

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I have been fortunate to be part of two talented, and very different, academic teams during this program. We created a set of M&A proposals, financial analyses, product launches, and change management plans that reflect the collective wisdom that can only come from quality collaboration. I’m most proud that I have been able to step back, more often than not, to play a role that was needed in various groups. I’ve found ways to set aside my ego, and my inclination towards leadership, so that I can see where my contributions may have the greatest impact.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?
As a young professional, I was always impressed by leaders who had figured out the synergy of doing well and doing good. Kelsey Vrooman and I founded Mission & Data as “a firm dedicated to the effectiveness, health, and vitality of organizations that make the world a better place.” It is also why I’m so energized by our pursuit at Minerva Institute of “nurturing critical wisdom for the sake of the world.” At the same time, my wife and I are committed to being an actively engaged part of our family’s daily life. We are also realistic about the opportunities that come with significant financial resources. That combination requires a mixture of art, science, flexibility, and a lot of communication. I’m most proud that we have navigated a global pandemic, completed a move to a new city for my wife to pursue a new role, transitioned our daughters to two new schools, completed my Executive MBA program, and pursued my professional endeavors, all while still loving one another and finding time for the occasional family movie night.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I knew from my doctoral program that I was happiest when working closely with professors and classmates. Culturally, I was looking for a program that was collaborative and rigorous. New York City is an ideal location for an Executive MBA program, especially with Cornell’s vast alumni network. There was an appeal about being in the inaugural cohort which started on Roosevelt Island, home to the Cornell Tech campus. What ultimately won me over was the genuine enthusiasm at Cornell from Johnson Dean Mark Nelson, the faculty, and program team. My wife and sister both attended Cornell as undergrads, so simplifying our collegiate athletic allegiance was an added bonus.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? W. Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne’s Red Ocean versus Blue Ocean strategy is a construct that will stay with me well beyond this program. In particular, it was the concept of creating a Blue Ocean “from within a Red Ocean when a company alters the boundaries of an existing industry”. I love this idea because it helps leaders and organizations get out of a myopic, competition-only mindset. Plus, it is a vivid visual and transferable across sectors. I’ve been thinking deeply about stewardship of organizations for almost 20 years. This concept unlocked something that helped me see the world a little differently. The initial course reading led me to learn more about Kim and Mauborgne’s work. I incorporated it into a consulting project for a client that felt stuck in an unwinnable competition within a dense market. In turn, blue ocean strategy and that client work became a vignette in a podcast interview I had the following month.

Give us a story during your time as an Executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Swiss cheese without holes. That is how I like to describe our calendar during the two years of this program. It is also why I find the average day extraordinarily interesting. Days as an Executive MBA student are definitely L-O-N-G. They will be hard on you, but it is easy to forget that you are often asking much more of your spouse and family. Executive MBA programs are an obstacle course of readings, presentations, papers, and projects while life moves forward at full steam. For the most part, they are practically useful and fun for nerdy people like me.

What we don’t often remember is that our deadlines have reverberations. This morning I got up at 5 am so I could listen to a set of text translated articles and cases for class while working out. Then we did the typical morning family shuffle, which involved taking our daughters to school. I worked until about 7 pm when we had an hour project team meeting for an upcoming course. Then, I helped our daughter with math homework, ate some dinner, and went back to finish off coursework until 10:30 pm. During every hour of that day, my wife was navigating her own loaded schedule. It is a well-coordinated dance, until something unexpected happens and then we are tap dancing on marbles. Navigating our way through this crazy time in our lives together is something I’m deeply grateful for even though in our mutually exhausted state I don’t show it often enough.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Know yourself. Each of the “top” programs offer a tremendous constellation of intellectual and professional opportunities. They are also culturally different. Figure out what environment you will thrive in and also practically what will work for you and your family. Cornell’s Saturday and Sunday class schedule provided maximum career flexibility, while also giving me pockets of quality time on non-school weekends to be family-focused. The location in NYC was close enough that the travel was manageable, but also different enough to greatly extend my professional network.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth is that you need to know where you are headed when you walk in the door the first day. Embedded in this myth is that everything needs to be aligned in a predetermined track. For me, diving into both the Smith Family Business Initiative and Cornell’s Emerging Markets Institute provided a richness of experience that these two seemingly disparate programs could not have offered alone. When paired with thoughtful career coaching, they helped me find a path forward that I don’t think I would have been able to put together without such a unique layering and thoughtful advice. I am immensely grateful for Cornell’s Career Development team, especially the wise guidance of my career coach Nicole Woodard.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I regret missing more than a year of face-to-face time that our cohort lost together due to the pandemic as well as our international trip. So much of the joy that complements the hard work of an Executive MBA program is the immersive and in-person experience with our cohort.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? One gift of an immersive program like this one is that you get to know your colleagues’ life stories. There is no shortage of people to admire in our cohort, especially the numerous veterans who weave the lessons of their military service into their professional practice. I admire Jess Oliver and her husband Jeremiah tremendously. This amazing couple joined our cohort together after navigating the complexity of dual careers in the U.S. Navy. They both decided to defer their second year until after the pandemic, which made me appreciate them even more in their absence. Our cohort’s loss will be the Class of 2022’s gain.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I’ve been on both sides of the graduate classroom as a student and then as a lecturer in UPenn’s Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership. I enjoy working through hard questions at the intersection of theory and practice. Even more, I’m genuinely happy as part of a learning community. All of those aspects can exist in online or part-time programs, but I knew from experience that I would thrive in the immersive setting of a top Executive MBA program.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I’ve spent my career striving to be a servant leader and a steward of organizations that make the world a better place. That has been the through line of my professional life. I’m also an “and…both” kind of person. I love the process of scaling a company with a trusted partner AND being a member of a talented, collaborative leadership team for a thriving organization. In many ways, I’m doing what I aspired to earlier in my career. My ultimate professional goal would be to look back and see how my work had a positive, tangible, and lasting impact while also being a valued part of my family’s life.

What made Ari such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“Ari brought all the right ingredients to achieve maximum success in Cornell’s Executive MBA Metro NY program—drive, collaboration, initiative, strong EQ/IQ, leadership experience and more. His dedication to his studies and his valuable contributions inside and outside of the classroom are exemplary. At every turn, Ari sought out and engaged in various University initiatives and resources to ensure the most robust academic and extracurricular experience.”

Joy Dellapina
Executive Director
Cornell’s Executive MBA Metro NY



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