2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Chiquita Berg, University of Michigan (Ross)

Chiquita Berg

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

Age:  47

“Highly motivated, driven and compassionate optimist who lives to help, inspire, motivate, and empower others.”

Hometown: Detroit, MI

Family Members: Steve, David (son age 16), Persephone (daughter age 11), and Nitro – our 4-year-old mini goldendoodle

Fun fact about yourself: It had been my lifelong dream to become a physician. As an undergrad in preparation for medical school, I took a gross anatomy course. However, it wasn’t long before I found myself in a peculiar situation. I discovered that I had an intense phobia of human cadavers! It was the kind of phobia that caused horrific panic attacks, like the “run from the building knocking down little old ladies and children in an attempt to escape the lab” kind of panic attacks.

The problem with this was that gross anatomy was a year-long course the first year of medical school; it was not only one of the most important courses, it was also a “weeder” course. The hopes and dreams of many medical students ended in gross anatomy.

But I was so determined to follow my dream, I took a job working in the morgue in an effort to reduce my anxiety and fears…and it worked! After six months of working in the morgue, I think I had so many panic attacks that my body just simply gave up! So, my fears were controlled and I successfully completed gross anatomy (with honors!)

Undergraduate School and Degree:

* University of Miami (Coral Gables, Florida) – Bachelor of Science – Biology/Chemistry

* Wayne State University School of Medicine – Doctor of Medicine

Where are you currently working? I’m currently an IHA obstetrics and gynecology physician at St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia, Michigan, which belongs to the St. Joseph Mercy Health System, which serves southeast Michigan.

Before I had even completed my MBA program, however, I had accepted a position as a Physician Administrative Leadership Fellow with Trinity Health, the larger national healthcare system we belong to, which will start in July. My role there will include a variety of developmental assignments at the local, regional, and system-wide level, and also allows me to continue to do clinical work part-time.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Community Work:

* Advisory Board Member of Birth Detroit – Birth Detroit is a community-based maternal health practice, offering prenatal and postpartum care by midwives, as well as childbirth education and postpartum support. Plans are underway to create the first freestanding birth center in Detroit to improve birth outcomes and reduce disparities.

Extracurricular activities:

* I am an avid tennis player and team captain in the USTA recreational league. I have successfully led my teams to numerous local, state, regional, and national championships.

* I am a certified Zumba instructor

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Coming into business school, I set a goal for myself to improve my confidence in public speaking. I had nightmares that some reporter and cameraman would jump out of the bushes and surprise me with an impromptu interview! So, despite my discomfort, I forced myself to take advantage of every opportunity to practice. I even volunteered for a public speaking demonstration in front of the entire class. My confidence increased and soon I found myself volunteering for opportunities both in school and at work.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As an African American female, born more than 14 weeks premature to a teenage mother, growing up in poverty on the west side of Detroit during the intensely violent crack cocaine era, I am most proud of being only the second person in my family to get a college degree (my mother was the first), and the first to get an advanced degree and to become a physician.

I have had many achievements professionally that I have been proud of since then, but that accomplishment remains my proudest, as it has inspired, motivated, and given hope to many others.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Wow this one is a tough question because I loved so many of my professors. But I guess I could say that one of my favorite MBA professors was Sue Ashford who taught Negotiations. One of my favorite quotes from business school that I heard during this course was this: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any,” which comes from Alice Walker. This was really eye opening for me.

Prior to this course, during difficult negotiations and under distress, I became passive and too quick to “meet in the middle”. During this course, I learned that there were many ways to negotiate and that the various styles were neither good nor bad. Instead, they had pros and cons and that certain situations and environments called for utilization of different styles in order to reach an optimal outcome. And that preparation was the key to success. This course really helped me to appreciate the true value of my own strengths and become a more confident negotiator.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? The reputation, focus on leadership and teamwork, as well as the location and schedule, made Ross, hands down, my number one choice. In addition, my husband, a Ross graduate himself, had a wonderful experience and spoke very highly about the program and his experiences.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Business school taught me so much that it’s hard to pick one thing. But if I had to choose, it’s the lesson that a good leader is not equal to being the smartest person in my room, or even the most experienced person.

If I surround myself with people who are smarter than me, they will know more than I do — but I will often see more (and farther) than they do. I can provide vision and leadership, in addition to helping those experts be their best selves, and to go beyond what they think they are capable of doing. I can do this by providing vision, strategy, leadership, and by motivating and empowering them.

In medical school, the expectation was (understandably!) that we become all-knowing, infallible, subject matter experts — as less than perfect recall could be deadly. In this program, however, we are preparing ourselves for a much wider, much more ambiguous, range of scenarios. It wouldn’t be possible to become experts in every potential field we might encounter.

Understanding this gave me the courage, for example, during the many informational interviews I had with various leaders in our organization. I had to admit more freely when I didn’t understand something, which meant I could fill in the gaps of my understanding more quickly.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? My schedule as a practicing physician involves 60-80-hour work weeks on average, so juggling an extra 25-30 hours per week of study time meant I’d need to make adjustments. I used the local library in town (at least until the pandemic) after work and on weekends to study in a quiet study room, which eliminated the “at home” distractions of children and the dog. I also reduced my extracurricular activities, including tennis and socializing with friends. I also learned to say “no” more often and to delegate, being very careful not to take on too much.

I had to get very creative trying to find time to spend quality time with my family, so I scheduled time with my two kids each day and “date nights” regularly with my husband. Though these were often short in duration, they really helped me stay connected with my family during this intense program.

For my 16-year-old son, it meant that I had to play the Xbox with him for at least 30 minutes. This was often torture as I yearned for the 2D video games of old with only a few buttons on the controller. I was terrible and could not figure out how to even work the controller! But my son would laugh so hard, and we both really enjoyed the time spent together. My 11-year-old daughter would often require me to draw anime with her. And since I’m a terrible artist, this meant she also laughed a ton! Date nights with my husband helped us to reconnect and I’m so thankful that, as a Ross graduate, he really understood the process and was very helpful and instrumental in helping me to complete the program. He was and still is, my biggest supporter!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? The 25-30 hours per week workload we were warned about is REAL! You won’t realize how much time you were “wasting” prior to business school–because during business school, time is something you just won’t have enough of!

I would recommend that you have a solid support system or network. There is no way I would have been able to complete this program without the support of my family and friends.

And finally, I would recommend that you come with an open mind. Let go of being ashamed of what you don’t know and shift your focus towards your strengths and growing.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I don’t know as it’s a myth per se, but before beginning my program I did worry if I still had the same capacity to learn large amounts of new material that I relied on back in medical school.

I can’t say that I have the same capacity to absorb new information that I did back then, but I was surprised to find that one, yes, my brain still worked, and two, that coming into a degree program with a substantial amount of work experience provided me with a wealth of context gained in the front lines of healthcare. This, in turn, meant that I could relate the new, conceptual material to my personal, lived experience, helping me to understand and contextualize what I was learning very quickly.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not getting to do a live graduation and not being able to have my extended family join me for the graduation due to COVID travel restrictions. Completing such a demanding program was such an achievement for me, it would have been nice to be able to celebrate all we had been through together with my classmates and family.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Darren McKnight. He works in finance/accounting for Stryker. We worked together on the same team during a very challenging course involving financial statement analysis, business forecasting, and equity valuation. This course was very quant heavy and presented some very interesting but complex financial information.

Darren was 100% the subject matter expert on our team of four. Our team struggled with difficult concepts. Instead of getting frustrated or irritated with us, he was extremely empathetic and patient. He made sure that no one was left behind and that everyone understood the material. He even spent time with each of us one on one if we needed extra help.

His focus at all times was on the group and never on the individual. He shared his knowledge; he didn’t flaunt it or make anyone feel bad about their abilities. He was exceptional! And we all learned and grew because of the environment he created.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I knew that being able to interact with, learn from, and form relationships with the others in my cohort was going to be a huge part of the learning experience for me. Also, the format and schedule of the executive program was ideal for my already-demanding work schedule.

I had taken other college-level courses online before, and they are really useful when you need that flexibility and convenience to fit around your schedule. However, though I felt like I could learn some concepts that way, for me personally, I didn’t feel like I was able to interact with the material or with my classmates the way I was able to with the full-time, live experience. It was very important for me that I not only learn the coursework, but learn from the vast and diverse experience & perspective my cohort brought.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate long-term professional goal? To drive innovation and transform how healthcare is delivered in America. ….or world domination—whichever one will pay my student loan debt.

To be honest, I don’t have a precise expectation of having a specific job title or role by a certain point in my career, for a couple of reasons: one, I don’t want to limit or narrow myself, even subconsciously, as to what form my career may take. For all I know, the job title that will be my last one may not exist yet. And two, while I want to continue to grow and advance in my career, I want to make sure I don’t subconsciously start thinking that being successful in your career is finding the best way to speed it up.

Instead, I say that wherever I am in my career, I will strive to place myself in a position where I can have the biggest positive impact on as many people as possible.

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

“Dr. Chiquita Berg is the type of student every Executive MBA program aspires to recruit so their EMBA brand can be affiliated with her success. She embodies all that a forward-thinking healthcare system seeks in their physician executives, as she brings a passion for delivering patient-centered care that will have a major impact on reducing health-disparities, drive innovation, and reimagine healthcare in the United States.

Whether a Division 1 athlete and team captain or president of her medical school class, Chiquita has been an achiever and natural leader throughout her educational career. She could have started her medical career and excelled in any prestigious center she chose. Chiquita chose to spend the first 11+ years of her career as an obstetrics and gynecology physician, managing high-risk, complex, and socioeconomically disadvantaged patients. In this capacity, she developed an innovative, group-based prenatal healthcare delivery model, which resulted in improved outcomes through patient education, built stronger physician-patient relationships, and expanded community outreach.

Chiquita entered the Ross EMBA program as a physician leader, change agent, and innovator leading teams and engaging staff to achieve the missions and strategies of healthcare organizations. It was clear from the beginning that Chiquita would not only excel but thrive in the Ross EMBA program all while lifting up those around her. Indeed, her EMBA classmates and peers had the highest praise for her fresh perspective, her high energy and positive attitude, and her contributions to team success.

Chiquita was recently selected for the inaugural role that will begin a pilot for her healthcare system’s Physician Executive Administration Developmental program. Dr. Berg will report to the regional CEO and lead projects throughout the system.”

Donn Humphrey-Delosh
Career Consultant, Ross School of Business


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