2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Jen Griffin, Vanderbilt University (Owen)

Jen Griffin          

Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management

Age: 37

An inclusive, resilient, empowering leader with a high degree of emotional fortitude and intellectual horsepower.

Hometown: Huntsville, Alabama

Family Members: The team I’ve built at home is the one I am most proud of. I’ve raised four children, and we enjoy sharing life together and supporting each other’s unique interests. My youngest daughter is 16 and hopes to pursue a career in Law. My identical twin sons, who are 17, graduate high school in May, and will attend the University of Alabama at Huntsville in the fall.

My oldest daughter Savannah recently turned 21 and was the recipient of an Organ Donation, having received a heart transplant at the age of 30 days old in Boston. We are deeply grateful to her donor family, and our lives have been forever impacted by the beauty and gift of organ donation.

Fun fact about yourself: I started my career in healthcare as a Registered Nurse. My first job after nursing school was in the Heart Transplant Intensive Care Unit at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Over time, while working as a Registered Nurse, I began to understand that I had a natural inclination and desire to optimize operational process and design. I developed a deep desire to improve the care delivery experience for healthcare providers and ultimately improve patient outcomes in so doing. Exploring this interest ultimately led to my career in Operations leadership.

I still hold a nursing license today. Being a champion for the bedside nurse and advocating for physician experience remains a priority for me in any work I do in the healthcare space.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Snead State Community College- Associate’s Degree in Registered Nursing 2006

Capella University- Bachelor’s Degree in the Science of Nursing 2018

Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management- MBA 2021

Where are you currently working? DaVita Kidney Care. Division Vice President, Hospital Services Division

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I have enjoyed being involved in Donate Life, Organ Donation Advocacy. I also find deep fulfillment in mentoring the next generation of nursing and operational leaders.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? When I decided to go to business school, I had some trepidation over the Quant-heavy coursework, but I also understood that mastering this particular coursework would be the thing that really leveled up my personal efficacy as an operations leader. Vanderbilt delivers world class instruction, and the professors are present, accessible, and committed to each student mastering the content. I am really proud to have achieved scores of Superior Pass in several courses I initially was unsure I’d be competitive in.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I lead a business unit that delivers life-sustaining dialysis procedures inside hospitals. Patients who rely on our care require this procedure to sustain life. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic introduced a tremendous layer of complexity to the team I lead. Demand for dialysis procedures inside hospitals exploded. Demand for Nursing Resources exploded. The virus resulted in a new population of patients requiring dialysis procedures from sudden acute kidney injury. Across the country, there was real concern that the renal care industry couldn’t respond to the demand. Inside hospitals, resources were scarce, and many healthcare providers were afraid for their personal health and safety.

I am tremendously proud that the team I lead performed over 100,000 dialysis procedures in 2020. Through rigorous planning and solid operations leadership, we were able to respond to every single patient that needed us. That’s 100,000 times that our patients were able to have the gift of extended life. We rallied together, communicated constantly, tracked our learnings, and very quickly learned how to treat patients who were COVID-positive safely and effectively. Our caregivers never went without the PPE they needed to stay well. No patient went without care. Our caregivers and frontline leaders were absolute heroes.

When surveyed, nursing teams told us they felt safe and supported by our leadership team and were highly satisfied with the manner in which our organization responded to support their efforts in caring for the most vulnerable amongst us. This gives me great pride.

The achievement I am most proud of in my career is the outcomes my team delivered over the course of the pandemic. We took care of each other. We took care of our nurses. We took care of our patients. We lived the mission.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program?Through my work at DaVita, I have worked with many graduates of this program, and I appreciated the caliber of MBA leader Vanderbilt produces. Vanderbilt graduates often value collaboration and team-based problem-solving and are highly relational. Sharpening these qualities was important to me.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Team-based problem solving is paramount. All solutions are weak without diversity of thought. Decide nothing alone.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? My life is truly an exercise in time management. As the sole parent of four children, an operations executive, and an MBA student, I have a lot of roles to fill. I recall guidance my friend and CMO Dr. Jeff Giullian imparted to me, knowledge he gained from completing his MBA program. He said, “You’ll learn to study on the flight to meetings, you’ll learn to complete your assignments in hotel rooms before and after work when traveling, you’ll trade off TV viewing on weekends for case studies, and over time that accumulation of time investments will result in an MBA. You’ll just get it done.” He was right. That’s exactly how it went for me. I learned to schedule time in blocks and treat each time block like an immovable meeting whether it was a child’s basketball game, a development meeting at work, or an 8pm Zoom meeting with school team. We simply learned together to do the next right thing.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? If you are ready to make the tradeoffs, invest the time, and commit to owning your weight on an academic team, do not hesitate to move forward, the benefits are immense.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I’d say the biggest myth is that if you’ve achieved any material amount of career success, you don’t really need to get an MBA. That’s a myth. Regardless of the level you’ve reached, you will be personally transformed by increased awareness gained through education and that affects your entire way of being and interacting with the world, both personally and professionally.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I didn’t ask more questions earlier in the program. My classmate Christian ILic consistently asked powerful questions that we all learned from. Eventually, I learned that if I was still in inquiry over a concept, others probably were too. I regret I didn’t lean into that public inquiry earlier.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? It was my teammate Falon Scott. Falon is a visionary entrepreneur who sees the path forward to execution of almost any idea. Falon seems to create time from dust and produces an insane amount of quality output. She consistently delivers on her commitments to the companies she leads, to her husband and child, to her friends and to her Vanderbilt team. If she needs to wake up at 3 a.m. to deliver, she will, without fatigue or complaint…but on the inverse of that rigor, if a friend needs support she will drop everything she’s working on to be fully present. I have never met anyone who works harder than Falon Scott. She puts her full soul into everything she touches, There’s a reason you frequently see her name in Business Journals. She’s brilliant and rare.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I chose an executive MBA for the in-person peer group experience. I learned more from hearing my classmates’ points of view than I did the learning materials. The cohort experience is a significant advantage.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My talent is best levered in an executive capacity in the healthcare sector. I aspire to lead a mission-oriented company whose strategic intent is aligned with my personal compass. My ultimate career goal, like many, is to do work that matters and has lasting impact.

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

“Jen has been an invaluable addition to the class of 2021 in several ways. To start, I very much appreciated having her as a contributor in my strategy class. What made her contributions so valuable was her ability to link academic concepts to real world experiences. This is an area where many students struggle, and it is incredibly helpful to have students in the class like Jen who can clearly make these connections and share those insights with fellow students. A comment from a fellow student captured this perfectly: “Jen can share a real life or work or personal example that illustrates the principles we’re learning in class; she has the dual vision to see the big picture and the fine detail.” It was very clear to me that Jen has a genuine passion for the material we were covering in class, as we spent time outside of class discussing how the classroom concepts were affecting the day-to-day issues she was seeing in her job. Her recent promotion at DaVita suggests that she has been very effective applying ideas from the program! I know she is also (very justifiably) proud of the work her team has done to continue to provide lifesaving kidney care in the exceptionally challenging environment of the past year’s pandemic.

Students like Jen are critical to our program because they serve as role models for not only their current classmates but also for future students of the program. Her fellow students have tremendous respect for her. As one recently commented, “Jen works equally successfully independently and as well as in different groups. She’s confident but not cocky, efficient but not rushed. I think everyone in the class loves working with her because she gets stuff done with just the right amount of investment, and still has fun.” Jen’s ability to excel in the EMBA program while at the same time advancing in her career and leading a family is truly impressive. Her performance is an exemplar to future EMBA students who may be worried about the ability to effectively balance academic, family, and career demands. We are very fortunate to have had her as a member of our program for the past 2 years, and I look forward to staying in touch with her in the future to see all that she accomplishes.”

Brian T. McCann
David K. Wilson Associate Professor of Management