2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Jim Knapp, Michigan State (Broad)

Jim Knapp

Michigan State University, Eli Broad College of Business

Age: 40

“Afraid of being average, driven to succeed in the game of life, hardworking, rarely serious.”

Hometown: Shelby Township, MI

Family Members: Jillian (Wife), Dylan (11), Will (9)

Fun fact about yourself: To this day, I am the only four-time, self-proclaimed, co-captain of the JV cross country team at my high school. I guess you could say I was born to lead, or not fast enough to make varsity. Really a coin flip there…

Undergraduate School and Degree: Michigan State University, Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

Where are you currently working? President/CEO, Live Sports Radio

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I have served on two Advisory Boards (road construction and video game development industries), support The Hero Foundation and PEAS Animal Sanctuary locally, and plan to commit a portion of my new-found free time to nonprofit work when school ends. I also love helping with my kids’ sports teams whenever I can.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the work our team did for Bell’s Brewery. MSU’s unique partnership with their alumni network created an opportunity for each team to put our formal education to work by tackling a real world problem for an outside organization. In our case, the problem statement presented was this: “How can Bell’s continue to compete, be relevant, and prosper in the future of the beer industry”. The assignment was a challenge, since we did not have any experience in the industry, but we invested a great deal of energy to ensure we presented creative solutions for the Bell’s team. We focused our energy on creative communication that will educate consumers and distributors on their quality standards while bringing their funky personality to life. The Spartan network provided our entire class with the opportunity to learn and grow outside the confines of the classroom, which was extremely rewarding.

Personally, I am most proud of graduating with honors and joining Beta Gamma Sigma. I know grades do not matter in grad school, but goals do. I set a goal to make the most of the investment and worked toward that goal daily. I aimed to be an active participant in the program while sharing openly with my class and feel I accomplished that goal.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Hands-down, I am most proud of keeping a small business afloat for over a decade. Most of our team has been together for the long haul and we have worked together to thrive in the most challenging of times. We have faced every challenge as a team and have worked together to diversify our offerings to remain relevant in a crowded industry. COVID tried its best to take us out by stalling the industry for the better part of a year, but we persevered due to extremely supportive ownership and a creative diversification strategy. Just as this program teaches, it takes a team to succeed, and Live Sports Radio is the living embodiment of that mantra. Doing something different every day and having ultimate responsibility for P&L really pushed me outside of my comfort zone early in my career. Small business life prepped me for the EMBA program in some amazing ways.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I chose the MSU program for a few reasons. First off, I received my undergrad from MSU and bleed green. More important than my blood type, the reputation of the program, the recommendations from alumni, the professional experience and leadership requirement, and the Spartan network led me to enroll in the Executive MBA program in Troy. I truly wanted a collaborative education where I could learn today and apply tomorrow.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? It is almost impossible to narrow a 20 month journey down to one lesson, but I will give it a shot. Aside from the class teachings, I think the lesson that will stick with me the most is the value of a network. I shared this experience with 70+ students in the Troy cohort and 140 total in the class of 2021. Learning from their unique experience, understanding their areas of expertise, and listening to how they overcame challenges leads me to believe there is not a challenge that a team of Spartans can’t overcome. Lean into those that know more than you and learn from their experience. Life is a team game so it’s best to have a deep roster.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? This nod really goes to my wife. We kick off the program with a one week intensive in East Lansing. The EMBA staff is kind enough to provide us a pile of pre-work that is designed to shock our systems back into school mode (mission accomplished). While most people had a fair amount of time to work through it, I spent the two weeks preceding residency week managing a content production team for the US Open in New York. I would work 12-14 hours a day and then go back to my hotel room to study. As glamorous as that sounds, it was a brutal stretch. The only reason I was able to power through was because I have a super supportive wife that took care of our family, ran kids around town, and shuttled them to and from their first weeks of school. She did all this while she was starting a new job as a principal. Anyone who has gone through this program understands that the sacrifice required to succeed is shared with our support system. They are truly the MVP’s of this experience and it is now our duty to help them chase their dreams.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Do it! The sacrifice you make now will open doors you may have only dreamt of before. I do not just mean career opportunities, rather life experiences. Sharing a classroom with a group of people motivated to realize the best version of themselves is inspiring in so many ways. Shared experiences, commitment, sacrifice, drive, and a dash of competition will unlock a part of your soul you never knew existed. Apply for the program, embrace the challenge, and be an active participant.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school?. The two that stick out to me are “I’m too old” and “I don’t need it”. You are never too old to learn, so toss that myth right out the window. Share your years of experience with your classmates to expedite their learning curve, in the game of life. The “I don’t need it” myth is also busted quickly in this program. You may not need it to survive, to get a promotion, or to start a business. However, you will absolutely benefit from your investment in higher education. You will meet people that have been there and done that, ones who will challenge you to think differently, professors who are experts in their field, and classmates who push you to be your best.

What was your biggest regret in business school? To be frank, I don’t have any regrets. Before starting the program, I regretted not going back from my MBA when I was much younger. However, that regret was put to bed once I started the program because my experience was so much more meaningful at this stage in my life. My children were old enough to understand the hard work I was putting into school, the lessons learned in class were more relevant to my experience, and I could be an active participant in every class. My fifteen years of professional experience prepared me for this journey and my position allowed me to truly “learn today and apply tomorrow”.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? There is a zero percent chance I’m reducing this list to one person. I owe a lifetime of gratitude to Team 10 (David Colletti, Joe Esho, Sebastion Barton, and Dave Lau). Whatever algorithm, random excel generator, or EMBA staff dart game put us together as a team should be patented by MSU. We are five diverse professionals who came together as one and truly embraced the EMBA experience. We overcame every challenge together and lifted each other up when needed (primarily anytime I was forced to use Excel). Instead of breaking up projects, we invested a considerable amount of time working out solutions as a team. I firmly believe that strategy provided us the most comprehensive experience possible and helped flush out some very creative solutions.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I am a firm believer in the idea that MBA programs should not accept students directly out of their undergrad programs. I view the MBA as a combination of classwork, idea sharing among classmates, and application of real world business experience. Those are the reasons that I chose to wait for an Executive MBA program until I had years of experience to share with my classmates. I prefer learning from practice, instead of theory, so the EMBA program was a perfect fit. Frankly, I did not even research online options as I wanted to be in the classroom building relationships with my classmates and professors.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I would like to continue to run small and mid-size businesses for the rest of my career. I truly love the challenge of making the most of limited resources and doing something different every day. The EMBA program has connected me with an incredible network of talented Spartans and I truly hope I have the opportunity to work with them as the years press on.

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

“Inquisitive. Curious. Approachable. All words that describe James Knapp. From the moment he applied to the Broad EMBA, I knew the program was welcoming a student who would wring evert last once of value out of the experience. He had a keen eye for excellence – and a track record that demonstrated it — yet knew he had room for growth. From the first through the final course, Jim sought to apply all aspects of his learning. But not just his own. He cared as much about his own growth and experience as his team’s and cohort. He is truly an example of how a successful, high-level professional should approach learning: with humility, candor, and a desire to make a positive impact on those around him.”

Greg Janicki
Director, Broad Executive MBA


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