2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Keyuri Popat, Rice University (Jones)

Keyuri Popat

Jones Graduate School of Business, Rice University

Age: 53

“I am a caring, calm, selfless, hardworking, passionate individual in constant pursuit of intellectual stimulation.”

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Family Members: Husband and 3 children

Fun fact about yourself: After six months of learning to ride a bike at the age of 48, I rode the MS150 a 150-mile bike ride for the benefit of the multiple sclerosis society. Three months after running for the first time, I ran the Disney half marathon at the age of 51.

Undergraduate School and Degree: MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery), MRCP (Member of the Royal College of Physician, Ireland) Diplomat of the American Board of Anesthesiology

Where are you currently working? Professor, Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, Medical Director of Acute Pain Medicine, UT MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston Texas

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Extracurricular -Book club, biking, running, cooking, dancing and DIY home repairs

Community Work– Board member for Pragathi Foundation (providing access to resources and education to underprivileged children in India), former board member of a Pratham USA, Houston chapter (organization which provides support and training to develop local teachers for pre-kindergarten children, after school tutoring for underprivileged children and vocational training for unemployed women and children who did not complete school in India). Locally, volunteered weekly at Seva Clinic (free clinic to provide care to the community), volunteered to see patients at health fairs, mentored children to participate in keep our city clean program by adopting a street for 10 years.

Leadership Roles – At M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Medical Director of Acute pain medicine,  this team manages pain after major surgery in the country’s number one cancer center. Vice Chair of the institutional pain task force that oversees pain management across the institution.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?

My intellectual curiosity drove me to go above and beyond the 54 required credits to graduate for the EMBA program, managing to get 68.5 credits while working full-time and keeping full family commitments without missing a single class.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Minimizing patients’ suffering and pain has been the focus of professional career. I lead an Acute Pain team and over the last three years we have doubled the number of patients we help.  I also lead a multidisciplinary team to improve care for patients having complex spine surgery for cancer. The beauty is that these endeavors now are self-perpetuating and constantly evolving to provide cutting-edge care for our patients.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Jing Zhou. She introduced me to the concepts of creativity and innovation. She taught me that innovation doesn’t just happen but can be cultivated by creating an environment, with the right people and the right kind of leadership. I know people who work with me are incredibly smart and have great ideas to improve care for our patients, but are often unable to express their ideas. I am learning to provide the safe environment and empowering leadership to enable them to express and act upon these ideas. For example, recently due to the pandemic, we started performing routine surgeries on Saturday. The innovative solutions my team came up with for taking care of patients’ pain after these surgeries included creating a common platform for communication between surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses to plan intervention to treat pain without causing disruption.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Rice EMBA program is the best program in Texas. The executive MBA program at Rice Business encompasses not only rigorous technical skills of finance, accounting, marketing and business analytics, but also focuses on developing each of us as leaders, thinkers, and dreamers in our areas of interest. I strongly believe that this growth does not happen just in the classroom, but it occurs after interactions with and learning from friends and classmates. Thus, geographical proximity of classmates allows one to build closer relationships and develop a sense of belonging to this unique group of people who will be your mentors, well-wishers and coaches for life! I also chose Rice because I am part of a loyal Rice family following many of my family members who obtained their education at Rice. For me choosing Rice was a no brainer once I decided to embark upon the EMBA journey.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? If a task seems huge and impossible, you can do it effectively by breaking it into smaller parts and learn to use time wisely. I have started applying this at work and find myself being more in control of the process and feeling satisfied by the incremental progress.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? May 2020 was chaotic for more reasons than the pandemic. My finance final was looming over my head. As this was my weakest subject, I was studying hard and kept procrastinating.  As an anesthesiologist and pain doctor, I had a week of call ahead of me and my daughter’s high school graduation at the end of the week. I started work every day that week at 6:30 am, caring for patients, and performing procedures. Between these, I would diligently study my finance material. Several evenings were spent trying to complete group projects. I think my family was more anxious for my finals to be done with than I was. I needed three uninterrupted hours to do the test. My long work hours did not allow me to do this on a weekday. On Saturday, I finished rounding on my patients, went to my office, locked myself in, and finished my exam by 4 pm, right in time to partake in my daughter’s graduation festivities.  As I was falling asleep that night, I was reminded of the time management story of rocks, pebbles and sand. I truly did not realize how much I could achieve in one day!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? I would say it is an experience of a lifetime! This is the best money I could invest in myself to make me better organized, more objective, empathetic, and open-minded, not to mention the intellectual stimulation it provided. No doubt hard work and perseverance are needed, but I equate the result to be like getting new prescription glasses, suddenly you see things around you in a very different light.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? This is difficult to do with a family and full-time job. Having a supportive family and boss is key. You also must be willing to be in the uncomfortable zone that will push you to be the best version of yourself.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I wish I had done it a decade earlier. I would have had a longer time in my career ahead of me to harness the knowledge gained in this program and the contacts developed.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Lisa Cromwell. She is soft spoken and a good listener, and has a unique ability to cut through the chatter to crystalize the important elements of a discussion.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I have been in the work force for the last 20 years and really wanted an opportunity to meet experienced people and make friends with my classmates, who are extremely knowledgeable and have a lot to teach me, which I value very much.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My journey so far has been guided by my desire to help my patients not suffer during their illness and treatment thereof. I hope to apply the same passion and my newly acquired skill set gathered through my Rice EMBA education, to think beyond my patients to all patients at my institution and more. To start off on this higher goal, I am working to elevate safe pain management for all patients in my hospital through my leadership on the institutional pain task force and hope to influence the overall experience of the patient at my current institution. Once I find a good way to measure this experience so that it’s truly reflective of the patients experience, I wish to take this message and metric across neighboring institutions, and then beyond to help patients and potential patients all across the country!

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

“Dr. Keyuri Popat took my leading creativity and innovation, fundamental and advanced negotiation courses. She is a fabulous student, the type of student that any faculty and EMBA program would dream to have. She exhibits insatiable intellectual curiosity, relentless kindness, and extraordinary ability to connect knowledge with practice. The classes I teach are highly experiential and interactive. There was a learning curve when we initially tried to figure out how to optimize learning experiences on Zoom. Throughout the process, she was poised and helpful. She continued to ask thoughtful questions, take notes, synthesize materials from different modules, and check whether her understanding of a particular topic was current. Despite the uncertainty during the unprecedented pandemic and the challenge of getting used to learning on Zoom, through her words and deeds she led by example on how to persevere, manage uncertainty and overcome challenges. She was so fully prepared for and present during each and every class that sometimes I forgot she held a full-time and demanding job while taking classes on weekends—she worked full-time at a leading cancer hospital and fought the pandemic at the frontline. I marvel at how she has managed to do such unbelievable heavy lifting, and has done so with such composure and grace. It has truly been a joy and privilege to get to know her, and to have her in my classes. She is exactly the kind of student that the Best and Brightest award is designed for. I recommend her most strongly and enthusiastically.”

Jing Zhou
Mary Gibbs Jones Professor of Management

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