2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Margaret Harrison, Vanderbilt University (Owen)

Margaret Harrison

Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management

Age: 37

Mother, daughter, sister, friend who loves her work (books), her community (Nashville), and her people.”

Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee

Family Members: Will (8) and James (6), plus my wonderful parents, sister-in-law, and two brothers

Fun fact about yourself: During the summer of 2020, between my first and second year at Vanderbilt, a fellow EMBA student and I participated in the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee, completing 635 miles of running and walking together.

Undergraduate School and Degree: BA, English and Philosophy, Boston College; MS, Publishing, Pace University

Where are you currently working? Ingram Content Group in Nashville, Tennessee

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Nashville Community Fridge – East Nashville Lead
  • President, Waverly-Belmont Elementary Parent Teacher Organization
  • Mentor, TN Promise
  • United Way Young Leaders Society
  • Advisory Board, Pace University MS in Publishing

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? After the 2020 Nashville tornado, my sons and I spent a week volunteering in North Nashville and East Nashville to support our neighbors and the rebuilding effort. I wanted to contribute in a more meaningful, ongoing way. As a result, I started donating food to a new project called the Nashville Community Fridge, a mutual-aid network of refrigerators maintained by community volunteers. I began to get more involved, and in December I launched a fundraising effort within my EMBA class and the community that has resulted in a steady food supply into this year. From construction to food shopping to now planning our community expansion, I’ve now served in many capacities to this program and am proud to be part of the leadership team. My sons help me stock and clean the fridge, and I’m glad they can learn at an early age about the power of mutual aid in our community.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? With my colleagues at Ingram Content Group, it was keeping books in print during the pandemic, especially anti-racism books during the Black Lives Matter movement.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Brian McCann, the David K. Wilson Associate Professor of Management. Brian was creative and effective in engaging us in Business Strategy, even during a pandemic. We participated in contests, Zoom Jeopardy, and other fun games, and there were always great prizes, including the coveted Hambrick & Frederickson strategy diamond mug.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? My uncle was a Vanderbilt Law graduate many years ago. When I moved to Nashville and decided to return to school for my MBA, Vanderbilt was my top choice. I needed classes to be consolidated to minimize time away from my boys, so the every other Saturday schedule worked great for me. Several colleagues I really admired had been through the program. It was a community I really wanted to be part of.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I learned to overcome self-doubt. During EMBA orientation week, I came home from classes and ugly-cried in my room. What was I doing in this program? Compared to the other students, I thought, I was wildly unqualified and untalented. Surely I would make a fool of myself, likely I would fail.

As the months ticked by, and I didn’t fail, I learned to anticipate that characteristic self-doubt and power through. My coach, Michael Landrum, led me through some transformational introspection. I began to observe moments at work – in negotiations, in speaking up, in taking on more responsibility – when that self-doubt would creep in. I have learned to “act opposite” in those moments and push through the discomfort, acting self-assured even if I don’t feel it.

I hope the most lasting effect is being able to help other women and colleagues with self-doubt. I talk openly with my team about some of these mental and emotional battles, to normalize the struggle and help others learn to recognize their own self-sabotaging patterns and overcome them.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? When my sons’ school shut down in March 2020, I created a homeschool curriculum for them to finish out pre-K and first grade. Each night, I would finish my EMBA homework, prepare homeschool lessons for the next day, tumble into bed, and then spend my days concurrently working and teaching my sons. It gave a whole new meaning to the word “multitask,” as I learned to execute two concurrent roles: business director and teacher. I am very proud that I led my team at work through our most successful year in company history while teaching my 5-year-old to read and tell time and instilling a love of science in my 7-year-old.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? You can make the time.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth about going back to school is that you don’t have time, especially for moms of young kids. You can make the time! You’ll become more efficient than you ever thought possible. You’ll download audiobook versions of your readings so you can exercise and study at the same time. You’ll ask your EMBA team to have weekly meetings start at 8 p.m. and tuck your kids in at 7:59.p.m. so you can hop on to Zoom. You’ll catch part of your son’s baseball game between classes on Saturday. It won’t be easy, but I’m proof that it’s possible.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not having more time with classmates in person. I’m grateful that in spite of the pandemic, we were able to complete our program.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Tara Tenorio. I will never forget the night we studied together for an Operations quiz and she was running a command center from our study table, where she was literally running volunteer operations for the city of Nashville after the tornado. Helping others is as natural to her as breathing. To those of us looking on, it is a marvel to watch the way she executes her work at such a high level while constantly lifting up those around her.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I wanted to deepen my ties to the Nashville business community.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? It would betTo look back on my career and say I showed up for my family, I served my community, and I led my organization to achieve great outcomes for our customers.

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

“As a faculty member, I have observed first-hand Margaret’s commitment to improving her skills and learning as much as possible during her time in the program. I never saw her back down from the frustration and discomfort that are an inevitable part of pushing to develop new knowledge and capabilities. And, of course, she has managed to do this while continuing to build a successful career, volunteering in the Nashville community, and parenting two children.

As impressed as I am by the points mentioned in the first paragraph, I don’t think they really capture what made Margaret such an invaluable addition to our program.  She has been a leader who has stepped up to make the program a better experience for her fellow students – as one person in the program said to me, “She brings people together in a very positive way.” Students like Margaret form the critical bonds that hold a class together, and her work to build a sense of community among her classmates has been especially noteworthy given the distances imposed by the pandemic-related adjustments in the program.

What has been even more impressive about Margaret’s efforts is that they have extended to providing support to our first-year class as well as her second-year classmates. A recurring issue we see in our program is a lack of connection between the first- and second-year classes. Without any prompting from faculty or staff, Margaret took a number of steps to reach out, establish connection, and encourage members of the first-year class. These efforts included actions and events designed to support not only their academic development but also to welcome and integrate them into our community. All of this has been accomplished with a genuine sense of grace and gratitude.

I know Margaret wants her experience to be a source of encouragement and empowerment for other mothers of young children who might consider the pursuit of an MBA. I definitely see that. But, even more broadly, I think her dedication, leadership, and sense of community should be a source of inspiration for any of our students. We are very fortunate to have had her as a member of our program for the past two years, and I am proud to consider her a friend.”

Brian McCann
David K. Wilson Associate Professor of Management


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