2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Sony Malhotra, University of Minnesota (Carlson)

Sony Malhotra

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

Age: 46

“A flexible thinker who enjoys taking an unconventional approach. I seek areas of interest with a willingness to learn and apply creativity.”

Hometown: Blaine, Minnesota

Family Members: Staci (wife), Sanjai (14), and Seth (11)

Fun fact about yourself: Our family has quite a few pets. At one point we had a panther chameleon, teacup stingray, discus, a bearded dragon, shih tzu, and a guinea pig.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Minnesota

Where are you currently working? Ameriprise Financial – Vice President of Service & Operations

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • io – Founder and President – A small blockchain infrastructure business started during the pandemic.
  • Propel Nonprofits – Board of Directors
  • Gopher Angels – Member Investor
  • South Asian Network of Ameriprise – Executive Co-Chair – Employee Network

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Launching a small business! Sonarch.io Two cohorts in my class (Alex Drofa, Joel Haugen) and I created a startup in the blockchain space. All of us see the growth and potential in the technology. We want to be closer to the industry and found a way to support the community and start a business.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?   As a member of the Ameriprise Operations leadership team, I have a key role in driving our rapid transformation to become a recognized industry leader. I’ve helped introduce state-of-the-art digital tools that allow our financial advisors to work completely digitally— which was critically important to support our clients during the pandemic. And I also established a segmented service strategy that helped significantly improve consumer satisfaction.

For the past two years, Ameriprise has been recognized by J.D. Power for providing “an outstanding customer service experience” for phone support for advisors.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor was Myles Shaver. I’m biased because I’ve always been naturally curious and I like to know how things work. The corporate strategy course he taught fascinated me.  Having the ability to learn why organizations are successful and how they decided what to do and not do was a wonderful opportunity. I now understand things like transactional costs and value-add in the corporate context. This knowledge will help me immensely in making sound business decisions in the future.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program?I chose the Carlson Executive MBA program because I wanted the challenge of a top-tier business school. Carlson also has deep roots in my community and gave me the ability to build relationships with a diverse network of talented executives who share common interests.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I learned the true value of a network and community. Living in Minneapolis, I watched my community suffer both with the pandemic and the social injustice with the murder of George Floyd. It was heartbreaking to watch the devastation and destruction around me. At the same time, I also saw the best in people—how my friends and neighbors supported each other to manage through these dark events. It showed me that if we focus on working together, we’re collectively an unstoppable force that can spark lasting change.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Managing work, school, a family, and the start of a new business — all during the pandemic — has been a challenge. It’s also been oddly energizing. I found that I enjoy managing multiple initiatives. Instead of getting burnt out, I was revitalized by continuously doing something different. Often, I was able to apply what I learned in school to multiple areas of my life. Compartmentalizing time and prioritizing deliverables were critical. Staying up late at night didn’t hurt either.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program?   My advice: Just dive in! Immerse yourself in the academics and the Carlson community. It’s a crazy two-year experience, but an experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? For me, school feels so different now that I’m tenured and experienced. I was able to draw from my professional journey and see the value of the principles taught by the program. The skillsets I learned are foundational and can be applied in a variety of business settings. It gave me the confidence to handle any professional situation.

What I didn’t expect is the amount of generosity and kindness from all of the professors and my fellow classmates. For some reason, I expected a post-graduate degree to be a cutthroat experience. We were competitive but the program helped us work well together and learn from each other.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret was not networking as much as I could with my classmates. Going to school with so many talented individuals who have such diverse ideas and thoughts is a unique experience. Being hindered by the pandemic was a challenge. I hope there is an opportunity to make deeper connections with my classmates after we graduate. I’ve been through the grind with them for two years so we have something very special in common.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The classmate whom I admire the most is Mona Vaid. In my opinion, she is the most articulate and well-spoken individual in the program. She shares insightful business perspectives and can explain complex concepts in a manner that is easily understood. She is an entrepreneur at heart who recently started a new business. It’s an online media company that fosters new perspectives by sharing stories not easily discovered of individuals, communities, and organizations making a positive impact around the world. If that’s not impressive enough, she had a baby while starting the MBA program and she was our class representative. Mona was not only able to manage everything; she excelled.  She is admirable.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I was attracted to the condensed two-year timeframe and the ability to build meaningful relationships with like-minded people. The Executive MBA Program is focused and action-packed. The two years go by fast. The curriculum gives you an opportunity to network with the faculty and peer network. I found it instantly expanded my professional network and gave me insight into other industry sectors through my student relationships.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term professional goal is to create a unicorn company—a privately held startup valued at over $1 billion. I’d like to establish and eventually sell the business.              

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

“Learning from one’s peers is always a key element in an Executive MBA Program; however, it was ultra-important this year because of the virtual/hybrid teaching environment. We were lucky to have Sony in the class because he made our time together much more valuable for all of us. He was great at stepping in and asking questions, which spurred other questions from the class. He was active in providing examples or counter-examples, which encouraged discussion and debate. I also noticed that he was an active participant in the chat – adding short points that kept his classmates engaged. I owe a special thanks this year to all of my students for stepping up their engagement in order to cope with the teaching changes brought on by the pandemic—and Sony was an exemplar!”

Myles Shaver
Professor and Curtis L. Carlson Chair in Corporate Strategy

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