2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Al Makke, Michigan State (Broad)

Al Makke

Michigan State University, Eli Broad College of Business

Age: 33

“Collaborative value creator that enjoys solving today’s challenges with the power of people.”

Hometown: Farmington Hills, Michigan

Family Members: Jenny Abro (Significant Other)

Fun fact about yourself: Maybe more odd than fun. Throughout my life, I’ve read books/instructions to pick up skills or hobbies instead of taking classes (namely golf and driving a manual transmission car).

Undergraduate School and Degree:

University of Windsor, Bachelor of Applied Science – Mechanical Engineering

Lawrence Technological University, Master of Science – Mechatronic Systems Engineering

Where are you currently working?

Company: Schaeffler Group USA Inc.  – Role: Engineering Manager – Chassis Systems

Company: Lawrence Tech University – Role:  Adjunct Professor

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • 2022 EMBA Class Representative, Troy Cohort
  • 2022 EMBA Class Speaker, Troy Cohort
  • Active Member – Beta Gamma Sigma, MSU Chapter
  • Active Member – Phi Kappa Phi, MSU Chapter
  • Formula SAE Volunteer
  • Academic advisor for students at Lawrence Technological University

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Being invited to be a member of Phi Kappa Phi (top 10% across all graduate disciplines) was by far the most challenging achievement. That meant that our team that was together for 20 months had to perform at a very high level for group assignments. This is not something that I would have been able to achieve without the help and support of Team 6. Their dedication made this possible. At the end of the day, we ended up lifting each other up; three of our five team members were in the top 20% of the EMBA class (Beta Gamma Sigma), and that shows the attitude, the mindset, and “Go get it” mentality that this team brought each night.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Just over a year ago, my business unit director and I were separated into a new business unit, along with five other engineers, focused on chassis systems for future vehicles (steer-by-wire, ride height actuators, etc.). We had been working towards acquiring a $350M project with a new mobility OEM that would pave the way for this business unit. To do so, the seven of us had to work really hard with our counterparts in Germany. After many long hours, while teaching and going to school for my executive MBA, we were able to secure the project and grow the department five-fold in 12 months. So, securing this project and training 30+ engineers in a span of a year was demanding. We are finally at a stage where we have enough autonomy that allows us to pursue additional opportunities.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? There are many talented professors in the Broad College of Business, but I have to tip my hat to Professor Stephen Schiestel, who received the Professor of Excellence Award from our Troy cohort. I personally voted for him, and I was so fortunate because I was able to present the award to him during our graduation ceremony on May 1. Professor Schiestel was able to make our Finance classes very relatable and applicable to our day-to-day jobs and our personal interests. He was able to share his experience that spanned both industry and academia, which is something that I place great value on. I also have to admit that I stole a few of his teaching techniques that helped keep the class engaged.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? There are multiple reasons why I chose MSU’s EMBA program. I had a chance to attend a couple of preview sessions, and I was able to see the caliber of discussions and people that were enrolled in the program. I was intimidated by the level of discussion, and I questioned whether I was going to be able to keep up. I also knew three successful individuals who worked where I did and had completed the program. They had the highest praise, and I was able to pick their brains about more details. Finally, I was already leading a busy life with work and teaching part-time. The location and the cadence where the last points that hit home run for me.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? There are two lessons that I feel I was able to put in practice very quickly. The first one is from our negotiations class. I learned to work on growing the pie and adopt integrative methods before starting to claim my/our piece of the pie. I work on negotiating project requirements with OEMs, and since the class, my focus has shifted to finding ways to grow the pie for both Schaeffler and the customer. Over time, this builds a better relationship with the customer and potentially allows us to establish a competitive advantage. The second lesson was from our entrepreneurship class, where there is a large focus on the human-centricity of problems around us and how to overcome these problems by focusing on the human experience. While this is still a work in progress, most of our procedures are not designed in ways that are human-friendly. I am already able to spot a few areas of improvement that I intend to recommend to the process owners.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Talk about honing your time management skills. Teaching part-time meant that I was not able to do any schoolwork or spend family time two nights a week already. I had to make sure I was ultra-organized, punctual, and efficient. Of course, when needed, I was generous with my time with my family, knowing that they will have my back when I needed them. However, ultra-efficiency meant purchasing audiobook versions of our books, downloading PDF readers, taking a case study to read at the barbershop, and countless more methods to find time to read a page, write a paragraph, or listen to a podcast. Time starvation was as real as ever, but it worked!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? This degree will introduce you to a world of new industries like never before; a network of high-caliber professionals who are experts in their own rights; and a new understanding of “having time.” Make sure that your personal goals are well aligned with the institution where you pursue an Executive MBA. I gave this degree everything, and I am so glad that I did because I got so much out. I can navigate complex business situations with more confidence, and I have a large network of business professionals that I can leverage for any reason that I want. My advice for someone looking to take this journey on would be to be present and consistent throughout the program and make sure you bring your own personal perspective to class discussions. A large portion of the value resides there.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? This was the second time I had chosen to go back to school, but compared to an engineering degree, I had to spend a lot more time reading and writing. On average, you can expect to spend about 20 hours per week outside of class to fulfill all requirements well. The program makes sure that you fall into a rhythm very quickly, so embracing it is the best and easiest thing you can do. Current students and alumni are your friends, and they can shed some light on how they adapted regardless of their work and family situations. It’s not difficult to go back to school; the excitement will get you off the right foot, and you will need your grit, your tenacity, and your support system to get you to the finish line.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I went in the program knowing I was going to give it my all, and I was able to get so much out. I genuinely have no regrets.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is a very difficult question. I grew fond of our Team 6 (3/5 BGS inductees and finished second place in the pitch competition!). The other Team 6 members were Caitlin Toohy, who taught me how to balance my professional life with my personal life; Evan Zhang, who was an excellent sounding board late at night for numerous classes; Maureen Foster, who was present and consistent in her contributions to the team; and Nick Yearego, who taught me how to be more efficient with all that I do so I can do all that I want. Watching everyone’s sacrifices validated the feelings that I was going through during the program

Finally, Sammy Salem from Team 5. Sammy had a unique perspective and his comments in class were always so valuable. His experience as an entrepreneur, board member, and CEO helped me understand how truly valuable this program was.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? An executive MBA program really checked every box. I did not want to be in school for a very long time, I was willing to sacrifice my weekends for two years, and I was interested in being part of the same team for the entire program because that simulated real working environments. Additionally, I had detailed discussions with very trusted individuals before entering the program about the benefits relative to other styles of MBA programs. The network and caliber of prospective students were two additional selling points. Out of those reasons, the team aspect had to be the biggest reason for my choice.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to live in a world where the best ideas rule it. Whether that is at my current role at Schaeffler, where I continue to help solving the everchanging mobility equation, or if I am lucky enough to invest in start-up ideas through angel funds at some point in my career, then I’m going to be a happy camper. I also enjoy showing my current students and young new hires the industry landscape, something that my mentor was able to show me at a very young age, and it changed how I thought about my career and what I wanted to do with it. So, charting the path for the next generation and paying it forward with knowledge is important so more people can change our world to one where the best ideas rule it.

What made Al Makke such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“All in. That pretty much sums up Al Makke. I knew from the moment I met Al that once he committed to the Executive MBA journey, he would be all in. And boy was he. His dedication to learning and growth never wavered during the 20-month program. He wrung out every bit of value from the academic learning, team experience, and professional network growth. And that dedication was not only to his own learning and growth, but also to those around him. He was the ideal teammate and classmate.

The most notable aspect of Al’s journey, though, is that it is far from over. The Broad MBA will serve as a catalyst for further growth. This is only the beginning. I am eager and excited to watch his life flourish as I know he will have a significant impact on his organization and community—because he knows only one approach—“all in.”

Greg Janicki
Director, Broad Executive MBA


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