2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Ben Coffman, University of Pittsburgh (Katz)

Ben Coffman

University of Pittsburgh, Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business

Age: 41

“Leader who balances mission accomplishment with customer and coworker needs while relentlessly driving improvement.”

Hometown: Wexford, PA

Family Members: Wife – Lan; Daughters – May and Maggie

Fun fact about yourself: I was a platoon leader in the only fully airborne truck company in the US Army

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the United States Military Academy

Where are you currently working? Senior Customer Value Director at Coupa Software

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Physical fitness has been a priority of mine since I became a competitive runner in high school. While my body won’t let me compete in running races much anymore, I’ve managed to maintain daily exercise throughout my participation in the EMBA program.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I was able to go toe-to-toe with the accountants in our Financial Accounting course despite having no prior experience with or education in accounting.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? It was building four teams from scratch in the Customer Success department at LLamasoft that directly contributed to the education of hundreds of customers on our software and improved software retention rates while developing another generation of individual contributors and leaders at LLamasoft/Coupa

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I really enjoyed Elise Boyas’s course. She was able to break complex problems down through simpler practice exercises and provided real world examples to which we could all relate in a well-planned, predictable, and entertaining course.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Pitt’s EMBA offers a world-class program that can be completed in a reasonable timeframe in a cohort format at a relatively reasonable price (including GI Bill benefits and merit scholarships).

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The EMBA has filled in gaps in my business knowledge, particularly in areas of accounting and marketing. This has enabled me to have better conversations with my customers and helps me better communicate with my finance team on contractual issues, making me more effective in my role.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? The most recent Spring term had rigorous academic requirements coinciding with May’s high school swim season and a promotion at Coupa. By working ahead in my courses, I was able to continue to achieve at a high level in the EMBA program, keep my customers successful at Coupa, and attend May’s swim meets while also working in a short vacation with Lan to the Caribbean.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Be sure to have your priorities in order and recognize that you will have to sacrifice a lot in terms of time to be successful in an EMBA program.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth is that it will take years to complete an MBA while working full-time. The executive program is intense, but it progresses quickly and efficiently.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I have not spent as much time with my classmates in social settings as I would like. With the COVID situation improving, I hope to get more opportunities to engage with my classmates in informal situations.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire Danielle Hunsicker. Danielle began her EMBA journey while leading a large commercial organization and managed to balance her role, which included heavy travel, her academic responsibilities, and her family. It took even more courage for her to make a career change during the program.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I chose the EMBA format because I could complete it more rapidly than other options and because I would get to know my classmates better through a cohort.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To do the best I can in making good on all those who have invested in me, including the American taxpayer (USMA education and the GI Bill for my EMBA), by developing others and leading with integrity.

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

“Ben has all the traits of the ideal Executive MBA student and a future business leader. He is bright, motivated, hard-working, disciplined, has exemplary leadership skills, and personifies the excellence that we look for in our Executive MBA students. Ben is truly deserving of the Poets and Quants honor.

Ben is currently the Director, Customer Value Engagement at Coupa Software, a business spend-management company. In this role, he is responsible for Customer Experience and Customer Success Management of Coupa’s clients. Prior to this position, he was with Senior Director at LLamasoft, which Coupa acquired in 2020. Ben’s increasing responsibilities and steady stream of promotions over the years spotlight the value that he brings to his employers.  He is both a leader at work and a team player. These characteristics translate into the classroom setting as well and were recognized at Coupa by Ben’s winning the Q1 FY2022 “Make Others Greater” award in his department of 900 professionals.

Prior to joining the private sector, Ben was a Captain in the Transportation Corps of the US Army. He served five years on active duty in the 82nd Airborne Division, including deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. While in the US Army, he held various roles, which he accomplished admirably. He was responsible for the health and morale of the soldiers reporting to him and their families. This is critically important when soldiers are stationed overseas and may be separated from their families. When he was responsible for equipment and vehicles, he accomplished their deployment and redeployment flawlessly. This military experience served him well when he transitioned to civilian life and now, in the Executive MBA program.

Ben’s academic performance was par excellence at his undergraduate institution and continues to be so in the Executive MBA program. At the United States Military Academy (USMA), he was the highest ranked graduate in his class based on a purely academic ranking. This is creditable given that USMA is a highly competitive school. In addition to his academic ranking, Ben was ranked 4th overall in a ranking that included academics, military, and physical achievements.  He has done exceptionally well in our Executive MBA program, earning a GPA of a perfect 4.0.  Getting even one A+ grade is difficult in a degree program—It is rare to see a transcript that has A+s across multiple “quantitative” and “qualitative” courses as does Ben’s.

Ben is an exceptional student; he is bright and inquisitive. He asks insightful questions in class, is eager to understand and learn at a deeper level, and makes the learning experience better for all students. He is always well-prepared for class, and his work is clever and innovative.

I believe that his experience in the US Army has given him the perspective that is beneficial not just to him but also to the rest of his cohort. Having been deployed in Iraq, and having had to perform duties such as casualty notification, allows him to view things with a broader outlook.  The Executive MBA program is challenging, but it does not put people’s lives in danger. This view helps Ben benefit the most from the classroom learning experience, and also helps his classmates keep things in perspective.

To summarize, Ben’s experience spans supporting colleagues to planning activities to directing and strategizing in both the US Army and the private sector. His academic performance is excellent, and he enriches the classroom culture and learning through his leadership and unique perspective. Despite his high achievements, I find Ben to be extremely modest. He is personable, and always cheerful and a pleasure to talk with.”

Prakash Mirchandani
Professor of Business Administration
Director, Center for Supply Chain Management
Academic Director, Executive MBA Program
Katz Graduate School of Business
University of Pittsburgh


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.