2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Heather Pondrom, Southern Methodist University (Cox)

Heather Pondrom

Cox School of Business, Southern Methodist University

Age: 37

“I believe in the power of hard work, kindness, and pushing beyond your comfort zone.”

Hometown: Dallas, Texas

Family Members: Husband, Sam; Son, Leo (6); Daughter, Sloane (3)

Fun fact about yourself: I’m in a creative industry, but really love math. I’ve been known to request algebra workbooks for Christmas gifts! I’m fun to be around, I promise!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Arts, Economics from Texas A&M University, with an emphasis in International Business

Where are you currently working? Vice President of Merchandising and Planning, Magnolia

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Beta Gamma Sigma, Business Honor Society

Alpha Chi, Business Honor Society

SMU EMBA Teaching Assistant, Statistics

St. Rita Catholic School PTA Member and Volunteer

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Academically, maintaining a 4.0 throughout the program is something about which I’m particularly proud. With a background mainly concentrated in Buying and Brand Management, finance and accounting-heavy classes were out of my comfort zone and required many late nights to master the coursework. Additionally, I’m proud to have created a peer-to-peer study group for Applied Finance that was led by me and another classmate. There was no TA for the class and a few peers had been struggling with course concepts, so this was a way to make sure that no one in the program was left behind. The results were extremely gratifying – I love cheering on my cohort!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In November 2021, I joined the Magnolia team as Vice President of Merchandising and Planning. I’ve been a huge fan of the brand since the first episode of Fixer Upper aired in 2013 and never imagined I’d have the opportunity to work alongside such fantastic people. The SMU Cox EMBA program prepared me to step into this role and has served me well during my first few months on the job.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? After auditing several EMBA programs, SMU Cox stood out for the caliber of its faculty, student body, and network. I was also impressed by the availability of electives that further tailored the experience to each student’s professional interests.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I learned how to better structure teams to leverage complementary skillsets through group projects. When organizing teams at work, I now look to understand the total group dynamic rather than evaluating everyone’s merits singularly. Thoughtfully crafting the right mix of people not only helps unlock success, but generally creates a more enjoyable experience all around.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I began the program in the Fall of 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most parents during this time, I had to creatively juggle the demands of work and home school – but with the added complexity of EMBA coursework.  Time management, a strong support system, and a sense of humor were critical to being able to “do it all” – for instance, I balanced potty training my then 2-year-old daughter with finals prep during my first semester. I’m not sure which was worse!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Having a strong support system is key – both at home and within the cohort. This experience truly takes a village, and I wouldn’t have succeeded without the help I received from my family and class study groups. As a parent, you can often feel guilty for spending an extended time away from home. Ultimately, I knew that I was modeling powerful behavior for my children – dream big, work hard, and anything is possible.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school?

Myth: Going back to school later in life, when your career is already on a positive trajectory, would be a waste of time, energy, and financial resources.

Reality: This was a narrative that I ran into in both personal and professional settings. Thankfully, this couldn’t be further from the truth as I am coming out of the program a better version of myself – more well-rounded, more confident, and better prepared to serve as a thought leader for the organizations I’m part of.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I could have done a better job striking a healthier school/work/life balance and chose schoolwork over family events more than a handful of times. Most things worth doing require sacrifice, but it’s important to not lose sight of what matters most in life: your loved ones.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? George Smallwood. To know George is to love him! He was a renowned professional dancer in New York City before retiring and joining the EMBA program and is also an undercover accounting whiz! He taught me to appreciate and recognize diversity in skillsets, and to look beyond a resume when crafting stellar teams. I’ll forever be thankful for his friendship.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives?  I loved that Executive MBA students brought with them a wealth of experience and diversity of perspectives that felt unique when compared to other programs. I’ve enjoyed learning from my cohort and am thankful for the lifelong network of peer advisors that I’ve gained as a result.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My goal is to launch and scale an innovative retail consultancy in Dallas, TX.

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

“Heather Pondrom is that very rare combination of creativity and diligence. Creative thinkers may struggle with detail and follow-through, while others who are good at management often struggle to be truly creative in their thought processes.  Heather excels at both.  This is a hallmark of great entrepreneurs – the ability to innovate and produce. Hence it was no surprise to see how well she and her team did in my entrepreneurship class. Over the course of the semester, Heather and her team developed a very viable SAAS (software as a service) concept identifying a niche in an enormous market and delivered in an executable plan.”

John F. Terry 
Adjunct Professor, Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship


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