2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: James Derry, Southern Methodist University (Cox)

James Derry

Cox School of Business, Southern Methodist University

Age: 48

“In a world that promotes projecting false selves, I stir up life warriors to experience Identity.”

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Family Members: Two siblings, an older sister and younger brother, both with MBAs.

Fun fact about yourself: I am father to six children, biological siblings, four sons and two daughters.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Texas at Austin – Bachelor of Science, Electrical Engineering

Where are you currently working? Fidelity Talentsource – Fidelity Workplace Consulting, Data Consulting

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Founder, Irving iOS Jumpstart Meetup (2013-2017) – a mobile technology programming meetup.
  • Programming Instructor (2013) – University of Texas at Arlington – Division for Enterprise Development

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My greatest achievement during business school was extracurricular, supporting my sons’ athletics in high school and middle school football, and middle school soccer. At my age and a variety of responsibilities, I still manage to frequently play and get physical in play against them. They enjoy my involvement.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Early in my career, I stepped away from ful-ltime technology consulting to co-found a fitness center. The facility later sold to a national fitness chain. As I look back, I see a multitude of business mistakes I made during that time, but I am most proud of making the leap in keeping with my entrepreneurial dreams.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Don Vandewalle – Organizational Behavior was my favorite professor. Professor Vandewalle’s passion for the subject comes through when he teaches. The models he taught and the rigor of application to real world scenarios was eye opening for me. I’m very interested in the subject matter given my coaching and professional career involves the people side of digital transformations at large companies.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? For me, the school I chose was all about the people. I chose SMU’s Executive MBA program because, from the beginning of contact with the admissions program, I felt respected, valued, and cared for as a person. Not every program I researched behaved in this manner. I reasoned that if the EMBA admissions team was treating me this way, they likely treat other prospective students the same, which led me to deduce that I would be part of a talented and diverse cohort. The members of the 2022 cohort surpassed my expectations, and I am honored to complete the program with each and every member.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? My tendency is toward intrapreneurship within companies I work for. As technology gets more multi-faceted (complicated), advocating for projects to be undertaken requires that I apply MBA lessons such as strategic cost analysis and financial modeling of initiatives to prove the value of the project and mitigate potential risks. Speaking to these matters has given me greater credibility to move forward with intrapreneurial initiatives.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I learned during the first semester of the EMBA program that I could not divide and isolate work, family and education. First of all, I worked from home for most of the last ten years so everything for me is mixed together. I strived to avoid subjecting my family to when-then syndrome (i.e.: when my MBA program is over, then I’ll spend more time with you) and accepted that a “perfect” GPA would not be likely given this prioritization. I learned to welcome interruptions rather than be frustrated by them. Curiously, it seemed I would have the hardest day at work on the same day I planned to set aside time to study for a quiz, presentation, or work on homework that was due. Other times, my children seemed to pick the times I most needed focus to come in and want to talk. It was difficult, but I would welcome them in my office, listen attentively and try not to let them know how badly I needed to get back to schoolwork. Sometimes this caused late nights. I never felt I had all the time I wanted to spend on school or work, but somehow I managed to perform well on less time, and most of all I could live with the consequences.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Like my cohort was told at the beginning of my program, seize the day. Make the most out of what the program provides. Get to know the talented cohort around you. Rest as best you can to soak up the lectures. Be thinking about application to your work or business as you learn new concepts. Finally, stay connected with your family. Even though you tell them about your workload, they won’t always understand. It is difficult just as anything worth attaining is difficult, but just make daily choices where you can live with yourself in peace.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I would have liked to attend more of the Cox School’s Business Leadership seminars and the lectures of visiting speakers given the fact that I found the few I did attend very worthwhile. Also, I would have liked to take more advantage of student life such as using the on-campus fitness facilities and physical libraries.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I’ve met so many wonderful cohort members that it’s tough to choose one I most admire. I’d say Heather Pondrom. Heather is dynamic, down-to-earth, passionate and focused on excellence in all she does. She is a poised combination of love for people and rigor in her academics.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I chose an executive MBA because I have over 20 years’ experience in information technology consulting, and I preferred classmates with a certain amount of ‘real world’ experience. The weekend format also worked well with my schedule. I learn best in-person rather than online and part-time would have taken too long for my personality style.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term professional goal is to start a successful business and then formally serve the community by running for elected office.

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

“James Derry is the quintessential multidimensional Executive MBA grad. He possesses the quantitative chops with a degree in electrical engineering and a very successful career in technology consulting. Those abilities are enhanced by the fact that James is also a passionate student of human behavior and organizational dynamics. Leveraging both his qualitative and quantitative strengths, James was a remarkable asset at every level in the Cox EMBA program, especially because of the insights he shared during classroom discussions, his contributions to his study groups, and the leadership he showed among his peers in the Class of 2022.”

Associate Professor Don Vandewalle, PhD
Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor
Frank and Susan Dunlevy Research Fellow
Management and Organizations Department
SMU Cox School of Business


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