2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Muhammed Usman Afzal, Brigham Young University (Marriott)

Muhammed Usman Afzal

Brigham Young University, Marriott School of Business

Age: 45

“An engineer and a clinician with an unrelenting attitude to make life better for everyone.”

Hometown: Faisalabad, Pakistan

Family Members: Wife (Arshia Hassan). Daughter (Maryam Afzal)

Fun fact about yourself: Draw strength and resolve from deep meditation since early college years. This has enabled me to manage stress and multitask; it has also strengthened my willpower and mindfulness. As a result, I was able to complete my MBA with two fulltime jobs under stressful conditions at both jobs during COVID pandemic.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Executive MBA – Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah
  • MS in Mechanical Engineering – University of Toledo, Ohio
  • BS in Mechanical Engineering – Louisiana Tech University
  • BS in Nursing – Weber State University, Ogden, Utah

Where are you currently working?

  • ICU Medical, Inc. Senior Engineering Manager – Full-time
  • Intermountain Healthcare, Registered Nurse – Med/Surg/ICU – Full-time

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Recipient of Best Thesis Award in Polymer Nanocomposites awarded by the University of Toledo, Ohio
  • Inventor of foamless SwabCap for needlefree connectors
  • Treasurer at the Islamic Center in Utah
  • Community events volunteer sponsored by Intermountain Healthcare
  • Provided community services to Utah Food Bank during COVID pandemic
  • Deans’ scholarship throughout Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am deeply influenced by Dr. Clayton Christensen’s publication, How Will you Measure You Life? Dr. Christensen passed away in 2020, but he left behind his legacy, and a stern reminder of fragility of life, human connections, and how we would like to be remembered after we are gone. This small but powerful message aligned very well with my strong faith in Islam that the duty owed to the mankind is incumbent upon every human being. In addition, I was also moved by the stories that professors and students shared in the class. As result, last year, I purchased an agriculture land in Pakistan, which I contracted it out for cultivation. The proceeds from this land goes to support eight needy families. Fortuitously, my parents were on a short trip to Pakistan that time. They helped me set up this mechanism for the well-deserved families.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of my contributions to new product development in medical devices to enhance patient safety. A unique blend of my education and experience as a mechanical engineer and a registered nurse provided me with the unique skillsets to identify problems and difficulties clinicians and patients face and be able to provide innovative solutions. Recently, at the hospital, we were challenged with the antiseptic caps for needlefree connectors on IV-lines, a foam inside these caps was fragmenting that could potentially cause embolism. It could cause a fatal condition if this loose debris from the foam is injected into the bloodstream with any IV fluid administration. Clinical staff was asked to scrub the needlefree connectors with the alcohol swab after the antiseptic cap is removed, which of course defeated the purpose of antiseptic cap. I designed a foamless antiseptic cap that used bristles instead of foam to hold alcohol with its surface tension. I was able to patent this invention. This design was simple with no extra component that led to a huge cost savings during manufacturing and it enhanced patient safety. I enjoy product development and improvement, design for manufacturability, and risk management for medical devices.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Dr. Bruce Money was my favorite professor during my EMBA program. He taught negotiation class, which was an elective. I dreaded to take this class since I did not consider myself a good negotiator; I botched many deals in the past as I was not using prudent and thoughtful negotiation skills. As a leader and manager, I wanted to learn and apply the skillsets to be a good negotiator. Dr. Money’s unique style of teaching with a light touch of humor, wisdom, case studies, and simulations prepared me very well for this important skill to have in the business world. He had this personal touch; Dr. Money made the effort to get to know each of his students even on a personal level. I apply these frameworks of negotiation at work and personal life on daily basis.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? In addition to initial qualifications for being the best MBA program in Utah, BYU Marriott had a highly reputed worldwide, with an extensive network of professionals in the industry at an affordable price. However, I was mostly enticed by the Marriot School of Business because it provides a transformational experience that it develops compassionate leaders. Alumni in the executive program from different businesses with unique leadership styles and entrepreneurial experiences are making a difference on the world stage was the deciding factor for me to attend Marriot School of Business.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I learned not only from the faculty but also from rich discussions among students, such as authenticity and vulnerability needed for compassionate leaders. I was tackling wicked problems that are so complex, breaking it down to smaller solvable problems, leveraging from unique skillsets of teammates. How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clay Christensen and Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl stoke humanity that leaders needed when making tough decisions for others.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I had to juggle two full-time jobs as a senior engineering manager for a medical device manufacturing company and a registered nurse at one of the biggest hospitals in Utah, full-time MBA program, family, and COVID crisis. From the mounting death toll of patients from COVID pandemic at the hospital to taking exams for MBA program on the same day, I struggled to keep an optimistic outlook for my family and friends while making tough decisions in the meetings at my engineering job. These factors stretched my grit and resolve to unimaginable proportions. How do I turn the switch on and off? With my strong faith in Islam, I prayed to God for strength and righteousness every morning followed by mindfulness meditation that helped me weather through these challenging times. Deep down, it helped me find the true meaning of my life and commitment to humanity.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Set your goals and vision ahead of starting your MBA program. How this program would add value to your profession, personal life, families, and community. It truly is a transformative and enriching learning experience; you could only make the best of it if you know what you want to get out of it. Be ready to devote your precious time, plan it well, and make sure your family’s support you in this important endeavor. Finally, make it powerful by connecting it with humanity.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I heard from my colleagues at work that I will not be able to get into Brigham Young University because of my faith in Islam and they only admit students with LDS faith. This myth was busted, of course, as I not only got admission, but I also found LDS students and faculty extremely welcoming and inclusive. There were other students from different faith in my classes, which made the discussions and learning that much more enriching.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My only regret during the MBA program was that I missed out on spending quality time with my wife and daughter. They are very near and dear to my heart. This is especially true with my daughter, who turned 13 during my program; I missed out on lot of family experiences. We postponed our vacations, we cut short our wedding anniversaries, birthday celebrations, and religious holidays. Hopefully, my sacrifice serves a bigger cause.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admired several students in the class for their compassion and leadership. I particularly admire Eric Smith. He was a team leader on a project we did for a client as a part of our class, General Manger’s Role. Our team of six students worked together in developing a ROI (return on investment) model for EHR system (electronic health record) for acute care hospitals. We soon realized that we had very strong personalities in the group. Eric drove consensus and mediated conflicts by connecting individually on personal level. Eventually, he was successful in driving psychological safety in the group by expressing vulnerability and authenticity in himself. I admire his compassionate leadership in the group, the way he connected with everyone including our client. He represented his team extremely well and delivered results that surpassed client’s expectations.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I chose executive MBA program because I wanted to have a great learning experience from other leaders in the industry, entrepreneurs, and executives. Rich and open discussion in the class with mature leaders in the industry provided an invaluable experience. In addition, the networking opportunities was incredible.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I work as a senior engineering manager for a global medical device company for the last thirteen years. I think the long-term career trajectory with an executive MBA is tremendous. My long-term goal would be to earn my way to an executive level position in a global medical device company. Ultimately, it would be fulfilling to drive innovation in medical devices to reduce healthcare cost, enhance patient outcome and comfort, and patient safety worldwide.

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

“Muhammed completed the MBA to complement a decade of management experience and to “connect the dots” of that past experience. He feels a big value add of the program is his career trajectory. In the short term, he was promoted during the program and is working to achieve his professional goals. Muhammed reached out of his comfort zone to network through the program and “liked the spiritual touch of the degree.” He completed the MBA while working two full time jobs. A primary source of motivation that helped him excel in the program was his desire to set the example for his daughter about the importance of education and completing goals. Muhammed, it was my honor to be your professor.”

Jim Brau
BYU Marriott School of Business Joel C. Peterson Professor of Finance


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