2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Allison Hanlon, Vanderbilt University (Owen)

Allison Hanlon

Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management

Age: 48

“I am a life-long learner and curious person who loves challenges.”

Hometown: Nashville, TN

Family Members: Husband Gar Bo Wong, daughters Alannah Wong (14 years old) and Mary Wong (12 years old)

Fun fact about yourself: Irish dancer

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Bachelor of Science, University of Notre Dame

Doctorate of Philosophy in Immunology, Temple University School of Medicine

Doctorate of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine

Where are you currently working?

Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Department of Dermatology, Associate Professor

Veteran’s Administration, Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, Dermatology Service Chief

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Extracurricular activities include swimming.

My community work is volunteering at my children’s school.

My leadership role includes being the service chief of dermatology for the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, Veteran’s Administration.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I was named the first Oscar Colegio Memorial Lecture recipient at Roswell Cancer Center in New York this year. Oscar and I studied why patients develop skin cancer after solid organ transplant. He and I were junior faculty at Yale when we first met. While we could have developed a competitive relationship, we instead collaborated. The collaboration was successful and we developed a wonderful friendship. Oscar went on to become chair at Roswell Cancer Center’s dermatology department. When he died, the center decided to establish a named lectureship in his memory. I was honored to be the first recipient. 

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I have achieved academic success through honors, publications and lectures, but my most proud professional achievement is the privilege of treating skin cancer patients.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? There are too many outstanding professors to name a favorite. As a teacher, I realize the amount of time and preparation the professors did outside the classroom to make their lectures so engaging. The professors are leaders in their fields and have a deep understanding of the topics.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I chose Vanderbilt’s executive MBA program due to the quality and curriculum. As a leader, I quickly realized that I did not have the tools necessary for success. I wanted to fill my knowledge gap by learning from business leaders. The professors are true leaders in academia and “the real world.” The high quality program drew students from a variety of backgrounds and work experience. The classroom interchange between the professors and students was excellent during an open house visit. Vanderbilt University’s executive MBA program had a broad curriculum that mirrored the full time MBA program. Through Vanderbilt’s program, I could learn business while continuing to work as a physician and leader.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The biggest lesson I learned in MBA was communication. I did not have the tools to effectively communicate in my leadership position. The MBA program taught me the language and knowledge to effectively communicate to business leadership what resources are needed. I was able to convey my group’s needs, which resulted in better resources and success. I demonstrated to the site planning committee the service’s space needs from lessons I learned in operations. I created a business plan to expand clinical services saving the healthcare system millions. The business office personnel said it was the best presentation a physician has given for expansion justification. I negotiated the hire of physician personnel at competitive salaries. All of these experiences happened within the first year at Owen. While the executive MBA was challenging, the time spent was worthwhile.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I am presently in the sandwich generation where I have children and aging parents.  During the executive MBA program, my father was diagnosed with significant heart disease requiring multiple hospitalizations and procedures. When I planned to return to school, I did not factor in a parent’s illness. I am the only physician in my family, so they leaned on me. I communicated with my professors and C team members that I needed to support my father and family. Everyone at Owen was very understanding. I found time to complete assignments, while commuting to my father’s home in the Northeast and maximizing my time in the evenings. Retrospectively, I think attending class during that time was key. Just being in the classroom was incredibly helpful in keeping me on track to finish when I could have easily fallen behind.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? I recommend you use the time to learn the formal classwork and to network with the Owen community – professors, staff, classmates and alumni. As an executive MBA, you have multiple demands on your time. Carving out about twenty hours a week for MBA learning and networking is important. You want to utilize the time when you are enrolled.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth about going back to school is that you don’t have the time when you have children. I work two jobs as an associate professor at Vanderbilt treating skin cancer patients and as the service chief at the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System. I knew that time management was important and getting support at work and home was key. Prior to committing, I discussed with my husband and children how we could adjust to my enrollment. We discussed how we would balance the kids’ activities and school, our home life and work life to this commitment. The discussion was important because we heard one another and set the groundwork for the next two years. We focused on what was important for us as a family and was fully present at those times. We were understanding if our schedules did not align for other events. We all realized that we were supporting one another and that made the process a success.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret in business school is that I did not attend more of the networking events.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The MBA classmate I most admire is Claudia Caballero, President and CEO Centro Hispano de East Tennessee. Claudia immigrated from Honduras to United States as a teenager. She leads an organization promoting education, workforce development, and young family engagement for the Latino community in East Tennessee. Claudia and I were on the same C team together. She was a dedicated student and leader throughout the year. We would study regularly together. Her perspective was important and she taught me a great deal about leadership.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? The main reason I chose the executive MBA was the curriculum mirroring the day program. Online classes would have been more convenient but not conducive to networking with classmates.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Prior to business school, my long-term professional goal was to advance as a leader within academic medicine. Now, I realize I can do so many different roles with a business degree.

What made Allison such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Allison Hanlon was an exceptional member of our EMBA class. I spoke with Allison first during her discovery process as she contemplated her choice between our EMBA and our healthcare focused MMHC programs. She chose the EMBA program because she wanted the broader exposure to other industries, different professionals and the ability to stretch beyond her current healthcare role. I later had Allison as student in our Capstone Course where she served as her team’s leader on a real-world consulting project. Allison proved herself incredibly adept in this role. She worked through a challenging project while gaining the respect of both the client and her team members. Their work integrated finance, marketing, operations and strategic issues. The teams’ final recommendations were incredibly well-received by the client. I am confident that Allison could now solve complicated business issues in any industry. She personifies the impact that we hope we can have on someone’s career path as they complete our EMBA program.”

Jon Lehman
Adjunct Professor of Management
Faculty Director, Executive Education


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