Cambridge Judge Business School
“A driven, compassionate, and curious leader who finds energy in human connections and travel.”
Hometown: Denver, Colorado
Family Members: Austin Pollak (husband)
Fun fact about yourself: Although I am American, I have lived most of my life outside of the US. I was born in Panama, and spent nearly two decades living across Europe and South America. My husband and I have been in London since 2020, and hope to stay here for as long as we can. Growing up abroad defined who I am, what I studied, and my eventual career path.
Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Denver, B.A. International Relations with a concentration in Security and Conflict Resolution, B.A. Spanish
Where are you currently working? McDonald’s Corporation, Senior Director of Global Impact
Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: The reality is, working full-time while doing an Executive MBA doesn’t leave a lot of spare time for extracurriculars, unfortunately. However, following graduation, I’m really looking forward to getting involved in my community here in London through volunteering and supporting local programs. I moved in between COVID lockdowns, then immediately began the EMBA, so haven’t yet had the opportunity to meaningfully engage. I’m also excited for more time to read and travel for pleasure again, get back into cycling, and brush up on my Italian and Spanish. Professionally, I am the co-founder of McDonald’s European Women’s Network, which convenes women from over 20 countries.
Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am incredibly proud of the work my classmates and I undertook to help boost the number of women enrolled in the EMBA. Executive MBA programs generally have lower rates of female enrollment, and that is a significant problem for many reasons. That’s especially true when you consider that EMBA programs are training current and future business and world leaders. We held several workshops within our cohort to identify and address the key issues underlying the low female enrollment, provided clear recommendations to the school based on our business experience, and supported the school’s marketing and recruitment efforts. Our advocacy, combined with the school’s commitment and passion, has led to a significant increase in the percentage of women enrolled in the next cohort, as well as adjustments to the curriculum and the addition of several female faculty.
What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I moved to the UK and transitioned into a very international role in the middle of 2020. This role involved supporting and advising McDonald’s teams in more than 20 countries, which was not easy to do entirely virtually for nearly two years. I’m incredibly proud that I was able to build strong partnerships, a sense of community across the team, and manage seemingly endless geopolitical crises through a webcam. Now that we’re able to travel again, finally meeting these teams in person has been one of the highlights of my job. I traveled to 15 countries last year, and have another full travel docket in 2023.
Who was your favorite MBA professor? I genuinely can’t choose a favorite. Judge Business School has such a great team of passionate, engaged, and brilliant professors. I feel very fortunate to have been taught by each of them.
Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? The main deciding factor for me in choosing CJBS was the culture of the EMBA program. From the information sessions I attended and the students and alumni I spoke with, there was a strong sense of community and a feeling of ‘We’re in this together’ rather than ‘Me vs. you.’ I think this is largely attributable to the program’s focus on building a diverse cohort – in terms of industry, expertise, geographic location, background, thought – which was another main draw for me. Also, Cambridge’s rich history, traditions, and the physical beauty of the campus are difficult to beat.
What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The EMBA has fundamentally changed the way I think. I noticed it about midway through the program; the way I approached problems and people at work had shifted thanks to the EMBA. My studies have given me both the functional business skills as well as the theoretical frameworks to understand challenges in a different way and approach them more strategically and more decisively. Also, being surrounded by so many brilliant classmates has opened my eyes to opportunities I had never previously considered for myself. Seeing my colleagues take on new challenges or start their own ventures has made me realize “I can do that, too,” and that’s exciting.
Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? During my first term, I was in a great study group with classmates from the UK, continental Europe, and across Asia. This made for some very early morning meetings to accommodate the various time zones. I would wake up around 5:00, have a call with my study group, spend an hour or two working on assignments, then start my workday. My partner and I actually switched sides of the bed so I could be closer to the bedroom door in the mornings. The evenings were filled with another hour or two of schoolwork and a quick family dinner. I’m fortunate to have a very patient, supportive partner who was able to carry much of the life work and keep me fed, otherwise I may have subsisted on takeaway and cold sandwiches for two years.
I think the past two years doing the EMBA were also, coincidentally, the two most challenging years of my professional career, due to a variety of global issues and crises. There were certainly moments where I felt I could not maintain the pace on the school, work, and family fronts, and had to learn to give enough to each and be happy with good enough. Building a good support system at home and at work is critical, and something I would advise anyone considering an EMBA.
What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Protect and prioritize your time in school, and enjoy every minute of it. I absolutely loved my weekends at Cambridge. It was time just for me to put aside work and personal obligations for two days per month and immerse myself in something entirely new. It’s such a pleasure to use your brain in a different way, to be surrounded by people you normally wouldn’t encounter, and to challenge yourself to learn and think differently. Plus, the social aspects of the program and the friends I’ve made are incomparable. Do your best to separate your time at school from work and personal obligations, just for a moment, so you can really engage and enjoy it to the fullest. For many of us, this may be the last time we’re in school, so it’s really important to take advantage of the experience.
What is the biggest myth about going back to school? One of the biggest concerns I had going back to school was that I wouldn’t be able to balance the demands with my work and family life. The reality is, once you decide to go back to school, you make the time for it to fit into your life. Of course, with so many obligations, it’s not possible to give 100% to everything, and many times I felt like I was slipping as a student, an employee, and a partner. Eventually, you find a rhythm and a balance that works for you and the people in your life. Another common myth I’ve heard and once believed is that there is a perfect time to go back to school. There isn’t. At some point, you just have to take the leap.
What was your biggest regret in business school? I feel very fortunate to have gotten everything I wanted from my EMBA experience – new perspective, great friends, an amazing network, a better understanding of myself and my leadership abilities, and a wealth of new knowledge. I have no regrets! I do look forward to spending more time with family and friends post-graduation, though, as there certainly hasn’t been enough time for that over the past two years.
Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I had such an amazing group of talented, kind, brilliant classmates in the program, and learned something from every single one. I am tremendously grateful to all of them.
I also want to specifically thank Lucien Bowater, whose dedication, passion, thoughtful questioning, and tireless commitment were the driving force behind our efforts to increase the gender diversity in the program.
What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I didn’t want to lose momentum in my career by pausing for a year or two, and wanted to be able to apply the lessons I learned in school immediately in my work. The in-person component was also a critical factor in my decision, as I don’t think you can have quite the same experience of learning from and sharing with your classmates in a strictly virtual environment.
What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want a career that keeps me challenged, inspired, and constantly learning, while also providing me the time and means to enjoy a fulfilling life with my family. Maintaining an international component in my work is also important, whether living abroad or working with global teams. I hope to make a positive impact on my teams and colleagues, and be remembered as someone who made their lives and careers better.
What made Erica such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?
“It has been such a pleasure having Erica in the cohort. She has been outstanding in many respects not just in terms of academic merit but also in terms of her valuable contributions to the cohort and the programme as a whole. Erica is passionate about greater female representation and this was evident in her continued support of initiatives by the programme team in improving the gender balance for future cohorts. Our sincere thanks and gratitude, and we wish Erica the very best of luck in her next steps.”
Dr. Othman Cole
Management Practice Associate Professor (Finance)
Deputy Director of the Executive MBA Programme
DON’T MISS: THE BEST & BRIGHTEST EXECUTIVE MBAS OF 2023
Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.