2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Yaremi Alicea Morales, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Yaremi Alicea Morales

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

Age: 47

“I am a focused achiever who is driven to succeed, set ambitious goals, and don’t give up until reaching them.”

Hometown: I was born and raised in Carolina, Puerto Rico. I moved to Indiana, USA, in 2015.

Family Members: Yamil Acevedo (husband), Daniel Acevedo (Son,15), Rebeca Acevedo (Daughter, 13)

Fun fact about yourself: I’m a Broadway enthusiast with a passion for singing and acting! Since the age of 11, I’ve been honing my musical talents. Still, every week, I fine-tune my vocal instrument with voice coaching sessions and make it a point to grace the stage for at least one voice recital each year. Music and art have truly shaped who I am today, both personally and professionally. I enjoy all art expressions, I sing, but I also play the piano, acted in plays, and recorded a tv commercial back in Puerto Rico before moving in 2015!

Undergraduate School and Degree: My undergraduate in Business Administration is from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus. I majored in Marketing.

I have a Master of Professional Studies in Counseling from Alliance University, formerly Nyack College. I was recognized with the Who’s Who Among Students of American Universities and Colleges Award.

Where are you currently working? I work for Eli Lilly and Company. I am a Senior Director in Global Marketing.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles: My extracurricular activities, community work, and leadership roles are integral to my life. These allow me to give back, connect with others, and positively impact the world, bringing me joy and fulfillment.

First and foremost, I love spending time with my family. Whenever we have free time, we prioritize doing things together, like going out to dinner, watching a movie, or having a game night. We are also avid global travelers, always planning our next adventure and exploring new cultures.

As a family of faith, we are active members of Trinity Church, giving and serving in various capacities. For example, my husband and I co-lead a community group where we meet regularly with six other families to share life and faith experiences. Our children also participate in mission trips, youth ministries, and worship bands.

As a diversity, equity, and inclusion advocate, I have collaborated with Lilly’s Organization of Latinos Employee Resource Group since 2016 and sat on the executive board from 2016-2021. In addition, I led the Hispanic Women Network, providing connection spaces to Hispanic professional women at Lilly, fostering community, and sharing best practices on how to succeed in the marketplace. During 2023, I am moderating a Latino Circle Mentoring program with one of our senior leaders. I am part of the Lilly Marketing recruitment team, and actively engage in campus recruitment initiatives for the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras and Mayaguez Campus. I interview and select top-talent candidates to join the Lilly Marketing Academy Internship and mentor and coach new hires.

Lastly, I am proud to serve on the Board of Trustees for Indiana Wesleyan University since 2022, where I am committed to promoting the university’s mission and values. Within this role, I am a member of the Multicultural Enrichment Committee, where diversity, equity, and inclusion are at the forefront of the university’s priorities.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? One of my proudest achievements happened right at the beginning of my MBA journey. I was invited and elected to serve on the Board of Trustees by the Indiana Wesleyan University President and trustees. As a full voting member, I had the privilege of participating in the election of the 10th President in the institution’s 102-year history.

This achievement is significant because of my connection to higher education. As a first-generation college student, I know first-hand the transformative power of education. I have experienced how education can change an individual’s destiny and impact future generations. Being able to give back to the community is an incredible honor.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?

One of my proudest achievements in my professional career is receiving the 2020 Chief Marketing Officer Council Excel Award, the highest achievement in Lilly marketing. Being recognized for delivering results and demonstrating a business ownership mentality – combined with marketing discipline, inclusive leadership, and a broader impact on Diversity and Inclusion efforts across the enterprise – was an honor.

Being selected as one of twelve among all Lilly’s Indy-based marketers by Vice Presidents is a testament to the hard work and dedication I put into my job every day. It is gratifying to know that my contributions are making a meaningful impact on the company and helping to drive its success.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Choosing a favorite MBA professor is hard, as each has contributed so much to my growth and development. However, two professors have left a lasting impact on me: Professor Alyson Carrel (Negotiation Strategies) and Professor Nicholas Pearce (Beyond Diversity).

Their teaching style and approach to the subject were exceptional. Also, their ability to connect with the class and build a supportive community with the Teacher Assistants was genuinely inspiring. They both demonstrated a deep understanding of the subject and were able to adjust the course to the needs and questions of the audience.

The ability to speak from the heart and share their values and experiences made Professor Carrel and Professor Pearce stand out. This created a safe space for open and honest discussions and encouraged us to make introspections and think deeply about our leadership styles and how to apply them to the topic at hand.

Both classes left a lasting impact on me regarding the knowledge I gained and the connections I made with my classmates and professors. I left both courses feeling empowered, supported, and inspired to continue my leadership journey.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Back in 2014, when I first started researching MBA programs, I was immediately drawn to Kellogg’s Executive MBA program. From the beginning, I was impressed by the approach to learning, the strong network of professionals, and the welcoming atmosphere that made me feel right at home.

Fast forward seven years later, when Lilly offered me the opportunity to further develop my potential by sponsoring me to pursue an MBA, I knew there was only one program I wanted to attend. So, without hesitation, I contacted Kellogg and applied for their Executive MBA program.

Kellogg’s Executive MBA program stands out from the rest due to its unparalleled personal interaction and innovative approach to learning. Their program is designed to incorporate learning from peers through collaboration, international electives, and their extensive global network. It’s remarkable how I can receive this level of education from one of the top business schools in the nation. They are motivating us to lead with purpose and, as their slogan says, “deliver high impact with low ego.” Learning from and working alongside diverse professionals worldwide is an invaluable experience informing my present and undoubtedly shaping my future success.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA, and how did you apply it at work?  One of the biggest lessons I learned during my MBA program was the importance of endurance, active listening, and succeeding in cross-cultural interactions. Throughout the program, I was put in various scenarios, where I had to work with classmates from all around the world – many of whom I had just met – to deliver a project quickly. Through these interactions, I gained much insight into myself, my cultural triggers, and the things that helped me move forward.

One key lesson I learned was the importance of having a cultural translator in environments with a certain level of dissonance. Sometimes, trying to understand things alone doesn’t work, and we need someone to help bridge the gap between different cultures. Life often puts us in challenging situations, but at the same time provides us with the tools to succeed. I have seen the benefits of having colleagues who act as cultural translators, and I am also more conscious of when I need to take on that role in the classroom and at work.

This lesson has been precious in my professional life. As a leader in a global organization, I need to be able to navigate different cultures and work with people from around the world. The ability to stay calm, listen actively, and be willing to work through cultural differences has helped me build stronger relationships with my colleagues and achieve better results for my team. In addition, I have learned that success in cross-cultural interactions requires empathy and a willingness to learn from others.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? During spring break, my family and I decided to travel to Europe. Four months into the program, I was already knee-deep in our studies, and our study group, the Conquerors, had a couple of marketing cases to deliver.

Despite the exciting vacation ahead and the support of my study group to disconnect fully, my sense of accountability did not allow me to switch off from my commitments. As the marketer of our study group, I knew my contribution was relevant. So, I partnered with my study group, and we agreed to work together during my travels. During the trip, while my family was sleeping or we were traveling by train from one country to another, I was working on the marketing cases and sharing my perspectives and contributions with the team. It was challenging, but with the support of my study group, we managed to deliver the work.

During the same trip, I had to complete the final test for my Leadership Class, a task I completed upon my arrival in the first city. It was a satisfying feeling to be able to fully commit to my family on vacation while also fully committing to my EMBA program, the Conquerors, and myself. With the right mindset and support system, everything is possible.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? If you’re considering an Executive MBA program, start by reflecting on your reasons for pursuing this path is important. Be sure to seek a deep understanding of what drives you and what you hope to gain from the experience. You’ll also want to ensure that you have the support of loved ones and acknowledge that there is no perfect timing for an executive to pursue an MBA.

Before beginning your search for the right program, make a list of selection criteria that matter most to you. Talk to people who have gone through the process to gain insights into what to expect. Once you’ve found the right business school and program, embrace the journey.

As my daughter once said to me, think of your EMBA journey as a rock-climbing wall. Success is within reach, but you must take it one step at a time. Some parts of the climb will be easier, while others will be more challenging. Keep your eyes on the goal and keep climbing towards the top. With hard work and dedication, you’ll get there.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? One of the biggest myths about returning to school to complete an Executive MBA is the perception that you don’t need it if you have been successful in your field for a long time. When I shared with others that I was pursuing an Executive MBA after spending 20 years in the pharmaceutical industry, some people believed that my experience alone was sufficient and that I could add more to the program than the program could add to me. However, this is definitely a myth.

The opportunity to sit in a classroom, with professionals from all over the world across various industries, is an incredible experience that stretches you in ways you couldn’t imagine. Bringing my real-world experiences to the classroom has allowed me to clarify concepts, connect ideas, and multiply my learnings. It has enhanced my ability to experience the workplace in a new and profound way.

One of the most significant benefits of returning to school is the opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and learn from diverse professionals with different experiences and perspectives. While your professional experience is valuable, combining it with the knowledge gained from an Executive MBA program could set you apart.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I can confidently say that I have no regrets. Instead, I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to attend such a prestigious institution and to have been part of Cohort 131. I have a sense of gratitude and accomplishment for the work I delivered, the relationships I formed, and the knowledge and skills I gained.

Throughout the program, I did my best to deliver exceptional work and engage with the faculty, administration, and classmates. I pushed myself outside my comfort zone and took on new challenges that allowed me to grow personally and professionally.

My study group, the Conquerors, played a significant role in my success. Their unwavering support, encouragement, and collaboration made the experience truly remarkable. I feel fortunate to have been part of such an incredible team and learned so much from each member.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? When it comes to admiring my MBA classmates, it’s hard to pick just one. Each has a unique story of their origins and the journey that led them to pursue an Executive MBA. We have classmates worldwide; some travel monthly from Asia, Latin America, and different states. I admire their commitment and dedication to developing themselves while balancing work and family responsibilities.

However, I must give a special shout-out to the 16 women in our cohort 131. They are my superheroes. They inspire me daily with their intelligence, resilience, and determination to succeed. I am in awe of their ability to juggle demanding careers and family obligations while pursuing an Executive MBA. They are a true inspiration and proof of women’s leadership power.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? When I was considering MBA options, there were various reasons why I ultimately chose to pursue an Executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives.

I wanted to be able to engage in discussions with peers at a similar career level and faculty, share my own professional experiences, and learn from the experiences of others. The face-to-face interaction and the opportunity to build relationships with other executives were essential to me.

Secondly, the structure of the EMBA program was appealing to me. The recommended core classes provided a solid foundation of knowledge, but the program also allowed for flexibility in choosing electives that aligned with my specific interests and career goals. In addition, the weekend class structure balanced in-person learning and applying concepts to my work during the week.

In addition, the leadership development and career support offered by the EMBA program are second to none. One-on-one coaching and mentoring, workshops, and extracurricular activities are all designed to help students succeed not just in their actual careers but in the crafting of new opportunities.

Overall, the Executive MBA program perfectly fits me, providing the balance of classroom learning, real-world application, and invaluable networking opportunities I envisioned.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal?

My ultimate long-term professional goal is to continue growing as a leader while helping other leaders achieve their goals. In addition, I want to inspire others through the quality of work I deliver and how I interact with others—with empathy, compassion, and inclusivity.

My passion lies in developing people and teams to reach their full potential. I want to use my knowledge and experience to mentor and coach others, to help them overcome obstacles and achieve their aspirations. Empowering others can create a ripple effect in transforming organizations, communities, and the world.

However, my professional goals are not my only priorities. I strive to find balance in all aspects of my life, knowing that my success as a leader is closely tied to my success as a wife and mother.

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

“Yare’s level of energy and enthusiasm to the Kellogg EMBA Negotiation Strategies course enhanced everyone’s experience. Her deep curiosity throughout the course unveiled many nuances to the material that are often overlooked. As a professor, I not only admired her engagement with the material, but her willingness to ask questions and concerns throughout the course. We all benefit from students who have the strength to be vulnerable and share their thoughts with the group; in their vulnerability, others realize they are not alone, new avenues are opened, and the group dynamic becomes that much more collegial. Thanks to Yare, other students began to open up and feel more comfortable asking difficult questions as well.

Being vulnerable and open is important in any class, but especially in a class with such diverse professional and personal experiences. In one class, we explored the impact of culture on negotiation behaviors and expectations. Yare reflected on the power of being a “bridge” among people–someone who listens and seeks to understand, is willing to adapt and adjust when working with others and being transparent and authentic. Thanks to her curiosity, vulnerability, and authenticity, Yare was that bridge. She created the space for others to be curious and vulnerable, she allowed them to be authentic. And in doing so, she enhanced the experience of everyone in that class.”

Alyson Carrel
Co-Director, Center on Negotiation, Mediation, and Restorative Justice

Clinical Professor of Law at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law

“From the moment Yare introduced herself to her classmates in the first 15 minutes of class and shared why she was in the classroom with us for my Beyond Diversity course, I had high expectations for how she would contribute to our learning community over the next several weeks – and she did not disappoint. Many students bring passion – Yare exceeded the norm. Many students bring insights & ideas to the classroom – Yare’s were unmatched. But few students have the sheer determination and vision to translate their insight into action at a national or even global scale – I believe Yare is one of those rare leaders who exemplifies the best of Kellogg. Her focus and courage are contagious. Yare is a woman on a mission – a brave leader who is committed to inspiring growth in the people around her and beyond.”

Nicholas Pearce
Clinical Professor of Management & Organizations

Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management


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