Best Advice From The Top Executive MBAs


Most people hate advice. Advice demands reflection. And it takes away deniability. At best, it is delivered as a challenge. At worst it is cloaked as a warning. Worst of all, it can force you to make a decision – often one that requires painful change.

By now, you’ve probably been given “the nudge.” Usually, a senior executive will tout the benefits of an executive position. No doubt, you can read between the lines. The team wants you to take that next step, to save you from being stuck in the same job doing the same things in the same way. They want you to commit and grow. According to Cornell’s Veronica Carrera, an execution consultant at Bloomberg who was recently named to Poets&Quants’ Best Executive MBAs of the Class of 2015, the decision rests on how you define risk. “One of my global managers used to ask me this question when I was faced with an important decision: ‘If you do it, what do you have to lose? If you don’t do it, what do you risk to lose?’”

Penn State's Steve Ettinger

Penn State’s Steve Ettinger


Indeed, ‘take a leap of faith’ was one piece of advice given by many of this year’s best-and-brightest EMBAs. “If you are waiting for a moment in your life where you think you will be absolutely prepared and ready for the challenge of school, fuhgeddaboutdit,” jokes Steven Mark Ettinger, a physician who graduated from Penn State’s Smeal College of Business. Kellogg’s Meera Atkins, another physician, voiced similar encouragement. “Go for it. There will never be a convenient time to go. It won’t get easier at home or work – life just seems to get busier. It’s an incredible experience.”

But it isn’t easy by any means. To excel, communication and prioritization are paramount. “Be sure you gain absolute support from your organization and they understand the demands of the program,” writes Flavio Palaci of IESE’s Global Executive MBA.This means that you need to introduce this at least 12 months before commencing the program. I would also involve your team in this decision, as you will ultimately need them to rise to occasion while you are away on the program.” However, as Kenan-Flagler’s Abhi Mehrotra notes, your co-workers (and family) aren’t your only constituency. “Be prepared to work hard and bring your experience to share with classmates.  Connect with your colleagues and build relationships.”

Meera Atkins, Northwestern University

Meera Atkins, Northwestern University

Most important, this year’s EMBAs remind future classes to stay focused on the big picture. “Always remember you will get out of the program all that you put into it,” preaches Lars E. Carlson from Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business. “Don’t lose sight of the fact that it is a relatively short-term commitment that will offer life-long benefits.” At the same time, Berkeley Haas’ Robert Ford advises to show compassion to your classmates. “Yes, the schedule is crazy. Yes, it’s a lot. No, you’re not the only one. We are all in the same boat.”

Finally, Erin Dady of the University of Minnesota reminds future EMBAs not to take the experience for granted. “Remember what a gift it is to have the opportunity to learn. Enjoy and savor it. It will be over before you know it.”

Here is some additional advice from 2015 EMBAs:

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your executive MBA program?

“Refuse to lose. My promise to you is that if you pour your heart into learning and getting the most possible out of your executive MBA, it will change your life and prepare you for greater success. Since the program is that good, you need to do all you can to make sure you get in. Write amazing essays. Ask every potential question you can to your admissions staff. Seek out alumni (like me) and ask us to help. If you have the drive to win and a refusal to lose, you are 100% the type of person I want as part of our W. P. Carey family. We need the next class to carry the flag in the same way our class did. Each new cohort is responsible for protecting the ASU EMBA culture and passion for excellence. We need people like you. If you are considering other schools, stop! This is where you want to be!” – Scott Gates / Arizona State University Carey School of Business

UCLA's Derek Herrera

UCLA’s Derek Herrera


“Devote the time to self-reflection and understand your goals, motives and intentions. Through introspection, you should understand exactly why you want to pursue this degree, and how it will be a tool that you can leverage to achieve your long-term goals. If you are uncertain about how you believe an MBA will help you achieve your goals, then you will probably lack focus during the first year and may miss out on some of the most important opportunities available.  I have found that my classmates who have higher degrees of self-awareness are able to perform much better and get more benefit out of their degrees as they tailor the learning experience to meet their personal needs.” – Derek Herrera / UCLA Anderson School of Management

“You have to know where you are heading and what you have done so far. Having this context and an understanding of self is important. Have an open mind because the journey at IMD is ‘Real World and Real Learning.’ You will be challenged to dig deep within; it is not so much about the concepts and theories IMD teaches you, but the self-realization of how you can help yourself with these learnings.” – Satakarni Makkapati / IMD Business School

“Business school is a transformative experience. Take time to reflect on what you have accomplished and your goals, and how you would leverage the Darden MBA to advance your career and leadership in business. Make the most of your time here.” – Jennifer Schretter / University of Virginia Darden School of Business

“Identify the real reason why you want to attend business school and commit to organizing your educational experience to achieving that personal goal.” – Melinda Shockley / Boston University Questrom School of Business

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