Many times, the Best & Brightest traveled overseas with the EMBA classmates and professors. In Georgetown University’s Global Business Experience, Pamela Wilson headed to Brazil to help a mining company expand its North American footprint – even spending a day in a mine with members of their client’s executive team. Alexia B. Borden and her classmates made the trek to startup-rich Tel Aviv to help an energy firm build its solar portfolio. Sometimes, students even organized their own excursions, with Alicia Hardy bringing her Yale SOM classmates to Napa, California to learn about healthcare delivery (and indulge in vino).
For Mary Kathryn Dow, a healthcare administrator and graduate of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College, the international immersion represented several milestones. “Prior to the start of the academic week, I achieved a personal goal of hiking in Patagonia and exploring the surrounding region, a landscape rich with wildlife and natural beauty. To kick off the academic week, I presented to Chilean national delegates as the class leader of the trip. Traveling to Chile was an incredible experience that afforded the opportunity for personal reflection and accomplishment well as professional development and understanding of international business.”
In several cases, the Best & Brightest created programs that will live long past their graduations. At MIT Sloan, Philip Rigueur helped to organized a five-day bootcamp to expose Tunisian PhDs to tech entrepreneurship. Down the road at Cornell University, Mike Misch co-founded its Biotech Club, drawing over 100 people to their learning and networking events each month. In collaboration with a classmate,
Volkan Emre started a Friday night event at Northwestern University. Here, MBAs would pitch startup ideas and seek feedback on how to hone their strategy and messaging. Over time, this event transformed into the LEHI Executive Pitch Competition that brought together MBAs from some of the Kellogg School’s other campuses.
“This innovative, interactive pitch competition enabled Kellogg Executive MBA students to showcase their entrepreneurial ideas to Kellogg’s global network,” Emre explains. “Each of the North American Kellogg EMBA campuses – Evanston, Miami, and Toronto – was represented by current students pitching their entrepreneurial ventures to a live, global online audience. Our next goal is to expand this competition to include all seven Kellogg campus locations, making this concept a sustainable interaction platform between Kellogg EMBA students and the global Kellogg community.”
LIFE DOESN’T STOP DURING AN MBA
The Class of 2023 didn’t just channel their lessons back into school programming. While earning his MBA at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School, Reginald Draper made the daunting leap from oil and gas to private equity and venture capital. Drawing on coursework, Arizona State’s Reem Kidess cut his supply costs by nearly a third. At the same time, Eric Lucas designed an operational layout that connected his new headquarters’ workflows thanks to the lessons of Washington University’s Panos Kouvelis. In the case of Jarred Mack, who is transitioning from teaching students at the U.S. Naval Academy to plying his new marketing skills at Procter & Gamble, his MBA takeaways will serve an even larger purpose.
“I chose to focus on expanding the personal finance curriculum within the services that I offer to the Midshipmen,” explains the University of Virginia grad. “Drawing directly from my investing, finance, and accounting classes, I developed a completely revamped formal education program supported by more robust financial/economic principles and methods. The new program has been a success and led to the establishment of a mandatory education program for the school…As an USNA graduate myself, I have been so humbled and blessed to help students start their adult life on the right foot.”
Maybe the biggest lessons came from the experience of being an adult student. Before business school, many Best & Brightest had neatly compartmentalized their lives between work, family, and interests. When readings, projects, and tests were tossed into the mix, the lives they’d manage to keep separate quickly collided. As they pursued their degrees, life naturally happened. They earned promotions and moved across the country. They had babies and endured sleepless nights. Some suffered medical mishaps like COVID or watched helplessly as parents faded away. All the while, they pinballed between daunting travel schedules and inflexible deadlines. Many times, they started their days at 5:00 a.m. and didn’t sleep until 21 hours later.
The MBA stretched these students to their limits – and many had doubts. Georgetown University’s Pamela Wilson described it as a “giant game of whack-a-mole” that’s constantly interrupted by situations that no one could anticipate. For Taras Panasenko, that disruption took the form of Russia’s invasion of his native Ukraine, which resulted in everything from losing power to dodging missiles. During Tracy Bourke’s first year, she was diagnosed with blood cancer. A year later, the NYU Stern grad says, she is cancer-free – and brings a new-found energy and purpose to her life.
“While I was passionate about business school from the get-go, this experience supercharged my interest in creating a career (and life!) with impact and value. I’ve already been able to bring a renewed determination, resilience, and focus to my school and work.”
DOING HOMEWORK THE SAME TIME AS DADDY
Some might say that an MBA is a degree in perseverance – a measure of stamina as much as time management. Each Best & Brightest EMBA found a different way to make it work. Alex Fite, a graduate of the University of Michigan’s Ross School, used an app that converted textbooks and articles into narrated readings that she absorbed during commutes. On the other hand, Matthew Lutch would devote Thursday nights to watching Dancing with the Stars reruns with his wife – “who was juggling 99% of everything else.” Ask the Class of 2023 and they will you: an executive MBA just won’t work without constant communication and buy-in from loved ones. That’s why Lara Adesokan sat down with her three children. She let them that she wanted to return to school and explained how it would benefit their family. All the while, she explained the changes and sacrifices that might be involved.
Their response: Go for it!
“I was extremely surprised by their response,” Adesokan admits. “The moment they said yes, all my bottled-up fears about going back to school went away. From that moment, I also realized that, although they were young kids, they were big stakeholders in one of the most important decisions in my life. Their support helped me to cope with the challenges of going back to school and gave me the courage to persevere when times were tough.”
Such conversations also come with a silver lining, adds Andreas Hornfischer, a ’23 grad of CEIBS. “They could see and understand that their daddy was working hard on his homework, so they found it inspiring and were eager to follow this good example. The previous strategy we used to help push the kids to do their homework has changed to this: “Let’s work hard and do the homework at the same time as daddy.”
THIS IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
In the end, Philip Rigueur compares his MBA experience to a high-stakes sports game: “There is no such thing as perfection, but you can anticipate and adapt to the context.” One reason for that, he says, is the talent around each student – highly diverse and accomplished classmates who’ve excelled in radically different industries and roles. With everyone experiencing the same obstacles and striving for the same end, these peers act as a force multiplier that’s hard to replicate anywhere else.
“My classmates, who were from all walks of life, were often a source of encouragement,” Rigueur adds, “especially as challenges mounted due to family, work, and school. It’s incredible how something as minor or as “trivial” as a quick between-class-conversation turned into a source of inspiration, or motivation to keep going. It was a valuable lesson of support and community bonding that I immediately brought into my work environment, and which has had an immediate impact on team-building and morale.”
What advice would the Class of 2023 give to the Best & Brightest who’ll soon be following in their footsteps? For Wharton’s Devika Varsani, it all boils down to this: Get ready for the ride of your life.
“Prepare yourself and your villages…for your very best and your very worst self. You will face some trying times, but you will also have some of your most enlightening moments and make some amazing memories. Soak in every moment of the journey because you will sorely miss it when you reach your destination, but you will look back with absolute fondness and pride. I promise you that it is completely worth it in the end. Being able to cross the graduation stage alongside your amazing classmates with your loved ones, faculty, and staff cheering you on will help all the pieces fall into place. For me, just having my daughter watch her mom graduate from Wharton from the very first row made everything so worth it. And that’s only the beginning of my ROI!”
Next Page: 106 profiles of this year’s Best & Brightest Executive MBA grads.
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