A lot can happen in 20–24 months – just ask the UNC Kenan-Flagler Executive MBA (EMBA) Class of 2015.
Together, they spent thousands of hours working, studying and pushing themselves – and one other – to their limits.
The ’15 cohort includes highly accomplished professionals from across disciplines and industries – doctors, executives, entrepreneurs, professors, current and former military and everything in between.
They came to Carolina with a common goal: to better themselves and advance their careers.
“As I grew in responsibility in my career, I felt that it was critical for me to get a core understanding of all of the business disciplines,” says Nicole Washington-Dean, vice president of internal audit at Belk Inc. “It became really evident that the more I could command an understanding around strategy, the more effective I’d be at my job.”
“It was hard to justify being in management without knowing the business vocabulary and details,” says Cedric Courteix, global alliances manager at VMWare.
“In transitioning out of the military, I needed to rebrand myself,” says Bill Harvey, who transitioned from the Marine Corps to senior program manager at Amazon. “It was really important to me to be viewed as a businessman who served in the military, not a military officer who was entering the business world.”
Given UNC Kenan-Flagler’s reputation as a top global business school, students knew they were in for a challenge – but many underestimated just how rigorous the program would be.
“I thought an executive MBA program would be a slam dunk. Attending classes every third weekend, doing homework and studying in the evenings and non-class weekends – how hard could it be?” says Scott Quilty, co-founder of MedScribes. “As it turns out, it’s a lot harder than it sounds.”
“After grinding through my PhD studies and thesis committees, I thought I could manage the program on top of a full-time job,” says Mankit Law, an associate at Pappas Capital. “The first few weeks of the program were tough.”
Tackling the challenge was a team effort. EMBA students work with their peers in assigned study groups throughout their time in the program. The team-focused approach capitalizes on the diversity of professional experiences that students bring and helps maximize the learning experience.
“What’s unique about the UNC Kenan-Flagler EMBA program is that each team member brings a different background that must be shared to bring the group together and deliver results. Different work styles, cultures and talents are all valued,” says Law. “When you get competitive, highly competent professionals together, it’s difficult to predict how the team dynamics will play out. How do you build a tribe when everyone is a chief? Once my cohort got past the ‘getting to know you’ stage, we began to see the advantages of working and learning in study groups.”
“The beauty of the EMBA program is that you learn as much from your coworkers and fellow students as you do from the professors,” adds Harvey.
The program also provides a unique opportunity to bring your workplace into the classroom.
“This is my third graduate degree. Out of the schooling experiences I’ve had, the EMBA program is my favorite of all. It is the most intellectually stimulating,” says Luke Chen, chief epidemiologist and medical director of infection prevention and healthcare epidemiology at Duke University Hospital. “Everything I learned in business school was immediately applicable.”
The EMBA program is, by design, a transformative experience – one that helps students discover new career paths and opportunities they would not have considered otherwise.
“There’s a culture of self-invention in the UNC Kenan-Flagler program that really challenges and propels everyone to find niches where they can create significant value and make an impact,” says Law. “The administrators and faculty pay attention to the details. The classrooms, the networking events, the case studies, the study groups – they are all purposefully designed.”
“Pretty much everything I have now is because of the program – it opened my options and allowed me to connect with anyone. I went from speech pathology to working with medical devices and veterinary practices” says Julie Siler, principal of operations management at VeterOnc 3D and director of clinical affairs at Dolores Speech Products.
The cohort’s career outcomes are something to be celebrated. Members of the ’15 cohort say their experience in the EMBA program helped them earn promotions, land leadership roles at top firms and gain the confidence needed to launch companies of their own.
Earning an MBA “changed the perception that people had about my potential,” says Courteix. “Working with the EMBA program’s career and professional development staff provided me with the confidence to take the next step in my career.”
“I learned to play to my strengths as a leader,” says Ray Daniels, senior product manager at Bayer CropScience. “The program helped me demonstrate a higher level of critical thinking and understanding of the bigger picture – financial and operational. With that knowledge, I was able to take on more responsibility in my organization.”
“I’ve noticed a difference in my relationships with the executive team and board of directors at Belk,” adds Washington-Dean. “One of my directors said that my ability to hone in on what’s important and deliver value is beyond what he’s seen on other boards that he’s served on. It’s a phenomenal compliment.”
The UNC Kenan-Flagler experience inspired Chen to rethink his own teachings to make them more actionable and usable for his medical students. “If I can do that for my students, I think it would lead to much better outcomes,” he says.
“The program completely blew my expectations out of the water,” says Harvey. “It gave me the awareness and confidence to succeed in the business world. The faculty, staff and executive coaches at UNC Kenan-Flagler taught me what I bring to business and ultimately helped me communicate that value.”
For EMBA students, balancing school, work and family commitments throughout the program is a challenge – but it can be done with a little creativity and a lot of support.
“EMBAs aren’t just students. They are spouses, parents, sons and daughters,” says Siler, whose twins were born while she was in the program.
“There should be two names on the diplomas we receive – ours, preceded by the names of our significant others,” says Quilty. “I’m convinced that without them, we could not have made it through this academic and professional crucible.”
Photos courtesy of Megan Shortle/Soul Pine Photography, Scott Quilty and Carly Guenther.