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Industry to academia: Alumnus gives back by preparing healthcare leaders

Markus Saba

Markus Saba (MBA ’93) is passionate about three things: UNC, healthcare and giving back.

Saba already had an undergraduate degree and career in marketing but specifically chose UNC Kenan-Flagler because he wanted to focus on international opportunities. He thought earning an MBA would expedite his move into the global marketing industry.

“When I got to the Business School, the career center was awesome in helping me find an internship overseas,” says Saba. “It wasn’t common for students to get an international internship unless it was in their home country.”

The career team told Saba getting an overseas internship was nearly impossible, but they  supported him, and he persisted.

They connected him with the alumni who were working overseas as well as a complete list of companies offering internships.

“Every week when a company came to Chapel Hill, I went to the company presentation and I would say, ‘That’s a great company, I’d love to work for them,’” Saba says. He would then review his list and contact the alumnus working for that company. His cold calling and determination paid off.

“When Eli Lilly came to the School to recruit, I interviewed with two alumni who were working for the company internationally, Rolf Hoffmann (MBA ’87) and Michael Ackermann (MBA ’90). Things progressed and I got an internship in Geneva, Switzerland which was the launch of a 25-year career with Lilly.”

One of the first things Saba noticed about the company was the culture and how similar it was to UNC Kenan-Flagler’s, which is captured in the core values. But at one point in his career, Saba almost lost sight of all that.

“My hardest job by far was when I was an expat in Japan. I didn’t know the first thing about the country,” Saba says.

It was Saba’s boss who suggested he take a step back to learn from his peers and team and value their strengths. Saba used that feedback and changed his approach to managing. He spent more time nurturing his employees.

“You learn from others and if you help others do well, you’ve done well in the same point in time,” says Saba.

Both UNC Kenan-Flagler and Eli Lilly emphasize that to excel people need to collaborate and appreciate the skills everyone brings to the table, says Saba. That mindset distinguishes Business School graduates, he adds, and is why so many companies value them.

Markus Saba

Students bring collaboration, teamwork and a sense of community,” he says. “That’s what I feel every time I’m on campus. Those emotions and feelings come blaring through.”

With that sense of pride, it’s no wonder why Saba has returned to UNC Kenan-Flagler — but this time to teach students about the business of health. He is a professor of practice of marketing, leading the MBA Healthcare Concentration and serving as executive director of the Center for the Business of Health.

“Everyone asks me how did you bridge from industry to academia? People who have been in their career for a while have a propensity to want to give back and they say academia is a rich and rewarding way to do that,” he says.

And although Saba isn’t new to teaching, his students still keep him on his toes – and they are coming to UNC Kenan-Flagler with stronger healthcare backgrounds. The Healthcare Club is one of the most active clubs in the Business School.

“It’s gotten to the point where I’m a little bit nervous walking into a classroom,” he says. “I have to really prepare myself more than ever before because these students know the healthcare industry.”

Saba is gratified by the positive response to the center and he’s enhancing the concentration. Companies, including pharma, hospital administrators and insurers, are eager to collaborate in the classroom, through scholarship and research. The engagement and responsiveness from alumni in the healthcare sector has been overwhelming.

UNC Kenan-Flagler’s differentiating factor is its ability to work with the other top schools on campus – Gillings School of Global Public Health, Eshelman School of Pharmacy, the School of Medicine and Nursing, to name a few.

“Our aspiration is to be nationally recognized as the destination for the business of health. We’re going to achieve that together with these schools,” Saba says. The resources from each school gives the Center for the Business of Health a unique competitive advantage, the University’s location helps put it on the national stage.

“Research Triangle Park is one of the premier locations in the country for the life sciences,” he says. “With cutting-edge science, top-ranked medical institutions and hospitals, as well as companies and innovative startups, the Center for the Business of Health is in the perfect location to take full advantage of these resources.”