Flash Back, Fast Forward
An approach of innovating, adapting and transforming has marked the Robinson College EMBA program for 30 years, but more than anything, say those who know, it has changed lives.
In 1982, as Patricia Allgood prepared to cross the stage to receive a diploma from a brand new Executive MBA program at Georgia State’s Robinson College of Business, her accounting professor pointed out something that hadn’t occurred to her. “Your last name starts with ‘A.’ You’ll be our very first graduate,” he said.
In the 30 years since, Allgood’s résumé has grown thick with accomplishments. She ran and sold a successful healthcare software company, Dental Systems. Later she consulted with large corporations introducing new technologies that produced efficiency and increased productivity. For the past decade, she has served as a group chair with Vistage International, helping CEOs hone leadership skills and build their businesses. “The EMBA program gave me a broad foundation to understand so many areas of business,” Allgood says. “For my career, it was invaluable.”While EMBA programs are common today, in 1982, they were not. In fact, Georgia State’s Executive MBA was among the earliest programs in the country and one of the first to offer an international residency (to Japan in its early years). The format allowed a cohort of executives to continue their careers while coming together for intensive classes every other weekend. The founding director, Dave Ewert, recruited premier faculty from Georgia State’s part-time MBA program who had classroom expertise, years of practical business experience and the ability to teach in a compressed format.
Today, the Robinson College EMBA program is ranked among the top 100 programs worldwide by the Financial Times. It ranks fifth among U.S.-based programs for international course experience on the FT scorecard. Its first two directors, Ewert and Maury Kalnitz, served as chairs of the board of the Executive MBA Council.
In October, the program celebrated its 30th anniversary – a notable accomplishment, says David Forquer, assistant dean of executive programs. “Business schools operate in a competitive market. You either adapt or die,” he says. “We’ve adapted, responded and continued to get better. You don’t last this long without getting something right.”
Here are a few highlights from those close to the program – from administrators and faculty to alumni and students – about what they think the Robinson EMBA has gotten – and continues to get – right.
All in the approachIn 1996, in the midst of growing a supply chain company and working between 60 and 80 hours a week, Deepak Raghavan took a leap and went back to school to pursue an EMBA from Georgia State. Raghavan wanted to shore up skills in finance and accounting to keep his company, Manhattan Associates, moving forward. “Those years were a blur,” he says. “I was focused on school and work. I even gave up watching TV.” He managed the company’s growth from 70 to 500 employees while completing an intense schedule of rigorous classes every other weekend.
Why did Raghavan stick with it? One reason, he says, was the faculty. “The faculty didn’t just lecture. They led meaningful discussions. Good teaching is not about being a face on a stage. Instead, it focuses on the students.”
Today Raghavan is taking those lessons to his own students. Although he continues to serve as a board member for Manhattan Associates – which has grown to more than 2,000 employees around the globe, with recent market valuation in excess of $1 billion – his business success has allowed him to pursue his passion – the stars. He spends much of his time now teaching astronomy and physics at Georgia State. He has modeled his teaching style on that of the EMBA faculty, encouraging his undergraduates to work collaboratively on team projects.
Around the world (in 15 years)Sevo Eroglu is no stranger to traveling abroad with a group of executives in tow. For 15 years, she has led the international residencies that Robinson EMBA students complete at the end of their studies. These trips immerse students in the business, culture and politics of countries as diverse as Japan, Argentina, Thailand, China, Vietnam and others, and give them opportunities to visit with business and government leaders throughout Asia and Latin America. “The trips bond people in ways that are forever,” Eroglu says. “When they are thrown together in a completely unknown culture with people that they’ve known in a different environment, they learn.”
“The EMBA program gave me a broad foundation to understand so many areas of business. For my career, it was invaluable.”
– Patricia Allgood, ’82
To gain access, Eroglu draws on the relationships she has made with wellconnected friends over the years. “It’s all about relationships,” she says. “They’ve allowed us to open doors for our students that were closed to many other universities, including Ivy League schools.”
Eroglu credits Dave Ewert with the foresight to add an international component to the program. “He fought to convince the dean that he should take the first class to Japan, and it turned out to be visionary. It positioned our program at the leading edge, and our students cut their teeth on their experiences abroad. Now all business schools have an international component.”
As part of the 30th anniversary in October 2012, Eroglu led a group of alumni on a tour of her native country, Turkey. Managers at Turkey’s largest supermarket chain rolled out the red carpet for the group at a champagne reception. In Istanbul, alumni visited with executives at The Coca-Cola Company, toured the Grand Bazaar and other historic sites, and got an insider’s look at the business of Turkey’s most famous baklava baker.
“Being part of the EMBA program has affected me professionally and personally,” says Eroglu. “It’s a special part of my life because I’ve been able to see what students take away from these trips. The contributions to their development are so immediate and visible.”
Immediate applicationChristian Halpaus in the class of 2014 runs International Freight Forwarders (IFF), a transportation logistics business serving medium- and small-sized importers and exporters that has thrived even during the recession. In leading this family business over the past six years, Halpaus has seen his employees double from 30 to 60, and he believes that IFF has the potential to “chart across the country and go nationwide.” But to do that, Halpaus knew that he needed a broader business skill set. That’s what led him to an information session about the EMBA program at the Robinson College, where he had earned an undergraduate business degree in 2001. He was only scouting, thinking he’d apply in a year or so, but the presentation by the graduate students about the program caught him, in his words, “hook, line and sinker. I decided it is never the right time, so I might as well get started.”
Since July, Halpaus has been juggling the business, his family and school. Although that’s a challenging schedule, he has no regrets. “For me, the program has proven invaluable. I started applying what I was learning from day one,” he says. For example, his classes have given him a better understanding of accounting so that at a recent company meeting he was able to suggest that extraordinary income earned by the business should be a below-the-line item on the income statement. “I used to just look at the bottom line,” he says, “but now I can question nuances about our retained earnings and our balance sheet. That will be important as we seek to capture more market share moving forward.”
Halpaus also likes the example that he’s setting for his three young children, teaching them the importance of education. “I’m doing this for them,” he says. Recently, as he sat at the kitchen table working on a class assignment, his eight-year-old daughter joined him, bringing her own homework.
Twice the effort, twice the learningTalk to any Robinson EMBA graduate, and it won’t take long before the marketing management class and the name Ken Bernhardt come up. Bernhardt, Regents Professor Emeritus of Marketing, taught in the program for three decades, often taking his lessons to executives who didn’t rank marketing high on their lists of skills to master. “Teaching in the EMBA program was twice as hard,” Bernhardt says. “You had to be on your game because the students were so smart. I learned as much from them as they did from me.”
Bernhardt’s favorite feedback came from an EMBA student who served as CFO of a regional communications company. “Before I took your class,” the CFO confessed, “my eyes glazed over whenever the marketing manager started his report. Now I’m totally interested. I know the right questions to ask and how to evaluate the answers.”
When the PNC Bank began recruiting Shena Tharnish, the timing wasn’t ideal. The senior IT manager was happy with her position at the Home Depot, where she had worked for 12 years, and just a few months prior, she had started the EMBA program at Georgia State. But the bank continued to pursue her and in January 2012, Tharnish agreed to an interview. She had just finished her first semester of coursework, including Steve Olson’s leadership class, and that, she says, helped give her the confidence to listen to what another company had to offer and to negotiate a competitive package. “Before the program, I wouldn’t have had the guts to ask for what I felt that I deserved,” she says. She started in spring 2012 as vice president of enterprise network infrastructure and services for PNC Bank in Pittsburgh, and is now responsible for data, voice and video infrastructure throughout the company, including 3,000 branches and 5,000 ATMs around the country.
Tharnish, who is in the class of 2013, commuted back to the Robinson College every other weekend to complete her coursework, which she wrapped up in December, and in January, she completed her international residency in Vietnam and China. PNC Bank supported her studies, something that she negotiated from the get-go.
“What I’ve learned about myself in class and working with others has been eyeopening,” Tharnish says. “I think differently now. The program changed my life.”
Reagan Evans, also in the class of 2013, likes to joke that Delta loves him. Like Tharnish and others, his career took a leap forward during his EMBA studies, and he commuted to finish his coursework. Evans landed a position as director of quality at Matrix Medical Network in Scottsdale, Arizona, which trains and educates nurse practitioners to do health risk assessments. Evans had previous experience with some of the Matrix management team, but he believes that pursuing the EMBA gave him “a leg up. I became more than the logistics guy,” he says.
“Everyone says they want the program to move them to the next level. My move just came in the middle of the program, thanks to what I was learning.”
“What I’ve learned about myself in class and working with others has been eye-opening. The program changed my life.”
– Shena Tharnish
The EMBA program’s emphasis on technology helped Evans keep pace. Robinson was among the first business schools in the country to give premium program students iPads loaded with textbooks and other course materials. Administrators also have invested in technology enhancements at the Buckhead Center, including video teleconferencing systems that allow users on both ends of an exchange to annotate documents in real time and share presentation materials. An in-class recording system captures lectures for those unable to attend a particular class. In a collaborative learning laboratory, students work at media-scape tables to share presentations with their group, the entire class, or a remote source. Breakout rooms include smart whiteboards that interface with a PC or allow remote collaboration.
Podcasting studios are coming soon. “Thanks to the iPad and Tegrity (lecture capture software), I was able to keep everything from school with me as I travelled back and forth,” says Evans. He made his last commute for the program earlier this year.
Coming and giving backLike many of Robinson’s EMBA alumni, Jorge Maroto, managing partner at Maroto Management Group, wanted to give back to the program. The 2008 graduate has done that by serving as president of Robinson’s EMBA Alumni Club, rallying busy executives to find time for the many activities that the club offers. Over the past year, alumni have generously supported philanthropic causes, from packing medical supplies and equipment for MedShare to donating suits for a clothing drive for job seekers. The club’s signature golf event raised $11,228 to support scholarships for undergraduate business students at Georgia State. Planning activities that appeal to the range of graduates is challenging, says Maroto, because the club includes heads of Fortune 500 companies who might want a sounding board, entrepreneurs looking for feedback on business plans and those networking to find new opportunities. But he believes the effort is worth it. “I’m inspired by the energy and dedication that our graduates bring back to this program,” he says. Next on his slate of plans is establishment of an alumni advisory board to mentor new alumni and a workshop to coach executives on how to field media questions or pitch their elevator speech.
The director’s perspective
Given the longevity of many of the faculty members, administrators and alumni associated with Robinson’s EMBA program, Laura Crawley is a relative newcomer. Yet in her three years as director of the EMBA program, Crawley has her elevator speech down pat. She points to the program’s three decades of impact locally and globally, to 30 years of faculty experience that has prepared mid-career professionals to take on leadership roles, to the many ventures and companies developed and nurtured as a result. But more than anything, Crawley values the 30 years of relationships that have been forged through the program. “Faculty and administrators, students and alumni have come together at the Robinson College to build an EMBA program of national and international stature,” she says. “It has not only stood the test of time but also thrived, grown and matured. I’m proud to be a part of it.”