Executive MBA offers insight, perspective

Articles that explain what an Executive MBA is often focus on how entering a program is an investment in your future, or how it’s an opportunity for a professional to work and go to school at the same time, or how you will gain a competitive edge over your peers.

An Executive MBA classroom serves as an incubator for real-world experience and business thought leadership.

But for Aaron Wright, the experience was much more.

“I look at the way I work differently and with more insight,” said Wright, who is a graduate of the Stetson Executive MBA Cohort 7. “I listen a lot more and try to understand everyone’s point of view before expressing my own opinion or offering advice. I contribute more and can provide a perspective that wasn’t there before getting my MBA.

One of Wright’s classmates, Penny Miller, agreed, and said that the program taught her different ways of seeing the world. “I knew before end of first year how much had changed for me and the way I think and balance and juggle,” said Miller, who works as an HR business partner.

In general, Executive MBA programs attract a diverse group of professionals who want to expand their knowledge and skills. Many use their degree to enter a new field or gain expertise in a new area. Most students have at least 10 years of professional experience under their belts by the time they enter a program, with a significant portion of this experience at the managerial level. (Traditional MBA students usually average three to five years of work experience.)

An Executive MBA helps move along a student’s or graduate’s career. Susan Golinsky, another classmate of Wright’s, said the pursuit of her education at Stetson helped her get ahead of her colleagues. “The fact that I was in school helped differentiate me from others who were applying for jobs,” said Golinsky, “because I was balancing a full-time job and school. I got some promotions that I believe were attributed to my increased business acumen from the Executive MBA program.” Golinsky said the program was a confidence builder, and she learned an incredible amount from her professors and from members of her cohort.

A powerful feature of a typical Executive MBA program is the collective professional experience of its participants. This feature greatly enriches the educational environment, and a team approach is often used on projects that encourage the sharing of diverse perspectives on specific topics.

“My education has allowed me to better understand everyone’s motivations within a project or team environment,” explained Wright. “Where I was previously financially weak, I am now strong enough to ask tough targeted questions to ensure that my partners and clients are all able to accomplish their goals.

Members of an Executive MBA cohort learn from each other and form a professional network that can last throughout the graduates' careers.

“The cohort style of learning and phenomenal support from faculty and staff was the most important highlight for me,” Wright continued. “My experience felt like ‘service-oriented learning.’ We got such great support on a daily basis that it allowed us to focus on a rigorous curriculum and course of study. This really sets Stetson apart from other programs, and I am much better for it.

Many students say they are often able to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it immediately to their current job. Lofton Barnes, a student in the Stetson Executive MBA Cohort 8, is a perfect example.

“The transfer of knowledge is extremely fast,” said Barnes, who co-owns Ladybird Academy in Winter Springs/Oviedo, Fla. “The concepts that we’re learning I can go play with immediately. I can tell a difference already, many months before I graduate.

The Executive MBA is much more than a classroom with a highly educated professor, a textbook and students. The Executive MBA classroom is home to discussion among highly engaged professionals with a facilitator who has real-world experience. It is a place for managers from diverse businesses to work side-by-side throughout the program. Students learn from other students not by chance; it’s woven by design into the very fabric of the program.

Other direct, practical benefits of an Executive MBA program include:

  • Increased confidence and motivation
  • Ability to identify and apply best practice
  • Improved critical thinking skills
  • Clear understanding of the theory behind best practice
  • Greater ability to lead a team and to work within a team
  • Enhanced communication skills
  • Incisive and durable competitive edge

Learn more about Executive MBA programs at the Executive MBA Council, The Princeton Review and the Graduate Management Admission Council. Learn more about the Stetson Executive MBA program here.

3 ways to balance MBA coursework with work and family

It often feels like 24 hours isn’t enough time in a day to get your job done and your home organized, especially when you’re also trying to raise children, energize your marriage or exercise and eat properly.

So how could you possibly fit in an MBA program on top of all that and expect to remain sane?

Kelly Glassburn and Penny Miller, who both graduated from Stetson University’s Executive MBA program in May 2011, managed to juggle the demands of school and a rigorous career, and Lofton Barnes and Shariq Khan, two current students, are getting into the groove of the balancing act. This foursome has a few pointers for balancing everything at once.

1. Establish a Support System

Studying requires dedication not only of the student but also of the student's family members and colleagues.

“The key component is family support,” said Shariq Khan, “or there just is no balance.” Khan was promoted to director of product yield management at Wyndham Vacation Ownership in Orlando only a few months after joining the program.

“It’s been tough,” said Khan. “Learning a new job takes a lot more hours. But I’ve got a great infrastructure — a supportive family and understanding bosses — and I’m very fortunate that I do.”

Khan’s classmate, Lofton Barnes, echoed his sentiment. “Your family must support you,” said Barnes, a father of two. “My wife has been phenomenal in taking on chores that I can’t dedicate myself to right now. It’s been a great experience because of that so far.”

Recent Stetson Executive MBA graduate Kelly Glassburn asked for the support upfront as well. “My first exercise in establishing balance was to get a firm commitment from everyone who would be affected by my decision: My husband was 110% supportive, even though he knew that he was likely going to be a single parent for the next 19 months. My leaders at work were equally supportive, and although no work moved off of my plate, their commitment to my success helped to alleviate any stress going into the program.

2. Stick to a Schedule

“I live on my calendar,” continued Barnes, who not only works as the assistant director of human resources for Hilton Bonnet Creek Resort but also owns Ladybird Academy in Winter Springs/Oviedo.

“I am forced to be very organized,” he explained, “because I have a lot of demands at work, school, business and home. I ensure that I get home by a certain time every night so I can spend time with my wife and kids and spend the rest of the evening focusing on schoolwork.”

“I dedicate my weekends to schoolwork,” said Khan, also a father of two. “I carve out time every day to interact with my wife and children, and I steal a couple of hours during weekdays to study if I can.”

Like Khan, Glassburn was promoted soon after starting the program. “That turned my work balance on its head! The only way I survived the transition period in my new role was in keeping with the rigid schedule I had set for myself.”

Glassburn abided by a rigid study schedule, which included work time first, then family time, then study time each night. “That often meant that studying happened from 9 to 11 p.m.,” she said, “but committing to a set schedule made it easier for me to get the work done and still maintain my family and work priorities without being too disruptive. I also set aside a specific area for studying, which helped me to focus on the work I needed to get done.”

3. Lean on Your Classmates

Members of the Stetson Executive MBA Class of '11 relied on teamwork to get them through trying times.

Penny Miller, a human resources business partner at The Walt Disney Co., said her cohort of 18 executives came to an agreement on the first weekend of class. “We committed that we wouldn’t leave anybody behind, knowing that at some point, each of us would be the one down.

“We discovered areas of strength and weakness among the team and used those to manage the ebb and flow throughout the program,” explained Miller.

“Regardless of where you are in your life, there is never enough time to get everything done,” lamented Glassburn, who was in the same cohort as Miller. “But for me, the single most important recipe for success in balancing a busy family, an overwhelming professional career, an accelerated Executive MBA program and my sanity was by tapping into the strength of the cohort. No matter how difficult life was, my cohort stuck with our mantra from the first class, ‘No one quits and no one gets left behind!’

“The cohort support was invaluable to maintaining a healthy sense of balance throughout the program,” continued Glassburn, “and in the end, I achieved my goal of completing the program and made some lifelong friends and business partners.”

SPAR executives teach Cohort 8 how efficiency keeps the company competitive

Cohort 8 students visited wholesaler SPAR in Cape Town on June 23.

Members of Cohort 8 from Stetson University’s Executive MBA program visited wholesaler SPAR Western Cape for their second business tour of the day, June 23. The executives who guided the students through SPAR were Solly Engelbrecht, distribution director; Brenton van Breda, finance director; and John Warren, IT director.

“The entire SPAR company was gracious during our entire visit,” said Wendy Lowe, Executive MBA program coordinator. “We walked the distribution floor. We saw first-hand how inventory is stacked five stories high, and how produce is kept at temperatures to ensure freshness and quality. Brrr … the below-25-degree Celsius cooler was frigid, but it does keep the perishables in the best condition for the stores.” After the tour, the directors treated the students to a light lunch and a bottle of Cape Town red wine.

SPAR’s core business is wholesale and distribution, with the buying power directly at the store level. SPAR has had a successful run in the retail market for more than 45 years. It has 850 stores across South Africa and beyond, servicing more than 60 million customers per month.

SPAR purchases goods in bulk and uses state-of-the-art technology to distribute these items to various store locations based on specific requests. SPAR is driven by relationships; therefore the distribution centers have a vested interest in delivering first class service and products. SPAR store owners remain 85 to 90 percent loyal to SPAR distribution centers for the acquisition of items to sell.

One of SPAR’s competitive advantages is that one truck delivers both frozen and dry goods, rather than various trucks delivering based on product type. Each SPAR store allocates 70 percent of its retail space to product displays and only 30 percent to storage of extra stock.

Student Raul Herrera asked if new items are picked up based on geographic or cultural needs. “Absolutely,” said van Breda. “We track items carefully, and once the thresholds reach a level that sensibly we can buy for multiple stores, we do.”

“Technology is a critical piece,” added Warren. “The stores use the SPAR technology systems to place orders, track progress and communicate with the distribution center actively.”

Students learned about SPAR's efficient product delivery system, which sets it apart from its competitors.

SPAR invests in its stores’ success, including helping finance new stores, assisting with store design, employing and training workers, and collaborating on marketing efforts. SPAR does not set franchise fees; instead, store owners select their pre-approved location and join the SPAR “family” like a one would join a golf club, explained Engelbrecht.

SPAR is listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and has six regions in South Africa. The Western Cape distribution center, the site of Cohort 8’s visit, is the company’s third-largest. SPAR offers different types of stores, such as the Super SPAR (Kroger) with aggressive pricing, SPAR (neighborhood-based) with competitive pricing, Kwik SPAR (convenience-based), TOPS (liquor-focused), Build-It (building materials-focused) and Pharmacy at SPAR (in or near SPAR stores).

Although SPAR can start out in a less populated area, SPAR remains competitive even when the area’s density grows, and it is not being pushed out by its larger rivals. In the West Cape region, Checkers/Shop Rite has 34 percent market share, Pick & Pay has 32 percent market share, and SPAR comes in at 29 percent, which is an astounding figure compared to overall corporate size.

Student Denise Edelmaier asked the executives if they were concerned about Wal-Mart coming to South Africa. “We don’t anticipate a major effect,” answered Engelbrecht. “We don’t underestimate Wal-Mart’s overall power; however, we are far ahead logistically in South Africa, and our focus again is being a wholesaler and delivering to the retail market.”

When student Wesley DuBose inquired about SPAR’s efforts in reducing its carbon footprint, Warren said SPAR has quietly participated in many cost-saving and environmentally friendly initiatives, such as starting a school recycling program, which has recycled 500 tons of plastic combined from all SPAR stores in the past year, recycling cartons used in their distribution center, and obtaining oil from all store locations to reuse in trucks for future deliveries.

Stetson students asked about the corporation's relationship with its employees. The executives said the employees love working at SPAR, and SPAR makes it worth their while.

Engelbrecht said his goals for 2011 and the near future are to enhance the skills of SPAR’s employees, increase the use of technology, obtain a closer cooperative with suppliers, reduce lag time across the total supply chain, and build trust in processes and controls that focus on cost-drivers. Student Lofton Barnes asked if these goals support the South African “human-model” of a life-work balance. Engelbrecht commented that SPAR employees have great pride and ownership in the company’s success. “Employees who stay two years retire here,” he said. SPAR provides competitive salaries, training and excellent working conditions for its employees.

This visit provided the cohort a clear understanding that unique business models can be extremely successful and that creativity and openness to provide service and support to a company’s “internal” members and “external” customers can reap rewards both in the short-term and the long-term.