By Kara Sherrer
Many professionals look at an Executive MBA program as a way to increase their chances of getting a promotion or making an advantageous move, either during or shortly thereafter the program. To find out what that looks like, we talked with three recent Executive MBA graduates from the Class of 2018 — April Wolfe, Billy Ripley, and Joan Smith — who say the program has already helped their careers in the six short months since graduating.
April Wolfe, Senior Manager and HR Business Partner at Nissan
April Wolfe was already a seasoned HR professional before she began looking at Executive MBA programs, having worked in various HR roles at multiple manufacturing companies. “I realized that HR wasn’t really the field that I needed additional education and growth in…the thing that I really needed was business acumen,” she said.
A Tennessee native, she had recently moved back to Nashville to accept a job at Nissan Motor Corporation, and the Vanderbilt program immediately caught her eye. However, the timing wasn’t quite right, so she waited until she had been at Nissan a couple years to start applying to programs.
“The thing that made Vanderbilt stand apart from the rest was their focus on real-world application and how the program is designed around the team dynamic,” she said.
Once she started school at Vanderbilt Business, Wolfe says she was able to take what she was learning in class and immediately apply it to her work at Nissan. The program made a difference in her work: In January of this year, an internal opportunity arose for a Senior Manager and HR Business Partner, a promotion that Wolfe “absolutely” credits to the Executive MBA program.
“Because I have the confidence and understanding that I gained through the Executive MBA program, I was able to draw a line between the concepts that we were talking about and what I could contribute,” she said. “Instead of being a facilitator of those discussions, I was a contributor, and I think that got recognition.”
Billy Ripley, Business Manager at Capital One
Billy Ripley had six years of work experience when he began looking at getting an additional degree. Even though he was definitely within the window to attend a day-time MBA program, he had just accepted a new job as an Associate Business Analyst at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and didn’t want to leave it so soon.
“I was enjoying the work that I was doing and I was learning a lot as it was and I didn’t like the idea of leaving a relatively new role before I had achieved some degree of mastery of it,” he said.
Ripley began looking at Executive MBA programs instead, and decided that Vanderbilt Business was “the strongest opportunity locally.” While he was originally intimidated by the experience of his classmates — “there were no slouches in that room,” he says — his confidence grew as he realized they saw him as a peer.
“Realizing over time that I belonged and that my peers appreciated most of what I had to say, and saw me as an equal in that classroom, that was huge for my confidence,” he said.
As he neared graduation, Ripley decided that he was finally ready for a change both professionally and geographically. He began looking at new jobs that would give him more exposure to the finance aspect of business, and eventually accepted a Business Manager position at Capital One in Richmond, VA. He made the move and started his job this fall and is now settling into his new position.
“I think the opportunities that I was able to explore…and ultimately receive offers for, are all positions that I would not have been able to even get my foot in the door if I hadn’t had an Owen MBA on my resume, so I think that was huge,” he said.
Joan Smith, President of S-RAM Dynamics
Before this year, Joan Smith had spent her entire career as a civilian working in the U.S. Army, earning multiple promotions along the way. With a background in engineering, she worked on various technical and project management assignments, but realized she would need to broaden her education if she wanted to keep growing as a professional.
“Being a great engineer doesn’t necessarily make you a good business leader, and I knew that I wanted to grow as a business leader. That’s what motivated me to do the MBA,” she said. “I felt like getting an MBA and the knowledge I would learn from an MBA would be useful no matter where I went in my career.”
Hailing from Huntsville, AL, Smith carefully vetted both distance learning and in-person business school programs, including the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill and the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. After researching and visiting the programs, she decided that Vanderbilt Business was the best choice for her, offering a high-quality education and a tight-knit student community.
That student network paid off in ways Smith didn’t expect when a classmate approached her about joining a business owned by one of his friends earlier this year. Smith originally assumed the business owner would ask her to oversee program management like she had done in the Army. Instead, he asked her to become the President of the company, S-RAM Dynamics, overseeing all operational and executive responsibilities.
“Owen created a network that I leveraged as I was making the career change, and that I leverage now…I believe in the power of the network. I’m living it right now,” she said.
While she hadn’t planned to leave the Army so soon, the opportunity was too great to pass up, and Smith started her new job this fall. Looking back, she says her intuitions about the value of the program and its close community were exactly right, and that it delivered everything that she wanted and more.
“Owen gave me the tools to be able to do things much broader than I would have been able to do if I had not had that experience,” she said. “I feel so validated by my choice to go to Vanderbilt.”