Best & Brightest Online MBAs: Class Of 2021

Corinna Bellizzi earned her MBA online from Santa Clara University (Leavey)

Some Best & Brightest MBAs have also achieved richly-deserved recognition. The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Amy Morton-Sogi received an award from the Governor of Hawaii for her work in streamlining the contracting process for the State Department of Health. It only took a year for Jessica Crowley, a North Carolina State MBA, to earn the Sales Manager of the Year Award at her last company. Based on her track record, Corinna Bellizzi could’ve been named the top manager for the entire decade she spent at Nordic Naturals.

“I joined Nordic Naturals as the head of sales and education in June of 2002,” writes Bellizzi, a Santa Clara University MBA. “It was a risky move, as the company’s annual revenues were less than $1M. Fifteen months later, we displaced Carlson Labs as the #1 omega-3 fish oil. By the time I left nine years later, we had grown to over $100 million in annual revenues and were in 32 markets around the globe. We had become the #1 selling omega-3 in multiple categories and channels with top sellers in children’s, prenatal, women’s, men’s, sports, and general health with a 20 point market share lead over any of our competitors. I was instrumental in building an industry-leading legacy brand that continues to stand the test of time.”

DIVERS, BOXERS, AND MUSICIANS

Jordan Lopez graduated from USC’s (Marshall) Online MBA

Speaking of time, the Best & Brightest aren’t just defined by work, family, and school. Warwick Business School’s Graham Alltoft has spent the past 25 years playing drums in various bands. In contrast, USC Marshall’s Jordan Lopez is relatively new to the music scene. He learned to play blues harmonica during his commute – sometimes steering with his knees. Christopher Go started up running four years ago – and has already qualified for the Boston Marathon. Santa Clara’s Robert Anthony Woblesky – a boxing aficionado – plans to reward himself for finishing his MBA by competing in an amateur fight! And if you’re looking for stamina, start with Gena Petrunyak, a Lehigh grad and reverse logistics manager who completed an Ironman triathlon, earned a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt, and fundraised for the Girls on the Run NGO…all in the past year!

Yes, the Class of 2021 has stayed plenty active. In her spare time, the University of Washington’s Tiffany Shen goes shark cage diving off the Hawaiian coast. The University of Michigan’s Lindsay Case has reached Mount Everest base camp. Kit Spielberger can speak 10 language with “varying degrees of fluency,” including Classical Greek, Mandarin, and Cherokee. And the magic number is 49 for Victoria Sherwood. That’s how many American states she has visited. Which state is missing for this Amazon hire? Washington – of course. And Sari Dorn’s journey literally began with Chuck Woolery in front of a live studio audience.

“My parents met on the “Love Connection,” jokes the Lehigh University MBA.

NOT MISSING OUT ON FAMILY TIME

Ask any Best & Brightest why they chose an online format and “flexibility” is certain to top the list. However, that term had different meanings to different MBAs. Dewald Potgieter equates it to access course recordings whenever he wants so he can master concepts at his own pace. For Carnegie Mellon’s Michael Reid Hyland, online flexibility meant he didn’t need to race out of work early to drive to class. Meantime, Graham Alltoft prefers to use accountability over flexibility to frame the benefits of an online MBA program.

“Looking back, I completed the course in two years because the school balanced that flexibility with holding us to account,” the Warwick MBA explains. “Flexibility did not mean lower standards, or the ability to blow through deadlines without consequence. Flexibility meant the ability to organize our study around our family and professional life whilst ensuring we kept a solid pace. Flexibility meant the business school working with us to help achieve our goals given any specific personal circumstances.”

Christian Reece graduated with her MBA from Auburn University (Harbert)

Either way – flexibility or accountability – the online format saved Robert Anthony Woblesky from making painful tradeoffs between work, school, and family. “Evening or Weekend MBAs meant I would have to sacrifice the few hours I had a week to be with my family, but the structure of the online MBA program allowed me to find time to study around my work and family schedule. I didn’t miss a family dinner and still enjoyed the weekends with family and friends. I often found myself reading after putting the kids to bed, watching lectures over my work lunch, and chipping away on assignments during the evenings. As events came up, such as birthdays or vacations, I could plan ahead for the coursework required and still attend those events. In some regards, I felt that an online MBA program allowed for me to ‘have my cake and eat it too’.”

QUESTION EVERYTHING

For Auburn’s Christian Reece, flexibility came in the form of watching or listening to lectures when she was camping out or drinking a glass of wine. More than flexibility, the online MBA gave her something wholly unexpected: a deep sense of connection with the larger university.

“From the moment I stepped foot on campus for orientation to my final capstone project, every member of the Auburn team regularly emphasized how we are all part of the Auburn family,” Reece recalls. “I never expected that I would find my closet full of Auburn gear and hear myself yelling “War Eagle” in the middle of Denver International Airport at a fellow member of the family. I thought, since I was an online student, that there wouldn’t be a strong connection to campus and to the fellow students and instructors but was completely wrong. I’ve even got my husband yelling “War Eagle” at strangers!”

Better still, the online MBA enables professionals to continue working. Translation: they don’t lose out on two years of pay – let alone the opportunities that may emerge over that period. Along with expanded options, the Best & Brightest enjoyed something more from their programs: growth. That was the case for Bharat Datt, who served the director of perfusion at the New Orleans Children’s Hospital before recently moving into private practice. At the Jack Welch Management Institute, Datt re-discovered his sense of curiosity – one that compelled him to ask questions about what was happening around him.

Bharat Datt graduated from the Jack Welch Management Institute

“I became a better leader,” Datt asserts. “I learned to question not just what I was learning but question what I was doing in my day-to-day job. You want to come to work and ask, “How am I going to do this today?” “How can I make it better for our patients?” “How can I make it better for our institution?” “How can I make it better for our team?” You’ve got to have that energy to do that every day. And while we will all have challenging days, you should be coming into work with a passion and curiosity. Because whether you are in business or healthcare, it’s not about being right; it’s about getting it right. And curiosity is the key to improving outcomes for you and others.”

A SHOT OF CONFIDENCE

That was the real value of an online MBA for this year’s Best & Brightest. The hypothetical became real between the classroom and the office. Unlike their undergrad years, MBAs had an industry and operational context to understand concepts. More than that, they had the power to quickly apply what they learned to make an immediate difference – and generate an immediate return. This gave them the motivation – mission, even – to never stop learning or pushing boundaries.

“Warwick’s online offering was a gift which…enabled me to learn and ultimately to find a new passion,” explains Graham Alltoft. “I applied what I learned on the course at Legatum, and my new-found confidence seems to have shone through. This resulted in me being offered a new role in the company reporting directly to the CEO, and participating in a wide range of new and exciting projects.”

Alltoft wasn’t alone in experiencing a confidence surge as their MBA program went along. In fact, Christopher Go considers confidence to be his biggest takeaway from the University of Illinois’ iMBA program.

“This confidence comes from the knowledge I gained from the program,” he notes. “I can look at a financial statement and understand how my business is doing and where it can improve. I can understand how world events might impact my start-up and what adjustments I can make in order to capitalize on current and future conditions. I have come to understand how corporations work and how organizations are structured – and I apply these principles to the startup. I understand characteristics of a good leader and how to manage people in a constructive way. This knowledge has given me the confidence to stand in front of VC’s and Angel Investors and pitch my startup in an impactful way.”

NEW POSSIBILITIES

Judy Safian earned the iMBA from the University of Illinois (Gies)

On top of instilling confidence, online MBA programs opened up new possibilities for the Best & Brightest. For Jessica Crowley, the Jenkins MBA was a transformative experience, exposing her to her true talents, worth, and passions.

“Throughout my MBA, I learned about roles I thought I wanted. After taking the class, I realized they were not for me and vice versa. I explored different areas I never even considered but found I was highly interested in. It also opened my eyes to possibilities with different companies. I ended up changing companies during my MBA because the classes and my professors helped me realize the different opportunities, companies, cultures, and leaders that are out there. I might have never known there were so many more opportunities and that there might be one better suited for me.”

As the Class of 2021 returns to ‘normal’ schedules, their advice to future online MBAs can be summed by the University of Illinois’ Judy Safian, a consultant whose time in the iMBA was a long-time dream come to fruition.

“Be committed and engaged in the experience,” she writes. “Like anything else, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. Accept that you’re not going to know everything and that’s ok… it’s actually how you grow and learn. Be flexible, listen, manage your time, carve out space and time that work for you and make the MBA part of your daily routine. These skills and others you’ll learn are what will help you get through the program and be an exceptional leader for years to come.”

Go to next page to access in-depth profiles for over 50 Best & Brightest Online MBAs.

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