You wouldn’t think Mirjam Eckert needed to return to school. After all, she’d already earned her PhD. Not to mention, she’d been elevated to Chief Publishing Officer at Frontiers, one of the world’s largest and most-cited scientific publishers. She was managing 900 people and producing 45% yearly growth. By those measures, hadn’t Eckert already reached the pinnacle? Why get an MBA and go through two years of lectures, cases, and projects?
Easy: Eckert was thinking ahead. “I am a trained scientist and when my managerial responsibilities grew, I knew I had to accelerate my professional development in business and management,” she admits. “The MBA was perfect in the way that it gave me a broad, solid foundation in these areas, with clear relevance to my job and importantly a confidence boost.”
Over the past two years, Eckert has been busy applying her takeaways from Warwick Business School’s Distance Learning MBA. She has rolled out a CRM system, not to mention a performance evaluation system grounded in OKR (Objectives and Key Results). She has launched a learning lunch series focused on leadership, along with holding bi-annual strategy retreats for senior leaders to harness their long-term “competitive advantages.” Of course, the online format gave Eckert herself a major career advantage. Rather than commute from Switzerland to Warwick, she could take her courses whenever and wherever she chose. In other words, she could fit coursework around her busy schedule, reducing potential disruption to her work.
TOP PERFORMERS AT TOP COMPANIES
More than that, the Warwick MBA reflected the new normal: global teams possessing diverse backgrounds operating in a digital space to pursue a common cause. This made the process far more natural and effective for Eckert. “I could easily go back over content and rewatch a live session for example as everything is online,” she adds. “This was in contrast to my undergraduate degree, where I relied on my lecture notes and using the library to find further information. During my undergraduate degree, I also had a set timetable, whereas during the MBA self-discipline was very important as I had to work through the course material more independently and had to make weekly decisions about priorities and pace.”
Eckert is among 51 graduates selected for Poets&Quants’ 5th annual Online Best & Brightest MBAs. Each year, P&Q reaches out to the world’s top-ranked Online MBA programs. This spring, it targeted 25 programs, with 24 ultimately submitting nominations for the Class of 2022. Like previous years, this cohort was selected by their business schools based on “strong academic performance, critical and consistent contributions, striking personal narratives, and innate potential.” To help schools select nominees, P&Q posed this question to decision-makers:
“Which students were so fundamental that you can’t imagine the class without them?”
Overall, the 2022 Best & Brightest Online MBAs feature 26 women and 25 men. Their ages range from 25 to 57, with 6 students returning to the schools where they earned their undergraduate degrees. Their backgrounds extend from evolutionary biology to nursing to fiction writing. They are supply chain analysts, chemical engineers, entrepreneurs, marketers, and even soldiers. And their employers read like they were pulled from the front pages of the Wall Street Journal: Intel, Amazon, Meta, Salesforce, Merck & Company, Marriott, Procter & Gamble, and General Motors.
THE MAKING OF A MASCOT
…and Nike too. That’s where Kiza Miller is making her mark. Here, the University of Arizona MBA serves as a global event manager, where she handles many of Nike’s festivities for the NBA All Star Weekend. In this role, she oversees all elements of hospitality, which catered to over 600 people in 2020.
“I am so incredibly proud that I was able to create efficiencies throughout all of the programming. However, I made it so that no one had to worry about where they were staying, how they got to places, or where to get a drink after a long day. Instead, they were able to focus on their job and ensure that the Consumer and Athlete had the best experience possible.”
The University of Illinois’ Taylor Stratton is also involved in athletics and hospitality…in a way. In the University of Colorado’s Athletics Department, she is a coach…for the team’s mascot Ralphie – a real life Buffalo that weighs over 500 pounds and traditionally travels with the football team on road games. Her handlers are even considered student-athletes. In 2020, Stratton was given the responsibility for finding and training a new Ralphie after her predecessor retired. A year later, she debuted Ralphie VI during Colorado’s football season opener
“I lead a team of 15-18 collegiate athletes, a new assistant coach, and several buffalo,” she tells P&Q. “I successfully leveraged my network to find an orphan buffalo calf that I brought to Colorado and, together with my team, trained for her debut. Ralphie VI made her debut run as the youngest Ralphie with the shortest timeframe for training. I’m beyond proud of what the athletes, the assistant coach, and I were able to accomplish in such a short time. Run Ralphie Run!!”
This year’s Best & Brightest are also heavily invested in medicine. Sarah Wingfield has risen to be Chief of Staff at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Not surprisingly, she earned her MBA at Indiana University’s Kelley Direct program. Dominique Watt also stayed close to home in Silicon Valley. Starting out as a traveling nurse a decade ago, Watt joined Santa Clara University’s Leavey School after earning her master’s in nursing online. Those degrees positioned her for her current role: Stanford Health Care’s Administrative Director of Clinical Effectiveness, Education, and Inclusion Diversity Health Equity (IDHE). By the same token, Harini K. Kataria combines her expertise in Molecular Biology and Communications at Johnson & Johnson, where she was recently hired to be manager of insights and experience strategy – a role she attributes to her Lehigh Online Flex MBA.
“I get to design systems and programs that improve patient experiences,” she tells P&Q. It’s a role that marries my background in pharmaceutical research, visual design, and business strategy for a global organization with an authentic, meaningful mission. I didn’t think I’d be able to find a role that checked every box on my list, but the MBA is what made it possible.”
Leslie Patch boasts an equally eclectic background. A former college fencer who studied Visual Arts at Brown, Patch earned an MD and worked as a board-certified ophthalmologist and assistant medical director. And then she made a mid-career leap of faith, trading in her white coat to enter the medical device industry – a transition that was also aided by her MBA from the University of Michigan’s Ross School.
“Three years ago, I was more than a little apprehensive that given the particularity of my subspecialty, I would be unable to transition to a business role,” she admits. “The length, specificity, and strenuousness of medical training are such that few consider reorienting towards a non-clinical career. In some ways, it is like starting over learning a new industry with new ways of working. Now that I have transitioned, I realize that anything is possible and encourage others to look outside their perceived career confines.”
FROM PHD TO MBA
Patch wasn’t the only MBA making transitions. Over the past decade, Casey Timmons has been able to switch locations, disciplines, and companies. That included moving from working in Halliburton’s operations team in London to managing its investor relations team in Houston. “This change took me outside of my technical and operations comfort zone and made me look at the company on a holistic level and from the perspective of an investor,” writes the Carnegie Mellon Tepper MBA. “My technical background proved valuable in discussing the market changes with the investment community and allowed me to better understand the goals and perspectives of the management team as they balance internal and external demands.”
That won’t be the last move she makes thanks to her MBA. “In July I will start as an associate with McKinsey & Company in the Pittsburgh office,” she adds.
In many cases, the online MBA wasn’t the Best & Brightest’s first taste of graduate school. Antje Schickert, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin’s MBA Consortium, earned a PhD in Biology before moving into biotech product management. When it comes to diplomas, Paul Cornwell can hang his Kenan-Flagler MBA next to his PhD in Mathematics from the University of North Carolina (along with two bachelor’s and one master’s degrees from Villanova). And Iouliana Litou, an IE Business School MBA, turned a PhD in Computer Science into a senior project management gig at Meta (aka Facebook). In her experience, a PhD is perfect preparation for the rough-and-tumble world of business.
“It’s not so much on the difficulty of doing the research on the subject, as it is in learning how to deal with rejection of your work, gathering and sorting out the feedback, re-adjusting the work so that it addresses concerns raised, and then going back exposing yourself, and becoming vulnerable to rejection once more. In the end, you learn to take it for what it is: opportunity for improvement rather than rejection as such.”
A HOMECOMING OF SORTS
Looking for an MBA grad who balanced a high-pressure job with an unforgiving MBA curriculum? Meet Tomas G. Cavero. While earning his MBA at the University of North Carolina, he served as a program manager at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. His job description: “Manage a multi-million-dollar scope of work in the processing of nuclear materials and extract unique isotopes for domestic markets.” Still, this wasn’t Cavero’s first big role. Five years ago, he was the Operations and Safety Officer for a U.S. Navy ship with 320 crew members. Here, he earned the Chief of Naval Operations Safety Award for his safety program being the best in Pacific Fleet. Herb Bennett also distinguished himself in military service. A former paratrooper who “jumped out of airplanes at over 30,000 feet,” Bennett has since co-founded the Baran Agency, a consulting firm that helps defense contractors meet cybersecurity standards. After graduating from USC’s Marshall School, he plans to channel his entrepreneurial energies into the aerospace industry. At the same time, he plans to continue his practice while looking out for his fellow veterans.
“My career has spanned marketing, workforce development, business development, sales management, IT management, cybersecurity, and executive leadership,” Bennett notes. “However, I am most proud of helping my fellow military veterans train for and acquire gainful employment in the civilian world. Helping them reach their goals and make meaningful lifestyle changes for themselves and their families has been the cornerstone of my career.”
Bennett wasn’t alone in returning to his roots. Branding matters in business school. Just ask Jocelyn Johnson. She started at General Electric in 1992 as a business consultant, climbing the ladder to eventually become GE Healthcare’s Global Director of Value Proposition and Insights. Considering her GE ties, it was an easy decision for Johnson – who joined Girl Scouts USA last year as Chief Marketing Officer – to enroll in the Jack Welch Management Institute.
“The Jack Welch MBA program is rooted in the Jack Welch way of running a business. As a GE alum of 28 years, I admired Jack’s leadership style and principles. I knew that enrolling at the Jack Welch Management Institute would enhance the skills I had already acquired.”
Go to page 3 to access in-depth profiles for over 50 Best & Brightest Online MBAs.