A rocket scientist or a brain surgeon. Those are the standards for brainpower. Both maneuver in complicated and interconnected spaces – with few precedents and zero room for error. At their core, they practice art as much as science. They are the elite – and their numbers are few.
That’s what makes Eric Eskioglu so unique. A 2022 Executive MBA graduate from Vanderbilt University’s Owen School, Eskioglu started his career as an aerospace engineer at Boeing. A few years later, he pursued an entirely different path: medical school. Over his three-decade medical career, Eskioglu has climbed from neurosurgeon to medical director. Today, he is the Chief Medical and Scientific Officer at Novant Health – a network that spans 4 states, 29,000 employees, and 15 medical centers. Just this spring, Modern Healthcare listed him among its Top 25 Innovators.
No wonder his colleagues sometimes joke that “It sometimes takes a rocket scientist and a brain surgeon to solve some of the most complicated healthcare problems!”
A BIG AND EARLY RETURN
Long-term, Eskioglu hopes to make the healthcare system he leads into the “safest, highest quality, and lower cost in the country.” And his MBA has already paid dividends towards that end. “[Professor Luke Froeb’s] Economics class was truly amazing,” Eskioglu tells P&Q. “Because of him, I formed a division under me called EVE – Economic Value Enhancement team. I hired a healthcare Ph.D. economist and put her in a group with operational and analytics VPs. The first year, their analysis and implementation of EVE projects delivered over $49m in savings to our health system.”
For Eskioglu, the Owen MBA has been a homecoming. After all, he spent 8 years at Vanderbilt, moving from intern to chief resident to associate professor. While it had been 25 years since Eskioglu had taken classes, he believes his MBA experience proves that learning has no age limit.
“I was the oldest student in the class as a GenX,” admits the 56-year-old father of three. “Most of my classmates were at least one generation removed from me as Millennials and GenZers. At first, I was nervous how they would take up to me and would they even be inclusive. I am here to tell you, after two years of being in the trenches, they are the best classmates I have ever had. Yes, this includes my engineering and medical school classmates. They took me as one of their own, and I learned more from them and their experience than they will ever realize.”
TOP STUDENTS FROM THE TOP PROGRAMS
Eskioglu joins 100 other EMBAs as members of P&Q’s Best & Brightest Executive MBAs from the Class of 2022. Entering its 8th year, the Best & Brightest honors EMBAs who “personify excellence” – be it academic performance, extracurricular involvement, or professional achievement. In top executive programs, every student is smart and accomplished – leaders in their companies as much as their fields. However, the Best & Brightest are the standouts: the go-to student leaders who are admired – if not adored – by classmates and faculty alike. That’s because they are invested: they pour their hearts into everything – be it work, learning, or family. Ever reliable, they step up to ask the best questions – the ones that spark conversations and enrich the experience for all. More than that, they value different views, always looking to connect and build consensus. Over time, their classmates can’t help but follow their lead.
This year’s Best & Brightest features 51 men and 50 women. They hail from 49 business schools, which range from Wharton and INSEAD to Washington University and IMD. Their ages run from 26-59 and they’ve risen to positions like CEO, CFO, consultant, and chief of staff. True to the Best & Brightest’s penchant for life-long learning, you’ll find a few professors mixed in too. Not surprisingly, they hold leadership positions among the powerhouse employers: Google, Starbucks, Amazon, General Motors, Apple, LinkedIn, and, PwC. For the Class of 2022, business school was an experience like no other. They re-located and changed jobs, raised children, and cared for dying parents. And that was on top of managing people, taming clients, and meeting deadlines. The cornerstones of their organizations, families, and communities, these students disrupted their lives, making gut-wrenching tradeoffs to help them fill their gaps – to learn the language of business so they could take the next step in their careers.
This was the COVID class, the ones whose plans and routines were uprooted by pandemic. Despite this, they signed up for business school – uncertain what the future would bring but embracing the hope that the best was just around the corner. As EMBAs, they didn’t just swoop onto campus once or twice a month. They made a profound commitment to elevate themselves and ultimately everyone around them.
“I admire my friends from the EMBA Class of 2022,” assets Seo Yeon Yoon, a biomedical researcher who earned her MBA at U.C.-Berkeley’s Haas School. “We started our journey together on Zoom, not knowing when we could meet in-person and study together in a physical classroom on-campus. During those days, we wasted no time in building relationships and maximizing our time together – at times, being on calls for hours on end. Many of us have been through hell and back – losing family and friends (in US and abroad), falling ill (physical or mental), being laid off from our jobs – just to name a few. Through it all, we supported one another, committing ourselves to stand strong and being the friend in need so that no one was left alone. The story of the Class of 2022 is the legacy of the Haas EMBA program, and I admire my fellow classmates for unfailingly living up to the values that unite us, namely, resilience and love.”
BALANCING SAVING LIVES AND PASSING FINANCE
Those qualities define Chris Strachan, an EMBA from Indiana University’s Kelley School. By day, he serves as executive vice chair of clinical affairs for the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Outside work, he is the medical team manager for the Indiana Task Force 1 – an elite FEMA team focused on urban search and rescue. During his tenure, Strachan has responded to events such as the 9/11 attack and Hurricane Katrina. As an EMBA, he faced another daunting tragedy: the Surfside Condominium collapse, which resulted in 98 fatalities. Here, Strachan spent 12 hours a day amid the rubble for two weeks – all while facing a demanding finance course.
“Professors and program staff offered me deadline extensions and additional support,” he reminisces. “This was probably the most stressful time I experienced during the MBA program, but my family, work colleagues, and the MBA program faculty and staff all came together to support me through it. I think that’s something I took home: The people in Physician MBA Program want you to be successful.”
Rena Dharmawan has also left her mark in medicine. Starting college at 16, she studied Biomedical Engineering before entering medical school. Now a consultant surgeon in head and neck, Dharmawan also teaches clinical innovation at the Duke-National University of Singapore Medical School. Along the way, she has co-founded three medtech startups, including one that provides a hemorrhoids solution that earned FDA approval before being acquired for commercialization.
“I am very humbled and honoured to have been given the opportunity to be involved in the founding of these three start-ups, working with motivated individuals with complementary strengths and weakness,” she tells P&Q. “Moving forward I hope to continue venture-building and create useful technology solutions to unmet clinical needs and also, importantly, to train and inspire the next generation of Clinician-Innovators in Singapore and the region.”
FROM NATO TO FIFA
Dharmawan fits among the many pioneers in the Class of 2022. Take the Wharton School’s Ledford Powell. A thoracic surgeon who runs a leading practice, he developed what is called the “Powell Procedure” – “a minimally invasive approach to the management of chest wall injuries, rib fractures, and reconstruction.” Not only has his expertise has been hailed by organizations ranging from Johnson & Johnson to the American College of Surgeons, but Powell also travels the country to train other surgeons on conducting this procedure. At the same time, Amine Arezki, who holds a Ph.D. in Robotics, developed a 3D printable mask that’s free to access to fight against COVID – a breakthrough that was shortlisted at the 100th annual ADC Awards that honor design innovation. On top of that, Arezki managed to get Joe Foster, the founder of Reebok to come to speak at the London Business School. And then there is Muhammed Usman Afzal, who holds down two full-time jobs as a senior engineering manager and registered nurse – all while earning his EMBA at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School. Those disciplines may be quite different in theory, but they converged when Afzal patented his foamless SwabCap, which prevents fragmented foam from inside the caps causing an embolism.
“[These caps] could cause a fatal condition if this loose debris from the foam is injected into the bloodstream with any IV fluid administration. Clinical staff was asked to scrub the needlefree connectors with the alcohol swab after the antiseptic cap is removed, which of course defeated the purpose of antiseptic cap. I designed a foamless antiseptic cap that used bristles instead of foam to hold alcohol with its surface tension.”
Pages 4-5: 101 profiles of this year’s Best & Brightest Executive MBA grads.