2023 Best & Brightest Online MBA: Brandon J. Smith, Auburn University (Harbert)

Brandon J. Smith

Auburn University, Raymond J. Harbert College of Business Online MBA Program

“Solution-oriented leader with a data driven mindset, focusing on improving healthcare systems for underserved populations.”

Age: 33

Hometown: West Palm Beach, FL

Fun fact about yourself: I started a food farm including a hydroponic garden to grow my own fruits and veggies in my backyard! I’ve learned a lot and grown everything from potatoes, corn, cilantro and onions to strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. My latest additions have been a mango tree seedling, banana tree, and Jaboticaba tree. Long-term I’d love to grow enough to live on year-round in the Sunny state of Florida.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Florida A&M University (PharmD).

Where are you currently working? Centene – Director, Clinical Operational Excellence

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m most proud of where I am today. I have had the unique opportunity of creating a new organization focused on Operational Excellence within my company. As a pharmacist by trade, this is the pinnacle of what I’d expect to be able to do with an MBA. In my current role, I have been able merge my experience in healthcare, my analytical skillset, and my business acumen to pioneer a path to peak performance while remaining efficient yet innovative within our Clinical Operations department. As the largest government sponsored healthcare system in the United States, my organization impacts 1 in 15 Americans across the country, so I take the mission of this role to heart.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? Auburn is hands down the most valuable school in the nation! As someone who is a researcher by nature, I factored in the curriculum, where I wanted to take my career, and what my interests were. They all aligned to Auburn most. I’ve learned that having a real client to consult allowed us to connect all of what we’ve learned. It is is a rare opportunity that Auburn provides. It was also financially advantageous, considering I’ve been able to finish out my program the way I started – debt free!

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? Long-term I knew if traditional schools were offering remote classes, it would only be a matter of time before reputable online degrees are seen as being equal in value to their traditional counterparts. That time is now, especially with the world gravitating towards remote work at large. In addition, the ability to stay centered in my job, church, location, and family was a huge plus. As a sixth generation Floridian, it was important that I did not have to move and uproot my entire family to complete my goal, especially with my son having additional developmental needs at a young age. With me starting school in the thick of COVID, I knew I had to do whatever it took to continue focusing on providing for my family.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? The engagement! Auburn made sure online students were not treated any differently than the in-person students and even invited us on campus for an in-person immersion to get a feel for the campus and city alike. I would put the time spent at Camp Harbert on par with my time in undergraduate studies.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? My current place in life is completely different from my undergraduate years. I think the overall outcome stayed the same. I have engaged with so many great individuals that will be life-long connections and look forward to celebrating graduation together. While the decisions I’ve made in graduate school are overall much wiser, the experiences have proven to have similar outcomes.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? Don’t treat the program like a solo journey. Cherish the friendships and connections you’ll make in various group projects; you never know when those relationships will be called on again. Also be sure to take advantage of your full program. Auburn had a wonderful experience through Camp Harbert that allowed online students to get the on-campus immersion as I previously mentioned above.

What would you change about an online MBA Program? I would change the stigma of an online MBA. In today’s world, more companies are switching to a remote environment while producing the same, if not greater outcomes. There’s no reason we can’t expect this to translate to education especially with the technology available for connecting individuals across the globe.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? Absolutely! I’ve leveraged both my data analytics certificate as well as key principles discussed in our program on how to create an organization that is highly engaged in their day-to-day activities. In doing so, I have created the team I lead today. I’m able to speak with my analysts in a relatable language but also speak to senior leadership about business decisions that are made to improve the bottom line.

Did you earn a promotion while in the program or immediately after graduation? Yes, I went from Manager to Senior Manager and recently Director all while in the program.

Why did you pursue an online MBA program instead of a full-time residential program? The opportunity cost of leaving my current job was far too high. I also knew I could leverage this degree to climb higher within my current company without depending on the ability to pivot into a completely new role at a new company. I was good at what I do, celebrated, and wanted to use the MBA program to further refine my skills.

Number of Hours Per Week Spent on an Online MBA: 4-6 hours per week. However, this ranged from 0 hours some weeks and 10 hours of “catch up” time other weeks.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To marry my experiences and skills related to healthcare, analytics, and business into one tangible benefit that leaves the world in a better place than I left it before. As a child, I’ve always dreamed of being able to help people by improving their lives in any way I could. That still holds true today!


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