Guest post by Nick Dwyer, Foster MBA Candidate, 2016
Before enrolling in the full-time MBA program at the Foster School this fall, I often heard full-time business students characterized as “day students”. But with the vast number of engaging presentations, speakers’ series, networking opportunities and other evening events at our disposal, I now realize this was a misnomer. While I’m not currently taking any evening classes, my on-campus education rarely ceases before 6PM. Perhaps my most notable example is the evening of November 20th, when I had the opportunity to hear from the former US ambassador to Japan, John Roos.
Ambassador Roos came to the Foster School as part of the Tateuchi Foundation Asian Business Distinguished Speaker Lecture, a series of annual speeches by business leaders focused on presenting US-Japan business opportunities.
By partnering with the Tateuchi Foundation, we can honor the legacy of Mr. Tateuchi’s business success and further the Foundation’s goals of promoting international understanding, knowledge, and relations.
The event is made possible by the Tateuchi Foundation, a family foundation charged with building bridges of understanding between the United States and Japan. Given this mission, its unlikely there is a more fitting presenter than John Roos, who served in his role as ambassador to Japan from 2009 to 2013.
One of the most interesting points of Ambassador Roos’ presentation was his atypical professional background for an ambassador. Unlike most American ambassadors to Japan, John Roos never held a significant public office before his ambassadorship and was not a political figure in Washington, DC. Before Japan, Roos was a lawyer in Silicon Valley, where as CEO he led a premier technology law firm.
He explained that he was such an outsider that his wife quipped that he “didn’t have a chance in hell” before formally receiving his nomination for the post. But his less than common background was appealing to President Obama, who appreciated his experience in technology and innovation and his understanding of Asia-Pacific business. “But most of all, it was just a matter of trust” Roos confirmed.
As someone who has always been interested with the economy of Japan, I particularly enjoyed watching Ambassador Roos interact with Japanese students in the Q&A part of the evening. What emerged was a major difference of opinion between the state and potential future of Japan. Several students commented they felt pessimistic about the future of Japan, given the weak economy, the high population loss, and the high national debt. Ambassador Roos reminded them that Japan is still the third largest economy in the world and that 90% of the world would trade places with them. When asked what is the best characteristic of Japanese business, Roos stated that “quality and attention to detail permeate the whole society” and there is a very high level of service, which can continue to drive the Japanese business. He also sees the Japanese business culture beginning to address its lack of entrepreneurial thinkers and businesses, which will be key for future economic growth.
While Japanese business was a major conversation point for the evening, Roos also discussed a number of geopolitical issues, including the thorny relationship between Okinawa and the United States, the dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands, and North Korean threat to Japan. He also described the biggest challenge of his ambassadorship; the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. The link between national security and economic wellbeing was not lost on the ambassador, as he frequently pivoted between both topics.
In all, Ambassador Roos painted a complex yet optimistic picture of Japan and Japanese businesses. His belief in the country is illustrated by his current position on the board of directors at Japan’s largest electronics company, Sony. While Japan has to overcome it’s shrinking population and stiff competition, his ambassadorship allowed him to see up close what makes Japan so dynamic.
While I certainly don’t wish to underestimate my daytime classes and activities, Ambassador Roos certainly demonstrated that learning about global business doesn’t necessarily slow when the sun sets at Paccar Hall.
The Executive MBA experience kicks off each fall with a five day residential program at Skamania Lodge on the Columbia River east of Portland. Away from the distractions of daily life, first year students immerse themselves in intensive instruction, collaborative projects and bonding with their fellow students. Here are some snapshots of this year’s residential session, with comments by students on the value of the experience, including a challenging class with the inimitable Charles Hill, Professor of Management & Organization and the faculty director of the EMBA Program.
“The rapid pace of learning at Skamania was outstanding. The professors provided ample material to read, contemplate and absorb in preparation for five consecutive days of class. During the daily sessions, students were required to recall significant portions of the assigned material to examine precepts of micro economics, finance and leadership.”
“Charles comes at you as-advertised – fast and intense – with questions requiring that you to not only read the assigned material, but also to think deeply about it. This deep thinking will get you about 60% of where you need to be. From there, you have to take a deep breath, sit on the edge of your seat and lean into it. Fortunately, the intensity of Charles’ class session is matched by his love of teaching and fair approach. It won’t hurt too badly.”
“The intensity at residency was unreal. Long days, amplified by classroom encounters with professor Charles Hill out of Scared Straight resulted in a searing educational experience. I’ve never learned more in a shorter time period. The fear of failure in the classroom quickly dissipates as everyone participates, and gets not-so-politely corrected by professor Charles Hill.”
“There were three constant thoughts that ran through my head while at Skamania and in the Charles Hill hot seat:
No matter what you do, do not criticize the text or mention that it might be a little dry because the guy standing in front of you (Charles Hill) wrote it.
If I look him directly in the eye maybe he won’t see me …. darn it, that didn’t work!
Everyone is watching so here goes nothing! Please be the correct answer, please be the correct answer….
On a serious note I remember thinking how interesting his class was and that despite being exhausted what a good job he did keeping us all engaged in the class. Additionally I recall thinking how impressed I was with the caliber of the professors and how lucky I was to be a part of such a smart and talented cohort, Skamania was a very humbling experience for me.”
“Skamania overall was a tremendous opportunity to sit through several intense days of class and brush away the mental cobwebs. More so, though, it was an opportunity to spend focused time with your new classmates and teammates. A great time to start some shared experiences and friendships of a kind that are harder to find the older you become.”
When Dan Poston, Assistant Dean of Masters Program, recently addressed a group of prospective students interested in pursuing an MBA, he argued the practicality and attractiveness of MBA degrees to employers. “When recruiters recruit for MBAs,” Poston said, “they’re looking for someone who has been trained across all the different business disciplines.” Poston also discussed the Foster School’s full-time and part-time options, the enviable job-placement skills of MBA Career Management, and the high caliber students who enter the programs. Likening the process of selecting an MBA program to choosing a cruise, Poston believes that a positive MBA experience relies largely on the people you (the student) share it with. “You learn just as much from the people who are in the program with you,” he said. Watch selected clips from his talk below.
Brad Tilden knew it was a long shot. As a young finance executive at Alaska Air Group in the mid-1990s, Tilden made the case to his CFO that sending him to the Foster School’s Executive MBA Program would be a sound investment. “The company wasn’t flush in those days, and we had always taken a conservative view on costs,” he recalls. “So I didn’t expect the answer to be quick or positive.”
But after conferring briefly with then-CEO John Kelly, Tilden’s boss came back and simply wrote “OK” on his proposal. “I was thrilled,” says Tilden, Alaska’s current chairman and CEO.
So began a long and symbiotic partnership between Alaska and Foster that goes far beyond the company’s significant philanthropic investment in the school.
The EMBA Program has become a de facto executive training academy for Alaska leadership. To date, 22 of its most promising executives have graduated from the program. Many now serve in senior roles at the company, including Tilden (EMBA 1997); Ann Ardizzone (EMBA 2008), vice president, strategic sourcing and supply chain; Karen Gruen (EMBA 2010), vice president, corporate real estate; Kris Kutchera (EMBA 2009), vice president, information technology; Andy Schneider (EMBA 2009), vice president, inflight services; Joseph Sprague (EMBA 2007), senior vice president, communications and external relations; Shane Tackett (EMBA 2011), vice president, labor relations; Shannon Alberts (EMBA 2005), corporate secretary; and Diana Shaw (EMBA 2013), vice president, customer service.
And though former CEO Bill Ayer’s (MBA 1978) MBA came from Foster’s full-time program, he has brought his formidable expertise and insight to teaching the EMBA’s powerful “CEO and the Board” course for nearly a decade.
Tilden says the impact of this cohort of Foster-educated leaders is evident throughout the firm: “Having a critical mass of people with a common education and disciplined approach helps us frame issues and execute solutions more quickly.”
“The EMBA Program has played an important role in developing high-performance leaders at Alaska,” adds Ayer. “The classes, the teamwork, and the networking opportunities add up to a unique learning experience. In a business where people are the only sustainable competitive advantage, a Foster EMBA provides a critical edge.”
Keeping the customer as its lodestar, Alaska Air Group navigated a turbulent decade to emerge as one of the marquee companies in the Pacific Northwest
Alaska Air Group recently moved into to the Fortune 500, that ultimate collection of the nation’s elite businesses, that manifest marker of size and success.
It was no small feat for a comparatively small, independent carrier to join the big boys in an industry marked by brutal competition, rampant consolidation, and chronic crisis. And it was even more remarkable that Alaska sustained its growth through a decade of Herculean trials.
So you might expect this momentous milestone would call for some serious celebration at the company’s south Seattle headquarters. Some bottles of champagne, perhaps. A press release, at least. Did they even pause to savor the achievement?
“We celebrate a lot of things,” says Brad Tilden (EMBA 1997), the chairman and CEO of Alaska Air Group. “But we didn’t really celebrate joining the Fortune 500.”
The understatement adds up when you consider it comes from a man possessed of a pilot’s cool and an accountant’s good sense leading a company with roots in the Last Frontier.
“It’s like compound interest,” Tilden adds. “Somebody had a really good idea 82 years ago, and we’ve been working at it year after year.”
Alaskan roots, American dream
That somebody was Linious McGee, who began flying passengers and cargo in his three-seat Stinson between Anchorage and Bristol Bay back in 1932. A merger, two years later, with Star Air Service created Alaska’s largest airline, eventually renamed after the state.
At the industry’s deregulation in 1978, Alaska was the 24th largest airline in the US. And it was just beginning expansion into the Lower 48. By the end of the 1980s, Alaska Air Group had added regional carriers Horizon Air and Jet America. It had enjoyed nearly two decades of profitability and sustained growth. And it had earned a reputation for superior customer service.
Economic prosperity and low fuel costs kept Alaska growing through the 1990s.
But Tilden, who joined the company from Price Waterhouse in 1991, says that Alaska Airlines was growing almost despite itself. Friendly service masked a declining efficiency of operations. Complacency had crept in, a culture of good enough, not great.
As the century turned, Alaska’s internal vulnerabilities were about to be mortally tested.
The century’s first decade began in tragedy. The January 2000 crash of Alaska Airlines flight 261—half of its 88 victims being employees, family members or friends—sent the tight-knit company into mourning.
It was only the first of a litany of trials to challenge both airline and industry. Shortly after the dot-com bubble burst in 2001, the attacks of 9/11 altered air travel forever. The SARS scare of 2003 followed. Then oil prices spiked just as the financial crisis shook the foundations of the global economy.
Amid the external pressures, Alaska Airlines faced a litany of contentious labor contract negotiations beginning in 2003. Strained morale brought a dip in performance. There were simply too many late flights and mishandled bags.
“Alaska was burning through the goodwill it had earned over many decades,” says Bruce Avolio, director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.
A new case study by Avolio, Chelley Paterson and Bradford Baker chronicles Alaska’s decade of dilemma. Survival would require absolute transformation—modernizing operations and slashing costs—without sacrificing the legendary customer service experience that had made Alaska Alaska.
“There was an increasing recognition among the leadership,” says Avolio, “that the course they were on could not continue.”
Crossing the Rubicon
The situation demanded decisive action. And fortunately, Bill Ayer (MBA 1978) had risen up the ranks to become CEO in 2002.
“At a time when this business required a person of tremendous courage,” says Tilden, “Bill was the perfect leader.”
Ayer never wavered from hard—and sometimes heartbreaking—decisions. The first set the tone for the company’s transformation. Amid an epidemic of default that swept the major carriers, Ayer declared that Alaska would not seek bankruptcy protection.
“We figured out what our costs needed to be for us to be viable and said to ourselves that we simply have to get there,” recalls Tilden, then CFO.
Among the difficult moves to ensure the company’s survival were a painful round of layoffs, the outsourcing of some ground operations, and some pragmatic dealing for concessions from the unions.
“The choice to stay out of bankruptcy helped the company downstream,” Avolio says. “By not destroying people’s pensions and protecting this covenant with their employees, Alaska’s management salvaged a degree of trust.”
That trust would prove vital.
Fix Seattle, then the company
If cost cutting took toughness, improving performance took smarts. There was a lot to fix, but Ayer and Tilden chose, wisely, to first fix Seattle, Alaska’s largest hub.
“We identified the basic things we needed to improve upon to be successful—safe operations, on-time performance, low fares and great customer service,” says Tilden. “And we focused relentlessly on them.”
Applying lean methodology and measuring every task, performance began improving immediately, first in Seattle and then throughout the network.
“Once they fixed Seattle, Alaska demonstrated what can be accomplished in its other cities,” says Avolio.
The dramatic transformation has been widely confirmed. Alaska has been rated highest in customer satisfaction (among traditional network carriers) by J.D. Power seven years in a row. It’s been number one in on-time performance four years running according to FlightStats.com. Outside dubbed Alaska its “Best Airline” in 2014.
Alaska has earned highest marks in just about every category awarded: air cargo handling, delivery and logistics, technology, maintenance, sustainability, philanthropy, loyalty program, employee satisfaction—even friendliness to pets.
And aggressive expansion to the East Coast, Midwest and Hawaii when others retreated has made Alaska one of the fastest growing companies in the industry.
The importance of being Alaska
That growth has lifted Alaska into the Fortune 500. The company may barely have noted the milestone. But Seattle should.
Alaska’s ascendancy adds another industry leader to the region’s increasingly diversified economy, according to Suresh Kotha, the Olesen/Battelle Excellence Chair in Entrepreneurship at the Foster School.
“Having another service-based company like Alaska become a dominant player in its industry creates jobs, broadens our economy and buffers us against the kind of cyclical downturns we used to face.”
He’s referring to the not-so-distant past when a slowdown at Boeing threatened to shut down the city. But today Seattle enjoys a far healthier balance of manufacturing, service and retail. The region is home to nine of the Fortune 500 plus other powers in a wide array of industries including aerospace (Boeing’s continued strong presence, plus a galaxy of suppliers), software (Microsoft, RealNetworks), retail (Amazon, Starbucks, Costco, Nordstrom, REI, Eddie Bauer), truck manufacturing (PACCAR), trade (Expeditors International), forestry products (Weyerhaeuser), and clusters in telecommunications, biosciences and gaming.
A successful airline adds to the economic diversity. “It’s making Seattle one of the nation’s best places to do business,” Kotha says.
Avolio adds that other companies could learn a great deal from Alaska’s customer focus and level-headed navigation of crisis “with discipline and focus.”
The other lesson of Alaska, he says, “is that the essence of great leadership is building a sense of ownership in employees and customers.”
Ayer asked a lot of Alaska Air Group’s employees to save the company in its darkest hour. And those employees stepped up.
“We are the only legacy airline not to have filed for bankruptcy, thanks to the determination of our people,” he says. “What we learned by doing the hard work ourselves bodes well for our future.”
In 2012 Ayer passed the controls to Tilden, a new kind of leader for a new chapter in Alaska’s story. His focus today is on fine tuning the customer experience.
Tilden is continuing to foster Alaska’s celebrated culture of innovation that delivered the industry’s first online ticket sales and check-in kiosks, and is now developing apps to remove the anxiety from travel. “The goal today is to be the easiest airline in the world to fly by 2017,” he says.
Of course, technology can only do so much. People make the difference. While continuing to cultivate top management prospects in the Foster Executive MBA Program (see sidebar), he’s really trying to push the airline’s leadership to the front lines.
“The big opportunities going forward will come from consistent execution and delivery of service across every airport and every employee,” says Tilden.
To that end, he has initiated two company-wide programs to engage every employee and empower them to lead. It helps that they have a vested interest. As the profit-sharing program that Ayer and Tilden started during the lean days of the mid-2000s begins to pay handsomely, the link between airline performance and personal prosperity is easy to follow. That’s good for everyone’s bottom line.
“If the employees want us to be a great airline, we’ll be a great airline,” Tilden says.
The airline industry seems to have stabilized, and Alaska is all systems go, elevating both its standards and goals. An exemplar of corporate responsibility, it’s also a pillar of philanthropy in the larger community—and especially at the University of Washington.
“There is a really special culture at Alaska,” Tilden says. “A real sense of mission, that what we do for the communities we serve—the infrastructure we provide businesses, the connections we provide families—is important.”
“What makes me proudest is the company’s outstanding performance since I retired,” says Ayer. “The team is executing better than ever and, as always, there’s no shortage of challenges. The reality is that there are a lot of factors that are not controllable, so those that are must be very well managed.”
Tilden is ever vigilant. Or, as they like to say in Alaska’s HQ, “Brad’s never happy.”
He’s seen the perils of complacency, especially when most of the challenges ahead are yet unseen.
“In some ways, the challenge was simpler ten years ago,” notes Avolio. “You knew all of the things that were broken; you just had to fix them. Today, you don’t know where the market is going. There are a lot of question marks.”
One certainty is that fierce competition will come from smaller airlines and the big ones (which keep getting bigger through consolidation). Most immediately, Delta is making a significant incursion on Alaska’s prime West Coast territory.
But Tilden believes that Alaska Air Group has found the secret. And it’s not at all sexy. “What’s going to help us succeed over the long run is continuing to do the basics well,” he says. “We need to be safe. We need to be on-time. We need to offer low fares. We need to provide great service. Those things are 100 percent in our control. And I think if we get them right, we’re going to win.”
As an undergraduate, Lisa Dahlby majored in journalism and political science, but she had grown up in a family where business topics were discussed around the dinner table. She always knew she would pursue a career in business, so earning an MBA was a long-term goal. When the time came to go for a graduate degree, she decided to look for a part-time program that would allow her to stay actively involved in her career in advertising. The Foster Evening MBA offered not only a high-quality education, but a sense of community. She found professors welcoming and classmates supportive. Her experience at Foster has not only helped her broaden her knowledge of business and given her new skills to apply on the job, but also, she believes, has made her “a better citizen of the world.”
You’ve decided to pursue your MBA. Perhaps you’re getting ready to start your own business, preparing to advance your career, or switching professions. You’re prepared to commit the time and money required to meet your goal, and you want to maximize the investment. We hope you will find this advice useful on how to make the most of your MBA before, during and after your educational experience.
1. Before: Your ROI begins with program selection
The program you choose will have a major impact on the dividends you can expect. Here are several factors to consider when comparing MBA programs:
All MBAs are not created equal.
The degree is a compendium of the learning you acquire. Make sure the program is strong in all of the disciplines that comprise the core of an MBA curriculum (e.g. finance, accounting, marketing, etc.). Examine the program’s capacity to provide hands-on learning experiences—from prominent guest speakers to case competitions.
Get acquainted with prospective programs.
Take advantage of class visits, research the quality of the professors, talk to current students and alumni, and ask all of the questions that you may have.
Avoid short-cuts and “good deals.”
The insights you gain in a cohort-based program with a strong faculty far outweigh the convenience of pursuing your degree based on expedience. Additionally, keep in mind that MBA course fees are generally in keeping with the caliber of the faculty, curriculum, and facilities.
Be realistic about your schedule, and look for a program that minimizes the impact on your family and work life.
The right location reduces your work/school/home commute time. A program that offers extra services (books, course materials, meals) can reduce the time costs associated with juggling a school schedule.
Balance rigor and relevance.
Seek out a program that’s relevant to your goals and career opportunities. Make sure it addresses current executive and business issues. Ask the program staff if there is a focus on skills you can put to work the next day.
Consider the big picture of your MBA experience.
From the reputation of the institution to the alumni network, your degree can add value beyond core learning.
2. During: Take steps to maximize your ROI while still an MBA student
While you’re in school, you’ll likely be focused on your studies and juggling your family and work commitments. But you’ll earn more from your MBA later if you focus on the ROI while immersed in the program. Possible ways to do this include:
Don’t forget why you enrolled in an MBA program.
Quantify your goals and capture the outcomes you want from earning your MBA; you’ll derive more from the program by staying focused on the path ahead.
Put any hands-on learning to use right away at work.
You’ll learn the lessons more fully by teaching others what you’ve learned.
Build your professional network so you can tap into it after you complete your MBA.
You can do this by taking advantage of any opportunities to study in groups, or by attending extracurricular events to hear guest speakers and meet alumni. Really get to know your classmates. Your goal is to build a lifelong network you can tap into professionally for years to come.
Take advantage of “learning extras.”
These include workshops on how to be a better presenter, group discussions, or other activities that give you a more in-depth understanding of an issue.
Take advantage of any international study opportunities.
Broaden your business knowledge base and immerse yourself in a different culture as you gain valuable experience in an increasingly global economy.
Utilize career services offered while in the program.
Although you’ll be busy with school, you’ll be better off in the long run by getting a jump on your next career move, instead of waiting until your MBA is completed.
Trust in your team.
Programs for working professionals work best when the study teams are carefully developed to give students a critical support network amidst myriad demands from work, home/family life, and a rigorous education.
3. After: Keep leveraging your MBA network and experience for future ROI
You’ll be surprised at how quickly you get to the end of your program. Be ready to move forward with your new degree even before you have it in hand, and to continue to leverage your MBA experience for a continued return on the investment you’ve made in yourself.
Stay active with the network you’ve built with fellow students after you complete your degree.
You never know when a connection will be useful to advance your career, help you recruit employees, or find reputable vendors. Plus, you’ll be a resource for other alumni, helping them with their professional aspirations.
Be involved with school.
Be a mentor, judge a case competition, talk to faculty about current business topics, come to events, and stay connected via face-to-face and online forums.
Continue teaching others what you’ve learned.
Take advantage of continuing education opportunities via workshops and seminars.
The following is the transcript from an interview with Tracy Gojdics, Director of the Technology Management MBA Program and Dan Turner, Associate Dean and Faculty Director discussing the merits of the TMMBA program. Follow along to learn more about the program and it’s career unlocking potential.
1. What is the Technology Management MBA Program, and will the technology aspect of the program limit my growth potential?
Tracy: This is an MBA program in every regard. When you graduate, you get a Foster MBA from the TMMBA Program. What makes this program different is that it’s designed for people who are passionate about technology and entrepreneurship; the program offers a comprehensive business management curriculum which an emphasis on innovation and leadership. For instance, the topics, cases and class discussions focus on technology companies, services and products. But you need not be fluent in the language of technology—we have many alumni and students who are outside of the tech-sector. Bottom line: you will gain the business skills and frameworks, the business language and the strategic insights and perspectives to create value for any organization.
Dan: Tracy pretty much summed it up. Fundamentally, this is an MBA program and you do get exposure to all those topic domains that you would expect in any MBA program. But the example used when we talk about strategy, marketing or accounting is often an application in a technology environment.
2. How is it possible to get an MBA in 18 months?
Dan: Consecutive quarters of 10 credit hours per quarter make it possible to deliver a robust MBA curriculum in 18 months. We cover all the core topics you’ll find in most MBA programs—financial accounting, managerial accounting, corporate finance, marketing, economics, operations management and organizational management. We’ve also selected courses on topics we think students in this program really need, including leadership, negotiations, strategy, entrepreneurship and global management.
Tracy: Traditional full-time MBA programs and some evening MBA programs are longer because they are designed with required core classes plus electives. The TMMBA Program is lock-step; we don’t offer electives. And, our program staff provide support and services that make a student’s life a little easier. We handle registration and meals and provide books and materials—all which save time and reduce stress for our students.
3. What is the difference between the Technology Management MBA and a “traditional” full-time program?
Tracy: They offer different experiences. A full-time program allows for greater immersion in elective areas of study. But there’s an opportunity cost for quitting your job and going back to school, and everyone weighs that cost differently. Stepping out of the work force for two years may make sense if you’re relatively new to your career or uncertain of your end goal. But if you have a good job, you’re well-positioned for advancement, or you have other obligations, then pursuing your degree while you continue working may be a better fit.
Dan: In terms of the learning experience, the content of the two programs is similar, but there are a variety of topics that are addressed in the Technology Management course that are particularly relevant for technology professionals. You get much more exposure to these topics, in greater depth, in this program than you would in a traditional MBA program—things like how to market innovation, for example. Not all technology projects are innovations, but just about all innovations are technology products, and we spend more time discussing that in the TMMBA Program than we would in a traditional marketing class.
Tracy: There are also advantages to being in the classroom with people who are down in the trenches every day. Students in this program have from 3 to 25-plus years of work experience when they come in the front door. We want people who are working full time so they can speak to what’s happening at their companies and, more importantly, apply what they’re learning in the classroom back on the job the next day.
4. Who is a good fit for this program?
Dan: I would say we’re looking for three things: 1) people who have the raw horsepower, who can compete successfully in any kind of organization; 2) people who have leadership potential; and, 3) people who have a passion for technology, for whom this is more than a job.
Tracy: Someone who is an ideal fit for this program is somebody who has at least 3 years of work experience—the average is 11 years— and who wants more than the “M-B-A” credentials after their name. We are looking for students who seek a challenge and who want to be in an active learning environment. Additionally, we want strong contributors to the conversations in class and willingness to share experiences as they apply to the course work.
5. Can this program give me what I need to move out of my tech-centric position into a strategic business position?
Dan: Yes, in fact, eighty percent of recent graduates surveyed reported they had taken on a more strategic role since graduation. The program builds knowledge and skills that help students deconstruct functional barriers and view organizations as the integrative enterprises that they truly are. You’ll get exposure to fundamental solution concepts, theories, frameworks, and skills in strategy, accounting, marketing, finance and quantitative methods.
Tracy: Our program is known for taking subject matter experts, whether they are developers, architects, entrepreneurs or even functional specialists on the business side, and enabling them to understand the language of business in a completely different way. Because they can do that, they’re able to contribute to different kinds of conversations than they have in the past, and step up— or over—a level or two.
6. I want to start my own business. How will this program help me?
Tracy: One of the top three reasons people decide to enroll in TMMBA is because they are looking to start their own business—to be their own boss. As a result, we have a strong entrepreneurial network. Basically, if you want to start your own business, you need to understand innovation, entrepreneurship and management, as well as have a strong grasp of the competitive landscape, customer profiles, and supply chains that can make or break your success.
Dan: Great ideas can take organizations only so far. Many businesses don’t do well even if they have great ideas because the execution of the business plan is missing. Of course we have an entrepreneurship class, of course we have strategy classes, but many people will say that the reason they come to our program is that they need to understand the full range of business issues and be able to deal with them, in addition to having the great business idea or great technology.
7. How has the Technology Management MBA helped advance the careers of students and alumni?
Tracy: Our students typically have one of three goals: move up in what they are doing, move out of what they are doing—change functions—or start their own business. I tell them that the critical things they learn in the TMMBA Program are only one part of the equation in advancing their careers. The other part is being able to put the things they learn into practice and be deliberate about contributing at a higher level, communicating more effectively and enduring set-backs.
How many of our students and alumni have advanced their careers? We’ve done surveys to help us determine this, but I find my LinkedIn network offers a nice illustration. Approximately 75% have changed positions and 65% have changed companies. I’m finding many are in senior-level and even C-level roles and that those who had been in more specialized technical positions have moved to general management, marketing or product management roles. It is also great to see the number of entrepreneurs we have in the alumni network.
Dan: As an instructor and faculty director I stay in touch with quite a few of our students and am constantly impressed with how they have advanced in their careers. I firmly believe that the TMMBA Program is something that opens doors rather than something that gets your ticket punched. In and of itself, no degree is going to be sufficient for a promotion, but a great MBA program will expose you to a range of perspectives on fundamental management lessons that you wouldn’t otherwise see on the job.
8. How do students typically finance the TMMBA Program?
Tracy: Students finance the program in a variety of ways, including company tuition subsidies or reimbursement programs, securing loans and paying out-of-pocket. Although many companies have cut or significantly reduced their tuition benefits, we still have a fair amount of students who are able to secure funding via company benefits. Students have also been successful in creating proposals for their upper management that outline the benefits of subsidizing their education and what it will mean for the company. Many students apply for financial aid and receive assistance via the Stafford Loan Program.
9. What can I expect in terms of Return on Investment?
Tracy: It depends. Students and alumni look at ROI from many angles. Of course, most people want to make more money, and according to alumni surveys they do—with an average compensation increase of 30% after two years. However, I find that people are really starting to evaluate ROI from a job/life satisfaction perspective. Students come into the program wanting to make a career change, to have more options and to make a larger impact at their organizations. I’ve already talked about how folks are changing their careers, but what we haven’t discussed is that students, as they go through the program, begin to see that they have lots of options. It may sound lofty, but being equipped with options brings a satisfaction and kind of happiness that they didn’t have before, and that return is something that cannot be measured.
Dan: I agree with Tracy that students are looking at things other than more money; although, usually that comes in time. As I mentioned earlier, I stay in touch with several former students and it seems that the ROI with regard to compensation and job advancement has been significant. I attribute a lot of this to the fact that students in the Technology Management MBA Program are working while earning their MBA and are applying, in real-time, what they are learning.
10. How can I find out if the Technology Management MBA Program is right for me?
Tracy: My top answer, without a doubt, is to visit a class. When someone visits a class they get a sense of what is expected of them and what the commitment will really be. They get to be part of the classroom, to talk to students, to talk to study groups, to see if this is the kind of environment they want to be a part of for 18 months. Of course, we can also get you in touch with alumni, because they can talk about the experience and how it has changed their lives, but I would absolutely encourage people to experience what goes on in the classroom.
Dan: I’d echo that. Fundamentally, we’re in the business of providing transformational educational experiences. While I’d encourage any prospective student to do his or her due diligence, to look at the descriptive statistics of the program and success rates, Graduate Management Admission Test scores and the diversity of the student body, this is at its core a service-based, experiential business and you have to experience it to truly appreciate it. It’s a significant investment to dedicate three hours to come to a classroom and experience what the students go through, at least in some small fashion, but it’s an investment that I think generates a return that is more than worth it in terms of helping you assess whether or not the program is right for you.
Bonus Question: How can I find out if the Technology Management MBA Program is right for me?
Two programs with similar names can be confusing. Both offer a business management curriculum and both hold classes on the Eastside, but differ in many respects including schedule, duration, faculty, cost, courses, and alumni networks.
One key distinction is that TMMBA is part of the UW Foster School of Business and the UW Bothell TMBA program is not. Additionally, the faculty are different. TMMBA faculty come from the Foster school, which consistently ranks among the top business schools in the nation and faculty are world-renowned and recognized for their prominent research and excellence in their respective fields.
Another TMMBA difference is student support and services provided, including registration, meals, books and course materials, and free parking. These services offer convenience for busy working professionals. Additionally, TMMBA career services include unlimited one-on one coaching, numerous workshops, webinars, and networking events. Plus, TMMBA has a network of over 800 technology professionals!
Although the names may be similar, TMMBA and TMBA each offer different experiences and educational opportunities. Consider what is important to you in terms of faculty, network, student services, and program reputation. Visit a class in both to know which is right for you.
The UW Foster Executive MBA student experience actually begins with 36 hours of “summer workshops” held mid-July through mid-August. Designed to prepare incoming students for the many quantitative classes of their first year, the 3 hour workshop sessions cover basic math through calculus, excel and accounting. Students attend the workshops in-person on the Seattle campus, participate virtually or subsequently view recordings of the sessions.
Following the Summer Workshops, students are welcomed “back-to-school” at the end of August for an all day program orientation. At the back-to-school day, students meet their study team and larger cohort, receive fall quarter materials and hear from program alumni. Spouses and significant others are welcomed too. Below are a few photos from the 2014 workshops.
Classes for first year students begin in late September at the fall Residential.
A team of UW students recently took second place in the EcoCAR 2 Challenge. Its modified Chevy Malibu traveled 48 miles on an electric charge before switching to its biodiesel engine—making it the most energy-efficient car in the 15-school international competition. A brilliant feat of engineering.
Behind that engineering was some savvy business support from Foster School students. Nicholas Wilson (MBA 2012), Tyler Rose (MBA 2013) and Taj Matthews (MBA 2013) served as business managers for the first stages of the three-year project. Alex Ong, a senior studying finance, took the engineering and design team through to the finals earlier this year at General Motor’s Milford Proving Ground.
The son of engineers, Ong has no formal technical training of his own. “But I’m interested in cars and I knew a few things,” he says. “Enough to get the conversation going.”
His role was to manage the project’s six-figure budget, cultivate and communicate with sponsors, and provide financial reporting to funders and competition organizers—GM, the US Department of Energy, and a wide range of transportation and renewable energy firms and organizations.
In Detroit, the team finished first in eight categories, including quickest acceleration, lowest energy consumption and least greenhouse gas emissions. While his colleagues put the car through its paces, Ong presented the team’s financials to a panel of judges representing the sponsor organizations.
It was a unique experience, this working collaboration of engineering, business, communications and visual arts.
“There’s nothing like it at the UW,” Ong says. “It was an incredible interdisciplinary learning experience where you had to work together with people who have no knowledge of your expertise and vice-versa. Otherwise, the whole project falls flat.
“That’s about as real world as it gets.”
The UW has been selected to compete in EcoCAR 3 beginning this fall. Ong plans to recruit fellow Foster students to better distribute the workload and formalize procedures to ensure continuity over the project’s four-year run.
The team just learned that they get to play with a Camaro this time around.
Senioritis? Bah. Count Ong in.
– Faculty perspectives, alumni happenings, student experiences, Seattle and Pacific Northwest community connections, and a taste of life around the Foster School.