Q&A with Marilyn Romano, EMBA student

Marilyn RamanoMarilyn F. Romano, Regional Vice-President at Alaska Airlines, shares her experiences in the UW Foster School’s Executive MBA program.

Why did you choose the Executive MBA program at the UW Foster School of Business?

This is the program that receives full support of my employer, Alaska Airlines. That endorsement alone is enough to make me want to be a part of this program. But, even before I came to work at Alaska Airlines over five years ago, the reputation of the Executive MBA program in my state of Alaska was well-known. Hearing stories of what fellow Alaskans gained from the program prepared me for a quick ‘yes’ when asked if I would be interested in attending the program.

Describe your experience in the program overall

For me, the experience has been enlightening. I have been in management positions for over 20 years, and it is personally rewarding that we are never too far in our lives or careers to learn more. Also, an extra rewarding part for me personally, has been talking with and advising fellow students that are in a different place in their careers than I am. Knowing many of them will be the next leaders after I am happily in retirement, it is great to see them learn as much as they can and now focus on where they want their careers to take them.

What class has been the most useful or interesting to you?

The accounting classes, financial and managerial, were challenging since that is not my career focus. But, as a leader that needs to fully understand the finances, it was beneficial to understand how to put statements together, and how to analyze them.

I was also terrified of Stats, but then became determined to do well. I probably put more effort into that class than any other to date.

Describe the classroom environment

The classroom does depend in large part to the professor. They set the tone and we respond. At the same time, for our particular group, we have such a bond that it does present itself in class. We challenge each other at times, compare experiences, and share our perspective with the professors. We are not a shy group – in fact, we are encouraged to speak up – and we do!

What are your impressions of the faculty?

For the most part, the faculty is exceptional. They are all so different, but so dedicated to our learning. The best recognize that most of us have busy careers and work with us with that in mind. In return, I never want to turn in work late or not hold up my end of the team assignments. It is a responsibility I take seriously. I also know, that in the event of something uncontrollable, they all will work with you in getting the most of each class.

Is there a particular faculty member who stands out in your mind as being really exceptional?

Andy Siegel for Stats will always be a favorite of mine. Not only does he make Stats interesting and applicable, he is also approachable. It is hard to forget the evening of a help session when the TA was ill. Andy came back to campus and conducted the help session. At one point, he was sitting on the floor showing us how to do a certain project. It is easy to see why it was so important to me to do the best I could in that class.

I also want to recognize Elizabeth Umphress and the Negotiations class. This may only be a 2 credit class, but what everyone can learn from this class can be used in work and life immediately. The tools she gives us are invaluable.

Are there major changes happening in your industry, and if so how has the EMBA program prepared you for them?

I work in the airline industry and there are always changes! For Alaska Airlines, we just acquired Virgin America. That will change the course of our company forever. How we successfully combine these two companies will require many of the skills I have learned over the last 16 months. Operations, Marketing, Micro and Macro Economics, Negotiations – each one will help in some way.

How has your EMBA experience enabled you to see your industry/company/career differently?

Absolutely. For my personal development, I will be ready to take on additional responsibilities, possibly moving into an area that has not been traditionally my area of responsibility. I have been responsible for marketing, managing others, corporate governance, and public relations. I can now see myself looking at assuming some operational responsibility at some point.

What strategies do you use to balance work, life, and the EMBA program?

I so respect those in our program with families, because their priorities are even tougher than mine. I am fortunate to have a husband that is fully on board and wants the EMBA program to be an equal priority to work. What that means is our personal life has taken somewhat of a pause. He eats a lot of Subway sandwiches because I do not cook like I used to. And he is fine with that! We also recognize that free time is a gift right now. Even on vacation, there is school work due, or a team meeting to call into, or a help session that I need.

My personal strategy during the busiest part of the program is get up early, be in my office my 6:00 or 6:30am and do school work until 8:00. I would also do school work during lunch. After work, it is home, dinner, then a few hours of school work before bed.

Describe your busiest day of the week.

I travel a lot for my job – about 130,000 miles a year. My busiest days include a flight, school work on the plane, and possibly preparing and giving a speech in a city like Juneau, Alaska. Then, check into a hotel in time to call in to a help session or team meeting, and homework before bed.

I took my scariest final – Charles Hill’s, in a hotel right after giving a talk at a welcome breakfast to guests we were hosting for a three day meeting. And I survived!

Is there anything else you want to tell prospective students about this program?

Come prepared to challenge yourself. Please approach this program with the same level of importance or priority that you approach your job, or any other critical part of your life. Recognize and acknowledge that there will be stress, and an overwhelming feeling at times that you cannot do it all. Then, step back, pause, and remind yourself of the end result. Or, think about one thing in the program that you have learned and are already applying in your life. As we near the end our time in the program, I can tell you that I am already thinking about what I will miss – the staff, the professors, and, my fellow students. Now friends, we are already talking about when we will next get together after June 5, 2017.

  • Lisa Fisher

    Marilyn, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I will begin the program in Fall 2017 and I’m excited and a little nervous. Your insight is appreciated and congratulations!