EMBA Students Dive Right In to ‘Real Life’ Business Challenges

Shot of colleagues having a meeting during a late night in a modern office

As a self-described ‘mushy-gushy’ type, Catherine Davis-Gomez wasn’t exactly counting the days until the first session of her Financial Controls course in UConn’s Executive MBA program.

“When I learned what Financial Controls was, I thought, ‘I’m gonna hate this,'” said the highly trained therapist who helps create school-based programs to address post-traumatic stress in children.

The feeling didn’t last long.

“By the end of it? This class, for me, made me feel like I was in business school,” said Davis-Gomez, taking a break in her New Haven office. “I feel equipped to run this business because of this class. I do. I feel I really understand the money angle of it.”

EMBA Program Addresses Real-Life Challenges

The Executive MBA program is tailored for students a bit further along in their careers than the traditional business graduate student. Open to those in the Business Administration program, Financial Controls allows candidates to apply cost concepts and learn how management solves problems in capacity, efficiency, pricing, and more.

Davis-Gomez and her classmates say the reason for the class’ lasting impact is clear: It allows them to address real-life challenges they’ve found at work and get feedback from a trusted team of top-notch consultants brought in to augment the course.

“I try to take the course and bring it alive, to make it real,” said professor Wayne Bragg, who has taught the course for many years. “Executives need this kind of information to make decisions. But it’s pretty new to these students. It’s not just an academic exercise. We make it useable.”

To Build a Truck Wash—Or Not?

Just ask EMBA student Robert Federici. A broadcast operations staffer at WWE in Stamford, Federici also volunteers in the Public Works department of his hometown, Guilford. He, and workers there, realized the town paid a pretty penny to keep its fleet of mammoth snowplow and salting trucks clean.

Would it be more cost effective for the town to build its own truck wash, perhaps charging neighboring communities to use it? Or should they lease a facility or build a new site for a private investor to run? Federici and a team of his classmates set to work assessing the options in class, working with town leaders to use actual budget lines and real government constraints to come up with solutions.

Like their classmates, the team was paired with a seasoned expert from the Hartford office of Slalom, a consulting firm that helps companies tackle ambitious projects and build new capabilities. The Slalom coaches met in person with the teams and were available for conference calls and e-mail updates, providing advice and asking relevant questions the teams might want to consider while studying their unique projects. The proud advisors also attended the teams’ final class presentations.

“They really got invested in the problem they were presented,” said Slalom General Manager Jim Goldschlager. “They could sink their teeth in and act as a soundboard.”

Davis-Gomez’ team dove deep into their project – considering ways to get a handle on the cost per unit of her program, analyzing where costs were originating, and how the company, Miss Kendra’s Programs, could expand in its existing eight states, and continue national growth of its trauma-informed schools movement.

Slalom was so taken with Davis-Gomez’ organization, its consultants have continued work to help devise strategic activities that will move the business along, said Goldschlager, who said Slalom will take on a new class of advisees in January. Slalom, which recruits from the School of Business, sees such work as part of its mission of community involvement in Connecticut.

The course has been a great fit for Bragg, too. A longtime Sikorsky executive, he started his career in the mailroom at Pratt & Whitney and fully understands how the real-world training his course offers can mean all the difference when his students navigate the ins-and-outs of the business world. And, as a 1997 alum of the EMBA program, he’s sat where they’re sitting.

“My heart is really in this,” he said. “It made me a better manager and leader. I learned so much.”