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No matter how successful they have been in their paths to Booth, incoming Executive MBA students enter the program with questions, uncertainties, and often even anxiety over the vaunted rigors of the curriculum, the uniform brilliance of their new classmates, and the imposing intellect of the faculty. As a part of the student’s LEAD experience, the Leadership Development team partnered with about 55 distinguished Booth alumni for the inaugural Executive MBA 20/20, where roughly 250 students in these new cohorts listened as the alumni panelists addressed queries, allayed fears, empathized with doubts, and offered guidance on getting the most out of Booth.

During moderated panel discussions and a meet-and-greet mixer, Executive MBA alumni spent the one-day program in June at Gleacher Center passing along their wisdom on the topics of how leaders grow, how experience helps to guide management decisions, and how Booth shaped their careers.

Scott Novak, ’09 (XP-78), senior assistant general counsel at Zurich-based Zurich Insurance, emphasized the importance of building relationships during the program. “You’re not going to walk across that stage at graduation and say, ‘I should have studied more,’” Novak said. “You’re going to walk across that stage and potentially say, ‘I should have made more connections.’ You need to strike while the iron is hot. You never know when you’re going to need those relationships.”

“What struck me at Booth was the idea of undertaking leadership as a field of study,” Carolann Gemski, ’08 (XP-77), midwest regional director of the office of dispute resolution at FINRA, told the new Executive MBA students. “Find ways to learn lessons about leadership. Study leaders that you believe are effective, and figure out why they’re effective.”

One of the new Executive MBA students asked, “What about your Booth experience makes the relationships with your classmates so strong?”

“It’s a function of where you are in life,” said Galen Williams, ’07 (XP-76), managing director and founder of San Francisco-based Green Delta Ventures. “You’re not 19 years old, here to party. There were births in my class, deaths. . . . Two years after my class, we lost a classmate to cancer. You’re sacrificing. It’s very intense—you’re in the program now, so I can tell you the truth.

“It’s a three-legged stool. It’s your academic responsibilities, your personal responsibilities with your family, and then there’s work. And you’re lucky if you have one of them in the 90th percentile, and the other two, you’re just trying to keep it together. It’s tough to manage. I say all that because you will have to rely on others. You can’t do it alone.”

The Executive MBA 20/20 demonstrated that students won’t have to do it alone, said two attendees entering the Executive MBA Program North America.

The Takeaways

Vishal Saxena, Overland Park, Kansas; Works in the pharmaceuticals technology area as a senior manager for Leverkusen, Germany-based Bayer

On Executive MBA 20/20: “It was exciting and eye-opening. It was very reinforcing to see that alumni have gone through the same nervousness that we are facing right now, especially around the work/family balance as well as the nervousness of, ‘Can we take the ups and downs of this program?’”

Favorite piece of advice: “Try to make as many networking relationships as you can because 21 months will fly by fast. Don’t miss a chance whenever you have one to hang out with a group. Even if you’re tired, go for it, because you’ll miss it later.”

Sai Vishnubhatla, Cherry Hill, New Jersey; Works in the insurance industry as a director of strategy and operations for New York–based AIG

On Executive MBA 20/20: “With families, with work, with travel, it’s good to know somebody has gone through it successfully. That gives us a lot of confidence, and really good life tips to help us succeed in the coursework.”

Favorite piece of advice: “Booth is not your entry card into this elite club where you get everything in your lap—it’s what you make out of it.”