Author: Tanya Yatzeck


About Tanya Yatzeck

Tanya Yatzeck, EMBA 43, is a project manager in continuous improvement at Spire Inc.

When I received an email offering a “Coaching Opportunity” for Executive MBAs to participate in Olin’s Intensive Case Experience (ICE) Competition, part of the full-time MBA required course Critical Thinking and Impactful Communications, I read it and let it slide. The commitment was several hours on a weekend in December—a busy month for everyone.

But when I received a second email on “Giving Tuesday” requesting volunteers, I sucked it up and offered up my Saturday.

It was the most satisfying volunteer experience I have ever had.

To begin with, Patrick Moreton, Senior Associate Dean of Graduate Programs, provided the volunteer EMBAs with an abstract of the student assignment, considerable context around the problem at hand, as well as the expectations of the volunteer coaches. The one-hour session was reminiscent of EMBA lectures, including an explanation of the case and the challenge to the students: “Suggest opportunities to disrupt Monsanto’s business using NLP (Natural Language Processing) and AI (Artificial Intelligence) in marketing and customer strategy.” I mean, how cool is that?

Monsanto and Amazon had presented the context of the problem and potential solutions to the student teams, and the teams were now in the process of preparing competitive presentations. Amazon and Monsanto offered office hours during the weekend to answer questions from the teams. The winning team would have the opportunity to present their idea to Monsanto.

Happy to hear that the full day commitment had been whittled down to four hours, the EMBAs each had an assigned conference room and three student teams scheduled to show up for one hour apiece.

During the prep, Moreton emphasized the importance of not providing answers, but asking the right questions.

  • Be the boss, but not the kind that tells people what to do

  • Resist your impulse to answer the question because you know it

  • Make sure everyone is heard

As I listened to each of the teams I worked with, I was surprised how little I needed to know about the specific topic to assist them with honing their ideas. Each team came in with ideas that, after one hour of work, were further developed and more refined. You can’t ask for more than that from a volunteer experience.

Patrick Moreton, Senior Associate Dean of Graduate Programs, prepped volunteers on how to coach MBA ICE teams. 

I asked Moreton after my coaching sessions why he extended the opportunity to EMBAs. “We do a fair amount of work with peer coaching, but it’s difficult for a peer to give the same level of feedback as someone who has more experience. The trick is to get people with more experience who understand that they’re not there to answer the questions, they’re there to help develop the people,” he said.

In addition, MBA students are interested in networking with EMBAs. Unlike opportunities for coffee or an Olin-sponsored cocktail party, coaching gives MBA students and EMBA alumni opportunities to connect on a different level. “From my perspective, people make relationships when they work together and when you have a shared purpose to really come together as a team. This is not just to give them the name of an EMBA to have coffee with, it’s a chance for them to demonstrate the value of being in that person’s network,” he said.

A fellow EMBA 43 alum, David Jackson, also volunteered as a coach. I asked him why he did it.

“For the same reason you still see Lou Brock and retired Cardinals baseball players hanging around the clubhouse. While I was not anywhere close to as good of a student as Brock was a baseball player, I enjoy engaging with and helping develop business students in the same way he still helps develop world-class athletes. Moreover, coaching is the best way to refine my leadership skills and learn new ideas and tricks from the students,” he said.

What I found satisfying was the realization that my Executive MBA degree, and my years of business experience, are truly valuable to young professionals. It isn’t necessary to know the details—I have a framework of expertise that applied to business problems of all kinds is an asset and can help others learn and grow. This is a gift I wish every EMBA could receive.

By any measure, the education required to become a doctor is daunting: a 4-year undergraduate degree, 4 years in medical school, and 3-7 years of residency. The business of medicine is so complex, however, that many MDs are taking their education one step further.

In 2013, both Sheyda Namazie-Kummer, MD, and Vamsi Narra, MD, enrolled in Olin’s Executive MBA program. The goal? Gain a holistic understanding of the practice of medicine by mastering the business of medicine.

Sheyda Namazie-Kummer, MD

In her role as Director of the Clinical Advisory Group at BJC HealthCare’s Center for Clinical Excellence, Namazie-Kummer must regularly navigate new policies from the US Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“There’s a mix of our integration of the clinical aspects of medicine and policy and the business aspects,” says Namazie-Kummer. “How do we deliver healthcare that is sustainable and high quality? Sustainability is critical for us.”

Narra, Professor of Radiology, Senior Vice Chair of Imaging Informatics and New Business Development, and Chief of Radiology at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, emphasized that understanding medicine as a business helps elevate its humanitarian goals: “As a physician, I am primarily trained in terms of taking care of patients, but having that business knowledge and being in the trenches, you see how you can contribute to the effort to get a better system in place.”

The business of medicine

Like any other business, medical practice requires a good understanding of where money goes and where it comes from. Narra said, “There is procurement and there are processes. You need to have a system to run the show (operations), quality and safety checks, a way to collect the revenue, and to negotiate contracts with the insurance payers or whoever else it may be.”

Vamsi Narra, MD

However, as a lifelong science student, Narra had not had much exposure to core business subjects like finance and accounting. Luckily, Olin’s EMBA program is rich with courses that explore the core aspects of business.

“Having an understanding of cost accounting gives me a sense of what to look into and what not. I don’t expect to be an expert in that area, because that’s not my area of expertise,” said Narra. “But when that is put in front of me, I can at least interpret those numbers and ask the questions so I can get more answers.”

Strategic planning and problem-solving

Namazie-Kummer expressed a similar appreciation for the EMBA’s breadth of studies. She saw the challenges in healthcare as business challenges—and wanted to learn how to tackle them.

“Broadening my understanding of the world of business and how the various aspects of strategic planning and operations come together, was just foundational in helping me better understand and appreciate some of the problems that we face in healthcare on a regular basis. Understanding the pieces has helped me effectively problem solve.”

Leadership development

For Namazie-Kummer and Narra, one of the most valuable aspects of the EMBA program was the focus on teamwork and effective management.

“You need to know every step of the way how to manage people,” says Narra. “Everyone is well meaning, but you have to figure out what the incentives are, how people react, what is human nature, and how can one become susceptible to the other kinds of information that is being thrown at them.”

When Narra talks to other MDs about pursuing the degree, he emphasizes the management aspect—and its additional time requirements. “For you to be an effective leader, you still need to maintain your core competencies. You still need to maintain your connection to your core team,” he said. “Even though I cut down on my clinical time, I still need to have my clinical time so I can understand the problems and challenges my teammates are facing. When you look at the situation overall, a physician leader actually has a lot busier schedule than a non-physician leader.”

Namazie-Kummer says the ability to manage and solve problems as a team, leveraging each member’s strengths, is critical to healthcare: “We can’t solve problems in medicine without operating as multi-disciplinary groups of people—not just doctors.”

Why MDs should consider an Executive MBA

Namazie-Kummer advises other MDs to keep an open mind about the EMBA if they decide to do it. “You can apply the skills you learn through an EMBA in so many different respects—you don’t have to just focus on something like finance. Remember that there are leadership skills and interpersonal interactions and group dynamics and strategy and so many other pieces that are as important as any one economic concept.”

“I realized as we finished the MBA,” Narra said, “that there’s not a single course that I did not find useful.”

Ali Ahmadi, Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer of AirZaar, had a corporate engineering career when he decided to get an MBA at Olin.  “I was at a point in my life where my career had advanced as much as it could by being in a very technical, specialized field,” he said. “I wanted to expand on the commercial and business side. I decided to go to WashU because it is veteran-friendly, because of the activity and the reputation that it had built in the entrepreneurial business program.”

Ali Ahmadi, EMBA 44

Ali Ahmadi, EMBA 44

Ahmadi also holds a bachelor and master degree in aeronautical engineering. He earned his Executive MBA in 2015.

How did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I developed a passion for entrepreneurship in the Navy, which I joined right after high school. While I was in boot camp, I realized there was a pain-point with a lot of the recruits going through the program which was that they did not like ironing their uniform and shining their boots. During my free time on Sundays I started ironing uniforms and shining boots for other sailors.

The demand grew to a point where I brought in two other people from other divisions to keep up with it. I became very good at shining boots and ironing uniforms in a very rapid manner. The three of us ended up graduating boot camp with over $1200 each just by shining boots and ironing uniforms in our free time.

While you were taking classes during your EMBA, what did you appreciate the most about the program?
My two favorite and most applicable classes were finance and macroeconomics. Micro and macro. More specifically on the game theory side. I became fascinated by how to create an organization where, not only do you have a product you sell at a specific price, but you use game theory to come up with pricing models, product strategies, and markets to identify and target so that you understand and predict what your competition will do. For me that was an area where I realized that by thinking like that I could help my company to not only create a superior product and  pricing strategy but also create the stickiness of having people and clients stay within our platform by applying game theory strategies.

What are you doing now?
In December of 2015, I co-founded AirZaar with Ravi Sahu, EMBA 42. We met while we were both in the program and together collaborated on this idea. AirZaar is an industrial tech startup software company that integrates the use of drones and the data that they collect with other data in mining and construction fields to create actionable intelligence for our clients. Our clients are surface mining and large construction companies.

What skills are you using that you picked up during your EMBA?

As COO I am responsible for business development and creating a sustainable infrastructure for growth. I use some of the negotiation skills I learned on a daily basis in the company, which is more often than I thought I would. I use this with customers as well as creating partnerships and alliances.  One of the proudest wins that we have to date is securing a global mining company as not only a client but also a strategic partner in a joint development program.
The leadership challenges that are prevalent in a new business as founders are realized on a daily basis. Being able to navigate the challenge of attracting employees in an early startup company, not only attracting them, but managing them and motivating them to create a superior product, to deliver on their performance to meet client needs. In a startup you can’t always compensate people to their expectations which is challenging. The leadership skills that I was able to build within the EMBA program are things that I use on a daily basis to overcome these challenges.

AirZaar Awards and Recognition
AirZaar received the Accelerate St. Louis Bright Futures Export Award, Military Veteran-Founded Companies Category in 2016. AirZaar has completed its seed round ($600K) of fund raising with two venture capital firms in New York and  San Antonio, Texas. Additionally, AirZaar won first place in the prestigious Techstars challenge at Patriot Bootcamp event.

Link to related blog post.

When Marcos Hernandez began the EMBA program in September of 2013, he was an Executive Officer in the Navy with an eye on future opportunities in the military. Within a few months of graduating in May 2015 as a member of EMBA class 43, Marcos had exited the Navy and landed a management position for Norfolk Southern Corporation, one of the United States’ premier transportation companies.  I asked Marcos, my teammate for the first half of EMBA 43, what happened.

What made you decide to do an EMBA?

In the Navy, I had the opportunity to manage large budgets, implement efficiencies, and lead and manage people, but I felt I lacked the true understanding of business and needed that knowledge to obtain a higher level of output. I felt that a business education would pay dividends in my job as a (then) military officer and also for a future in the private sector. I was not disappointed.  I was immediately able to use concepts I learned in the program in my stratIMG_0287egic-level engagements with the United States Congress on transportation-related issues, question analytical decisions made by the federal government, and bring a new perspective on how we did business in the Department of Defense.
The EMBA also presented a world of opportunities to me in the private sector. Thousands of military personnel exit the service each year and compete for jobs in the private sector. I felt I needed a way to stand out among my peers. The prestige of a Washington University EMBA was an absolute catalyst for opening doors that might not have been open, even to a veteran.

What were your expectations for the EMBA program? Were your expectations met?

My expectations were absolutely exceeded!  At the start of the program I had not made the decision to leave the Navy.  I thought the education would be a great foundation for furthering my career in the service.  As time went on my paradigm shifted on how I could best impact an organization, and I made the difficult decision of leaving active duty for the reserves at a very late stage in my career.  To say that I was anxious is an understatement, but I knew I would be earning a world-renowned education. In addition, the support that my fellow classmates gave me throughout the program alleviated my fears and bolstered my confidence in my decision to enter the private sector.

The language of business is what has given me the confidence to step outside my comfort zone and to take calculated risks.

My current employer started the recruitment process prior to my official exodus from the service.  Paramount to that recruitment was the EMBA.  My final interview for my current position was conducted by the Vice President of our multi-billion dollar business unit.  He specifically cited the reputation of the school along with my record of achievement the military as the reason I was being looked at for the position.  Normally, my firm would not have placed an outside hire for the position I hold, as those positions are groomed internally and over the course of many years.

Most important is how I use the education in my position in Marketing Management:

  • Negotiation is a key skill, and I use it every day. Understanding and employing the advanced concepts from that module of the EMBA has really helped in negotiating pricing on transportation solutions with our strategic partners.
  • Macroeconomics has also been very important.  The rail industry is a barometer for the greater economy.
  • Understanding prognostication indexes, FOREX markets, appreciation of the US Dollar and its effect on commodities, plus the slowdown of China have been of utmost importance in understanding the second and third order effects on our industry and the greater economy as whole.
  • Finally, financial accounting has been important in understanding key ratios pertinent to our industry as a whole.  These are only a few of the concepts that have been important to developing strategies for increasing revenue, market share, and compensating for a fiscally challenging environment; concepts that I have been fortunate enough to learn from my teammates, professors, and the program.

How did the EMBA help you with your transition from military to civilian work?

One of my best memories from the program was a case study we did about synthetic blood and the decision about whether or not to launch the product.  The case was laden with heavy financials, and I got to present our teams’ work and had to defend our decisions to a “board”.  One of the people on the board was a classmate who is a CFO.  He is a bright individual who could destroy you in a financial debate if you were not prepared.
IMG_0289It takes a lot to rattle a Naval Aviator and I had to say I was nervous knowing I would have to debate him.  At the end of that case study I thought to myself, “I’m more than capable of having a finance discussion with a CFO.  Wow!”
Moreover, my classmates were comprised of incredibly bright and talented people representing all walks of life and career sectors, and the fact that I can have a strategic-level discussion with any of them about business is incredible. The language of business is what has given me the confidence to step outside my comfort zone and to take calculated risks. With that confidence, I knew that I would be more than okay in the private sector. I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of my classmates and the program in my transition to what is the rest of my life.

I want to thank the professors and staff at Olin. They are a class act all the way around.  I also want to thank my friends Bryce and Jamie Wolf, EMBA alum, who convinced me to take the leap and do the program.  I am forever indebted to them as this was a life changing experience.  Finally, both of my teams from the program:  Rock stars in all dimensions.

Is an Executive MBA right for you? Find out using Olin’s EMBA Explorer.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since starting and completing my EMBA at Olin, it’s that the lessons of the program can be applied in an infinite number of ways. Some find the program useful as a catalyst for success at their current job, some as a springboard to a better job at a different place, and some for radical personal and professional development. Chris Oestereich, EMBA 30, is in the latter category.

Chris Oestereich, EMBA 30

Chris Oestereich, EMBA 30

I worked with Chris for a short time at the Save-A-Lot corporate headquarters in Earth City, Missouri. At the time, he was President of the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Metro St. Louis Chapter. During the time that I worked with him in the Save-A-Lot Project Management Office, he transformed his role from IT Project Manager to Sustainability Lead, leveraging his own passion for environmental sustainability with the company’s green commitment.

Next time I looked him up, he had become Enterprise Waste & Recycling Manager for SUPERVALU, Save-A-Lot’s parent company.

inequality bookChris’s recent LinkedIn post, Getting to Here – My Path to the Wicked Problems Collaborative, demonstrates another dramatic personal and professional act. His unique approach to work encompasses his desire to make a big difference for good in the world, and is further evidence that there is more than one way to use an EMBA.

Here is a link to the original publication on his website.

Chris Oestereich, is the Founder of the Wicked Problems Collaborative. He is a columnist for SALT Magazine, and has written for a number of publications, including: The Harvard Business Review, Sustainable Brands, Triple Pundit, CSRwire, and 2Degrees, as well as his own sites: &

Image: Blind men and the elephant, Wikipedia/racconish

When I walk into Clarkson-Wilson Veterinary Clinic in Chesterfield, I see that there’s a bunny named “Forest Thump” up for adoption in the lobby. There are signs for “Dr. Doug’s Vet-Pet Rescue” on the wall. Three staff members are cooing and huddled around photos of animals up for rescue on a computer monitor.

Dr. Doug listening to a lemur's heartbeat.

Dr. Doug listening to a lemur’s heartbeat.

Dr. Doug Pernikoff, EMBA 46, is still with a patient.  While I wait I learn that the ferret owners will be back in three weeks. “Dr. Doug” as he’s known to his patients’ owners and EMBA colleagues alike,  emerges from an exam room and hugs and kisses a pet owner who came in for flea medicine.

When he frees up, Dr. Doug and I go into an exam room and start talking about his surprising (to some) decision to get an MBA at age 62. There are models of canine joints and dog treats in a jar on another counter. He closes the door after a few minutes to drown out the barking.

Why did you decide to get an MBA?

You know, it was for multiple reasons.  I just feel like at 62 I have too much living to do, and I felt like this would provide numerous skill sets that I felt I needed to embrace–both computer skills and excel, and of course the basic principles of the business education content.

Dr. Doug and a Pink-toed Tarantula.

Dr. Doug and a Pink-toed Tarantula.

Although it’s all been a struggle, it’s been great.  It’s getting a little bit easier, and I notice my memory has actually improved. I guess the cobwebs are disappearing. So I think it’s exciting because a lot of people my age fall into complacency and I feel like there’s too much in my bucket to stop now, so it’s a great tool.

What have you learned so far?

I’ve learned how much I don’t know!  A lot of the work we’ve done at the program outset included personality and character assessments that encourage much personal reflection. After a lifetime of living you kind of know who you are–these program experiences are an admixture of  good and bad validation and it tells you where you can go to improve.  I’ve been getting back into a schedule of learning skills, that’s important.

Dr. Doug's new website design in progress.

Dr. Doug’s new website design in progress.

I’ve already implemented accounting and marketing management information into my veterinary business structure. My very talented study team group worked with me to create a “Dr. Doug’s All Things Animal” blog and portal website, so that’s the marketing plan we submitted and presented in marketing class.  I’m pursuing that full force because I think it’s a real opportunity.  And, I suppose the large python I brought to class as part of my presentation will likely be a legacy story for future EMBA classes to enjoy?

What are your plans when you finish?

I was thinking about trying to become an astronaut?  But seriously, I have a number of interesting opportunities I want to pursue with this branding apparatus. There are a lot of pet-related websites online, but most are driven by a purely commercial impetus–for example sites for PETCO or PETSMART, etc..  Some are driven by other industry sectors such as the pet food market, but I feel that sites out there today are deficient in really bringing a personality of knowledge and experience to the pet industry in a way that helps to create communities of pet lovers and animal lovers. Our goal is to create an all encompassing ‘here’s where you go if you want to know.’ All Things Animals–it’s not just about veterinary medicine as my experience is very broad-based. It will be a very interactive, content-rich site, and again kind of commercial-neutral. “Edu-tainment” is an appropriate descriptive term for what I hope to create.

What kind of content?

Proposal for certification achieveable through Dr. Doug's new website in progress.

Proposal for certification through Dr. Doug’s new website in progress.

Our team came up with one component entitled, MUTTIGREE, a parody on the AKC pedigree registration program.  So, we will provide new adopting pet owners a playful muttigree to ID their adopted pet’s lineage. I am big into rescues and adoptions!

We also want to do pet makeovers, starting out with the “Rrruff-tafarian,” a pet that needs to be saved. Over the course of a month,  every week we will bring users to the site to see the evolution of the dog or cat from Rrruff-tafarian, incorporating behavioral, nutritional, grooming and veterinary evaluations and physical modifications for their individual improvement–then make the pets available for adoption.

There is a selection process, presented to our site community in contest format that allows them to chose our new adoptee pet families. Hopefully commercial service vendors (groomers, vets, etc.) will provide lifelong sponsorships and discounts to support both the families and the animals.

Dr. Doug's logo.

Dr. Doug’s logo.

These are just two of many ideas we can develop that further enhance the viability and success of the Dr. Doug branding program. I want to include animation on the site based on my Dr. Doug caricature as well.

How will you monetize your idea?

We want it to be both subscription based, and ad-sponsorship based. The subscription component is a challenge. Topic is great–animals. We want to put a face to it.

To a certain extent, Pernikoff was inspired to do an MBA by his sons Tom and Rick, both musicians and also founders of the successful start-up company Tunespeak that connects bands to fans and fans to bands. Pernikoff says, “I think I planted entrepreneurial seeds. They are encouraging me to work harder to be my own entrepreneur.

As I gain new insight and business knowledge we are sharing more with one another. They’ve already given me guidance on my website, which opens the door to funding opportunities. They have experience and relationships that will help me. Plus I love understanding what amazingly bright and strategic business men they have come to be.  I’m a proud papa, indeed!