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Why did you choose Columbia?
When I started the program I was 31 years old and married with three children. I owned a house in Long Island and various businesses in New York, so picking a school anywhere in the world wasn’t an option for me. It was New York or somewhere close by as I was unable to uproot myself completely.
After conducting a lot of research as to which school and program would be ideal for me, the part-time MBA option through EMBA Americas at Columbia really seemed to fit all my criteria. I would still be able to continue with my career and not take off two years like I would have to in a traditional MBA program. Getting the opportunity to be a part of a collegial atmosphere at Columbia and being part of a cluster seemed to be atypical of other program options at comparable schools. At Columbia, we had a close-knit learning team, and I eventually even brought one of the members from my learning team into my fund as a partner.
What was your favorite part of the program?
My favorite parts of the program were the small class sizes and being able to have a tight-knit group of 38 students that are with you throughout the first few semesters. Staying in the same hotel as all the people in my program for a week out of the month also gives you an opportunity to get to know each other well. Walking into the program, I knew no one in the room, yet today we all call each other friends.
My other favorite experience was the weeklong international seminar in China. It was the highlight of my time at Columbia. Getting the opportunity to have my wife join and a chance to spend some time in a relaxed setting with my classmates and their spouses was a real treat. The week course allowed us to learn both educationally and culturally. We would have a morning class each day taught by a Columbia professor, then visit local businesses each afternoon. I also extended my trip a few days to do some more sightseeing in other cities.
And the value investing program, which is unique to Columbia, was a program I surprisingly enjoyed. I began with signing up for one class and ended up taking about five. The framework that is provided is good for almost any type of job. Every professor has their own tweak on value investing.
What did you find most challenging about the program?
The most challenging aspect of the program was the out-of-class work load. Nobody can prepare you for the amount of work that’s involved, especially while attempting to balance a full-time job and family. I could not have done this program without my wife, who took care of my three young children herself while maintaining her full-time job as a director of marketing for an insurance company.
For the weeks I was not in class I would come home from work and end up working on my assignments well past 2 a.m. I would then wake up for work early the next morning, get home at 8 or 9 p.m., and do it all over again. That was the way it was continuously for two years straight. I would say time management was a very important skill to have.
How has the program impacted you the most?
There were a certain set of experiences that I had going into business school. I owned company A, B and C all in different industries. I always took my common experiences from one and applied it to the other, not realizing that there is a common theory for many of the things that I experienced. So, if I was to apply an experience from company A, to B, to C, it was just an experience, there was no theory behind it. There was no deep understanding behind that experience.
Business school provided the theory that explained the experience. I can now apply those experiences, backed by the theory, to any business, regardless of industry. I think this idea is best said by the quote from W. Edwards Deming, a quote that is on the homepage of Columbia’s Deming center website: ‘Experience by itself teaches nothing; it must be coupled with theory, with profound knowledge.’
What advice would you give to new students in the program?
Take advantage of everything that Columbia has to offer; the opportunities are endless. The student body is diverse in many ways. Many professors at Columbia are currently working in industry. Throughout the program, I had professors who were held in high esteem in the industries they were lecturing about. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to consult with a professor regarding career or just asking business advice. I found the professors interested, approachable and responsive — and there are many that I continue to have relationships with today.