This interview is the latest in an Accepted blog series featuring interviews with MBA students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top MBA programs. And now for a chat with Sam Panini, a student at Cornell.
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad?
Sam: My family is originally from South India. I was born in Cincinnati, OH, spent part of my childhood in Denver, CO and went to high school and college in Tennessee, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee.
Accepted: Can you share three fun facts about yourself?
• I am married to a lovely lady from Mexico City.
• I lived in Brazil for a couple of years and as a result I am idiomatically fluent in Mexican Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese and learned both without formal language lessons.
• I have a 6 year old dog and two daughters under the age of 3.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your experience at Cornell’s EMBA program so far and why you decided to go back to school?
Sam: My experience, like many others in EMBA programs, has been phenomenal. As a result of holding classes primarily every other weekend, the pace of any EMBA program is fast, and analogies like “drinking from the firehose” are not inaccurate. The professors are world-class and the cloistered format with an overnight stay on Saturday has allowed for excellent opportunities to expand my personal and professional network. I’m happy to have such a supportive and close group of friends and colleagues.
I had explored business school programs while living in Chicago a few years ago, but the timing wasn’t right. In the process of changing jobs, one hiring manager, unprompted, said, “I’m looking at you, I’m talking to you, you ought to think about getting an MBA.” Another hiring manager, unprompted, said, “I’m looking at you, I’m talking to you, out of curiosity, why don’t you have an MBA?” As far as I’m concerned, I decided to go back to school because I listened to what the universe was telling me.
Accepted: Were there any other programs you were considering? Why did you ultimately feel that Cornell was a good fit?
Sam: Living in or around Manhattan, top-ranked programs in the city (e.g. Columbia or NYU Stern) are a logical choice for working professionals. A former colleague in a full-time program in Ithaca referred me to the Executive MBA Metro NY program at Johnson. After a campus visit, considering that the Saturday/Sunday format would not (overly) impact my work obligations, and research into the “any person, any study” Cornell ethos, the choice was clear for me. The overnight stay is very understated in its importance to the value that students get out of the program.
Accepted: Was it difficult to go back to school after being in the working world for so long? What has the experience been like for you?
Sam: Certainly, the first couple of months are an adjustment period for everyone. For some, it’s been a decade or more since spending extensive time (i.e. all day!) in a classroom setting. Gradually, I established a rhythm, which is very much dependent on the support system created along with my team and other classmates.
In my opinion, much like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to get an MBA. I believe about 30% of the value of any business school curriculum is in the one-way transmission of information from professors to students in the classroom. The remaining 70% is exchanging information, ideas, concepts, tricks, tutoring, help, laughs, tears, etc. with other classmates, alumni and the school’s wider network. The Cornell ethos distinguishes itself in this manner, and I think there is something in the water of Cayuga Lake that imparts the “elite but not elitist” nature to all who pass through the school.
Accepted: Do you have any tips or advice to share for professionals who are considering an EMBA program?
Sam: When I came through the open house for the Cornell Executive MBA program, my question to the student panelists was, “Given that you were in our shoes 1 or 2 years ago, what would you ask yourself?” It was a hard question to answer on the spot.
Now a year into the program, my question would be, “How important is it to be a manager of other people before coming into the program?” The reason is: when a project is assigned in the team format, as the lead, you effectively have 4 to 5 direct reports. Having prior experience in effectively delegating, managing, motivating, correcting and providing feedback are very helpful given the nature of assignments and ensuring the success of a team.
Accepted: Are you involved in any extracurricular activities or volunteer work? How have those activities helped shape your career?
Sam: I have had the opportunity to participate in a workshop for the Johnson at Cornell Thought Leader series. It was an excellent opportunity to expand my network of connections in the Johnson and larger Cornell community. It was further evidence that the Cornell network will always help when it can.
Accepted: What motivated you to start a separate Twitter account for your EMBA experience?
Sam: I have been using Twitter for nearly 10 years and given my familiarity, wanted to help promote the Johnson School on social media. A separate account offered the ability to target the scope of content for a specific purpose and help me to compartmentalize.
Accepted: Anything else about your journey that you’d like to share?
Sam: The key to success in any Executive MBA program is the support of family, friends and colleagues. Make sure expectations of your time, availability and obligations are set for at least 22 months. This, too, shall pass.
When I heard current students talk about how they had made good friends, I remember my first thought was, “I don’t need more friends, I need an MBA.” I wish I could tell that person that “friends” is just another word for relationships which are so important in building a career, especially post-MBA. Ignoring the social aspect is a risk your career and future success of the Executive MBA program. Choose an Executive MBA that helps facilitate building relationships. Choose Cornell.