Interview with Beta Ealy, creative director and Columbia EMBA student [Show Summary]
Think that if you aren’t a consultant, IT professional, or finance manager that you don’t have a shot in an EMBA program? Think again. Our guest this week is a creative director with little background in quant who conquered the GMAT and is now thriving in the Columbia EMBA program. Listen in as she shares her views on the program, and how to excel in the application process and in the program itself.
From Disney to Columbia Business School [Show Notes]
Today’s guest is Beta Ealy. Beta earned her Bachelors in Fine Arts from Cal State Long Beach in 2004 and worked as an art director prior to becoming manager of Creative and Product Development at Disney where she worked from 2004 – 2011. She then worked in similar areas for Mattel, and Discovery Communications where she was a Sr. Manager and Director respectively. Since April 2018, she has served as the Brand Creative Director for the City of Manhattan Beach and in January became a Columbia EMBA student.
Can you tell us about your background? Where did you grew up? What do you like to do for fun? [2:12]
I grew up near Moscow in Russia. Pretty much everyone in my family is a scientist. My dad got a job at UCLA in the 90s and we moved to Santa Monica. That was how I became a designer rather than a scientist – if we had stayed I definitely would have moved in that direction. Here I saw the opportunity to do something different. I went to Santa Monica High School, which has a great design program, and I worked on real projects with real companies, and that is how I ended up where I am today. In terms of fun, I love to travel, and often spontaneously go on road trips with my husband and dogs, but also love to travel internationally.
You started out in college studying art and design, when and how did the business bug bite you? [3:47]
After being a creative for a while I saw the industry shifting and the way design/creative was being utilized was very different. I felt a tectonic shift which was very exciting because suddenly product differentiation and design was considered important. Creative leaders all of the sudden had a seat at the table. However, I realized when invited to board meetings I didn’t have the vocabulary to speak to some of these people, and I couldn’t deliver the strategic functions expected of me.
When you were researching programs and applying, what appealed to you about the CBS EMBA program? [5:16]
I was so excited to find it because of what I was saying a bit earlier. I am coming from a unique background with the idea of creating a bridge between being a creative person and business leader. They teach an entrepreneurial mindset at Columbia which is leadership-based and focused on identifying opportunities and growing industries. Because I was wanting to do something unique and unorthodox that is why it was a good fit. Being located in NYC, with my interest in media, entertainment, and retail, was an added bonus, adding that to my existing LA network.
How did you do the research necessary considering you were on the west coast? [6:49]
It’s a well-known program, obviously, so that part was easy. Because I have worked with such big companies with a presence in both LA and New York, I already knew a bit about New York in general. Columbia is such a huge player in that world it was easy to get word of mouth, websites to look at, and understanding of a good fit. I didn’t visit until my interview, but met with admissions reps when they came to the west coast.
What challenges did you face during the application process? [8:06]
If I had to give one piece of advice it is to figure out who your recommenders are going to be early on, as they are very important, not just for the admissions committee but also for yourself. It is important to see who you are through mentors and peers. Make sure you have someone who knows you really well. That was an unexpected challenge. Applicants considering EMBAs are older and further along in their careers, so people that could really speak to my career path and who I really thought of as mentors were typically very busy executives, and then I switched from the private to public sector in the midst of applying so had a new boss. Making sure they have the time and energy to do the very involved letter can be tough.
The GMAT and essays were expected challenges. With a creative arts background I didn’t have a lot of quant, but I am so glad I thoroughly did the prep because the quant classes are so much easier now that I did the prep work. I did a little bit of everything to prepare. I really needed the help talking through taking a big test like that, having the stamina, and not letting the nerves get to you. I used several different people, but Jen Weld, my Accepted consultant, really helped me with the nerves part. She told me what score to shoot for, of course, but the thing I was least prepared for was the test anxiety. Because she got to know me so well she was able to address some of the things that could trip me up.
For the essays, they are asking you the kind of questions that are not easy to answer, at least not with a cop out answer – they need to be careful and well thought out. I couldn’t have done them without Jen’s guidance. The answers have to be very short, but they are very loaded questions, so she really helped me say something impactful succinctly.
What do you like best about the CBS EMBA program now that you are in it? [16:22]
Pretty typical things – I love our cohort. Everyone I spoke with at Columbia before I joined said they spend a lot of time and energy putting together the cohort. And every single one of us has said they did a tremendous job – it’s diverse, and well-matched in terms of level of experience and skill sets. We are coordinated to work and travel well together. I also really do like the curriculum. We have incredible instructors, and I am learning a ton, enjoying subjects I didn’t expect to, like corporate finance. Instructors know what we are trying to get out of it, and maybe explain how a great design could lead to higher revenues. Even though we have to learn the same exact material as in the regular MBA program, the way EMBA professors teach it is very relatable and easy to learn, even with relatively dry material.
What can be improved? [18:32]
They have maybe the largest EMBA program, I think, which is really great, but what could be improved I think is to have even more classes or events targeting the EMBA portion of it. We still every once in a while feel the regular MBAs take more priority.
It’s 15 years since you graduated from college. Is it hard to go back to studying, taking tests, etc? How are you handling the transition? [19:38]
It’s hard – I can’t sugarcoat it, but it is really fun. It is the kind of challenge where, you take the test and you wake up the next morning and realize you took a test and wrote numbers down and it is an incredible feeling. You feel like a kid. We have people in their 50s and 60s as well as in their 20s and we are all going through it together. It’s truly a fantastic life-changing experience.
How are you managing the demands of working full-time and going to school on the other side of the continent? [20:53]
What is important is to start thinking about that combination very early on in the application process. People interested in an EMBA have to really think that through. It does require a big level of prioritization. You have to know what to prioritize when and what to ask for help. One of the essays is dedicated to that plan and how to execute that part of it. Even so, the first week of school we were all sitting there at lunch going, “Woah, this is going to be a huge challenge.” Then you go home and reprioritize again. You have to keep shifting. They do a great job of putting you in clusters and learning teams, and you have a lot of support from peers and the administrative team, and obviously from family going through it with you. I am very lucky in terms of my job – it is pretty flexible and everyone is very supportive. For those with a family it is more challenging, with the emotional component – leaving sole responsibility for the entire household with your spouse. I was more worried about that, but my husband and I figured out we were doing this together. It was a project, and he has come out with me to New York, and has become friends with my cohort. We are going to be traveling together during my seminars, and lots of spouses get involved. We’ve had people bring kids and parents to class. We all go out to dinner together, and it’s wonderful if you can incorporate the school process into normal life as much as possible.
What are your plans for the future? How do you intend to use your MBA? [26:02]
When I was applying I had a few specific goals in mind. I wanted to change the way design and creative leaders are viewed and used in an organization. My ultimate goal has been to, with this business knowhow, use my creative team’s potential to drive revenue. Rather than be a service function, be an active strategic participant in the company. Your goals change all the time in the program, and I have no idea if in the end what I just said is what I am going to do, but for now that is the plan.
Any tips for CBS EMBA applicants? [27:26]
Other than recommenders, coming up for a plan for your personal life and work life as you consider applying is an important part. It is very stressful. I met people whose boss wouldn’t support their decision to go, which is an unexpected hurdle. My biggest advice is to figure out the “not school” part before putting in the effort and energy into applying. My switch to the public sector was somewhat purposeful so I could bring as much as I could back from school to where I work, as the public sector does need as much help managing finances and operations as possible, but it was also the right thing to do to have the type of career that allowed me the flexibility to manage school.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [29:58]
I would recommend people read the Accepted blog because I found it really helpful. I’m a fan!
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