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Thirty years of Executive MBA experience
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James Fyffe '76
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James Fyffe
Classic: A member of the inaugural Kellogg EMBA program, James Fyffe '78 raced up the ranks at IBM before retiring to Arizona and starting his own consultancy.

EMBA Profile: James Fyffe '76

Welcome to class

One of the Kellogg School's first EMBA students recalls the program's inception

By Rebecca Lindell

James Fyffe was a 43-year-old executive at IBM in 1976 with seven children and a long-held wish for an MBA.

But with a demanding full-time job and busy family life, his dream seemed out of reach.

Then he read about a new program about to be launched at Northwestern University. The Executive Master's Program, it was called, and it seemed designed for people like him. With classes held on weekends in Evanston, the program would be far more accessible to his Lake Forest home than the one offered by the University of Chicago 40 miles to the south.

Fyffe took his GMATs, filled out the application and crossed his fingers. To his delight he was accepted, and IBM agreed to foot the bill.

But the program was untested, and it had been many years since Fyffe had had to turn in homework or study for exams. Dean Donald P. Jacobs and other Kellogg School administrators quickly put him at ease. 

"Northwestern put its very best team forward to develop that program," Fyffe recalls. "They were very much in listening mode, and very respectful and supportive of the students in the program."

Fyffe remembers the esprit de corps of that initial class and the stimulating lectures on the sixth floor of Leverone Hall, three years before the James L. Allen Center opened as the school's modern EMBA facility. He recalls the apprehension he and his classmates felt on test days and how their professors helped diffuse it, including by hosting socials afterward to allow them to unwind.

At that time, he says, technology was not nearly so pervasive on campus, and executive MBA students had to sign up for a slot on the computer at the Norris University Center. "We didn't have the plush setup that you have at the Allen Center these days, but it worked," he says.

Fyffe '78 also recalls the bemusement of full-time MBA students at the appearance of the mid-career executives on "their" campus Friday afternoons.

"I think some of them wondered what was going on, because we only had to go to class one day a week," Fyffe says with a laugh.

The value of the Northwestern MBA degree soon became apparent. Not long after he graduated, Fyffe was named director of IBM's management and executive schools. "I'm sure if I hadn't had the fresh MBA from Northwestern, I wouldn't have gotten that opportunity," he says. "I had a lot of new knowledge that fit right in."            

He then moved through a series of upper-level management positions at IBM before retiring and launching his own management consultancy in 1989.

Nearly 30 years after becoming one of the first Kellogg EMBA grads, Fyffe remains an enthusiastic supporter of the school. Two of his children, Margaret Fyffe '88 and Pamela Fyffe '85, are graduates of the Full-Time MBA Program. He figures he's probably influenced many others to attend Kellogg as well.

"It was an honor for me to be part of that program," Fyffe says. "I'm still talking to people about it."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University