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In the second post of this series, we celebrate some of the truly impressive leaders who recently joined Kellogg’s Executive MBA Program. Today, we’re excited to introduce members of our recent Evanston cohort (from left): Chris Rose (Vice President and Channel Leader, Experian), Mira Albert (Founder, Brush Pediatric Dentistry), and Shalisa Kline Ugaz (Executive Vice President, Wisconsin Conservatory of Music).

What are you most proud of in your professional journey? How did it shape who you are as a leader?

Chris Rose: The aspect of my professional journey that I am most proud of is that I have had significant success in each role, at every company, regardless of industry. Whether considering my time at Proctor & Gamble as a Brand Manager, my experience as a VP at Morgan Stanley Capital International, or my current role as Channel Leader for Experian, I have always worked with great people and have enjoyed success at each stop.

Each role has also shaped who I am as a leader. This is evident in more than just the “world class” leadership trainings that all the firms provided. My journey has shaped me into a leader that doesn’t just tell his team what to do; I set goals with them, equip them with the tools necessary to be successful, and empower them along the way. They know that we are in this together and that I will work with them to ensure that we all win with hard work and integrity.

Mira Albert: When I was pregnant with my second son, I was offered a partnership in a practice I had invested almost five years of my career into. After a lot of soul searching and for a variety of reasons, I decided it wasn’t the right fit. I am most proud of having the courage to say “no” at 37 weeks into my pregnancy and begin the journey toward founding Brush Pediatric Dentistry on my own. Making this decision has made a difference in the healthcare of the families my practice serves and opened doors for me to serve my profession more broadly. While this decision was the first of many tough decisions I have had to make over the years, I think it has ultimately made me a more resilient and decisive leader.

Shalisa Kline Ugaz: I started my journey many years ago establishing a 501(c)(3) in two of the primarily Latino communities in Chicago, Pilsen and Little Village. I believe I personally learned so much about building trust and meaningful relationships with people living and working in both of these communities – celebrating our commonalities and differences, working directly with the students engaged in the program and building a network of supporters who believed in providing equitable opportunities through music. I have applied many lessons I learned through all my experiences, some failures and others successes. I believe the road to reaching your goals consists of many components, but none as important as building teams of talented individuals, who deeply care about the success of the organization and each other, and helping them discover and develop their pathways to reach their highest potential.

As an incredibly accomplished and very busy professional, why was now the right time to get your MBA? Why was Kellogg the right school?

CR: I would guess my story is a little different than most. In fact, if you would have asked me nine months ago if I would be studying for a statistics exam at Kellogg this October, I would have laughed at you as I questioned whether it was necessary. My wife, Jessilynn’s (an NU grad) consistent persistence over the years – asking, “When are you going to get your MBA?” – has kept this idea top of mind. However, the final push came from my current CEO, Craig Boundy, and president, Alex Lintner. After a recent promotion, I have had the opportunity to have multiple one-on-one calls with them. During one call, after explaining how I, too, would like to reach the senior executive level one day, I asked for their advice on whether they felt an MBA was “necessary.”  Both emphatically said, “YES,” with one of them implying that he would rather “fire me” then hold me back from getting my MBA. The decision to attend Kellogg was an easy one. I spoke to nearly all the top five MBA programs. However, after speaking with Kellogg’s director of EMBA admissions, Dustin Saunders, I knew Kellogg was home.

MA: The first thing that comes to mind is, why not? Waiting any longer to do something I have wanted to do for a very long time would simply leave me with less time to leverage and apply the knowledge, skills and network I hope to soak up from the Kellogg community. Why Kellogg? Again, this is a no-brainer. Not only is Kellogg among the top business schools in the world, it’s in my backyard. I feel humbled to have been accepted, and energized to learn from the most brilliant minds in business in such a collaborative environment.

SKU: I attended an Open House last October at the Allen Center, where I had the opportunity to learn more about the program and meet many current EMBA students. I had been looking into getting my EMBA for many years, but the timing never seemed quite right. The staff and students that I met were so energized and excited about the program and each other in a very sincere way. I knew that I wanted to be a part of this community, though I had my doubts about being accepted because of my unconventional professional background and the level of talented students enrolled in the EMBA program.  I applied before COVID-19 and had not expected to attend this program during a pandemic. Obviously, nobody did. However, one of the best decisions I ever made was to go forward and pursue this degree. Kellogg promotes the educational process and values it as much as it values the outcomes. The recent mantra, “I have your back,” promotes teamwork and ensures that “I succeed” is intertwined with “We succeed.” I was interested in working with talented and energized professionals from our global community (all very different from myself) and to learn how I can personally contribute to their success and theirs to mine. There have been many times in history where great, educated leaders are needed. Now is no exception.

In fact, Kellogg is a training ground to develop the skills needed in our accelerated, modern world – with escalating challenges in every sector (both in the for-profit and non-profit industries). I know that through my education at Kellogg, I will become a stronger leader and apply what I learn to have a positive impact on whatever comes next in my personal and professional life.  Kellogg is not only focused on quantitative skills needed in business, but on the journey to uncover and develop each person’s strengths to help them achieve their goals.

COVID-19 has changed how we learn, engage and grow. What have you learned or gained –that you might not have otherwise – during this time?

CR: COVID-19 and our “new normal” has reshaped how I lead at work, interact with my family, and has contributed to me performing home improvement tasks that I wouldn’t normally attempt. Previously, I was on a flight every other week meeting with clients or my direct reports to assist in winning new business. Today, like many, 100% of my meetings are virtual from the comforts (or discomforts) of my home office. My three sons (ages four, six, and eight) don’t care that I am working on a multimillion-dollar deal or speaking on a video company town hall with 10,000 of my co-workers. They just want daddy’s time.  This, coupled with a recent promotion where I now have direct or indirect reports all over the country, has forced me to learn how to focus and rely on technology for engagement more than ever.

Outside of work, I have also learned that I am somewhat handy (or, at a minimum, can follow YouTube directions well).  In fact, I have saved a significant amount of money the last few months completing DIY projects, like building a fire pit, benches, walkway, etc., which I would have never attempted before.

MA: Responding to COVID-19 as a business owner, a pediatric healthcare provider, a mother, a wife and a daughter was perhaps the most challenging time in my life. I recognized that I had ideas and intuition about how I should respond. Yet, I felt I needed a sounding board to check this intuition in order to have the confidence to make some of the hardest calls I have ever had to make. I turned to a faculty member of the Kellogg community for guidance. In true Kellogg fashion, he did not give me the answers, but rather gave me a framework for how to think about the problems before me. I had to embrace my values more than ever and forge forward using them as my compass. Because there is no “COVID playbook,” I chose to engage in a very authentic way with my team and my patient base, which, in turn, strengthened relationships. Not only did I gain a very meaningful mentor, I solidified my leadership values and perhaps, most surprisingly, made the decision to pursue my MBA. As difficult as this time has been, I would be remiss not to mention my gratitude for the growth I experienced.

SKU: In my own organization, we had to act quickly and with razor-sharp focus to shift our business model in a community that is normally slow to adapt to change. Obviously, technology has played a critical role in maintaining our customers, and the swift move to apply for the PPP loan allowed us to keep our full and part-time employees whole. Our ability to be flexible, invite innovation from all employees, and focus on what our customers need from us now has carried us through this time.

I believe all of us know that things will never go back to pre-pandemic times. Businesses that will not only survive, but thrive, will continue to pursue innovation, allow for a flexible work environment to retain their talent pool, and re-think their strategies into the future – including corporate social responsibility.