In this series, we celebrate the truly impressive and diverse students who recently joined Kellogg’s Executive MBA Program. Today, we’re excited to introduce (from left): Joseph Phister (VP of Sales, Pregis) & Sofya Asfaw, MD (Trauma Surgeon, Cleveland Clinic).
What are you currently doing from a career perspective?
Sofya: I currently serve as a Trauma Surgeon, Surgical Intensivist and Emergency General Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. Being recognized as a leader and subsequently asked to head several initiatives in my institute has been one of my proudest professional achievements.
Joey: I am currently the VP of Sales at Protective Products at Pregis LLC, a manufacturer and solutions provider of innovative protective packaging materials. I have spent my entire 18 year career at Pregis and am most proud of the winning culture we have established, built on teamwork, collaboration, employee engagement and development, and fun! I truly believe that our biggest competitive advantage is our people.
As an incredibly accomplished and very busy professional, why was now the right time to get your MBA? Why Kellogg and this program?
Sofya: I think many people may miss opportunities when they say it’s not the right time. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly wrong times, but is there ever really a right time? I had been thinking about getting an MBA for some time, COVID delayed that as I felt my professional skills as a physician were needed during the early stages of the pandemic and felt guilty matriculating to an MBA program then. As things stabilized, I embraced, “Now is as good a time as any.” It’s not like I will be any less busy in my clinical career by waiting.
I’d always heard great things about Kellogg, but it was my brother, an MBA himself, who encouraged me to look further at the Kellogg program. As I did my research, I felt it would be a perfect place for me. The emphasis on career planning and the career management center really influenced my decision. Additionally, I decided to specifically pivot away from programs with a defined healthcare focus. I know that seems counterintuitive as a physician, but I wanted to build a broad and diverse network and knowledge base and learn from those that were not like me at all. Kellogg added a level of diversity that I didn’t find in other programs.
Joey: I am busier than ever before with a demanding job and a newborn at home (three kids under the age of six!). That said, I have always had a growth mindset and getting an MBA has been in the back of my mind for years. Early in my career, a mentor gave me the advice to be patient and wait until I was in a position where I could immediately apply the key learnings of an MBA. I am in that role now, and believe an MBA gives me the best opportunity to continue to grow and make an increasing impact as I progress in my career.
Why did you choose the Evanston Campus?
Sofya: I liked the “local” feel of the Evanston program — not to mean everyone is from Evanston. Most of my immediate work is domestic, so I felt it would be a good fit. Additionally, the Evanston campus was a commutable distance by air or car from where I live, which added more flexibility.
Joey: I was very selective in my search for potential EMBA programs and narrowed the search to the top-rated schools from the get-go – it was important to me that I learn and network with the best of the best – renowned faculty and high-caliber peers alike. Kellogg’s “high impact, low ego” philosophy really resonated with me. Having been in the same industry and with the same company my entire career, it was important that I surround myself not only with the best, but also those with unique backgrounds and perspectives. Through the application process, it became clear that one of Kellogg’s differentiators is their emphasis on attracting students with diverse backgrounds and experiences. With the program now underway, one of the most unexpected aspects of this journey has been how quickly relationships have formed between our entire cohort – I quickly realized that this is far more than just new connections – these are friends that will be a key part of my professional and personal network for years to come.
What have been some of your key learnings in the program thus far? Has anything translated to your current role?
Sofya: Everything is so interesting! I have learned a lot from Professor Brian Uzzi’s class on leadership and have applied the concepts already to negotiating new opportunities at my current place of employment. Additionally, our statistics classes have helped me to gain an even deeper understanding of the scientific literature I use to guide my practice every day.
Joey: With the majority of my career spent in sales and sales leadership positions, I have already had the opportunity to broaden my skill set by learning new concepts in areas such as finance and corporate strategy that I’ve been able to apply on the job. These new learnings have already helped me to tackle business opportunities and challenges through a new lens, and I am confident that I will become a more balanced and effective leader as the program progresses.
Any application tips or words of advice?
Sofya: Stick with it. I could not imagine being anywhere else. In my opinion, Kellogg is unmatched in all dimensions. Be authentic. Reach out to the admissions team if you have any questions or need any advice or guidance. They are wonderful.
Joey: My advice to anyone that is interested in this program is to utilize the numerous resources available to help you gain an in-depth understanding of everything the program offers, and most importantly, determine if it is the right fit for you. I would highly advise speaking with current and past students, attending webinars, visiting campus, and speaking with admissions officers early and often through the process. The Kellogg applications process gives any candidate ample opportunity to determine if the program is tailored to what you are looking for, so take advantage of this opportunity and enjoy the process!