Dr. Nan Boden was the executive vice president at Myricom, a high-performance computer networking spinoff from Caltech that she helped found. Although she had steadily risen through the company and knew about the technical side of the business, she knew she wasn’t as savvy about the business side.
“I started looking at what I needed to do to become more effective in my role, and I kept thinking, ‘There’s just got to be more leverage from deepening my understanding of the business side,’” says Boden, who now serves as Myricom’s CEO. “So, I started looking at MBA programs. Given my technical background, I knew I wanted the most quantitative program that I could find, but one with a part-time schedule that would allow me to enhance my education while still working full time. UCLA Anderson’s Executive MBA program met all of my requirements, and I knew right away that it was the perfect fit for me.”
Smart Business spoke with Boden about how UCLA Anderson’s EMBA program can take your career to the next level and beyond.
How did what you learned in the program translate into your day job?
For me, the relevance of the EMBA program was instantaneous. The program made an enormous difference not only in that I gained training in many new functional areas, but I also gained broad new frameworks for analyzing problems and developing solutions. Learning from my classmates, who each typically had five to 10 years of work experience in a wide variety of fields, was also an integral part of the program’s value. During our class weekends, I felt that I soaked in knowledge, and then back in the office Monday morning, I’d see immediately how that knowledge could be applied. I use what I learned at Anderson every single day at work.
The EMBA program content was delivered very efficiently. The structure of the EMBA program meant that I could attain my MBA degree and simultaneously apply that knowledge in my full-time job. The EMBA program gave me the ability to perform my present job at a much higher level, and also improve my understanding of the larger business picture of our industry.
How did the newfound knowledge impact your business and employees?
At my company, we had long struggled with certain business problems that seemed to never get solved. After I started bringing back knowledge I’d gained in the Anderson EMBA program, our employees began to see that some of these problems could actually be fixed! We could then effectively move on to tackle new challenges and objectives.
How does the classroom experience differ from taking courses online?
At the outset of the EMBA program, if I had been given the option to do an online-only program, I would have taken it — and, it would have been the biggest mistake I could have made. I would have missed a great deal of what I ultimately got out of the program. Through the classroom and study group learning, I honed my skills for working with teams of different-thinking individuals. Before the EMBA program, I was accustomed to working with technical people who think much the same way as I. However, when I first found myself in a group with strong strategic marketing people, strong finance people, etc., I found that they don’t think about problems the same way. I then saw the power of marshaling the talents of a diverse team to produce results that a single person could not readily achieve.
How does working in study groups enhance the EMBA experience?
The effectiveness of the study group model was a big surprise to me. The problems one works on in business school are different from math problems. There’s not one answer that everyone is going to agree on; there are many different ways to tackle a business problem. Study groups were an effective vehicle to tackle more complex real-world problems by leveraging the different talents and viewpoints of each member. It was an important part of business school to learn different functional techniques, but also to learn how to apply those techniques within a group of differently motivated, resourced and skilled people. I may well have gained the most lasting and relevant skills from my study group experience. Intense academic coursework combined with study groups was a powerful combination.
How did the program change the way you think?
Throughout my education and career, I have approached problems from a technical person’s viewpoint. If a problem is well-formed, then it should have a function, inputs and outputs, and the answer should always be the same. From my first days in the Anderson EMBA program, I saw example after example where there could be many solutions to a business problem that were ‘correct,’ as they had been analytically thought through and the logical arguments for the solution hung together.
For instance, if a company is preparing to go to market with a new product, what should be the marketing strategy based on who are the customers, competition, etc. The problem analysis and the solutions were developed using thinking frameworks, not using formulas. I had always thought that if there weren’t a formula, then there must not be substance. At Anderson, I learned that one can get so much further by taking a framework and using it to think through the problem elements. Applying frameworks to real world problems has also greatly improved the efficiency of our strategic planning within my company.
Nan Boden is CEO of Myricom. Reach her at (626) 821-5555 or [email protected]