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The right fit

A Q&A with one of the members of MIT Sloan’s Executive MBA inaugural class
Stephen Sofoul
Stephen Sofoul

The MIT Sloan School of Management welcomed its inaugural Executive MBA class to campus last fall. The catch? They’re only in Cambridge every third weekend.

MIT Sloan’s new EMBA is a 20-month executive schedule MBA program, designed for mid-career professionals who are seeking to deepen their capabilities by learning data-driven analytical approaches along with the fundamentals of business leadership. Coursework is both theoretical and practical, with an emphasis on how students can use classroom-acquired skills to solve complex business challenges in their real-world positions. The program is co-directed by Donald R. Lesser, Sloan’s EPOCH Foundation Professor of International Management, and M. Jonathan Lehrich, program lecturer and former associate director of the MIT Leadership Center.

The Class of 2012 cohort includes 62 global executives. They have, on average, 17 years of work experience. More than half already hold advanced degrees, and 74 percent are director level or above. All are employed full time, with half living outside of driving radius.

The program consists of four weeklong executive modules, a one-week international learning project trip, and 26 weekend sessions.

Stephen Sofoul, a student in the inaugural class and president of a Houston-based human resources consulting firm, spoke to News@MITSloan about his desire to pursue an MBA degree, what he has learned so far and the challenges — and rewards — of the EMBA schedule.

Q. Why did you want to pursue an MBA?
A. My business partner and I have been working together for 19 years, sold our first company in 2002, and started our current health plan consulting firm, PeopleManage Pro, in 2005. Although the business experience felt as though I had already earned an MBA, I was at a point in my life when I was ready to discover a new way of thinking, to look at perspectives from a different angle, and meet and collaborate with a like-minded group of successful leaders.

Q. Why MIT?
A. I chose MIT Sloan for several reasons. First, I wanted to participate in a program that was a distance away from my work and home life, to experience a different way of thinking and meet people from all over the country. I was also attracted to Sloan’s reputation as a leader in teaching quantitative methods of data analysis. I am a firm believer that the next 10-15 years will be all about the data. After researching the top-tier business schools in the country, MIT was the clear leader in this area.

Q. How will an MBA assist you in your career?
A. The EMBA program has already paid for itself — even though we are only in the second semester of the program. Several of the tools and techniques we are studying have direct application to my industry. I have also been fortunate to be able to meet and work with over 60 classmates, each with tremendous skill sets and leadership abilities.

Q. Have any of the classes that you have taken, or are currently enrolled in, been of direct help to your company?
A. There have been elements of each class that have impacted my work at PeopleManage Pro. A current class, Data, Models, and Decisions, led by Professor Dimitrius Bertsimas, has been particularly interesting. This class helps me look at my company’s data analysis techniques and rethink some of the models we designed. Currently, we are enhancing a particular model that I believe will save two of our largest clients more than a million dollars each over the next 12 months.

Q. How is the EMBA schedule working out for you?
A. The schedule has been great. I knew when I signed up for this program I would be busy, but I’m learning something new every day and working with tremendous people. So far, we have been able to make it work while the business continues to grow. The EMBA program has been the perfect fit for my situation — I travel to Cambridge approximately every third Thursday, attend classes Friday and Saturday, and travel back home late Saturday or early Sunday. I’m back in Houston ready to be in the office first thing Monday morning.

Q. Do you get to spend much time with your fellow classmates?
A. The EMBA program emphasizes teamwork, and I have been able to get to know quite a few classmates through teams and the various social functions that have been organized. When in class, we spend roughly 10-12 hours together. Outside of class we work on projects through WebEx or face-to-face strategy sessions. I have also been fortunate to come to know my fellow Houston classmates and we have met outside of class.

Q. Do you have any advice for members of the next EMBA class?
A. I would encourage the EMBA Class of 2013 to enjoy the journey. Due to the intense academic load combined with work and home responsibilities, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. But, then I look at my student ID and realize that I am attending MIT! This is an experience that will benefit me, my family, my partners, and my clients for as long as I choose to work.

Read the full interview in the recent edition of News@MITSloan (PDF download)

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