By Ben Mattison
Ten years ago, a group of 22 professionals from throughout the healthcare industry were approaching the final weeks of a transformative experience: an MBA program that gave them a world-class management education while they continued their careers as surgeons, scientists, and industry leaders.
They were the charter Class of 2007 in Yale SOM’s brand-new MBA for Executives program, then subtitled “Leadership in Healthcare.” In May, the class will return to Yale for its 10th reunion; they’ll be joined in a celebration of the program’s first decade by graduates from throughout the program’s history. (To register for the reunion, visit the Yale SOM alumni website.)
Dr. Howard Forman, a Yale physician and economist, was one of the founders of the program, and continues to oversee healthcare-focused coursework. He says that the MBA for Executives program had its origin in a growing belief among his colleagues at both Yale SOM and the Yale School of Medicine that better management of healthcare was essential—and required training in business tools to complement a medical or scientific education.
“Healthcare is an incredibly complex industry. It affects every single man, woman, and child in this country and globally,” Forman says. The MBA for Executives program was intended “to educate as many people as possible in leadership and management principles giving them the skills to be a leader within healthcare: whether you’re a physician, an actuary, a scientist, a health plan executive, a life sciences executive, or any other healthcare professional.”
Professor Stanley Garstka, then Yale SOM’s deputy dean, helped launch the MBA for Executives program and taught in it for several years. He says that one key aspect of the program, from its founding, is that it is a true MBA program, offering the same broad understanding and the same management tools as Yale SOM’s full-time program.
Forman and Garstka would tell students, Garstka says, “We don’t want to knock the healthcare stuff out of your head. But we want to put in stuff about management— taxonomies and theories and concepts—so the next time you’re faced with a decision in the hospital, you automatically click on the other side of your head where you start thinking about the costs and benefits.”
Key to that process, Garstka adds, is that the program brought together individuals in a variety of healthcare roles to learn from each other. “We wanted to diversify the participants in the program from across the industry,” he says, “because one of the things we want to do is create discussions in the classroom between the providers of care and the funders of care—and all of the players.”
From the beginning, students have found that those discussions—as well as interactions outside the classroom, every other weekend and for several weeklong in-residence periods—have helped them form a close bond and a lasting network.
Chidi Achebe, a member of the Class of 2007, says that his classmates were “stellar, incredibly accomplished, and brilliant—every single one of them.” Over 22 months, he adds, the MBA for Executives program “transformed my thinking, opened up inner casements of discovery I was previously unaware of, moved—nay, pushed me in a totally different trajectory towards my present company AIDE—African Integrated Development Enterprise.” The network he formed at Yale remains key, he says, noting that his classmate Sally Lauren Hopper ’07 is a member of the AIDE’s board, as is Howard Forman.
Beth DeStephens ’14 agrees that the community of students in the program was a large part of what made it so rewarding. Her classmates “were all leaders coming into the program and also very eager to learn from each other. The community is welcoming, and everyone at SOM is there for a higher purpose, to lead businesses to change society for the better.” The network that she and her husband, Jimmy DeStephens ’12, formed at Yale “has provided several new business ventures and expansion of careers and leadership into new areas of healthcare since graduation.”
For Eric Lemieux ’16, the camaraderie among students was part of what drew him to the MBA for Executives program, part of the first class after it expanded to include focus areas in asset management and sustainability. An insurance industry veteran, he enrolled in the new asset management focus area. His experience alongside classmates in all three focus areas confirmed that the decision had been the right one.
“My classmates were world-class students and human beings,” he says. “The rich diversity of cultural and business backgrounds afforded us all the opportunity to not only learn with each other but from each other. We entered as strong individuals and graduated as a strong community.”
The program’s faculty was key to his development as well. “This program gave me perspective,” he says. “Each professor had a unique way of approaching and solving problems. I now bring their array of approaches to every situation I face in my professional and personal life.”
Looking back over 10 classes, Forman says, the proof of the effectiveness of the program and the network that it has formed is the success of its graduates.
“When we started off, we didn’t know how we would impact people’s careers,” he says, “Without exception, our outcomes have been really outstanding. Every one of the students that I’m in contact with has expressed tremendous satisfaction with what we’ve been able to provide. They, in turn, have been able to help us continue to build our network in many ways. We have alumni who are CEOs of health plans. We have alumni who are in progressive leadership roles within academic medical centers. We have alumni who have become senior executives within the life sciences industries.”
Senior Associate Dean David Bach has overseen the MBA for Executives program since he arrived at Yale in 2012. Under his leadership, the program added the focus areas in asset management and sustainability to the original healthcare focus. The process of designing an expanded program, he said, started with examining the program’s original DNA.
Part of that DNA is the program’s aim of creating leaders who can help transform healthcare, which fits closely with school’s mission to educate leaders for business and society. “We’ve tried to position the EMBA program as the program that identifies people who are already having a big impact and through the program can have an even bigger one,” Bach says.
Another piece of that DNA was the rigor of the curriculum—MBA for Executives students still take the same core courses as full-time students, now in the form of Yale’s integrated MBA curriculum. “There are no shortcuts,” Bach says.
Finally, Bach says, the program was distinctive in the way in which it took advantage of Yale’s intellectual resources, drawing faculty from the School of Medicine and the School of Public Health— something consistent with Yale SOM’s objective to be the business school most connected with its home university.
In considering how to expand the program, Bach said, he and his colleagues asked, “In what other areas can we connect across Yale to educate leaders for business and society?” They identified sustainability and asset management as areas in which Yale has faculty strength, and where there was an opportunity to make a positive impact at the nexus of business and society.
The new focus areas enrolled their first students in the fall of 2014 and have grown quickly. The Class of 2018 has 71 students, divided roughly equally between professionals in asset management, healthcare, and sustainability.
“Even though the program looks transformed,” Bach says, “what we’ve really done is identified what the essence of the program was, and then doubled down on it.”
Like their predecessors, Bach says, today’s MBA for Executives students have in common a fierce commitment to the program and to learning.
“I love teaching in the MBA for Executives program,” he says. “The students have a lot of intellectual curiosity, and for people who are as successful as they are, they don’t have a lot of ego that might get in the way of learning from the faculty and learning from each other. They’re genuinely interested in learning and growing.”
What might the MBA for Executives program look like in the future? Bach says that the school is open to adding new focus areas or making other innovations, as long as the core values of the program remain.
For example, the program has embraced a greater use of technology, recently introducing the Extended Classroom, which allows students commuting long distances to New Haven to participate in some classes remotely. It has also taken advantage of Yale SOM’s membership in the Global Network for Advanced Management, creating a required Global Network Week in which students travel around the world to learn alongside executive MBA students from other member schools.
“We want our program to be the most respected, rigorous, and most purposeful executive MBA program in the world,” Bach says. “That’s the goal. That’s non-negotiable. We’re open to all innovations if they help us get to that goal. It’s what our charter class alumni and all who came after them rightfully expect.”