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RIT EMBA spells success

Above: Donald Wilson, director of RIT's MBA program, leads a session on strategy with the EMBA Class of 2003.

Emphasis on strategic thinking and practical application gets high marks from students and grads

In 1993, Joe Lobozzo, at age 50, had achieved an enviable level of success.

JML Optical Industries Inc., the company he founded in 1972, had become a profitable and growing designer, manufacturer and distributor of precision optical components and systems.

Joe Lobozzo '95

At a point when others might begin to think about easing into retirement, Lobozzo became a member of RIT's first Executive Masters of Business Administration (EMBA) class.

“I really knew in my heart that the old way of doing things was changing,” Lobozzo explains. “A new way of doing business was dawning, and JML Optical needed to change if it was going to be the very best in the world at what we do. The EMBA program was an opportunity to acquire knowledge we didn't have.”

The decision proved momentous. The program “exceeded my expectations,” from a business standpoint, says Lobozzo, and it led to a fortuitous relationship with the university. Lobozzo, who received his degree in 1995, became a member of the RIT Board of Trustees in 1999.

While Lobozzo's bond with RIT is extraordinary, his high opinion of the EMBA program is not unusual. In a survey of graduates of 38 executive MBA programs conducted in 2000 by the Executive MBA Council (an independent network of colleges and universities with EMBA programs), 93 percent of RIT's EMBA graduates rated the program an 8, 9, or 10 on a scale of 1-to-10.

Students and graduates say the practical focus of the program allows them to make use of newly acquired knowledge immediately and advantageously.

“What I'm learning is already very helpful in my job,” says Debra Kusse, assistant to the president of Kodak's commercial imaging group. A 25-year Kodak employee who received her undergraduate degree in accounting from RIT in 1982, Kusse regularly takes new ideas directly from class back to work.

Kusse, who will graduate in May, says one of the key benefits is the opportunity to discuss the material with other students in and outside of the classroom.

Unlike traditional MBA students, EMBA students move through the program as a unit. Class size is limited to 30 students who begin their program with a week-long orientation on campus in August. They attend classes all day Friday and Saturday every other week from late August through May for two years. There's a week-long session between the first and second years. They even eat together: Breakfast and lunch are provided on class days.

Deb Kusse makes a point in class discussion.

After two years of such intense contact, students get to know each other very well.

“So much of the learning in this type of class takes place in the classroom, in debate,” says Donald Wilson, director of RIT's MBA program. “These people are not shy with each other. We have great discussions.”

Another difference from traditional MBA programs: EMBA students are required to have a minimum of eight years of business experience. The average experience level, however, is 17 years. They also tend to be older: The average age is 42. Some students are sponsored by their employer, but many pay their own way.

“Our EMBA program excels at giving students the strategic and cross-functional skills they need to become successful general managers,” notes Wilson. “Our students learn how to look at a business problem from multiple perspectives — marketing, finance, operations, and so forth — and then integrate these different dimensions into a 'total business' understanding.”

Two aspects of the RIT program set it apart, says Ann G.T. Young, director of the EMBA program. Toward the end of the second year, there's an optional, weeklong trip to the Czech Republic that incorporates visits to local companies and presentations on the economy, culture and aspects of global business.

Also in the second year, students work in teams on “capstone” projects, serving as consultants to organizations ranging from private businesses to non-profits.

“The teams spend 20 weeks helping organizations solve real-world business problems in areas ranging from manufacturing and finance to strategy and marketing,” notes Young. “We've worked with more than 25 organizations, and companies are delighted with the results.”

This past spring, for example, three EMBA students worked with the Deaf Wellness Center at Strong Memorial Hospital to create a business plan for the launch of Strong Connections, a video conferencing service that provides hospitals and clinics throughout the U.S. with medically experienced American Sign Language interpreters.

“The project could not have happened without the help of the EMBA students,” says Robert Pollard, director of the Deaf Wellness Center. “Their commitment went well beyond academic responsibilities. They committed their heart and soul.”

The entire program demands that level of effort.

Penny Sanchez-Burrus '01

“Time management is the hardest thing,” says Penny Sanchez-Burrus '01, vice president and general manager, Xerox Business Services, Tarrytown, N.Y. “There were many stressful moments, balancing a job, family and school.”

Sanchez-Burrus, a 22-year Xerox employee, was promoted to her current job near the end of the second year of the EMBA program.

“The opportunity would have come up,” she says, “but I think I was in a more competitive position because of the EMBA experience. It was very helpful.”

Susan Bratton '96, vice president of corporate quality for Wilson Greatbatch Technologies Inc., Clarence, N.Y., likewise is convinced that the program has led to career advancement.

Susan Bratton '96

Shortly after receiving her degree, Bratton took on the task of running the electrochem battery operation for WGT, a leading developer and manufacturer of power sources and components used in implantable medical devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators. Under her management, the operation tripled in size and went through an important acquisition.

“Without the EMBA,” says Bratton, “I'm not sure I would have gotten that assignment – or been able to handle it. Earning the degree created credibility and gave me confidence. I had the tool set to succeed.”

Bratton, who has been with WGT 26 years, commuted 60-plus miles each way to attend classes, while managing work and family responsibilities (her children were 5 and 7 when she began).

“I had a very supportive husband and boss,” she says. “It was grueling, but definitely rewarding.

“When I finished I felt like I could accomplish anything.”

For more information, contact the Executive MBA Program, College of Business, Rochester Institute of Technology, 107 Lomb Memorial Drive, Rochester, N.Y. 14623; 585-475-7435; www.ritemba.com

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