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Three Lessons I Learned During My Executive MBA Experience That I’m Already Using


By Clay Hillenburg, MBA ‘16

The Executive MBA experience is about gaining new perspectives and acquiring the skills and mindset to tackle new and larger opportunities.

The ExecMAP experience during my Michigan Ross Executive MBA brought those elements together and challenged me to put the things we learned in the classroom into practice almost immediately.  

My team partnered with a start-up company called Mariana, which was created by Venkat Nagaswamy, MBA '01, to meet the lead generation needs of B2B companies by identifying detailed personas at the top of the sales funnel.

Our goal was to identify target segments and a go-to-market strategy. Coming from a large, established manufacturing company in Michigan, this was a great opportunity for me to experience marketing from the startup lens. It also enabled me to mix things up by building meaningful relationships with members of the Los Angeles Exec MBA cohort.

While I learned a lot working on this project, here are three key takeaways — hopefully they can help you in your work as well.

Seek Out Diverse Teams

Throughout the project, I had the opportunity to work with people who have different skill sets and diverse perspectives. Together, our unique backgrounds helped to enrich the project with creative ideas and novel ways to bring those ideas to life. We applied what we learned about group dynamics and leveraged each person's strengths to add value to the team.

We challenged each other, learned from each other, and best of all, we laughed and had fun. The team aspect of the project was by far the richest part.

Make Sure Your Business Plans Are Holistic

A big part of our ExecMAP project involved developing a business model and plan for our sponsor’s emerging business. Coming from a large corporate environment, working with an entrepreneurial startup was definitely a new experience for me, and one I found particularly important.

Through researching the industry and competitors, we quickly identified that this newly formed industry was moving at a fast pace. Things were moving so quickly that Mariana became the new company name (from Sigmod Labs) halfway through our project!

Despite this fast pace, we continued with our plan of developing a situational analysis, evaluating the competition, performing a company overview, laying out the future strategy, reviewing the marketing mix, and providing a sound recommendation.

I’m currently using this method and framework to complete a project at work — so I can already see the returns from ExecMAP.

Create a Compelling Recommendation

All the work means nothing if your team can’t present your recommendations in a compelling and useful way. Using each team member’s strengths, we developed a plan for our presentation to Venkat and Mariana.

The presentation was divided and assigned among team members based on the subject matter we were most passionate about. We decided that a slightly relaxed sit-down meeting akin to a board room interaction would be the most appropriate venue. We implemented things we learned in our Presentation Skills seminar, such as effective gesticulation, diction refinement, and, most importantly, the value of practice.

By combining the skills we learned throughout the EMBA program and our strengths as a team, we successfully presented our findings and created great value for Mariana. All while creating lasting professional connections and lifetime friendships.

By seeking diverse teams, developing holistic business plans, and delivering compelling recommendations, I have already seen a big difference in my work performance.

Clay Hillenburg is a 2016 graduate of the Michigan Ross Executive MBA Program. He is the Channel Marketing Manager at Masco Cabinetry.

More about the Ross Executive MBA