Ebrar and Ozan Erdem, MBA '21
Earning an MBA is a unique experience — but earning it alongside your spouse, while in the same program, living thousands of miles away from home? That’s an experience perhaps singular to Ozan and Ebrar Erdem. Together for 10 years now, the two first met at Boğaziçi University, a Turkish-American University in their hometown of Istanbul. Ebrar landed a project management role at a GSK, a major international pharmaceutical company, working across Northern Africa and the Middle East as a way to expand her horizons outside of Turkey. Meanwhile, Ozan began working with companies like IBM, PwC, and a small e-commerce startup in Istanbul, which sparked his interest in consulting and project management.
The couple quickly realized the impact they had on their companies; accelerating that impact would allow them to break into new roles. “I learned a lot; I really developed my business acumen, but the problem was I really wanted to see the results of my recommendations,” Ozan said. Ebrar, on the other hand, wanted to break into a tech-heavy field. “I like to use technology to influence people, make things easier for them,” she said. Previously interested in healthcare, Ebrar saw switching to the technology field as a way to better achieve her professional goals.
The two came to the conclusion that an MBA program could help bring their individual goals to fruition. Their introduction to Michigan Ross came from an enthusiastic alum and a mentor of Ozan’s, who urged the two to look into the Full-Time MBA program. The Michigan Ross action-based learning style stood out to them; the ability to apply their skills to real business challenges throughout the program aligned with their learn-by-doing mentality. Ozan and Ebrar were also interested in the program's vast connections to companies across the globe and opportunities to get involved with industries unfamiliar to them.
After their acceptance into the program, the two realized their next step was a big one: moving across the globe. The decision to leave friends and family was a difficult one, but they quickly made a place for themselves in Michigan. Over the course of two years, Ann Arbor became their home. Ozan says walking down the streets of Ann Arbor feels like being surrounded by family and friends.
You have to realize that everyone else in this program is moving to Ann Arbor, too. It comes as an advantage: we were all going to events together, getting to know one another. It creates a close bond within the cohort, one Ebrar and I are thankful for.
The two were enthralled with the comfortable college town, where they could explore new restaurants, green spaces, and quirky downtown shops. When the two returned from Turkey after a two-month visit, Ebrar recalled how beautiful Ann Arbor really was. “We really feel like we belong here,” she said.
“I lived in Istanbul my entire life,” said Ozan. “After returning to Ann Arbor, it felt like ‘wow, I'm finally at home.’ Can you believe that, after 29 years?”
As for their academic work, Michigan Ross made the two realize how valuable their own experiences could be. “I recall we were going to have a discussion in class about a topic I had experienced in my work. The professor approached me beforehand, asking me to share my experiences with e-commerce,” Ozan said. “She took the time to understand my background, to get to know me.” Their professors' interest in both their personal and professional lives left the two impressed; their undergraduate courses had been primarily delivered in lecture format. “It was a shocking thing to me at first,” said Ebrar. “Everybody was participating a lot in classes, discussing topics, really getting to know one another.”
The two say their Multidisciplinary Action Projects (MAP) course at Ross allowed them to advance their skills quickly and help make the impact they wanted at companies. MAP allows MBA students to apply what they've learned in the classroom to real business problems at a sponsoring organization for seven weeks. Ebrar and her project team focused on digital transformations for Microsoft’s manufacturing clients and wrote a white paper on their results, connecting it to issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “After gaining experience only in healthcare, my project with Microsoft allowed me to make that transition into tech,” said Ebrar. “It was great for me to understand the company's culture, and also network with tech leaders there.” For Ozan, his MAP assignment built predictive models to better leverage customer acquisition and retention with Amazon’s online grocery system during the peak of the pandemic. By chance, he was able to see that strategy implemented during his internship with Amazon in the months following his MAP assignment. The two were able to work on the goals they had set for themselves when they first applied to Michigan Ross.
Ozan and Ebrar have started speaking with prospective students about their experiences at Michigan Ross. “Once we updated our MBA status on LinkedIn, people started reaching out from Istanbul, and all across the globe, about our experience with Ross,” said Ozan. “It was only natural that we become ambassadors.” The ambassador program connects prospective students to Michigan Ross alumni and current students.
The application process can be stressful, so having a network of people to rely on, to have mentorships with, is really valuable,” Ebrar said. For the two, being able to act as liaisons for international students across the globe has been a fulfilling experience, and allowed them to keep ties to their home country of Turkey.
This powerhouse couple will continue their post-MBA journey together, heading out to Seattle to take on roles with Amazon. Ozan will work as a senior product manager and Ebrar will serve as senior program manager with Amazon Web Services. Throughout MBA applications, recruitment, and now their work lives, Ozan and Ebrar said they’re lucky to have one another. “We learned how to help each other, we learned how to cope, and that's how we grew,” said Ozan.
The Erdems have advice for those applying to MBA programs: “Enjoy the process,” said Ebrar. “It’s a really good reflection exercise, writing those essays, connecting with the school, getting prepared for admissions interviews. Leverage that opportunity to get to know yourself better. Regardless of the admissions results, the experience is worth it.”