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Robinson School of Business Thought Leader

Lisa Rolf: Widening her Lens with an EMBA

Lisa Rolf never envisioned herself as an Executive MBA student. She earned a design-your-own undergraduate degree from a liberal arts college in Minnesota and immediately pursued a career in project management. But after leading teams at digital marketing agencies for 15 years, she noticed a gap in her skill set. Once Rolf attended an information session for Robinson’s EMBA, she realized the program would enable her to support not just her team but the company as a whole. “I wanted to make sure I could contribute to the growth of the company in a substantial way, and the EMBA seemed like a good opportunity to round out my experience,” Rolf recalls.

Rolf found Robinson’s EMBA particularly appealing because of its approach to general management as opposed to specialization, as well as the opportunity to study alongside classmates who already are established in their respective fields. The 30 members of Rolf’s cohort offered perspectives from a range of industries such as cardiac surgery, concert venue management, lobbying, and construction. “No matter the topic or theory we discussed, somebody could talk about how a situation applied to them in real life,” Rolf says. “So if the professors couldn’t put it in context, my classmates could.”

Since the EMBA cohort met every other weekend, Rolf and her peers remained employed throughout the program’s duration. From the get-go Rolf would leave class equipped with new knowledge to use at the office. “We covered contract law one Saturday, and when I came in the next Monday I encountered a statement of work with the stuff we talked about right in front of me,” Rolf says.

The program’s international focus empowered Rolf to analyze business problems through a macro-level lens. In Chris Brown’s course on global markets and country risk, students collected data about foreign countries such as infrastructure and environmental factors, and evaluated whether conditions proved favorable for different types of businesses. Plus, guest speakers who are experts on risk in specific countries put context around the data Rolf and her peers gathered.

Rolf cites her two-week business residency in South Africa as the most impressive component of the EMBA package. She and her classmates split their time between Johannesburg and Cape Town and participated in two corporate visits per day. No matter the company, such as a tech start-up, gourmet food distributor, or even a game reserve, executives delivered presentations that touched on doing business in South Africa including the challenges the market imposes. “The people we met spent significant time preparing for us and really thought about what information would be valuable for us to learn,” Rolf points out. “High-level executives spent two to four hours with us, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it.”

In addition to emphasizing global business concepts, EMBA faculty stress creating value for a company. Early in the program, Rolf internalized coursework regarding communication style and conflict management and honed her approach to leadership. On a greater scale, Rolf developed a solid foundation for impacting her company in a meaningful way – a difference her superiors noticed both before and after her June 2014 graduation. “I wanted to be able to contribute strategically to conversations with our clients and not just be the schedule keeper,” Rolf says. “Now I can take a step back and look at the operations more strategically with the skills I picked up in the EMBA program.”

Lisa Rolf photo

Lisa Rolf

Learn more about a Robinson Executive MBA here


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