Photo: Jon M. Fletcher
A spotlight on MBA programs in Florida
Across Florida, universities are rolling out a variety of MBA programs to attract working professionals looking for the bigpicture thinking skills that employers value. Some earn the degree to boost their knowledge in areas of weakness. Others earn the degree to pursue a new career path. Almost all recent MBA graduates say the bonds they establish with their fellow students and professors and the sharing of real-life scenarios are the biggest benefits of the MBA programs. Some recent MBA graduates share their experiences here.
Amanda Wikenholm Jacksonville University MBA
Running the Numbers Studying for an MBA leads Swedish student Amanda Wikenholm on a new career path.
Amanda Wikenholm spent the winter holidays interviewing for jobs knowing she had a huge advantage over other applicants.
She not only speaks two languages, but also has an MBA with a dual concentration in management and accounting/finance.
Within weeks, she landed a position as a financial analyst with Black Knight Financial Services in Jacksonville.
A native of Sweden, Wikenholm, 24, knew she wanted an MBA. She started a search in the United States for a university where she could enjoy outdoor sports such as surfing. The search led her to Jacksonville University.
In August 2014, Wikenholm arrived in Jacksonville with an undergraduate degree in business administration from Stockholm University and eight months’ experience as a cafe manager.
Using her earnings to pay for her advanced education, Wikenholm has found that the investment in her MBA already has proved worthwhile. “I gained a lot of business knowledge that I know I can use in the real world.” Wikenholm says she took a combination of day and evening classes over 1½ years, which allowed her to mix with classmates her own age as well as with older working professionals who shared their experiences on how class material applied to real-world scenarios. In her leadership course, she applied lessons from the textbook and class discussion to her experience as a cafe manager. “I saw what I had done right and wrong,” she says. In another course, she built a financial model for a startup.
During her last semester, Wikenholm had an internship with CSX in Jacksonville, where she worked on projects such as analyzing pricing and worker productivity. One of the biggest benefits of the MBA program, she says, was small classes. The environment allowed her to get to know her professors, who have helped her network in the business community and define her career path.
Initially, Wikenholm envisioned a career in corporate management or marketing, but now sees herself as a financial analyst doing financial forecasting and analyzing pricing or income statements.
“I didn’t think I would work with numbers, but now I see how financial analysis is the foundation for corporate decision-making,” she says. “I can see why companies need people with an MBA.”
Heidi Chumley University of Miami Executive MBA for the Americas
A Global Impact
Heidi Chumley is augmenting her medical degree with an MBA.
For Heidi Chumley, running a medical school in the Caribbean from an office in Coral Gables is no easy task. Chumley, executive dean of American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, has seen an increasing need for a business education to pair with the medical degree she earned 20 years ago.
“I had been supplementing my education with workshops, fellowships and some business and management training, but I wanted a formal education to tie all those pieces together,” Chumley says.
In August 2015, Chumley enrolled in the University of Miami’s Executive MBA for the Americas program. Classes meet on campus one weekend every two months for 17 months, and students complete assignments in between.
Many of Chumley’s 24 classmates are global executives who share their challenges and management strategies. “I have classmates from Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, the Bahamas. They bring unique perspectives,” she says.
Chumley, a mother of five who practiced medicine in Texas and Kansas, sees the real life applications of her course work. “I feel like I am learning things I can use right away,” she says. She took a finance course at the same time she was developing a strategic plan for her medical school. “It helped that I understood more about financial modeling,” she says.
Guest speakers have included executives from the United States and Latin America. “They talk about differences in culture and doing business. When you are operating in different parts of the world, there are differences in laws, expectations and communication patterns. We need to learn that in business as well.”
Chumley’s group projects often require virtual meet-ups and electronic follow-ups with group members who live abroad, similar to how she interacts with co-workers in her job.
The University of Miami graduated the first class of its Miami Executive MBA for the Americas program in December 2015. The program is designed for executives doing business with the Americas, particularly Latin America. It is a “hybrid” MBA program that blends distance learning with only nine oncampus sessions (most only weekends). The graduating class had students from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Israel, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama and Venezuela and the U.S. Also in 2015, the school launched its first fully online MBA program, which started in August with students from across the country. The university brought in the first class for its Miami Executive Lester Ojeda and Jholany Avila MBA for Artists and Athletes program, which includes 40 current and former NFL players, including Torrey Smith and Santana Moss. The second class began in February 2016.
Sam Nimah Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton Executive MBA
An MBA gave Sam Nimah the knowledge and confidence to buy a business.
When Sam Nimah found himself managing people with MBAs, he decided it was time to get one himself. Nimah was vice president of operations for Southern Wine & Spirits Florida at the time and saw the benefit of having advanced leadership skills. However, it was much more than leadership skills that eventually changed his career path.
Nimah says the MBA program provided him with the confidence and understanding to leave the company after 15 years and buy a business. “I had deep experience in operations, but I had never done mergers and acquisitions work,” he says.
His MBA classes acquainted him with financial analysis and business valuation —”a weak spot for me,” he says. His most valuable lessons, he says, came from classmates and their stories about successes and failures. They became his sounding board as he considered businesses to acquire. “They are brilliant people, and I was able to ask their advice as needed.”
Nimah’s years of work experience enabled him to learn more from the MBA program. “I knew the questions to ask and understood problems from a realworld experience,” he says.
Seven months after he graduated with a MBA, Nimah and partners bought Special Care Providers of America. Based in Fort Lauderdale, Special Care Providers manages special care units for hospitals in Florida and had been around for more than two decades, providing care for medically complex patients.
Nimah has been CEO of the company for the last two years, overseeing 140 employees. Although he had no experience in health care, he has applied the lessons learned in class, surrounded himself with experienced people and kept the company nimble. “If you don’t stay ahead of the evolution in health care, you will get run over by it,” he says.
An MBA gave Nimah the bigpicture, problem-solving skills and an expanded network of people to go to for advice, he says. While some people complain about the changing health care environment, he sees it as an opportunity to exercise his business skills and come up with innovative solutions. “We need to provide the best care and be part of the solution,” he says.
Woody Kim Florida State University, Tallahassee MBA program director
FSU’s new online MBA in hospitality caters to working professionals in the industry.
Florida State University’s Dedman School of Hospitality in 2015 launched an online MBA with a major in hospitality and tourism management.
“The hospitality industry has a high demand for graduates with advanced analytical skills in accounting, finance and revenue management,” says Woody Kim, the Robert H. Dedman Professor of Hospitality Management and director of the new program. “We know emerging managers in the hospitality industry typically do not have the luxury of taking a career break or setting aside hours in the day or early evening for an on-campus program. That’s why we’ve created a flexible, online program that can be done on their schedule each week.”
The new six-semester program involves core courses common to all FSU MBA programs plus additional courses focused on hospitality industry issues and challenges.
Kim has a Ph.D. from Purdue University and has worked as a consultant for HVS International in New York.
Bill Christiansen, BB&T professor of finance and chair of the finance department at Florida State University, has been named MBA program director at the college of business. A longtime faculty member, Christiansen says he plans to continue the college’s emphasis on individual attention.
Nova Southeastern University’s H. Wayne Huizenga College of Business and Entrepreneurship has partnered with executive recruitment firm Korn Ferry in a program that will launch this spring called “The Real World MBA.” Students participate in an orientation course that includes Korn Ferry’s Assessment of Leadership Potential (KFALP), which helps students assess their leadership skill levels. Steve Harvey, MBA assistant dean of graduate affairs at the Huizenga College, says The Real World MBA faculty have been trained by Korn Ferry to use the results from the assessment to help students reach their career goals.
The University of West Florida has added a program to its online MBA offerings with four areas of emphasis: Accounting, entrepreneurship, supply chain logistics management and general business administration. “Our online MBA programs will deliver the same rigor as their oncampus counterparts and include course work with a focus on solving real-world business problems through experiential learning and case study analysis,” says College of Business Dean Tim O’Keefe.
The UWF College of Business is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Fewer than 5% of business schools worldwide have earned accreditation, the highest standard in management education.
Kris Hanigosky University of Central Florida Executive MBA
Concepts into Practice
Kris Hanigosky’s MBA beefs up his marketing and people skills.
As Kris Hanigosky moved into senior leadership at his company, his bosses encouraged him to continue his education. He decided the best way to reach his goals was to earn an MBA. With an undergraduate degree and experience in industrial engineering, he believed the MBA would give him more formal business and management skills. “They felt it would benefit me to have biggerpicture thinking of how companies operate,” Hanigosky says.
Twenty months after he began the executive MBA program, Hanigosky, 35, graduated in May 2014 alongside 17 classmates. He says he now has the strategic management skills to feel confident in any position. Already, he has used his new understanding of applied strategy, executive leadership and marketing in his job as director of operations at Nautique Boat Co., an Orlando manufacturer of tow boats for water-skiing, wake-boarding and wake-surfing.
“When you manage a department, you make decisions based on how it benefits your department,” says Hanigosky, who has been with Nautique for six years. “Now I am able to see how it affects the overall company.” He also learned how to continually improve a business through strategic planning and financial analysis. “I’m doing a lot more problem-solving with my team.
I now realize I’ve got to be six months to a year ahead in planning so I know what’s on the horizon and can lay the groundwork for what’s coming down the road.” While his undergraduate taught him concepts, the MBA program taught him how to put the concepts into practice, he says. He also learned from real-life examples from other students. “When you talk to your classmates who have been there, they will say ‘here’s what I tried’ or ‘here’s what worked or didn’t work,’ ” Hanigosky says.
His favorite course, he says, focused on strategy and executive leadership and emphasized soft skills, including business ethics and how to deal with employees.
The MBA at UF’s Hough Graduate School of Business was named one of the nation’s top 50 MBA programs in Forbes’ 2015 “Best Business Schools.” UF MBA ranked 50th overall and 26th among U.S. public programs. It was also the No. 1 MBA program in Florida. “These rankings reflect return on investment, which is a hallmark of UF MBA,” says Alex Sevilla, assistant dean and director of UF MBA programs. “We’re committed to providing our students a transformative MBA experience without burdening them financially.” UF MBA was recognized for its salary increase and affordability.
The salaries for UF MBA graduates (class of 2010) increased by an average of $72,000 over a fiveyear span.
UF MBA’s tuition ($61,000) was the eighth-lowest among the 65 schools that appeared in the ranking.
UF MBA students (class of 2010) needed only 4.2 years to pay back their degrees.
Students graduating in 2015 from the full-time UF MBA program at the Hough Graduate School of Business posted record performances in career placement and compensation, according to Craig Petrus, director of Graduate Business Career Services. The career placement rates for students at graduation (85.1%) and three months after graduation (95.7%) were among some of the best in the nation. Additionally, the starting compensation — base salary plus signing bonus — of graduates increased by $14,000 from 2014 to just over $109,000.
University of West Florida MBA
Principles to Dollars
Trace Reddick boosted his company’s revenue five-fold after applying what he learned.
When Trace Reddick enrolled in the MBA program, he had been operating a lapel pin business from his home in Pensacola, selling collectible pins to music fans. At the time, the company was earning about $20,000 in revenue.
“By time I was done with the MBA program and I applied the principles I learned, the company broke $125,000,” he says. Instead of selling only pins to music fans, he began selling other items, too, and targeting vendors and other businesses. His success with his original company, MetaSpace Designs, led to a spinoff business, Superior Custom Pins, which makes enamel custom pins for companies, groups and individuals. He credits business strategy professor Blaine Lawlor for the inspiration. “What I learned was to step back, think bigger and get a bigger audience,” he says.
During one keystone MBA course another opportunity came Reddick’s way. The founder and CEO of Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems made a presentation to the class about startups. He then asked for interns. Reddick had one course left to finish his MBA and took the internship for the summer at the Pensacola company, which makes software that helps physicians detect diabetic eye disease early on.
The internship turned into a full-time job as director of business development. Reddick says the skills he learned from his business education helped him impress his boss. “I learned to look for how to do things differently and better all the time.” Reddick says the broad understanding of business gained from his MBA allows him to continually see the value in the degree and put it into practice.
Carly Escue University of Florida MBA
Carly Escue, a 2015 MBA graduate from the University of Florida, was one of 30 MBA graduates in the world to be named to Poets & Quants’ “Class of 2015: MBAs to Watch.”
Upon graduation, Escue, 27, became human resources adviser for ExxonMobil. While at UF’s Hough Graduate School of Business, Escue was vice president of the UF MBA Association (student government). She also was a student ambassador for the admissions team and was named CEO of GatorMBAGear, a student-run merchandising and apparel company where she introduced new revenue streams and money-saving inventory practices.
As team captain of UF MBA Case Competitions, she led her team to first place at the 2014 SEC MBA Case Competition. Before attending the University of Florida, Escue lived and worked in Moscow and Seoul, where she was an English language instructor. She attended Belmont University in Nashville as an undergraduate.
Jordan Fickess Florida International University MBA
Sharpening His Approach
Jordan Fickess says his MBA helps him thrive at work.
Jordan Fickess enjoys walking the campus of Johnson & Wales University in North Miami, where he might chat with a budding chef or give advice to a future fashion merchandisor. His MBA, he says, has given him a different perspective on those encounters.
Fickess, 33, had been communications director for the college and parlayed that experience into a job as executive administrator, working with all departments to ensure the school’s strategic plan moves forward. He recognized that his new role required a higher level of business acumen. To build his financial skills, Fickess enrolled in the MBA program at Florida International University. He had earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from Arizona State University in 2004.
Fickess found the MBA education provided exactly what he needed to thrive in his job. Attending classes two nights a week for 18 months on the Brickell campus of FIU helped him become a bigger-picture thinker, he says. “It trained my brain to understand the relationship between the different parts of a business. I learned to question if something goes up, what else goes up and what can go down.”
Fickess found the finance and accounting courses — areas where he had no prior education — particularly useful. “I now look at how a university campus runs with a more holistic view,” he says. “Without a doubt, an MBA was exactly what I needed to do my role well and understand all parts of the business.”
In class, Fickess found himself with students from a variety of backgrounds: Engineers, marketing professionals, international business managers. “I got a lot out of interacting with different people and seeing what they brought to class from their different professional experiences.” Fickess says he, too, shared how the lessons in class applied in his academic work environment.
Jacksonville University’s Davis College of Business has created a flexible part-time FLEX master of business administration program that will start this fall. The FLEX MBA will combine an online format with face-to-face interaction with faculty members. The program is part of an initiative that began in 2013 with a $1-million investment to support the technological enhancement and transformation of all business programs. In addition, the executive master of business administration program in the Davis College of Business is expanding to offer the Southeast’s first concentration in consumer goods and services, offering specialized education in food marketing, consumer behavior and data analytics.
Luanne Lenberg Nova Southeastern University MBA in Supply Chain Management
Shopping for an Edge
Luanne Lenberg was driving to work when she noticed a billboard for a new MBA program at Nova Southeastern University. She was intrigued and drove over to the school to find out more.
As vice president and general manager of the giant Sawgrass Mills shopping mall, Lenberg believed she could benefit from the MBA with a concentration in supply chain management NSU had begun offering.
In her job, Lenberg operates somewhat like the manager of a small city. She oversees everything from parking to security to marketing, leasing operations and property management. The concentration in supply chain management would help her understand her tenants’ challenges and offer solutions.
“I knew everything about the front end of retail, the consumer-facing end, but I didn’t know the back end. I knew where the goods are sold, but not how they get there and how the retailers keep the sales engines running.”
Lenberg, who already had an MBA in international business from Florida State University, says supply chain management turned out to be as fascinating as she had hoped. Additionally, she found it beneficial to be exposed to latest trends in technology and to examine case studies across industries. She found the classroom discussions lively, and she learned as much from her classmates — professionals in myriad industries — as from her instructors. “My biggest takeaway was new technology skills, since mine were out of date.” As she took classes, Lenberg had begun creating a new managerial position for the mall’s parking programs.
As she learned about supply chain management, she incorporated those lessons into the job description for that position. “I decided that person would work with retailers to make efficiencies in how they receive and accept deliveries. I would not have thought about that before.”
After receiving her MBA certificate from NSU, Lenberg also took an industry exam to become a certified supply chain professional. She believes she now has a much broader perspective and can better assist her 500 retail tenants in meeting their goals. “I feel like I have a much stronger, 360-degree perspective.”
Lenberg, who has been in her position at Sawgrass Mills for nine years, regularly walks the 2-millionsq.- ft.-plus mall, mixing with shoppers from all over the country and the world or talking with retailers about their strategies.
University of South Florida Doctor of Business Administration
Jim Stikeleather is executive strategist and chief innovation officer at Dell. He also holds an MBA from the University of South Florida and wants to add another title to his resume: Doctor of business administration.
Earning his MBA from USF in 1987, Stikeleather says he gained confidence in business and discovered many areas in which he realized he was uninformed. Now, he’s become a member of the first cohort of USF’s DBA program when it launched in January 2015. “A DBA is a lot of work and time, but it doesn’t interfere with your day job like a Ph.D. program would,” he says.
“I am learning how to do certain types of research, how to construct experiences and different theories of management. Most of the classes teach you how to write and research and publish and the content or area of focus is in your control.”
Stikeleather says he has had a growing interest in how people make value-based decisions and will further study this topic in his courses. For example, he will delve into why people donate their fortunes and why they choose to live a certain lifestyle at the expense of the environment.
While many employers are supportive of an MBA, a DBA is more research driven and not as recognized for bringing value to the company, Stikeleather says. Still, he considers the degree valuable. “You are learning how to do research and contributing to general knowledge of the world.”
He sees companies gaining more appreciation of the degree as senior executives bring problems into the academic world to solve, learn how to do research and analysis, and understand the methods for presenting results. “Eventually those skills sets will be of more value to businesses,” Stikeleather says.
For now, Stikeleather says he is learning about the writing process and becoming a more disciplined researcher.
In his job at Dell, Stikeleather helps customers become more innovative. He is based in Tampa, but his team operates from all over the world. Travel time has become his opportunity to do school work.
Sara Behnke University of South Florida MBA
Sara Behnke discovers a passion while studying for her MBA.
When Sara Behnke considered furthering her education, her first instinct was to go to law school. Behnke, 34, works as a judicial assistant for the criminal division in the Hillsborough County Courthouse and has held various jobs in the courthouse since she was 15. She began studying for her LSAT but decided that a master’s in business administration would open more career paths. “Lucky for me by making that choice I discovered my passion,” she says.
Her first semester in the MBA program, Behnke took an ethics course that focused on the effects business has on society and the environment. “What I learned was that there is a silver lining called sustainability, which to me means creating and implementing innovative solutions that will sustain our limited natural resources.” Behnke went on to take more courses with the same professor, all with a sustainability component.
One of her class assignments was to develop a sustainability plan for her employer. “We have massive amounts of paper coming in and out of our offices, but we had no paper recycling program and no budget to start one,” she says. Behnke teamed up with other co-workers and put together a no-cost recycling program at the courthouse, run entirely by employee volunteers. “In just the first year, we recycled 25,700 pounds of paper.”
Behke recently began a job search for a position in sustainability. “Not only have I found my passion,” she says, “but the MBA program has provided me with the tools that I needed to pursue it.”
Melissa Cluesman University of North Florida, MBA
Melissa Cluesman aims to parlay her MBA into a promotion.
Melissa Cluesman wanted to rise to senior management at McKesson Business Performance Services in Jacksonville, where she has worked for 25 years. But she knew that she would need more skills to land a promotion.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Florida in 2013, Cluesman, 44, began the MBA program and saw an immediate benefit. She learned data analysis, along with presentation and forecasting skills and global entrepreneurism in a course in which she traveled to Italy with 19 classmates.
She took off one term to spend time with her baby, graduating in December 2015.
Cluesman, a director of operations at McKesson, which provides medical billing for physicians, says she particularly enjoyed learning social media skills.
For one group project, she and some classmates put together a social media strategy for the university’s MBA program.