Educational upgrade: MBA programs in Florida
MBA programs across Florida are adapting to the changing needs of students and employers by developing niche studies to build deep expertise in a variety of sectors.
FLORIDA SOUTHERN COLLEGE
Let the MBA Games Begin
The esports industry — video games with multiple players that have spectators virtually or in person — had a market value of more than $1.3 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $3.8 billion by 2027, according to Marketwatch.
To help meet the needs of students who will one day work in esports, Florida Southern College in Lakeland added a concentration in esports management to the MBA program in 2021. The college also added an esports minor for the undergraduate program at the same time, says J. Michael Weber, dean and professor of marketing at the Barney Barnett School of Business & Free Enterprise at Florida Southern College. The school also has a collegiate esports team with about 30 members. Some of them are scholarship esports athletes.
Students in the program prepare for esports management careers with classes like introduction to gaming, tournament design, sponsorship management and fan engagement. Classes cover contracts, logistics and sponsorships among other areas that relate to the business of esports.
Otherwise, many of the concepts that students learn in business school also apply to the management of esports competitions.
The program is all online, and it has attracted some students outside of Florida. Students can complete the program in a year or two.
Although an MBA is not necessary for a career in esports management, it can put students in a stronger hiring position, Weber says. Event strategists, league managers and social media coordinators are some of the jobs that are a potential match after completing the program.
There have been a handful of graduates so far within the concentration. The program’s initial students were Florida Southern undergrads, some of whom were retired esports athletes. However, the program is experiencing double-digit growth and expects to continue to grow along with esports in general.
Alumni are working or have worked with companies such as Blizzard Entertainment, Team Liquid (a professional esports organization) and Twitch, the app that broadcasts many esports competitions.
If students eventually veer away from esports, they still have an advantage when looking for jobs. “They still have their MBA,” Weber says. — By Vanessa Caceres
Missional Leadership Program
On a Mission
Southeastern University’s missional program started about four years ago upon student request, says Leroy VanWhy, director of the MBA and MA in leadership programs at the private Christian school in Lakeland. The program currently has eight students.
The students “have a passion for ministry but want to be good on the business aspects as well and want to run a quality business in ministry,” he says.
The degree requires 39 credit hours and takes one to two years to complete full time. In addition to the typical MBA courses such as marketing and management, students take courses related to leadership across cultures, strategic missional leadership and leadership development.
One graduate has become director of ministry at a church in the Washington, D.C., area, and another is overseeing non-profits in Uganda, VanWhy says.
At the church level, the MBA in Missional Leadership provides training for someone who may want to have a lead role in handling budgets or hiring staff but not giving sermons, VanWhy says. Having this background puts the church budget in the hands of a trained professional versus a volunteer. — By Vanessa Caceres
FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY: Student Profile
SHYRA JOHNSON, Sport Management
A Passion for Business
Shyra Johnson was known as “the sports girl” while an undergrad on a full academic scholarship at Florida Atlantic University in Miami. She started a student organization called the Sports Business Network, bringing out “the business side” of her. After earning her bachelor’s in business in 2021, she enrolled in the school’s Sport Management MBA program and is set to graduate in August.
Last year, she founded a sports consulting company and was the youngest person ever to pass the sports agent exam. She says her dream is to be a sports agent and “have a world-renowned agency” after she gains more business experience and connections. This year, she plans to join her parents in launching a transportation business and will continue with her sports consulting.
“I’m that girl that has like 100 different mentors. The sky’s the limit of my potential is how I feel about myself, and I don’t want to cap myself at the treetops.”
Johnson credits the MBA with stoking her passion for business. “I’ve enjoyed every aspect. I love the marketing. I love leadership — I just finished up that class and wow, l just want to lead a team and create a team culture.”
The 23-month Sport Management MBA is geared to working professionals. The program was founded in 2000 by Jim Riordan, who passed away last year. Dan Cornely was appointed to head the program last year.
Students are required to work in the sports industry while earning their MBA. “We also make sure students have a customized career game plan and that they’re always thinking about their next step,” Cornely says.
MBA alumni have attained leadership jobs at the Orange Bowl, IMG Academy, university athletics programs nationwide, the Houston Astros, Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Braves and Florida Panthers, among others, says Cornely, who estimates that 75% of students are athletes or former athletes who want to stay engaged in the world of sports in new roles. A high school and college football player himself, Cornely worked in the FIU football program and recruited athletes for a recruiting agency before earning a doctorate in higher education leadership. “It’s personal for me.” — By Nancy Dahlberg
UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI: Program Profile
Health Management & Policy
Physicians as Businesspeople
It’s rare for an MBA program to have a former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services on its faculty, but how about two? Students enrolled in the University of Miami’s Health Management & Policy MBA can take classes taught by Donna Shalala and Alex Azar.
The Health Executive MBA is geared to working professionals; the average student has 14 years of health care industry experience. Cohorts of 10 to 30 students meet over a three-day weekend every month for 20 months, and every course has a health care focus in the executive MBA. The program’s director, Steven Ullmann, who is also a professor and director of UM’s Center for Health Management and Policy, has been involved with the MBA for all but one of the program’s nearly 45-year existence.
“In the late ’70s, early ’80s, if I had one doctor a year in the program, that was a lot. Now about half our class are physicians,” Ullmann says. “Physicians have realized medical schools do a phenomenal job teaching about clinical care, but they do not do a good job in terms of how you run a business.”
Physician offices are often multimillion-dollar businesses, but doctors don’t learn about human resources, negotiating contracts and leases or creating efficiencies in their waiting room, for instance. Some physicians seek out the degree because they are being groomed to be medical directors in their health care systems.
Executives, entrepreneurs, consultants and military veterans working in the sector have also earned the MBA over the years. “We have well over 1,000 alums now, and they’ve gone on to very high-level positions running major health care organizations. We had a student who flew in once a month from Qatar, and now he’s leading a western health care company there.”
While UM’s Health E-MBA offered a course about preparing for a pandemic long before COVID-19’s emergence, disaster preparedness and recovery is even more of a focus of its program now, including dealing with supply chain issues and human resource burnout. To help remain cutting edge and exchange information in this industry that powers 20% of the U.S. economy, UM’s program belongs to the Business Alliance for Health Management made up of 20 programs globally, including Harvard, Yale and Johns Hopkins.
Shalala and Azar teach the health care policy course. Shalala, also a former president of the University of Miami and U.S. representative, was heavily involved in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and worked on precursors to the Affordable Care Act. More recently, Azar, with years of big pharma experience, was instrumental in Operation Warp Speed that brought about the fast rollout of COVID vaccines. — By Nancy Dahlberg
MBA for MDs
Since 2008, UM also has offered an MD MBA. As of a year ago, it’s a four-year integrated MD MBA program, meaning students earn a fully accredited MBA and their MD degree together without any extra time in school.
UNIVERSITY OF WEST FLORIDA: Student Profile
With a degree in finance and accounting, a CPA certification, years as a health care executive and now closing in on an MBA degree, Clay Romano would seem to be the perfect candidate for a high-paying corporate job.
But his calling is the homeless, the poor and the addicted.
The West Palm Beach native and Pensacola resident is president of the Waterfront Rescue Mission, a 74-year-old, faith-based, non-profit organization providing a long list of rescue and recovery programs.
And when he graduates from the University of West Florida’s MBA program this fall, he plans to use his newly acquired business acumen to better manage and enhance the mission’s two Gulf Coast shelters and seven revenue-generating thrift stores and online store.
Romano’s journey to the Waterfront Rescue Mission began while working in various leadership roles for Pensacola-based Baptist Health Care.
“While at Baptist, I became a board member of Waterfront Mission, and at the time they were going through some very challenging times,” says Romano, 51.
After serving on the board for four years and learning all aspects of managing the mission, Romano was offered and accepted the top job. “It’s been a tremendous roller-coaster ride ever since,” he says.
Romano’s mid-career decision to earn an MBA actually began at Baptist Health Care.
“While at Baptist, I knew I wanted to move up into a senior leadership role and, even though I had my CPA, I thought adding an MBA might benefit me long term,” he says. “Honestly, at that time I wasn’t looking for any other job opportunities. I was just looking to go back to school, get that designation and see where an MBA degree would take me.” — By Carlton Proctor
FLORIDA GULF COAST UNIVERSITY: Graduate Profile
Another Tool for HR Execs
After earning a bachelor’s degree in business management with a concentration in human resources at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Logan Wallick wasted no time jumping into the MBA program at FGCU. He had already started taking courses while pursuing his bachelor’s, and in 2010, he completed an MBA in just four semesters on evenings and weekends.
He got a taste of HR while training employees at Miller’s Ale House and interning at a professional employer organization during his undergrad years. Then while studying for his MBA, he joined a biotech startup, Algenol, setting up payroll training and benefits programs where there were none. From there he led HR functions for large organizations, such as Vi at Bentley Village, a senior living community in Naples, and Suffolk Construction, where he took on a regional business partner role supporting Southeast operations. Then Gartner came calling.
Since 2019, Wallick has been directing HR operations and shared services at Gartner, an executive research and consulting firm with 88 offices and more than 19,000 employees globally. Gartner is also one of the largest employers in Southwest Florida.
Wallick says he is always using lessons from his MBA course on organizational change. “There’s so many things from the MBA program that have formed the ways that I lead,” he says.
He returns to FGCU often to talk with students about careers in HR, help with mock interviews and to support the MBA program.
“I don’t know how I actually did it with working full time, powering through it in four semesters,” Wallick says. “But it’s definitely doable, and FGCU makes it attainable. The quality of the professors and education was amazing.” — By Nancy Dahlberg
FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY: Faculty Profile
C. DARREN BROOKS
Assistant Dean, Strategic Engagement; MBA director
TRENDS: “We’re seeing a lot of our graduates go into more traditional corporate jobs right out of the program. We’ve got students going into jobs with non-profits. But I would say that the large majority of our students are going into more traditional corporate jobs, ranging from financial services, business analytics, product technology and, of course, consulting.”
SPECIALIZATION: “A lot of MBA programs are trying to carve out a niche. I think our niche is that we have options for specialization tracks for our students to customize their MBA program to fit their specific career interests. For example, we are launching our health care management specialization tract. We’re seeing a lot of growth economically in that profession.”
QUALIFICATIONS: “The admission standards to our MBA programs are fairly stringent. You have to have a high score on the GRE. We look at recommendations from a prospective student’s undergraduate professors, and we also look at their internship experience and/or work experience outside of their academic environment.” — By Carlton Proctor
FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY: Student Profile
WHY FSU: “When I was on active duty with the Marine Corps, I was recruiting on FSU’s campus, and I caught the bug of going back to school. So, eventually I decided that maybe getting an MBA and adding some more letters behind my name would be a good move for me.”
PACE: “The part-time MBA program works well for me. I’m a full-time analyst with the Florida Office of Financial Regulation. I’m only taking one class at a time. I’m trying to relish and enjoy the fact that I can take my time, avoid the stress of academia and really dig deep into some of the courses and subjects I’m taking. I really want to savor and enjoy the experience. I just think that’s so important.”
PLANS: “I want to do some kind of consulting, so I might have to find a training level consulting job until I learn the business and then branch out and start my own firm. I think it’s really important and cool to just stay in the moment. And if I just do that, all the right pieces will fall in place.” — By Carlton Proctor
FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY: Student Profile
PROGRAM VALUE: “The two main reasons I applied to the FSU MBA program were the value of the education and the ease of transition from my undergraduate studies. The quality of education I am receiving in this program is second to none in terms of the price that I’m paying for it. I was able to get a graduate assistantship within the College of Business, which significantly reduced the already low cost of tuition. The application process was smooth and easy because I was already an FSU student.”
BEST ADVICE: “First and foremost, consider why you want to get an MBA. Do you want to differentiate yourself from competition, learn leadership skills or simply gain more business knowledge and skills? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, I would say that the MBA program at FSU can help you achieve those goals. If you’re not sure what you may want to do yet, getting work experience first would allow you to home in on what career you may want to pursue. With that knowledge, you could come back to FSU and specialize in a topic to help you succeed and progress in that field.”
PLANS: “I am taking courses that focus specifically on my career goals. Currently, I’m specializing in human resource management. Once I graduate, I will be moving to Atlanta to work as a human capital management analyst for Invisors, a boutique consulting firm.” — By Carlton Proctor
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY: Program Profiles
Business Analytics / Cybersecurity Risk Management
Tapping into Top Issues
Understanding big data has become the backbone of business success, says William Hardin, dean of FIU’s College of Business. With more data that can be analyzed anywhere at any time than ever before, “the question is, how do you take that data and convert it into information that’s usable in real world decision making?” says Hardin.
FIU’s new MBA in Business Analytics, with online and in-person evening classes, incorporates data analysis and information technology in the 16-month degree program. Nearly half of the program’s 15-course curriculum focuses on data management, reporting and data application and analysis.
A key benefit of the program, Hardin says, is students work with exclusive real-world data from Fortune 500 companies. This gives students hands-on experience transforming complex data into business insights and strategic solutions while getting a grounding in finance, marketing, management, human resources, competitive strategy and operations. The new degree program already has a waiting list for international students.
This fall, FIU is rolling out an MBA in Cybersecurity Risk Management, designed for working professionals. Taught primarily online, the program includes two residencies of two days each during the program. Students will learn cybersecurity analysis, strategy, policy and governance, cybersecurity risk management, business continuity and incident response, and cybersecurity standards and frameworks.
“What we’re trying to do is to bring division managers — people who have responsibility over a large range of activities within a company — up to speed on how you actually implement, maintain and continuously improve all aspects of cybersecurity,” Hardin says.
Students will work with the ATOM Think Tank, a faculty consulting practice for businesses. They may work on a corporate project or participate in some type of competition where they evaluate risk.
“Cyber threats are not just with large corporations. They are at the school system, at the government level, at small and medium-sized businesses,” says Hardin. “You need to set up systems early that will work as you scale.” — By Nancy Dahlberg
Both MBA programs are STEM-designated by the U.S. government. This can be beneficial to international students on F-1 visas because students in STEM-designated programs can extend their time doing practical training by up to two years. That could lead to future work visas or possible citizenship, university officials say. For the U.S., these programs attract and retain much-needed STEM professionals.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA / STETSON UNIVERSITY: Program Profile
Dual MS/MBA Pharmacy
Pharmacists have a range of clinical knowledge, but their studies may not prepare them for business nuts and bolts, such as the best ways to cut costs or manage money, if they plan to become health care executives at a hospital or pharmaceutical company.
A dual degree from both the University of Florida in Gainesville and Stetson University in DeLand earns students an MS degree from UF and an MBA from Stetson. It’s possible to get two degrees in three years through the program, says Petros Xanthopoulos, executive director of graduate programs at Stetson.
Because of the schools’ partnership, students can earn their degrees in 52 credit hours instead of the 36 credits typically required for an MBA and 31 credits for an MS, according to Stetson. Studies for the Stetson MBA begin after successful completion of at least one semester in the UF MS program.
The program is relatively small, and students come to it with specific goals, Xanthopoulos says. Many are already working pharmacists, so it helps that the courses for both programs are online.
The program suited Renee Robinson, an associate professor in the College of Pharmacy at Idaho State University. Robinson works at the school’s Anchorage campus and finished her MBA last year. She brought to the program a range of work experience, including with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
Robinson thought that some of the courses, like accounting, would be just checkmarks to complete the program. However, they have come in handy as she works on grant reports. With her studies, Robinson now adds additional outcome measures to grant proposals and analyzes the financials of research and health grants to help guide clinical priorities.
Alumni now work at Bristol Myers Squibb, CVS Health and other organizations, Xanthopoulos says.
Stetson also partners with AdventHealth University in Orlando for a dual master of health care administration/MBA program and offers a dual JD/MBA. — By Vanessa Caceres
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA: Program Profile
Vinik Sport & Entertainment Program
Behind every professional sports team, there’s a large group of behind-the-scenes people who help the team function — people like Marvin Oliva.
Oliva, the team’s e-mail marketing coordinator, earned his undergraduate degree in sports management from American Military University while he was still in the Air Force. After serving 20 years in the military, including time at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, he decided to pursue his MBA with a sports management concentration from the University of South Florida.
USF’s Vinik Sport & Entertainment Program is a two-year program where students earn both their MBA with a concentration in sports business and an MS in sport and entertainment management. The program is named for Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny.
In their second year of study, students take classes two days a week and work three days a week with one of the program’s sports organizations partners, including the Lightning, the Bucs, the Tampa Bay Rays and others.
Oliva began working with the Bucs in 2018, a year before graduating in 2019. In his current position, he manages the e-mails to fans and season ticketholders. The broad spectrum of information covered in the Vinik program helps him do his job more effectively, he says, whether it’s knowledge on data analytics or laws related to e-mail communications.
Besides finding employment at sports teams, others are hired at marketing firms for players, university sports programs or in venue and casino operations, says Gert-Jan de Vreede, interim dean at the University of South Florida Muma College of Business.
The program is ranked by the 2022 SportBusiness Postgraduate Rankings as No. 1 in Florida and No. 3 in the U.S. — By Vanessa Caceres
JACKSONVILLE UNIVERSITY: Faculty Profile
Dean, Davis College of Business and Technology
PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS: Master of Business Administration in Healthcare Management combines specific health care classes with business classes. Career opportunities for MBA graduates specializing in Healthcare Management include health care analysts, medical and health services, medical group practice management, and nursing home administration.
FINTECH: One of JU’s most popular MBA course concentrations is financial technology. “It is a field that is revolutionizing how firms deliver products and services,” Ritter says. Fintech courses combine traditional business management curriculum with analytics, cybersecurity, data science and finance. Fintech concentrations offer students specific expertise in quantitative methodologies, machine learning and financial services.
BANKING: Jacksonville is home to more than 20 major banks, insurance companies and Fortune 500 investment firms, says Ritter. There are major career opportunities for graduates, including in application development, capital raising, cryptocurrency, investment management, retail banking and systems engineering.
TRENDS: “The trend I’m seeing is in business analytics, and that includes accounting, marketing and technology. It’s become very popular for us right now, both with undergraduate and graduate level students. And maybe that trend is part of the nature of Jacksonville’s finance and tech-driven economy.” — By Carlton Proctor
JACKSONVILLE UNIVERSITY: Student Profile
Blake Bush is on track to earn an MBA this spring with a concentration in health care management. Bush currently is on active duty with the U.S. Navy and is executive assistant for Strike Fighter Squadron 37 in Oceana, Va. His duties include handling all administrative duties for the fighter pilots.
MILITARY FRIENDLY: “I enrolled at Jacksonville University’s MBA program because it is one of the friendliest military campuses in the United States. I was drawn to JU also because of its on-campus resources for veterans, like its military resource center and the student veteran association.”
HEALTH CARE: “I became interested in a health care career after taking a course in health care quality. That course was my first introduction to health care systems, value-based care and just a fundamental health care understanding.”
PLANS: “Upon graduation, I plan to be the patient safety manager at Atrium Health in Charlotte N.C. Long term, my dream job is to be a CEO of a major hospital and influence policies.”
ADVICE: “The best advice I could give to an undergraduate thinking about pursuing an MBA is to network professionally, find your niche, make a plan, have realistic goals and execute.”— By Carlton Proctor
UNIVERSITY OF NORTH FLORIDA: Student/Faculty Profile
MAKENZIE BLAAKMAN / AMY BISHOP
Makenzie Blaakman is a former member of the University of North Florida’s Division I swim team and a 2021 graduate of its Coggin College of Business. She is on track to receive her MBA degree this spring.
Amy Bishop is assistant director of Coggin graduate programs.
BLAAKMAN: “Out of high school, I was looking for universities that had a good swimming program and business school, and UNF was just a great fit for me. I graduated early from business school, so I had extra eligibility and continued my swimming career. I always knew I wanted to get my MBA. I just didn’t know when. But it all worked out really well for me to just roll right into the MBA program.”
BISHOP: “Our MBA program is very flexible in its pacing so a student can complete it in a year or two years or longer than that depending on what fits into their life. Within the two-year program, you can do internships that allow you to experience a kind of on-the-job training.”
BLAAKMAN: “And there were other opportunities for me within the MBA program, such as becoming a graduate assistant. I have been on a very busy academic track during the past year and a half, but I love to learn and grow, and this MBA program definitely has given me the opportunity to do that.”
BISHOP: “UNF has the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and it helps guide students into what kind of business they might want to start. The CEI is for undergraduate and graduate students as well, and its goal is to prepare you to appear before investors who can help you start your company. The center also sponsors and offers a variety of events and educational programs that provide experiential learning opportunities to UNF students and development opportunities for local entrepreneurs.”
BLAAKMAN: “After graduation this spring, I plan on working in a corporate marketing setting or something of that nature and doing the photography business more on the side for now. Ultimately, my career goal is to have my own photography business. I know it takes a lot of steps, decision making and financing to get a business started, but I also know this MBA program has helped me learn how to make that dream a reality.” — By Carlton Proctor