What the value of an MBA?
When Melissa Swartz Wood (MBA '99) and Les Wood (MBA '00) attended the University of Colorado Denver Business School, they shared a commitment to their marketing careers, a faculty member (Professor Larry Cunningham) and a desire to expand their professional network.
Fast forward: A decade later, they have progressed in their careers, and they share a last name and three children. Over the years they have sustained their professional ties with Professor Cunningham and returned to his classroom to share their experiences. As students pursuing their MBAs in the part-time program, Les and Melissa had already invested nearly a decade in their respective marketing and management careers with Fortune-ranked companies. While learning a lot in the corporate world, both expected an MBA would greatly lend to their credibility by building their business acumen and sophistication level.
Unexpected benefits of the pursuit
With an ”eye on the prize” of graduating with an MBA, neither predicted the benefit derived from the actual process of pursuing the degree. The couple came to realize that exposure to professors with real-world business experience as well as connections with fellow students would teach them far more than any textbook or on-the-job experience alone.
Today, Les is regional director of consumer marketing at Qwest Corporation, the Denver-based telecommunications firm. He currently leads a team in developing and executing marketing strategy and programs to drive customer satisfaction and profitability in the Qwest central region. He credits his professional growth and base of connections to his MBA experiences at CU Denver Business School.
“The Business School taught me how to think through problems critically and methodically and to tackle a broad spectrum of business challenges. It gave me a foundation that I’ve relied on and even taught to my teams over the years,” says Les. He adds, “The life-long connections I’ve made from the program were something I didn’t expect. Of course, I’m grateful I met my wife in the program, but I also met many other friends who I have turned to for professional advice.”
Critical thinking that outlasts the textbooks
Melissa pursued a more entrepreneurial path, launching Advanta Consulting, LLC (www.advanta-consulting.com) after most recently serving as Xcel Energy’s director of strategic marketing and brand strategy. Advanta is a management consulting firm that guides start-ups and Fortune 500 clients to gain strategic advantage and grow their businesses through customer-centric strategies and approaches. Her clients include Xcel Energy, PNM Resources, Cricket Communications and the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, to name a few. Melissa attributes her business success to her high-level strategic marketing and consulting experiences—and to her CU Denver Business School education and connections.
“My MBA at the Business School helped sharpen my business acumen and critical thinking skills,” Melissa comments. “Students take that with them long after the textbooks have been packed away on bookshelves.” Melissa adds, “The connections with students and faculty continue to serve me even now—more than a decade later. I’ve been known to call Professor Cunningham to get his take on a particularly complex marketing problem.”
Life-long professional connections
The benefit of the professional connections made during the MBA program comes as no surprise to Professor Cunningham, who is the Accenture Term Professor of Marketing at the Business School and former Fulbright Distinguished Professor of Marketing and International Business.
In his 28 years as a marketing professor at the Business School, he has watched his students benefit from lasting professional relationships. “Students gain a great deal from working together on teams and participating in classes with like-minded peers. I’ve witnessed students get great jobs, have wonderful careers and, yes, even build relationships that led to a few marriages,” says Professor Cunningham.
Bringing alumni experience into the classroom
Les and Melissa regularly serve as guest speakers and panel members in Professor Cunningham’s marketing classes.
“Les and Melissa are two of our outstanding alumni and have made such a difference in how the Business School has shaped the learning experience for our current marketing students,” notes Professor Cunningham.
Professor Cunningham adds. “I invite some of my many successful former students to share their knowledge and experience with MBA students. Over the years, our students seem to enjoy learning from alums who successfully have talked the talk and walked the walk.”
Melissa agrees, “Hearing the experiences of others in my services marketing class really helped me understand marketing theory at a new level, which is why Les and I choose to return year after year. Of course, you’ll never see us on the same night, since someone has to be around to watch our three future MBAs.”