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An American lawyer, a Singaporean diplomat, a Japanese engineer and a Sri Lankan plant manager walk into a bar . . . That may sound like the start of a bad joke, but it was actually the start of a recent night out with my study group members to celebrate completing our executive MBA’s first two-week classroom session.
The scene illustrates not only the networking benefits EMBAs offer but also the incredible diversity of experience, nationality, culture and perspective the UCLA-NUS programme brings to bear, making my learning experience truly edifying and multi-dimensional.
I became interested in pursuing an EMBA degree four years ago. I had left my job as in-house counsel at Yahoo in San Francisco to lead a business development team at Zynga, the online gaming company. Within the first few weeks, I realised I was ill prepared to tackle common business tasks such as building financial models. I began researching EMBAs, but considering the steep learning curve and rigours of my role, I felt I wouldn’t excel at either work or school, so I pressed pause on pursuing an MBA.
Two years into my stretch at Zynga, LinkedIn approached me to be its first lawyer in the Asia-Pacific region, based in Singapore. I had long been interested in living and working abroad, and LinkedIn was a phenomenal company in hyper-growth mode.
Thoughts of pursuing an EMBA soon resurfaced. Many internal clients sought not only legal advice but also my opinion on business decisions. I wanted more formal business training upon which I could anchor my opinions.
I looked at a few reputable programmes in Singapore but ultimately decided on the UCLA-NUS EMBA for several reasons. As an American in Asia, I wanted a programme with a global perspective and an emphasis on the Pacific Rim. This EMBA is a case of east meets west. I also do not yet know if my career will keep me in Asia or return me to the US, so I sought a programme that would offer academic credibility wherever I went.
Another key factor in selecting a programme was the scheduling of classroom work and time away from my day job. As a veteran of two other part-time graduate degrees, I know the stress it places on your work life, personal life and health. Some programmes require classroom time weekly and others monthly. My EMBA’s cadence is two consecutive weeks of classroom time a quarter over five quarters. So far I’m finding it quite manageable.
Ironically, the characteristic of an EMBA I had not consciously sought but am realising is perhaps the most valuable is the calibre and diversity of classmates. Our intake of roughly 40 students includes chief executives, venture capitalists, a US Navy helicopter pilot, lawyers, engineers, a physician, software programmers, diplomats, finance professionals, human resources professionals and entrepreneurs. They come from a wide range of industries – from high tech to auto parts – and hail from all over the world. Their eclectic profile encourages fertile discussions, with perspectives vastly different from my own. I know I will learn as much about business from them as from the professors.
It is early days, but I have noticed a difference in my approach to work. I am viewing my clients’ issues more holistically, offering legal advice in a more informed business context. And I am finally able to distinguish a cashflow statement from an income statement.
An EMBA is demanding, expensive, stressful and time consuming. But it is also mind-expanding, rewarding, energising and transformative. It is a big mountain to climb, but if you take it one step at a time, before you know it you will be at the summit enjoying a fresh new perspective on the world. I hope to see you there.
Dave Woodward is on the UCLA-NUS (University of California, Los Angeles-National University of Singapore) EMBA. He is LinkedIn’s director of legal for the Asia-Pacific region, based in Singapore. He has previously worked for companies such as Yahoo, Zynga and NEC in Silicon Valley. He has a BA from UC Berkeley, a JD from the University of San Francisco and an LLM from Santa Clara University.