Executives Who MBA Together, Stay Together

A group of four EMBA alumni stage semester-long reunion, taking advantage of Crummer’s “classes for life” promise.

In the back corner of Bill Grimm’s negotiation class on Thursday night sits a group of four Crummer alumni.

Affectionately referred to as the “class elders” by Grimm, the four former students from the EMBA 37 cohort gladly take time out of their busy alumni lives every Thursday night to bear witness to Grimm’s gospel on the art of negotiation.

Graduation was just under a year ago for the EMBA 37 cohort, but they all agreed, their educations at Crummer were not over.

One of the unique characteristics of the Executive MBA 37 cohort has been how they have remained tight-knit post-graduation. On the third Thursday of every month, they meet up at the Alfond Inn for happy hour. They’ve hosted Thanksgiving meals at each other’s homes and even go to the movies together as friends.

It was over a couple of drinks at their monthly happy hour that four of the alumni realized they were all thinking about auditing Grimm’s widely popular negotiations class.

emba students

“Erica and I were already thinking about auditing this course. When we saw Donny and Rick at our Third Thursday happy hour, they said they were going to audit the course as well,” said Matt Hickman, who works in employee benefits and marketing.

Hickman joins Erica Nowak, a consultant with experience in the higher-education space; Rick Espericueta, the COO of Clark Health; and Donny Chen, who works in the 3-D printing industry, as Grimm’s “class elders”.

They are about as diverse a group as you will find, but they say that’s what makes them click.

“It’s the shared experience through the diversity of experiences we’ve had,” said Nowak. “Everyone was able to use that diversity to have conversations and build relationships. I know nothing about medicine, so I’d talk to Rick about that. Matt is a great marketer, so I talk to him about that. With Donny, I don’t even understand 3-D printing, so he tells me all about it.”

Along with their friendship, comes their shared desire to continue to grow professionally and cheer each other on in their respective fields.

“It’s about maintaining the pace,” said Donny Chen. “After graduation, most of us found a hole in our schedules, so I started looking into auditing classes.”

Rick Espericueta says the “classes for life” aspect of Crummer was one of the biggest draws to enrolling in the EMBA program.

“You can go online and find information on things, but this is a different experience to actually sit here in class and see the energy,” said Espericueta. “One of the huge draws of joining this program was knowing we could audit classes like this. It’s a huge plus.”

Nowak agrees, noting that Grimm lets the “elders” participate in the classroom discussions as much as they’d like.

“It’s very low stress, and I feel like I’m absorbing more because it is a supportive environment,” said Nowak.

When they took Saturday classes once a month during their EMBA program, they were able to apply what they learned that weekend at work the following Monday. While auditing Grimm’s negotiation class, they are also seeing results at work.

“Grimm has done a great job introducing us to concepts we were aware of intuitively, but when you understand how you operate, instead of operating in a certain way, it gives you a lot more insight and control over the outcome,” said Hickman. “We are getting closure on a very big deal at work; I would absolutely attribute the learnings from this course to some degree to the success we are going to achieve in our new partnership.”

Chen says negotiation is a critical topic for anyone working in management, and a lot of the concepts can be applied to daily life.

“This is a class that is very useful; negotiation is a critical topic,” said Chen.

For this group of alumni, auditing a class together is the ethos of the Crummer mission.

“The Crummer experience is really a family experience. Rick, Donny and Erica have all been to my house. Erica is better friends with my wife than I am with Erica at this point,” laughed Hickman.

“I was just texting her,” chimed in Nowak.

“She’s on a texting basis with my wife now,” Hickman said as the group laughed. “The Crummer experience is a very integrated, family experience.”

They do offer advice for alumni considering auditing a class.

“Don’t second guess yourself; just do it,” said Nowak.

“What are you going to do? You can audit a class or you can play Fortnite,” laughed Espericueta.