Laura Armstrong (’21 EMBA) listens to the keynote address at the Executive MBA Leadership Conference.

2021 Executive MBA Leadership Conference Focuses on Long-Term Leadership and Success

By Mia Gleason

Keynote speaker Laurie Nichols talks about succession planning.

Good leaders do more than take care of today’s business. They’re also cultivating the next generation of leaders through succession planning.

“Don’t settle for business as usual without a plan in place for your future,” said Laurie Nichols, founder of Laurie Nichols Coaching and Consulting. “Successful growth and leadership transition requires leaders to invest time and energy in succession planning and employee development.”

Nichols was the keynote speaker at the Executive MBA Leadership Conference on September 28 in Seattle. Each fall, the WSU Carson College of Business brings together current Executive MBA (EMBA) students and alumni through the conference for executive-level training.

“The EMBA Leadership Conference provides students and alumni a chance to connect in person, experience a high-impact opportunity to receive executive coaching, and share insights with peers,” said Cheryl Oliver, Carson College associate dean for professional programs. “The interactions between our faculty, staff, alumni, and students are a highlight for all attendees, me included. It is a joy to engage with this conference annually, and I look forward to continuing to add value through this type of programming in the future.”

After a long hiatus on in-person events due to COVID-19, the conference was held in person. Chip Hunter, dean of the Carson College, hosted the dean’s reception, a social event for members of the National Board of Advisors, EMBA students, and alumni.

Conference attendees were also invited to attend the fall Power Breakfast that morning, which featured an industry panel discussing the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

Building succession-ready teams

Hazelmae Overturf (right) and Karli Barich were panelists at the conference.

Many company leaders spend years building highly successful operations but don’t plan for the inevitable change in leadership. Nichols said this is especially true for smaller entrepreneurial enterprises. Regardless of the catalyst for change—retirement, illness, or even a sale—the lack of planning threatens the legacy the leaders built, she said.

During her keynote, Nichols shared her triple-win succession formula—communication, plus engagement, plus professional development—which she said equals a win for leaders, the team, and other essential stakeholders.

Through succession planning, company owners and leaders can create “a truly sustainable business by communicating and engaging with employees so that they take effective action in the pursuit of essential goals,” Nichols said. “Once the company’s future direction has been established, professional development ensures employee teams grow into new roles.”

Alumni provide insight and perspective for students

The conference culminated with an alumni panel of four EMBA alumni who shared insights about earning their degree, advice for current students, and how the EMBA experience benefitted their careers.

Karli Barich (’20) talked about ways her confidence developed during the program.

“I will never forget the day I had to be on camera during our first class,” Barich laughed. “Before the pandemic, I was not comfortable on camera at all! I’ve since been able to learn how to incorporate that skill in my daily business practices, and it’s led to better client relationships.”

Aaron Wheeler (’20) mentioned the support he received from teammates during COVID-19.

Brian Lewis (right) talks about his Executive MBA experience as Aaron Wheeler listens.

“It’s been amazing to be part of a team that has been so supportive, with people who want to work with you,” Wheeler said. He also appreciated the capstone class, in which students complete a challenging project that combines their talents and interests with the skills and knowledge they have gained in the program.

“The capstone class is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it is so rewarding,” he said. “I’ve been able to take my learnings and directly apply them to my team environment.”

Hazelmae Overturf (’20) echoed Wheeler’s comments about the value of the capstone courses.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the capstone course,” Overturf said. “I wanted to be immersed in the experience, and it felt like the most structured way for me to learn and grow in that space.”

Brian Lewis (’15) started in the EMBA program while on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. He said his studies gave him extra confidence while he was transitioning to civilian status.

“I distinctly remember walking the dogs one evening with my wife. I had four jobs and my EMBA at night, and I told her ‘it’s difficult now, but it will pay dividends in the future,’” Lewis said. “I’m happy to say we are seeing those payoffs now.”

Learn more about the WSU Carson College Executive MBA program or the annual Executive MBA Leadership Conference.