Vanderbilt Business

Golden Opportunities

Alumni who’ve found their calling at Vanderbilt

by Pamela Coyle | Photo Essay, Spring 2010 | Comments | Print Print |

As much as the Owen School is known for preparing its graduates for business careers around the globe, it may come as a surprise just how many of them work within walking distance of Management Hall. Vanderbilt University employs about 100 Owen alumni in various capacities—from finance to hospital administration to development and alumni relations—and their efforts have helped cement the university’s reputation not only as a leading academic institution, but as a highly regarded employer, too. In 2009 Vanderbilt earned a top 20 ranking among national universities from U.S. News & World Report and became the first university ever to be named among the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For. The Owen alumni who work at Vanderbilt all have their own reasons for being there, as illustrated in the profiles that follow, but a common sentiment links them together: Whether newcomers or longtime veterans, they all say their Owen education gave them a better appreciation for the university’s mission and the tools to bring that mission to life.

Consuela Knox, MBA’04

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Consuela Knox entered Owen after four years as an industrial engineer at a Delphi auto parts plant in Alabama. She had expected to stay within operations management and perhaps shift to another industry, but instead she remained at Owen, where she’s now Senior Associate Director and Diversity Recruiting Manager of MBA Admissions. She also manages her department’s hiring process.

At Delphi, Knox worked on cycle-time improve-ments and other efficiency measures, which gave her a glimpse into human resources since her ideas often resulted in job losses. At Owen, she took HR electives and discovered a strong passion for the field. Strategic Alignment of Human Capital was among her favorite courses, though Advanced Spreadsheets provided training she still uses almost every day.

Creative use of spreadsheets has helped Knox streamline how data on each Owen applicant is entered, imported and updated. The school receives about 1,000 applications for 180 spots each year. “When you think about an admissions process, it’s an operation,” she says. “You want to be able to get decisions faster.”

From September to November each year, Knox spends 50 percent of her time on the road, interviewing applicants to help build the next MBA class. Diversity is defined broadly—industry, geography, ethnicity, public/private/nonprofit, etc.—to foster a culture in which students can stretch and thrive. “I like helping people, and there is a lot of fulfillment in the job,” she says. “I like working for a highly regarded university. There is always something new—new people, new discoveries. There is a never-ending search for knowledge. I am privileged to be in constant interaction with smart people who challenge me to excel.”

Walt Woods, MMHealthCare’09

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When Walt Woods came to Nashville 30 years ago, he was the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s eighth Staff Pharmacist. At the time, the two university pharmacies existed in a single building, which also housed the hospital, clinics, and research and administration offices. Today the medical center has 90 pharmacists working in 13 pharmacies that support patient care through the hospital and regional clinic network.

Medicine has changed in those three decades, too. Woods has a unique vantage point: As Director of Ambulatory Pharmacy Operations, he works in outpatient pharmacy services, which include three retail pharmacies and drug use at all Vanderbilt clinics. Although more than half of his career at the university had been in management, Woods decided it would be worthwhile to enroll in the inaugural class of Owen’s one-year Master of Management in Health Care program. He graduated this past September.

“I’ve learned a lot by doing but didn’t have the formal training,” he says. “There have been some really good mentors here, but I needed more exposure to the disciplines of business and management.”

The program confirmed areas Woods knows well, identified situations where outside expertise makes sense, and gave him added confidence. He has since helped revamp how Vanderbilt University handles pharmacy benefits for its employees. “We spend more than $150 million a year just to pay for our employees’ health care,” he says. “We have a huge opportunity to fulfill our mission.”

His MM Health Care class of 25 students included six doctors, five nurses and folks in informatics, lab science, marketing and finance—an instant network of friends and expertise he can tap for just such a mission.

Bonnie Parker, EMBA’06

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A recession, with its slipping stock market and effects on university endowments, is not an easy time to be a financial voice of the Provost’s Office, but Bonnie Parker tapped into her new training immediately.

“I think what I learned at Owen is not to panic when faced with seemingly overwhelming situations. With so much being thrown at you, it can be intense. You have to go with the flow and manage things,” she says. “One of the things our office tries to do is stay calm and always remain focused on the long-term vision of the university.”

Vanderbilt is weathering the financial storm better than many other big universities, and Parker’s job is to lead by example and keep focused on the university’s mission. As Financial Manager for Academic Affairs, she has fiscal oversight of Vanderbilt University Law School, Divinity School and Owen. The Executive MBA program improved Parker’s ability to absorb information, quickly parse it and get to the points that matter—a crucial skill, whether in the corporate world or academia.

The Vanderbilt environment suits Parker well. She has been at the university since 2002, after almost a decade in the private sector, and is now working toward a master of liberal arts and science at Vanderbilt. “Business is all about the bottom line, but Vanderbilt is about so much more,” she says. “It has balance. … It feels more holistic, not dog-eat-dog corporate.”

Betty Price, EMBA’90

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If Betty Price does her job effectively, few people inside or outside Vanderbilt take notice. She says that’s the way it should be. As Deputy Vice Chancellor for Finance and Controller, Price is a key strategic component in the massive enterprise that is Vanderbilt, but she and her team are backstage players. “You could say that we are some of Vanderbilt’s most enthusiastic and dedicated anonymous supporters,” she says.

Much transpires backstage, and a down economy only multiplies the challenges. Price is the go-to person for Vice Chancellor for Finance and Chief Financial Officer Brett Sweet; she oversees the Offices of Financial Affairs, Financial Information Systems, and Procurement and Disbursement Services. Management of Vanderbilt’s $1.2 billion debt portfolio and $600 million working capital portfolio is part of her job, too.

When Price arrived at Vanderbilt as Associate Controller in 1986, her strength was financial reporting. Earlier, at KPMG, she was an audit manager for Vanderbilt, stationed in Kirkland Hall’s then dark, moldy basement, where she recalls working “with calculators at card tables that wobbled.”

The Executive MBA program gave her the bigger picture she’d been missing. “I had a narrow focus in the world of public accounting, and I knew I needed to broaden my awareness of basic leadership principles, marketing and operations,” she says.

Returning to school renewed Price’s appreciation of stresses students face and the importance of faculty sabbaticals. She received world-class training in strategic planning, organizational effectiveness and working toward shared goals. “There is no doubt,” she says, “I became a better boss, a better leader after going through the Owen School.”

photo credit: John Russell (1,3); Daniel Dubois (2,4)

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