MBA for Executives

Executive MBA Profile: Sean Flynn

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Sean Flynn

Software Business Unit Executive
IBM

Darden MBA for Executives
Class of 2009

Why did you choose Darden’s MBA for Executives Program?

When I applied to Darden, I had twelve years of professional experience. Nine of those had come as a military officer or working in the extended military community. I felt comfortable building and leading teams, but knew there were gaps in my skill set relative to corporate finance, marketing, global business and more. 

In evaluating the elite EMBA programs, I felt Darden was distinguished by its focus on general management and leadership in practical affairs.  I was attracted to a school that would deliver a rigorous curriculum through the lens of leadership.  Darden appeared intent not just on challenging its students just to be better accountants or financiers, but to be leaders that make a positive impact on all around them.

What impact has the MBA for Executives program had on your career?

The program had an immediate and positive impact on my career. While still in the program, I was fortunate enough to be selected for a significant promotion. I applied lessons learned in the Darden classroom during a competitive interview process and apply those same lessons in leading my business unit on a daily basis.

Exposed to a myriad of challenges, industries and solutions during the program, Darden makes you comfortable in virtually any business situation.  The Darden classroom offers perhaps the most rigorous training in the fundamentals of business available.  The case method, however, is the essential ingredient.  At Darden, the cases come at you with high volume and high intensity.  Each case is analyzed individually, in a learning team and with the full cohort.  

With its individual, team and class components, the case method builds hard-earned, deeply honed skills in working through business problems.  While I certainly can’t predict the challenges ahead, there is comfort in knowing that I can draw on skills built in the Darden classroom in solving business problems as they arise.

How did the program change you as a leader, as a businessperson, and as an individual?

I honestly feel that the entirety of my professional experience and education prior to Darden was focused on task excellence.  I felt extraordinarily well equipped to lead teams to the accomplishment of specific tasks in even the most resource constrained, time critical environment.  While not short of rigor, Darden offered another critical skill in building an ability to analyze situations to the five-levels-of-why.

I rarely evaluate situations in binary, go/no-go terms anymore.  I believe Darden builds a level of sophistication in one’s thinking where you look at the impact of business decisions on all stakeholders.  You also learn to leverage this understanding into more effective communication with all parties and more elegant solutions.

Perhaps the defining moment for me in this transition was in ethics class when presented with what I felt was a bold, bright line ethical decision. The professor challenged me to articulate my beliefs in a way that would resonate with an extended group of stakeholders and could be applied to other situations with equal equanimity.

Twenty-one months of academic discipline and intellectual challenge of this sort ensure that students emerge from the classroom with an unmistakable comfort in analyzing and articulating the five-levels-of why in any context.  It is an invaluable tool for leading in the practical world.

Are there specific courses / classes / program features that stick with you today? Which ones? Why?

For me, it was a pair of the elective courses that I think about on a daily basis.  The first was Alec Horniman’s course on Leading Strategic Change.  As leaders, we are all faced with enduring through or leading change in business.  I often think of Alec’s passionate discourse that, “leadership without change isn’t interesting and change without leadership isn’t possible.”   I also often quote his teachings on effective leaders being engaged…physically, emotionally, spiritually engaged in the success or failure of their business and people.  You can not spend time in Alec’s classroom an appreciation for his definition of leadership.  Alec’s visage is singed in my mind as is his mantra that leadership is the art of enabling others to do things that they would not have done without you.

Ed Hess’s course Organic Growth was equally impactful.  With his rich background in investment banking and venture capital, Professor Hess had seen first hand what works and does not work in business.  Often the best ideas are the ones that you fight the most at first contact.  Professor Hess challenged my beliefs on how and why organizations grow with his deeply researched Organic Growth Model.  He then presented pragmatic techniques like his well-vetted Learning Launch as tools for leaders to build growth engines in their organizations.  Calling on Professor Hess’ lessons, I teach, coach and mentor my team every day to be humble, passionate operators. 

What do you see as the value of the Darden alumni network? How has it benefited you?

I was surprised by how immediate an impact the Darden alumni network had on my career.  The Exec MBA classroom is filled with contacts that I work with from Federal Systems Integrators, Government Agencies, and entrepreneurial ventures.  In fact, I was fortunate enough to be invited to join Congressman Dutch Ruppersburger’s Service Academy Nomination Board by an alumni connection.   

Although I didn’t know it heading into the program, one of the senior directors of my organization is a Darden alumnus.  As it turns out, we shared many of the same professors and cases 15 years apart.  We often share stories of common classroom experiences and found the opportunity to collaborate on a number of projects.  The new business ventures and opportunities that ensued simply would not have been broached without the Darden connection.

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