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Many gain from one MBA grad’s classroom experience

A master’s degree in business administration offers personal and professional benefits, say local executives who have earned them. But that’s not all: Co-workers and subordinates can benefit too.

The management team at Optimax Systems Inc.-Michael Mandina, president, and Richard Plympton, CEO and vice president of marketing-learned much and shared it with employees when each earned an MBA degree. Mandina completed an MBA in 2002 at Rochester Institute of Technology’s E. Philip Saunders College of Business, while Plympton earned his MBA a few years earlier from the University of Rochester’s Simon Graduate School of Business.

"We both intentionally went back and got advanced degrees to round out our skill sets, and on a regular basis we’d bring back kernels of what we were learning to share with our staff," says Mandina, an original owner of the 18-year-old firm.

Optimax, with 140 employees, manufactures precision optics. While enrolled in RIT’s two-year program, Mandina and his classmates used Optimax as a case study site for projects involving financial analysis and marketing.

"The program was flexible enough that our faculty was receptive to using my company as a subject for research," Mandina says, recalling a particular project that focused on analyzing the firm’s culture.

Along the way, the students interviewed Optimax employees for input and later shared results. "Ultimately, our employees benefited from the insights shared by my fellow students’ analyses and differing points of view," Mandina says. "As a result, our people felt very engaged in the entire process."

Mandina remains in close contact with his classmates at RIT, who serve as informal company advisers as needed. And from the knowledge he gained during the program, he gleans strategies to help the company improve, particularly during the firm’s annual strategic planning process.

"Both Rick and I have leveraged the value of our education to benefit the company," he says. "We’ve also formed lifelong bonds with our respective classmates that continue to benefit Optimax."

Since earning an MBA from RIT in 1993, Lorraine Ellis has applied what she learned to Research Dynamics Consulting Group Ltd., where she is president and CEO. Ellis founded Research Dynamics in 1992; the 30-person firm provides clinical research support to pharmaceutical and medical device companies in areas including ophthalmology, cardiovascular medicine, gastrointestinal medicine and pain management.

"The program was enormously helpful in augmenting my managerial and leadership skills," says Ellis, who previously worked in pharmaceutical clinical research for another firm. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Hofstra University and a master’s degree in biology from Adelphi University.

"The MBA program helped me to marry my science background with the business side of research, and I’ve been able informally to share that knowledge with my staff."

Describing RIT’s MBA program as "very hands-on," Ellis says her business degree enabled her to "develop a strong corporate internal structure and framework upon which we could continually build."

Ellis went to school part time for four years to earn her degree. She expanded beyond science with courses in accounting, economics, sales and marketing and passed on that knowledge to staff scientists. She has found that some scientists are keenly interested in understanding more about marketing strategies and sales plans, while others focus solely on science.

Earning the degree was a smart move-for her own growth and for that of her firm,

says Ellis, now an adjunct teaching courses for RIT’s graduate program in clinical research management.

"The MBA has enabled me to leverage my science background in a whole new way."

Sean Flaherty, vice president of strategy for ITX Corp., pursued an MBA as a way of broadening his knowledge about mergers and acquisitions.

"I was an IT guy, but I lacked core tools in accounting and finance," he explains.

Flaherty completed an executive MBA degree at the Simon School in 2006. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, he earned an associate’s degree in biotechnology from Monroe Community College and a bachelor’s degree in molecular genetics from UR in the 1990s. After a year at Eastman Kodak Co., Flaherty flexed his entrepreneurial muscles, founding his own information technology firm and then merging it with ITX, a software firm, in 1999.

"I enrolled in Simon School, where I was locked in a room every Friday for two years straight with my fellow students, and we learned so much. It was a lot of pressure-but it also was a whole lot of fun," he recalls.

Highlights of his Simon experience included the chance to work on a project involving the automobile industry in China. He also worked on pricing projects for IT hosting services back home. Flaherty honed his technical strategic planning skills and business acquisition techniques in graduate school; ITX has acquired six separate businesses since its inception.

Flaherty says he learned much from his MBA classes and still shares those insights with co-workers.

"Overall, obtaining an MBA was extremely worthwhile," he says. "The experience was time and money well spent."

Debbie Waltzer is a Rochester-area freelance writer.



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