Mendoza School of Business

FIFO EMBA

A story of disappointment, joy, fear, determination, success and gratefulness.

Author: Chuck Eckenstahler (EMBA '84)



Friday late afternoon the phone rang.

“Hi Chuck, this is Guy Wadell from Notre Dame. If you still want to join our first EMBA class, show up at Hayes-Healy Hall 8 am Monday.”

Being the 41st person selected for the 40-student 1984 EMBA and being told I’d have to wait a year for the next class, as you might guess, came as a disappointment.

With the need to make a mid-career change, it seemed likely that a needed job change would make it impractical to join the next class.  I was convinced my ND goal would never happen.

Prompted by the withdrawal of a prospective candidate that Friday morning, I was given the opportunity of a “right now” decision. Accept and show up Monday or the opportunity would be offered to candidate 42.

My heart filled with joy. “Of course, I’ll accept.”

After thinking about what I just did, a bit of fear took over my thoughts. Unlike others in the EMBA program who enrolled with financial and work release time support from their employers, I had none.

I had to figure out how to pay for this and worried that my employer might balk at the 4-day work week needed for the Friday/Saturday schedule.

With financing fixed and an “ok” for work release, the only thing needed was determination — the tenacity to learn, study and complete each class.

The next 2-year challenge, except for a brief summer break, was balancing a 40-to-50-hour work week managing a local government agency with 18 staff and a $2,000,000 annual budget reporting to 5 separate managing boards made up of elected and appointed officials.

But I was determined, and so were my study group teammates, a banker who helped me balance debits & credits, an engineer who helped my weak calculus math understandings survive statistics and economics class problems.

Success came two year after the phone call crossing the stage at Washington Hall receiving my MBA.

I now felt assured the postponed career move was over and my career was open to explore.

So where did it take me.

My career change out of government was to real estate consulting —  new development projects and financing market studies for two national firms.

Ownership in an architectural, engineering & environments consulting firm, private real estate development and government consulting followed.

My gratefulness comes from a 40-year successful career which never would have happened without my ND experiences.

I could fill a 1,000-page book with grateful snippets I remember from that 2-year journey.

Like the morning this older fella in a white ND golf shirt, sat down at my pre class coffee table saying good morning and began asking us about today’s classes.

Still half asleep due to only 2-hours of sleep the night before, I didn’t immediately recognize the older guy across the table.

It was Father Hesburgh, just joining us in everyday conversation.

Or the impossible accounting professor with the 2-hour test that realistically needs 3-hours to complete, which upon its return shocked me to find out that I didn’t get a single answer correct.

I don’t care if you get the math right, he announced, “you will have people and time to do and check the math, “what I’m concerned about is do you understand the problem and can you solve the problem” not whether you can add & subtract correctly.”

Thirty years after graduation I saw the professor at an outdoor campus band concert and introduced myself as a FIFO EMBA student of his.  “I said I really hated you, back then, for the impossible exams you gave us, but I am eternally grateful for what you taught me”.  You taught me to think first – identify the problem, solve the problem and get the solution, skills I thank you for every week.

We both shared a smile and a laugh with me hoping that he left knowing how grateful I am for giving me mental skills that helped shape my success.

An EMBA program is not only an ND faculty teaching experience.  The class is filled with talented experienced students willing to share their knowledge and experiences, as one of my classmates did.

During class discussions about labor relations, a classmate, whose day job was managing a steel plant along the Lake Michigan shoreline, took exception to the direction of the conversation.  Abruptly shouting “that’s not the way things are today”, my classmate was invited to the front of class podium to share what he saw being the future of steel production, foreign steel competition, union labor and environmental regulation and its national and northern Indiana economic impact.

At the time, I sat back in amazement.  An ND professor yielding his class to a student and sitting down “as a student” to hear, share and discuss vital and current economic matters that would impact each of us in the class.

While I don’t remember the specifics of the presentation or discussion, what sticks in my mind is the closing of steel plants on the Lake Michigan shoreline, competitive foreign competition and reduction of union steelworkers were part of the conversation, all which have come true over the ensuing years.

This was real time education and an understanding of the forthcoming future.

Being grateful is a personal matter. It’s rooted in our Christian beliefs and our parental upbringing nurtured by daily life experiences.

My EMBA gratefulness originates from my study team colleagues who helped this undereducated math and accounting student, my other classmates who shared their knowledge and experiences, ND faculty for the challenging rigorous program wrapped around the overriding theme of “do the right thing’ as expressed by Father Hesburgh.

I’m grateful to Father Hesburgh for providing my life-directing words – “You don’t make decisions because they are easy; you don’t make them because they are cheap; you don’t make them because they’re popular; you make them because they’re right.”

 


Topics: EMBA