Today we are in conversation with Michael Woody, who is a member of inaugural class of the new NYU Stern EMBA program at NYU Washington, DC. Michael provides federal advocacy, policy development, and public affairs services to biopharmaceutical, medical device, and other health care companies. Over the course of his career, he has developed and managed large-scale advocacy plans for major trade associations as well as brand-specific legislative strategies for companies within the biotechnology sector. He has policy expertise in pharmaceutical and medical device issues, including FDA user fee programs, drug development, Medicare and Medicaid, the 340B program, and biodefense.
1. You already have an established and successful career. When did you start to consider that an MBA might be a useful credential and what do you hope to gain?
I considered an MBA at least since my first round of graduate school in the late 1990s, but I was focused more on building a career in Washington. About nine years ago, I started a small policy and advocacy consulting firm that focuses on pharmaceuticals and medical devices with three partners. Our clients include both large-pharma and small bio-techs. My basic dilemma was that I understood the political and policy context of our clients’ issues, but I really didn’t understand their businesses – how do they really operate? How do they define risk? Am I providing them with useful advice? Am I asking them the right questions? I think this problem is endemic in government affairs – we don’t understand business and business doesn’t understand us. I thought an MBA would be useful to try and solve this problem.
2. How did you hear about the Stern Executive MBA program in Washington, DC and what about the program did you find appealing? Why did you elect to enroll in this program?
I read NYU Stern was extending their Executive MBA Program to DC, and I knew it by reputation. I enjoyed the people I met through the process and decided to take the plunge. One of the biggest factors for me was the schedule – one weekend a month. While that weekend is very intense – it’s a lot – and the work in between doesn’t really ever stop, it was manageable with a job and a family with young children. I have three weekends with them, and one spent on school every month. I can work around their schedule much better than other program formats. I think my kindergarten-age son gets a kick out of me being in school, too. To him, we are both learning to count.
3. Do you have any priorities for or personal goals that you would like to realize during the program?
I wanted to enhance my quantitative skills and take risks with classes that would have scared me off as an undergraduate or as a graduate student in a different stage of life. There is no real penalty for trying something hard you may not be good at. I like that idea at this point in life. Beyond understanding my clients’ businesses better, I know I have an entrepreneurial bend, and this experience may push me in a different direction entirely which would be interesting, too.
4. How has the experience been thus far? Can you describe what you have found in terms of your fellow students, the professors, the courses?
I have been energized by the class weekends, which is a little bit of a surprise. It is so different from my day-to-day job that it’s almost a mental break to think about a completely different set of issues and problems. Stern did a good job building our class. Everyone has a different set of professional and personal experiences. If you have a question about a business, a market or an academic topic, someone, somewhere in the class knows something about it. In my study group alone, we have a museum executive, someone who works for the World Bank, an engineer who owns a robotics company, and an IT professional. There are former military officers, a physician, a movie producer, someone who worked for the NBA, finance people, etc. Many of our classmates have advanced degrees already and most have well over a decade of experience. For that reason the discussions in and out of class can be even more important than class itself.
I have enjoyed the professors – all of them have been great teachers with no exceptions. Our ethics professor, Bruce Buchanan, may have been the best teacher I have ever had – bar none. He used economics, law, politics and philosophy to create a framework to think through ethical problems. His last class was a tour de force performance and it left a mark.
5. Has anything been quite different from what you expected? What have you found most surprising, rewarding, or challenging?
Yes. I’m better at certain things than I thought I would be. The opposite is probably also true. I knew the core courses would be a challenge, but I enjoyed some things I didn’t expect – like accounting, which we had at the beginning of the program. I spent two weeks on and off trying to figure out one single problem. I didn’t get it right, but I learned a ton in the process. I’m never going to be an accountant, but that’s not the point. The point is to gain familiarity and fluency in the language and application of business concepts.
In Firms and Markets, we did a big project on Trader Joe’s, which I loved. I’m never going to be in the grocery business, but I know a lot about what it takes to run a grocery chain, and there are things I learned that are broadly applicable to companies I work with everyday.
The Global Study Tour course is a big highlight. We went to Shanghai. It’s hard to describe the scale of it without seeing it in person. The companies we toured all had something to say about China’s past, present and future. We will all be influenced by China over the course of our careers, whether we realize it or not. Most of us already have been.
6. Do you see any particular advantages to pursuing an executive MBA in Washington, DC?
Washington, DC is a big and growing market that has less and less to do with government with each passing day, and our class reflects that. While we have a few people with past government or NGO experience, the vast majority of people do other things. In other words, there is more variation of experience than you would expect.
7. Would you recommend the program to prospective executive MBA students? If so, why? What about the Stern program in DC do you find especially compelling?
I would recommend Stern’s Executive MBA Program to prospective students. I’ve been happy with the content, the workload and my classmates. As a new program, Stern is trying to make an impression here, and it’s only going to get better over time. One point I would make to anyone considering it – the professors and the administration know you have jobs and a life. They are trying to teach you what you need to know, but the work is reasonable and relevant. You won’t be able to do everything well 100% of the time. They know that. But if you put in the time, you will get a lot out of it.
8. Have you already found the coursework relevant to your work or do you have a sense of how the degree will be helpful to you in the future?
Absolutely. There is almost never a class weekend that I don’t come back with a concept I can apply. I think my partners got tired of me drawing schematics on the whiteboard. Like anything, what you learn and apply is up to you. The material is there, you have to do the work and apply it for yourself.