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Class Reunion, Zoom Style

Members of Marshall’s 2011 Executive MBA cohort met for a 10-year reunion over Zoom, and embraced the lesson of lifelong learning

June 10, 2021
EMBA Class of 2011 reunion Zoom shot
EMBA Class of 2011 10-year reunion over Zoom

A 10-year-reunion is a joyous occasion. Even over Zoom. Ever after more than 15 months of Zoom meetings.

More than 40 members of USC Marshall’s 2011 Executive MBA cohort met at 4 p.m. on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend to talk about old times, new developments and next steps. Their delight and excitement at seeing each other radiated from the screen.

They came from every industry—finance, wealth management, government, consulting, entertainment and marketing. One man, an expert in lasers, was enjoying a recent and successful exit strategy from his startup. Another was making and selling artisanal olive oil as a side hustle. Many had kids in grade school. Some had babies. Others were the proud parents of recently graduated Trojans.

Even 10 years later, there were in-jokes about the cohort’s week-long working trip to China.

No matter where they were in life, all agreed that the Executive MBA program had been a pivotal moment for them.

Chris Soto, an entrepreneur and startup founder whose company deals in real estate industry technology, reminded the group that his No. 1 goal upon starting the EMBA back in 2009 was to eventually quit his corporate job.

“I was the chief technology officer for a skin-care company when I started the EMBA program,” he said. “I knew the tech, but I didn’t know the business end.”

That mission’s been accomplished—twice over.

“If I hadn’t gone through the EMBA program,” he said, “I’d still be working at a corporate job.”

Of course, many of his classmates are thriving in corporate jobs, he noted. “That’s the special thing about this group,” he said. “We never felt we had to compete with each other. We’re just happy to celebrate our successes together.”

10 Years Later…

Organized by Ravindra (Ravi) Kondagunta, founder of Traction Labs, and his classmate Kate McNally, a managing director at First Republic Bank, the reunion was the first “formal” online reunion, and one that emphasized Marshall’s commitment to lifelong learning.

“EMBA staff and professors, especially Dr. Nandini, whose early support and enthusiastic guidance helped Kate and me transform what started out as the idea for a simple online reunion call into a cool virtual reconnect and catchup with over 65% of our class,” said Kondagunta. “Our former professors in particular were excited to participate and extremely supportive and we are truly grateful for their time and insights.”

Three of these professors were in attendance—and had even taken time to prepare short lectures. Nandini Rajagopalan, Joseph A. DeBell Professor of Business Administration and professor of management and organization, Raj Rajagopalan, professor of data sciences and operations, and Tim Campbell, professor emeritus of finance and business economics who was the academic director of the program when this cohort went through, were enthusiastic participants.

Vice Dean for Graduate Programming Suh-Pyng Ku even made a special guest appearance. She thanked Kondagunta and McNally for organizing the event.

“It takes leadership to put something like this together,” she said. “The hard work was worth it. How wonderful it is to see my students succeed and be happy, making an impact in the international economy. I hope the next time we see each other we’ll be back on campus.”

The organizers also thanked EMBA Senior Associate Director Anastasia

Figueroa for her support and help in Zoom call logistics.

Globalization: An Update

After a round of “where are you now?” the announcements and program began.

Nandini Rajagopalan prepared a PowerPoint to accompany her lecture looking back on the many lessons she taught about globalization 10 years ago.

“We can see that we can’t step back from globalization. And the same questions we were asking 10 years ago have become more complex, more multi-faceted, but are still the same questions.”

As she went through her prepared lecture, urls to recommend further readings filled the Zoom chat function, much as it might for a standard class. The difference, of course, was that the participants were all mid-career professionals with an expanse of expertise.

The experience was fruitful for everyone.

“I was delighted to take part in this reunion,” said Rajagopalan. “Seeing the trajectory of their personal and professional lives is a particular privilege.”

People talk a lot about the academic side of business school. About how deepening finance, strategy, and leadership skills will help accelerate professional development. All of that is true and important,” said Elisa Schreiber, Marketing Partner at Greylock.But for me, the most transformational part of the USC EMBA came from the close friendships I made in the program that have only grown stronger a decade later. Our class had folks from such a diverse breadth of industries, and now I have trusted friends in a wide variety of fields. If I need to talk to a senior exec at a global NGO, or a trucking logistics company, or a CPG company, or—you name it! There’s always someone I can call.”

McNally, who planned the unique breakout sessions, said, “It is all about the Trojan network. In that spirit, it was really nice to get be able to recommit to stay in touch and finding ways to better each other with a unique give and a unique ask.”