Our Executive MBA profile series continues with a Q&A with First Year Executive MBA student Helen Yao (Class of 2022). Helen is a Program Manager for a financial services firm, and she came to Darden in pursuit of a long-term goal as well as an opportunity to grow as a leader while expanding her network.

Catch up on our earlier profiles with Nate Scott (Class of 2022), Aisha Pridgen (Class of 2022), Jean Borno (EMBA ’17), Christy Sisko (Class of 2022) and Stephen Beaudoin (Class of 2022)

Q: What is your current role? What is your professional/academic background?

Helen Yao (Class of 2022)

I am a Program Manager specializing in business transformation and Lean Six Sigma for a Financial Services firm. My undergraduate degree was in Finance and Chinese and my masters was in Anthropology focusing on East Asia. Currently, I am working on an enterprise-wide transformation program to shape how my company will adopt modern work practices into our existing processes and structures.

Q: How did you decide to pursue an MBA?

Pursuing an MBA was always a long-term goal of mine, but due to family obligations and health issues, I had to delay my plans. I had reached a point in my career where I wanted to further differentiate myself from my peers and I was also looking for an opportunity to grow my leadership skills and expand my professional network. After taking care of some personal setbacks, I was finally ready to pursue the MBA and embark on the next chapter of my career.

Q: What led you to Darden?

I was especially attracted to Darden’s focus on general management and the emphasis on understanding and having a holistic enterprise view. The case study teaching approach was different from other programs I have researched, and I was impressed by the robust discussion I saw during a class visit. It was hard just being an observer as I really wanted to participate in the discussion. The people at Darden were so friendly and I knew I wanted to be in a school and a community where I would be welcomed and supported.

Q: What has been the impact of your Darden experience so far?

Coming from a competitive work environment, I have been conditioned to feel like I need to have all the answers or all of the data before I can make a decision or present to senior leaders. My time at Darden so far has really taught me to be more comfortable with ambiguity. We don’t need to have all of the answers and sometimes progress over perfection is better than to delay progress for perfection.

Q: What is your best piece of advice for prospective students?

Ruthless prioritization of your time and lean on your Learning Team. Your Learning Team is your bedrock for success in the MBA program. We have so much going on all the time and you must make tough trade-offs to get everything done. Life happens and sometimes, you are not going to have enough time to focus on classwork especially if the course is not in your area of expertise. Your Learning Team will help you through it and you will also make some amazing friends along the way.

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