Executive MBA, Executive Student Profile

Former Olympian Takes on Executive MBA

By Maggie Dodson-
olympian-executive-mba

It is often said that a rising tide raises all ships. At least, that’s how EMBA student and former sailing Olympian Sarah Lihan (Class of 2022) views the appropriately nautical and punny summary of her Darden Executive MBA program experience so far and the support she has received from her Darden teammates.

After representing the United States at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, then spending several years working for Lyft, Lihan found herself in an operations strategy role with Spin Scooters, a smart mobility company where she focuses on deploying scooter charging infrastructure to try and solve the scooter parking problem “which anyone who lives in a city with scooters knows is a huge pain in the butt,” quips Lihan.

Big picture thinking is exactly the way Lihan prefers to set her goals. “It doesn’t occur to me that I couldn’t change the world or that I couldn’t change the things that I have set out to change. The phrase ‘mission-driven’ gets thrown around in companies, and Lyft and Spin both live that value and practice what they preach. These tech companies that I’ve worked with have really bring values to the forefront in the way that we think, in the way that we dream, in the ways that we set goals, and most importantly in the way that we work as a team.”

Lihan grew up in south Florida, where sailing (a family sport) has been a part of her every day life since her earliest memories. “I thought I just wanted to win when I was younger, I realized that it’s really the community that speaks to me. Yes, I worked incredibly hard, but it didn’t feel like work. It was truly the most fulfilling and just rad thing I’ve ever done and has really shaped who I am today.”

In the recent ExecMBA podcast episode, Lihan noted that there were parallels between being an Executive MBA student and being a professional athlete and Olympian — but there are also some lessons to unlearn, especially when it comes to perfection. “Perfection isn’t realistic outside of that (professional sports) environment. Sometimes you really just need to get the job done.” Podcast host and Senior Director of Admissions Brett Twitty and Lihan discussed the idea that “perfect is the enemy of good”, and how there are important takeaways for working professionals pursuing a MBA. Lihan shared, “I feel like I learn this lesson day after day. When you look at your class and you look at your work schedule, and you think ‘How will this all happen?’ But you get there, and you make it happen. And maybe you’re not the one leading it that day, maybe you’re leaning on your learning team – and that’s an important lesson from both sailing and from Darden.”

“Maybe you’re striving for perfect and to do the work yourself, but it’s really important to learn when to lean on your classmates or teammates to get you successfully through the things that you might not have time for or can’t prioritize that day.”

Lihan shared that the challenges of transitioning between full-time sport and full-time business have been “great and many and large”, and just when she thought the door had closed to pursue her MBA, she learned about the Executive MBA program opportunities for working professionals.

“I don’t know that there’s ever been a period of my life where I’ve learned more. Every single hour that goes by (sometimes it’s against my will – I may not be ready to take in information just yet), there’s just this incredible growth. (The program) is going be uncomfortable. It’s going be difficult. But when you get those moments to zoom out and realize that you’re totally different than you were six months ago, how incredible is that?”

On why the Darden program specifically stood out to Lihan after she explored other programs, “One of my personal chief values is about people. I want to work with and be around the kind of people that I respect and want to work with, as opposed to compete against. I spent many years of my life winning and trying to win (and losing, a lot of times!) and I knew that when I took this next step into my business education, I really wanted to be part of a community. The thing that stuck out to me about Darden, and still, to this day, every minute, is how much the people that are involved in the class and in the School care about each other and care about learning from each other and becoming better as a group.”

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