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Jackson exec graduating from University of Alabama with an Executive MBA

No more three-hour drives to Birmingham for Ed Simmons

After 17 months of three-hour drives to Birmingham and countless hours of studying statistics and economics, Ed Simmons has at last seen the light at the end of the tunnel.

The 39-year-old Jackson businessman will be awarded an Executive MBA today – May 10th – from the University of Alabama (UA). Simmons, chief technology officer at EFP Inc. in Jackson, has been driving to UA every other weekend to earn the Executive MBA (EMBA), an accelerated degree designed specifically for working executives. UA`s program meets all day on Fridays and Saturdays, plus an entire week each semester.

The courses are not taught on the Internet, as the “e” in EMBA might imply, said Simmons. An EMBA normally has the same courses as a traditional MBA, but the classes are suited to people working full time and are filled with executives who can share their experiences with one another.

Simmons first started looking at MBA programs 10 years ago and happened upon Tulane University`s weekend EMBA program.

“I thought, ‘Who would be stupid enough to get their MBA on the weekends?’ And of course, it was me,” he said, laughing.

Simmons holds a bachelor`s degree in petroleum engineering from Mississippi State University. Several Mississippi colleges and universities offer MBA programs designed for working individuals, but he liked UA because he could earn his degree on the weekends with little disruption to his workweek, and he was not required to have a business-related degree.

Delta State University in Cleveland offers an EMBA program on the weekends, but students are required to have a business foundation.

After looking at similar programs at Tulane University, Louisiana State University and other schools within driving distance, Simmons settled on UA because he felt like it was a high-touch program and a good return on his investment.

Two-week cycles

Earning an MBA has been a sacrifice not only for Simmons, but for his company in time away from the office, and for his wife and three children in time away from home. During the program, Simmons lived his life in two-week cycles – one weekend at home, then one weekend at school. On school weekends, he would sometimes leave on Thursday after work and spend the night in a hotel near UA, which UA paid for, but he usually left on Friday morning at 6 a.m. and arrived in time for class at 9:30 a.m. On Saturdays he was home by 8 p.m.

Although he spent 16 hours in the classroom, that was really just the beginning. His “free” weekend typically turned into a work weekend of studying. With three kids, now ages 13, 11 and eight, he had to learn to prioritize his time.

“If anything, it forced me to take a hard look at the time I did spend with them,” he said. “I watch a whole lot less TV, and that`s a good thing.”

Simmons has worked for EFP, an investment firm, for nine years and earned Series 7 and Series 24 designations. He felt like an MBA was a natural next step in his career because he wanted to learn the academic side of what he does every day, which is a little bit of everything. Although his title is technology officer, Simmons is a jack-of-all- trades who handles bookkeeping, personnel and insurance.

“I’ve been doing the practical side, and I wanted to understand better why I’m doing the things I’m doing,” he said. “From an analysis side, from a strategy side, I feel a lot more comfortable.”

One of the best parts about earning an EMBA was drawing from the experiences of his classmates, who hailed from a wide variety of occupations.

“So much of the value is interaction,” said Simmons. “Folks would say, `this is what the book says, but I disagree. This is the way we do it in our office.'”

It is fairly typical of EMBA programs to not require business pre-requisites, said Susan Carver, director of UA`s EMBA program, and this wide range of undergraduate degrees lends to the diversity and richness of the program. UA requires five years of work experience, but the average for its students is 10 years.

“You’re sitting in a room with mid- to upper-level executives,” she said. “It`s not like when you’re in a room with a teacher and he lectures and then you regurgitate that on a test. He`s almost like a facilitator. Someone in human resources might say, ‘Well, I’d do it like this,’ and then someone in operations might say, ‘Well, I’d do it like this.’ It`s the richness of sharing ideas.”

DSU`s Paul Bouler said it is not uncommon to see people from healthcare, accounting and science all in one classroom earning an EMBA.

“A lot of people are looking to move up to management positions,” he said. “Then we have some in management wanting additional resources to make them more secure in their positions.”

DSU does require a business foundation and those who do not have business pre-requisites can go an extra year at DSU or take the pre-requisites elsewhere and return for the program. Those entering the program are required to have five years of business experience in a professional or managerial position or a GMAT score of 550 or higher.

EMBA students come every other weekend – from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday – for two years. The courses are held at the Greenville Higher Education Center. DSU`s EMBA courses are $595 each. Those with business courses under their belts take 12 courses, while those in the three-year program must take 19 courses.

At $39,500, Simmons’ EMBA from UA did not come cheaply, but the cost and time sacrifices have definitely been worth it.

“At the beginning, it seemed pretty formidable, but in the middle of it and the back end of it, it hasn`t been as bad as I thought,” he said. “We survived, and I’m glad I did it.”

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Russell Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.

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