When the pandemic hit, many people simplified their lives: moved to smaller towns, streamlined commitments, or flat-out quit their jobs. But Milton Wilkes enrolled in Robinson’s MBA program, making his already chaotic life even busier.
“My second daughter had just arrived, but I told myself I had to jump in and get it done,” he said. “Time is never on our side.”
Wilkes works full-time at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, where he oversees a team of cardiopulmonary perfusionists. The pandemic has made his career a household term, or at least the name of the equipment he operates: extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO. COVID-19 patients admitted to the ICU clamor for lifesaving ECMO machines, and will switch hospitals if they are fortunate enough to find one. Because the equipment also is used on non-COVID patients, such as those undergoing heart bypass surgery, the device is now in short supply.
Effective managers possess hard as well as soft skills, and Wilkes has demonstrated both at Piedmont. For starters, he convinced hospital administration to invest in new ECMO machines. The team’s set of equipment was outdated, too heavy to transfer to an ambulance, and ultimately unsafe.
“It wasn’t just about saving money,” Wilkes said. “Employees were going to quit, and we wouldn’t be able to deliver quality of care unless we started doing something different.”
On the soft skills side, Wilkes genuinely cares about people. And the pandemic has shone a light on most organizations’ compassionate leadership—or lack thereof. To minimize his staff’s risk of infection, Wilkes devised a staggered system for clusters of staff to report onsite, while others remain on call. Then, if a staff member tests positive, only the exposed cluster quarantines while the rest of the team keeps the department running.
Wilkes’ current job is no doubt fulfilling, but his passion lies in real estate. He already earned an M.S. in Commercial Real Estate from Robinson in 2016 and ultimately aims to run a real estate investment firm. That’s where the MBA comes in.
A couple of recent classes have especially honed Wilkes’ financial chops. In Investment Banking with Dr. Omesh Kini, Wilkes explored a case study on online retail behemoth Amazon. The class traveled back in time to 1997, conducted a business valuation, and determined whether the company would go public. In Valuation of Financial Assets with Dr. Mark Chen, Wilkes and his classmates played “Wall Street Survivor.” Students had eight weeks to grow an initial investment of $100,000. The top five finishers presented their strategies to the class. Wilkes placed fourth.
“We studied theories like the efficient market hypothesis, which basically states it’s impossible to beat the market,” Wilkes said. “So instead of doing something tricky, I put all my game money into the S&P 500. I won by staying disciplined.”
As part of the Panthers on Wall Street program, Wilkes will travel to New York City in December. Through the immersive excursion, participants will get face time with employers in the nation’s financial district, and position themselves to compete for jobs. Wilkes started preparing for the trip over the summer through resume reviews, mock interviews, and virtual networking sessions with companies like New York Life Insurance Company.
“New York Life’s finance group does exactly the kind of work I want to do,” Wilkes said. “Through an intimate conversation setting, I learned about opportunities there and asked questions.”
Of all the skills Wilkes has built, he sees empathy as the most critical to reaching his goals.
“Although business drives finance, there’s still some emotion behind it. You have to understand your customers and feel what they feel to generate business and meet their needs,” he said. “Robinson’s MBA program trains students to be leaders, and empathy is a huge piece of that.”