How do you take your career to the next level with executive education? How do you make that leap to your dream job? In this two-part series, the Ivy Exec team interviewed Kennesaw State University EMBA alumna Holly Firestine, Chief People / Human Resources Officer at Navvis, to give you a first-hand look at what it is like to do an executive MBA degree and how someone can benefit from professional development like such.
Why did you decide to pursue an EMBA in the first place?
It was always a professional goal of mine to pursue my EMBA. I was working long hours in my professional career, had an exceptionally busy home life with my husband, baby and a 6-year old and could never find the right time for life to slow down some and allow me to start an EMBA program. The next thing I knew, I was mid-career and still hadn’t fully committed to the pursuit of my EMBA. I realized that life was never going to fully slow down and give me comfort that it was the ‘right’ time. I would merely have to find the right program that would work given my work and home life. I thought I may be too far advanced in my career to fully benefit from it and I had a lot of people who told me it probably was too late, but I reflected on my grandma who received her Master in Education in her early 60s while working full time. I knew it wasn’t too late to learn and benefit professionally from the additional education and experience, so I began to explore classroom-based, AACSB program options and found that the EMBA program at KSU was the perfect fit for me.
What did you find beneficial or unique about the Kennesaw State University Executive MBA program? What drew you to the school and program?
KSU’s EMBA program was a clear choice for me with its unique curriculum, weekend based classroom learning schedule, and its emphasis on teaming and global leadership. The professors I met during the interview process and observation day were known as industry experts in their chosen area of expertise and they were highly credentialed and teaching the most up to date business concepts. This provided a strong alignment and applicability of the classroom learning each weekend we met to real-world application the next day at work. My professors and fellow classmates were approachable and interesting to talk to and learn from as we built relationships over the span of the program. There was a strong diversity of perspective and experience within the program that allowed you to think outside of traditional verticals. In addition, the individual team culture, global teaming and networking opportunities were unbeatable when I compared KSU’s EMBA program to others in Georgia.
What kinds of career change/advancement did you expect to make before going into the program?
When I entered the program, I was a Key Leader and Director at a billion dollar global, publicly traded company. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to advance my career at my current company or work for a different company, but no matter if I stayed or left for a new opportunity, I anticipated that with the EMBA I would have greater ability to advance the depth and breadth of my professional responsibilities and be introduced to new opportunities. Through that process, I could start to frame out a roadmap of new experiences that could open new doors for me professionally.
It has been a year since you graduated, how has the EMBA degree and experience impacted your career advancement?
Within 3 months of graduation, I was offered the role of Vice President and Chief of Staff to the Chairman and CEO of Navvis Healthcare. I was in that role for 1 year and was promoted to Chief People Officer at Navvis Healthcare. I recently become the new Chair/President of a non-profit board of directors. I present frequently at conferences and companies about growing and advancing women into executive leadership, the power of taking risks and the importance of strategic connection of business and people to drive the success of both in concert. The EMBA has provided the right level of insight and depth of knowledge I was looking for in order to advance to an Officer level professionally and present at companies and conferences about these important topics.
Did you find the EMBA program to present great networking opportunities? How have you leveraged relationships carried forth from the program?
I believe that the networking that exists within the KSU EMBA program is a critical aspect of recognizing the full return on the investment for the financial and ‘time’ cost of the program. I graduated in 2016 and am still in contact with my entire individual team and most of my class and professors. In fact, I’m presenting at an industry conference with my former Strategy professor next month, with plans for the two of us to offer the presentation more broadly to conferences and companies. I’m currently an Executive Coach for a student in the 2019 EMBA class and enjoy networking and staying engaged with the EMBA program, professors and current students through that vehicle. Through the relationships I’ve built by staying involved with the program after graduation and coaching a current EMBA student, I’ve secured a corporate TED talk keynote presentation at a week-long conference for a several hundred colleagues, global division of a 35 billion dollar company. This opportunity would not have existed if I hadn’t networked and built relationships not only throughout the duration of the program but also after graduation.
Holly Firestine, Chief People / Human Resources Officer at Navvis
With over 20 years of experience and leadership with healthcare industry principles Navvis, Healthways, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Humana, Holly’s unique combination of talents and non-traditional, entrepreneurial-minded business approach to human resources, enable her to draw upon her diverse career experience to create and advance interwoven business and people strategies to win in the marketplace. Driven by her curiosity to explore the unknown and to test the boundaries of what can be, Holly has an appetite for growth and achieves that growth through innovation, adventure, seeking out challenge, and comfort with risk. Holly’s strategies and initiatives directly contributed to a $1.5B pediatric health system being nationally ranked by Fortune Magazine and Working Mother Magazine as a Top 100 Best Place to Work in the country. Holly currently serves as the President of the Board of Directors for Pathways, is a member of the Women Business Leaders of the U.S. Health Care Industry, is an Executive Coach for Executive MBA students attending KSU and is the creator of Red Wagon Principles https://redwagonprinciples.com/
A proven business leader with a passion for disrupting traditional business and human resources practices, Holly is adept in navigating teams through paradox so people can do their best work every day and the business can succeed. Holly has led teams within a wide variety of high-achieving organizations including early stage high growth startups, privately held and publicly traded companies and she has consulted in the government sector. She has worked with companies and teams in the United States, Southeast Asia, Romania and Colombia.
An Ironman Triathlon Finisher, Holly is driven by opportunities to gain new experiences and test the boundaries of what can be done to fuel the success of people and business in tandem. She firmly believes that true growth occurs on the other side of fear when we are pushed beyond our comfort zone.