Business Leaders Share Stories of Agility with MBA Students

August 26, 2020

This summer, students in Dr. Jason Berman’s MBA course, Leading Upstate NY Business Agility, heard first-hand how prominent leaders demonstrated flexibility, resiliency, and agility in navigating the rapid changes brought on by the coronavirus.

Over the course of six weeks, presenters engaged in interactive sessions with the students, sharing their stories and answering myriad questions. Presenters included Ray Isaac ’88, president, Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning; David Pritchard ’83, president, Gorbel, Inc.; Tracy Till, co-founder and vice chair, Board of Directors, Butler / Till Media Services, Inc.; Tyrese Bryant ’15, site designer and real estate analyst, Wegmans Food Markets; Jill Knittel ’94, ’03 (MBA), president, JK Executive Strategies; and Julia Tedesco, president and CEO, FoodLink, Inc.

Berman said that the MBA curriculum is designed for students who aspire to practice leadership in business, and while case studies and journal articles provide relevant insight, nothing compares with the vibrancy or sense of urgency that accompanies studying leadership during a real crisis as it unfolds.

“Along with engaging with our speakers, students read a dozen or more journal articles culled from recent editions of the Harvard Business Review, each of which addressed leading though adversity, business agility, mental toughness, and resilience,” he explained. “The readings validated the presenters’ leadership practices; and in turn, the presenters validated the relevance and validity of scholarship.”

Alyssa Dyer ’19 said the pandemic has challenged her several ways, and working through these uncertain times has strengthened her ability to adapt to change. Hearing from business leaders showed her the diverse ways that companies approached the challenges COVID-19 presented.

“The business leaders we had the opportunity to listen to throughout this course each had their own approach to trying to handle the current adversity of COVID-19, exposing their values and strategic actions taken in the last several months,” she said. “Each week I was able to see these challenges through a different lens and learn about unique efforts that either helped or harmed the company.” 

Berman said that collectively, the leaders all relied on strong organizational culture to sustain them during the challenges, and all demonstrated a profound sense of caring and respect for their workplace colleagues.

“In a culture where core values are strongly held and widely shared, people get on board quickly with the leader's vision and strategy for responding to adversity,” he explained. “The leaders were purveyors of hope.  They were not cheerleaders; rather, through their words and actions they modeled a compelling and persistent belief that by working together, their organizations would emerge from adversity with resilience.”