Robert Allen, Executive MBA
EMBA Class 37
"I enrolled to learn the language of business, and, unexpectedly, learned how to better manage my civilian career."
Transforming military officers into business leaders
Allen refers to himself as an "aviation guy," a self-description that understates his military resume. He has commanded a squadron and was one of the youngest pilots to attend the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School – "Top Gun" – in 1988. As he rose through the ranks of the military, he was given assignments with "progressively more responsibility." As a result, he began to realize he enjoyed "leading people as much as flying planes.
"I enrolled in Olin’s Executive MBA program to learn the language of business, and, unexpectedly, learned how to better manage my civilian career. Aviation is a challenging industry, and the EMBA program taught me why: It’s on the wrong side of all five of Michael Porter’s 'five forces' that shape industries. I wanted to understand how business works, to learn why and how commercial airlines make business decisions, manage operations and assets, and allocate capital.
"Congress controls military budgets and can tax to raise revenue. In the business world, income and expenditures are a whole different ballgame. The EMBA program taught me about finance and operations and how to speak the language of management."
Transitioning from authoritarian to collaborative leadership
"The military is a very hierarchal system. Soldiers are bound to the military and to their officer’s decisions with the threat of punishment for failing to comply with orders. As a result, leaders can be more authoritarian; subordinates can’t vote with their feet. Private-sector leadership is much more challenging because subordinates can vote with their feet.
"Both sectors share many leadership concepts, however. People need to be motivated, to believe that what they’re doing is in the best interest of their organization. The EMBA program introduced me to new and proven leadership styles. I’ve always elicited collaborative inputs from all levels, leading from above yet empowering employees to funnel their talent up. Leadership is a two-way street; I try to encourage subordinates to lead whenever possible."
Olin’s participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program
"Dean Gupta believes students with military backgrounds make the Olin community stronger. He has gone above and beyond my expectations in his support – with round-table breakfasts, committees on how to better facilitate the transition from the military community to the academic environment, clubs for military spouses, and ongoing mentorship. The dean is committed to supporting veterans because he believes they have as much to offer Olin as Olin has to offer them."
The program’s focus on learning, not logistics
Allen says the military has a word for unenjoyable, administrative tasks that take up a lot of time: "qweep." "Olin’s amazing EMBA staff handles all the qweep. During my first year in the program, I didn’t even know where the campus bookstore was."
Pilot, American Airlines
Commissioned U.S. Navy, Retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, Carrier and Land- based Fighter Pilot, U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School Graduate, Test Pilot School Graduate, Fighter Squadron Commander
Education: University of Central Missouri, MS, Aviation Safety; Southern Oklahoma State University, BS Aviation