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The Business of Research

Edith Mensah-Osman, MBA ’11, calls the Ross EMBA Program “the best gift I’ve ever given myself.”

Like many EMBA students, Edith Mensah-Osman, MBA ’11, has taken a circuitous route to business school. She previously practiced as a physician before turning to the research side of medicine. Today she is an assistant professor at the University of Toledo (Ohio), where her work centers on understanding the pathophysiology and genetic basis for the development of type 2 diabetes and obesity among different ethnic groups. She also studies the mechanisms associated with the development of osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that usually originates in adolescence.

Edith was born in Odessa, Ukraine, to a Ukrainian mother and Ghanaian father, and she has spent time living in both countries. She also has initiated collaborations between hospitals in Ghana, Russia, Ukraine, and Dubai to support her research efforts. She holds an MD from Kharkov State University in Ukraine and a PhD from Wayne State University in Detroit.

In the following Q&A, Edith talks about her career and why Ross was the right choice for her.

What is your role at the University of Toledo?

I am a full-time physician-scientist. I have dedicated my career to exploring new treatment strategies. My training has been focused on oncology, but one unique aspect about Toledo (CeDER) is the broad-minded and integrated approach towards science and medicine. I was recruited to utilize my expertise with oncology and to identify new treatment targets for diabetes and obesity. I also teach graduate students. I have two PhD students, a medical student, and undergraduate students that I mentor, as well as residents from the University of Michigan whose work I oversee. My primary focus is medical research, but as an academician, I teach and mentor, which I enjoy doing very much. That aspect actually was one of the reasons I decided to get an MBA — to make me an effective leader.

What were your other reasons for wanting to get an MBA?

I think most people with my background may tell you the same thing, especially those who got their degree awhile ago: Medical school and grad school did not teach us anything about management and strategy, or finance and accounting. Medicine and science nowadays have become very business-oriented. My perspective of being a scientist — and why I went into it — is changing. I don’t think, as investigators, we can afford to pursue the risky questions that give rise to breakthroughs in medicine anymore. To get away from this "status quo," I must think about money — how to manage a budget and how to bring money to the lab or department, which will afford me the freedom to pursue my research interests.

A lab is like a small business. I realized I had no business skills and must depend on administrative assistants to manage that aspect of the lab. And these people have MBAs. I figured I should get an MBA, too, so I can identify improvements that they can help me make, be more strategic and efficient in managing the finances, and even go a step further in developing a business plan with short- and long-term goals. Overall, healthcare has become a big business venture, and being a clinician or a scientist is a lot more than it used to be. These are some of the reasons that made me consider this additional training.

I recognize my current leadership role and have a clear vision as to how far I want to pursue this, but I needed the expert knowledge and skills. Not only do we learn about business strategy, finance, and accounting, but the Ross EMBA Program emphasizes leadership. This is particularly important, since for my students and several young women wanting to pursue an academic career, I am not just a mentor but a role model. As they explained, "We were told you can’t be an academician or professional and have a normal life, have a family, and even try to have fun doing it." They ask how I cope with this "impossibility," and I say it's all nonsense and untrue, but I recognize the need of having people like me in positions that others can use as examples for their career decisions. I need to have true leadership skills and capacity to assume such an important role.

Why did you choose the EMBA Program at Ross?

The Ross EMBA focuses on leadership; mentorship; teamwork; strategic planning in the capacity of an executive; and training on how to combine our unique experiences, expertise, and education to contribute to our work and organization, while serving as role models and leaders. That was extremely appealing because I want to make sure I don’t let my students, and everyone else who look up to me, down.

And, of course, Ross is one of the top 10 business schools, with a world-class facility, diverse student experience, and a rigorous academic curriculum. It was a combination that I didn’t think I could find anywhere else.

Has Ross delivered what you were hoping it would?

Delivered and much more! It’s really impacted my life. It has majorly transformed me, not just helping me with my career goals but my whole life. It's even improved my personality. We all have our negative and positive traits. The Ross EMBA Program, among other things, has taught me how to get away from the "status quo" and has given me the ability to divert the things that negatively influence me into positive energy. It changed my perspective of my life and career, which has opened up so many other opportunities.

The training is outstanding. I came in knowing zero about business. For these professors, within this short period, to take someone like me and make me understand and apply business concepts, that is an amazing skill. These are unique faculty members, and I have been trying to implement some of their techniques in my own teaching.

Another unique aspect is my cohort of classmates, with their diverse background and contributions that enrich our learning experience. But even more important are the people I have met and the friendships we have developed. Sometimes in everyday life, you forget that there are people who are great team players, extremely intelligent, hard-working, and still have fun doing what they do best. In my field, people can be very cutthroat and not want to work together. Ross has reinforced the concept of teamwork.

Was it daunting to come into the program, knowing you didn’t have a business background?

Yes. But I have faced several challenges in my life, which has only made me stronger. In the past, there was nothing I set my mind to do and did not succeed. I knew it was going to be a tough, new challenge, but I had the drive and was determined to make it work. Besides, my mom always said, "Hard work never killed anybody."

It was, and still is, challenging. But not as much as when I started. The first week of residency, I was dazed. But the program is so well-organized — the faculty, the administration, the whole set-up. They know there are people like me who have the ability to be successful in the program, and they have the skills to help me do it. That is where I got really lucky in coming to Ross.

How do you balance your family, work, and school?

I think most people in my cohort, including myself, are able to multitask. You have to be able to do that. But most important is the support of my family. My children make parenting easy, and my husband is extremely supportive of anything and everything that I do. I am able to do this because I have harmony at home, which gives me the peace of mind to lay out a plan. My time is really well-organized, and I make time for everything. I emphasize making time to have fun because that’s how I’m able to come back reenergized.

So to summarize: Multitask. Plan ahead. Know what you want. Set up your goals and prioritize. And be at peace and happy by having family support and great friends.

What’s been the biggest surprise in the program?

The culture. I never knew an academic institution could have a culture like Ross. Ross nurtures teamwork. It makes people understand that you can make change when you work together. In other places, everyone wants to be on their own. Everyone wants to be famous. And we get nowhere.

So if it’s so uncommon in the real world, what’s the value in learning teamwork?

Our society’s lack of teamwork — especially in my field — is making things worse. For example, we’ve been doing type 2 diabetes research for decades, but it’s a pandemic now. You can’t tell me the people studying the disease aren’t smart. We get nowhere because there’s no teamwork. Ross gives people like me a different perspective of how things should be.

Has there been a particular aspect of the program that’s really hit that message home for you?

It’s woven throughout the whole program. The faculty are brilliant, and their approach with the EMBA Program is different because they know they are dealing with professionals who have 10 or 15 years of experience. Faculty practice what they preach by working together to relay the themes of the classes. It’s amazing how one concept builds on the next and the next as we progress through the courses.

Any time I finish a class, I think it was the best. I loved the accounting class, but then I loved my statistics class, too, and so on. It’s just the pattern. The way they teach the courses and their genuine interest for us to take this all and apply it to the real world are incredible.

Talk about your ExecMAP experience.

We worked for a small start-up company that’s a spin-off of a larger company. Our project was to develop a funding strategy for the firm's initial scientific work on type 2 diabetes, which was needed in order for a device that was in development to undergo peer review. We mapped out the process to develop clinical trials, go through FDA approval, and go through the reimbursement process, since many patients who have diabetes or are obese are not on the high end of the salary scale.

My ExecMAP experience gave me significant knowledge of what it takes to make a scientific idea into a business venture. I met and worked with key experts involved in the whole process. I learned a lot and certainly enriched my expertise.

It must’ve been interesting to look at your field of work from a different angle.

Certainly — in various aspects. For example, I postponed submitting my NIH RO1 grant after taking the class on the fundamental state of leadership and making change. The focus of my proposal became more meaningful to me, with a new, heightened sense of perspective. I wanted to not only aim at getting funded but to make sure I contribute to the development of new treatment strategies.

Additionally, the start-up project had a unique approach that seemed to be very cost-effective, and that changed the perspective of my research. ExecMAP was a great marriage between my classmates, the company, the medical community, and my scientific background. I could contribute my scientific know-how to the team, but then there were so many things I didn’t know — tech transfers, venture capitalists, and so on. Their role in all of this is something I hadn’t considered in my own work. It was an amazing experience, and a wonderful opportunity for growth. ExecMAP exemplified why it was a great decision to do my MBA at Ross.

What are your long-term plans, and how has Ross helped you prepare for those plans?

My long-term goal is to be in an executive administrative role where I can fully utilize my potential and training. That role will have to take so many things into consideration in order to make decisions and policies. A key take-away from ExecMAP has been understanding the complete regulatory process in the healthcare system, such as integrating a concept or idea from basic science research into post-market analysis and follow-up, which is nothing we thought of in grad school or medical school.

Ross has enlightened me to the real and practical aspects of healthcare. I am ready to take on greater challenges and look forward to making important contributions to my organization and community.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I will always be happy I did the EMBA Program at Ross. If anybody has this opportunity, they have to come and take it. I’ve already applied so much of what I’ve learned here, and I’ve loved every bit of it. It is the best gift I ever gave to myself.

View Edith's Profile