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Agent of Change

Jeff Brown, MBA ’11, leverages the Ross EMBA’s leadership training at the FBI.

As a supervisory special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jeff Brown, MBA ’11, knows how to tackle the bad guys. But now he’s tackling finance, accounting, and other courses through the Ross Executive MBA Program in order to bring a new weapon to the table: a general management education.

Jeff’s career in law enforcement began with police departments in both Michigan and Arizona. He worked as a detective and an undercover officer before joining the FBI in St. Louis, where he investigated violent crimes, drugs, gangs, and domestic terrorism. After a stint in the bureau’s Washington, D.C.-based counterterrorism division, Jeff now heads one of the Detroit office’s counterterrorism squads. He also is responsible for the supervision and program management of the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Jeff’s role involves him not only in protecting the United States, but in combating terrorism activities around the globe. Consequently, his job requires frequent travel, high stress, and high stakes. But nine months into the EMBA Program, Jeff says Ross is positioning him to be a better leader poised to take the next step on his professional track.

In the following Q&A, Jeff discusses the transition to being a student again, how the FBI supports and sponsors him, and how he juggles it all.

What made you think you wanted an MBA?

It’s always been a personal goal to get an MBA from the University of Michigan. Being a Michigander and growing up here, it was always THE school. In addition, the reputation that Ross has worldwide was another piece of my decision.

The FBI is run like a business. I’m currently involved in a couple of different projects that reflect more of the business side of the FBI, so for me it was a natural transition into a program like this.

What training in particular did you think you needed?

There’s the overarching piece of the MBA — finance, accounting, operations management — that directly applies to the bureau. And then Ross adds the Personal Development Program (PDP) sessions, which help you develop as a leader. That piece also applies directly to the FBI.

The project I’m currently involved with is the field administrative work group, and what we’re trying to do is streamline some of the bureau’s processes. This group travels around the nation to different field offices, trying to get a better handle on some of the administrative issues that impact an agent’s workload and how to alleviate them.

Have you found yourself managing your team differently since you started the program?

Absolutely. With the PDP session, learning more about myself and my leadership style has definitely made me more aware of my interactions with the people that work with me and for me. My job is heavy on leadership. Being a supervisor of a squad requires daily interaction with my team, and multitasking the many issues we face as a team is a constant. I’ve really been able to take the things that I’ve learned thus far in the program and apply them in my day-to-day operations.

What was the biggest learning curve for you coming into the program?

Probably the intensity of the program. We’ve got deliverables that are due, we’ve got outside-the-classroom team meetings that we do several times a week, and we’ve got our own studying and prep to do. Going into it I was told to expect to study about 15 hours a week, and that has proven true.

After being out of school so long, it can be hard to get back into that learning mode. When you’re in a job, you get comfortable and things just become routine. I took myself out of that comfort zone and was thrust into a situation where learning new material is a constant challenge.

How did you convince the FBI to sponsor you through the EMBA Program?

The FBI supports employees going back to further their education and encourages it by offering different programs. In my supervisory role, I was able to relate how the MBA can help me become a better supervisor. I focused on the leadership piece that the PDP offers, and then followed with aspects of the curriculum that directly relate to my work as an FBI agent.

Talk about the work-life-school balance.

Time away from the kids has been the most challenging part. My work day is a long one — anywhere from 10-12 hours. Then I go home, lock myself into my home office, and study for several hours each night. It’s been challenging, but I try to make the downtime I have special for the kids by doing quality things with them. It took a real family commitment for me to even come back to school and participate in the program. But I’m hoping that at the end, the investment of time and energy that we’ve put into this is only going to expand me as a person, professionally and personally.

In terms of classes and faculty, does anyone in particular stand out?

The caliber of the professors is top-notch. When we’ve got questions — whether we’re on another continent or here in Michigan — they’ve always been really accessible and accommodating. They are true professionals and experts in their respective disciplines.

The Michigan brand is so well-known around the world. It’s a top-tier business school, and when you hear U-M, you know you’re getting the top quality professors to go along with it.

So it’s been a sacrifice, but so far, so good?

Absolutely. No looking back and thinking, “Why did I do this?” And meeting and working with the diverse group of people we have in our class has been a tremendous advantage of the Ross EMBA Program. What that team-building brings, and what that team atmosphere brings, are invaluable.

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