Concordia’s MBA program encourages networking relationships among students, but eight recent graduates took “community” to the next level, creating a close-knit group of friends and colleagues that went well beyond the classroom. The group, eventually nicknamed the “MB8,” assembled naturally as members got to know — and like — each other in Concordia classes.
“I don’t think I could have ever seen this coming,” says Edward Janke, a manager at a local engineering company who enrolled in Concordia’s MBA program at the same time as his now-wife, Tara. “By the second or third class we started to amass this synthetic cohort. As classes went on, one of us would get into another group and introduce them to people we thought were cool, and before you knew it, the MB8 was born. After that, we were making sure to ask each other, ‘What class are you going to take next?’”
Tara Janke had dreamed of getting her MBA someday, and when her career hit the doldrums, Ed suggested they apply together, though he already had two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s in engineering.
“I was nervous because it had been about ten years since I was in school,” Tara admits. “I went in dragging my feet a little bit, to be completely honest. I thought, ‘Can I do this? Will we have no life? Will it affect my current job?’ I didn’t know what to expect.”
Then Ed and Tara started meeting fellow students like Esther Choi, Michael Simons, Greg LeFever, Chris Sommers, and William and Jaime Buda, with whom they seemed to immediately gel.
The MB8 coalescence 'happened organically, and we learned immensely from each other.'
“The relationships enhanced all our conversations and the schoolwork,” says William Buda. “We complemented each other when we worked on projects in different ways. It brought us closer and was interesting to bounce ideas off each other, and work through frustrations. I was super-surprised that it happened that way, but I’m glad that it did.”
Chris Sommers, president of Excel Packaging, a family-owned business that makes flexible packages for pet and human food, entered Concordia’s program to gain business experience. The MB8 coalescence “happened organically, and we learned immensely from each other,” he says. “There was a lot of synergy and learning in addition to the classroom. It was really special. When you get a group like that, you don’t get stuck in your own lane. You’re forced to think differently. People would say, ‘Have you thought of this?’ I’d say, ‘I wouldn’t have thought of that in a million years, but I love it.’”
Greg LeFever, 51, was the senior member of the unofficial cohort and gained others’ respect with his extensive entrepreneurial experience and real-world wisdom. LeFever has enjoyed careers at places as varied as Land Rover/Jaguar North America, and start-up businesses in the fitness and corporate wellness spaces. He wanted an MBA degree to bring his education up to his level of experience.
I did expect it to be practical and real-business-related, which is why I chose Concordia. I liked that professors showed up from work in the business world to teach classes.
The "MB8" having coffee in Eagles' Landing
“I did expect it to be practical and real-business-related, which is why I chose Concordia,” he says. “I liked that professors showed up from work in the business world to teach classes. But I wasn’t looking for new friends. I had things to do. My thing was practical applied knowledge. Relationships were not my focus and not my intention. I just wanted to get in there and figure my own stuff out.”
On the first day he was paired with Ed and Tara, and soon met the other five who would make up the MB8.
“It turned out to be a great group of people, a highly intelligent group,” LeFever says. “Amongst us we had the skill sets to collectively start a business — administrative, engineer, contracting, processing, communication, etc. Everybody brought something different and there was constructive dialogue and respect. The personalities were different enough that it just worked. It’s one of those ‘it factor’ things. All the things aligned.”
Many in the group shared a faith and Christian perspective as well.
“I am a Christian, and that’s another reason I wanted to go to Concordia,” says Michael Simons. “I’d never been to a Christian school. Before, I always had my guard up about what was right and not right about what my professor just told me. So I really liked being around like-minded professors and students. We could discuss it.”
The group began meeting at homes for projects and study — and at one point, LeFever convinced Tara to stay in the program when life and work responsibilities threatened to derail her.
“I was so overwhelmed because work was challenging, and I was tired and planning our wedding,” Tara says. “You naturally hit a point where it’s really hard and you don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, so I had this emotional moment. I was about to walk out during a classroom break and never come back. Edward grabbed Greg — I call Greg the godfather of MB8, an amazing person — and said, ‘I know she’ll listen to you right now.’ Greg gave me a pep talk and that saved my experience.”
Jaime Buda, the wife of William, says they both came to Concordia determined to reset their careers and find jobs they liked. Jaime’s exhaustive-spreadsheet approach to finding an MBA program kept bringing them back to Concordia, which checked all their boxes.
The group of friends really made a difference. Everyone knows your name so you’re highly motivated to do the work.
“We had an amazing experience,” Jaime says. “The group of friends really made a difference. Everyone knows your name so you’re highly motivated to do the work so you don’t look stupid and let your group down. It makes for good conversation, and the ability to get to know your classmates instead of sitting next to them and not speaking.”
“Jaime and I are big Concordia advocates,” William says. “To this day we can’t praise it enough.”
Another MB8 member, Esther Choi, enrolled in the program specifically to network, and found more than she was looking for.
“We were all very ambitious people,” Choi says. “It was a good group to uplift and motivate each other.”
That meant challenging each other, too.
“You’d rather get feedback in the class than at work,” Esther says.
Their shared academic experience culminated in the last core class which turned out to be, serendipitously, just the eight of them.
“We were like, ‘Wow, this is cool,’” Tara recalls. “We had fun because we had a rapport already and were able to challenge each other without getting offended because we knew each other so well.”
Jaime says the friendships advanced their education.
“There’s something about when you’re friends with someone, you’re not afraid to ask them questions and challenge them, all in the interest of learning,” she says. “Especially in that last core class with just the eight of us, we’d get on a discussion and Greg would say, ‘We do this, this, and this.’ William would say, ‘Why? How does that make sense if you’re trying to create this kind of culture?’ And the discussions would go deeper and we’d learn more. It was unique and fabulous the way the group developed.”
Each member participated in the December 2018 graduation ceremonies. At some point the term “MB8” was used as a joke in a group email — and the name stuck.
“We were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s awesome,’” Tara says.
The piece that struck me as amazing about Concordia was how they were able to foster this kind of group relationship. The people we met were the ultimate awesomeness of this situation.
Ed reflects that “the piece that struck me as amazing about Concordia was how they were able to foster this kind of group relationship. The people we met were the ultimate awesomeness of this situation. It was phenomenal. The group shared knowledge from different classes some were taking. I never took new venture financing, but I know concepts from it because a few of our members did. We pooled elements [of what we were learning].”
One MB8 member even hired another one. Michael Simons was the director of finance at a pizza chain who chose to attend Concordia for the networking possibilities. What he didn’t expect was that the networking would be quite so immediate. He was in the job market after graduating, and Chris’s flexible packaging company needed a vice president of finance.
“The very first person that jumped into my head was Michael,” Chris says. “Everybody at the company loved him and now he’s been here since January, and doing a great job. We work side by side and I believe he’s going to help me take the company to the next level.”
Michael says he entered the MBA program expecting to build some relationships, but “didn’t think it would be at the depth that it was, to where Tara was giving me advice on ways to save money and still make my wedding look really nice, and talking to Ed about snowboarding,” Michael says. “We meshed really well and could go to each other with questions. We made it fun. That’s the biggest part. You’re reading books, taking tests, doing projects. When you’re doing it among people you like being around, it makes it fun.”
The "MB8" at their graduation
A number of MB8s have enjoyed promotions or better jobs since enrolling and graduating. William was promoted and credits the MBA for speeding up his advancement. Tara says the MBA improved her work life and pay.
“I’m a very good example of how much an MBA can benefit your career,” she says. “The second I graduated and updated my Linked In, I had people contact me. I got a job offer almost immediately. They were very excited about my MBA, and I made a pretty significant salary jump. I left the program super-excited because it opened doors.”
Jaime was promoted and gained significantly greater confidence in her own abilities at work as the business development manager for a consulting firm that helps cities and counties pursue opportunities for federal partnerships.
“I don’t question myself as much,” Jaime says. “I feel I have a strong foundation to stand on.”
Even before graduating, Esther updated her Linked In information and a potential employer ran a keyword search that turned up her name.
“I hit 100 percent of the points,” Esther says. “The hiring manager liked the fact that I was in the program. That was one of the reasons they hired me.”
I want our story to encourage prospective students to talk to the person next to them. That’s how it started. Talk to your neighbor and make that extra effort to have those connections.
Esther is now the corporate compliance manager for a high-performance plastics company that supplies to medical device and aerospace companies.
Life changes were plenty during the two years. “Godfather” Greg quit the company he was with, continued to run his own wellness company, started a for-profit LLC, then flipped it to a nonprofit — all while in CUI’s program. Ed and Tara got engaged and married. Esther, Michael and Chris also were engaged (not to each other) during or soon after the program.
Today, the relationships continue with phone calls, group texts, barbecues, coffee dates and parties to celebrate weddings and birthdays.
“I can reach out and talk to my group if I’m ever having an issue with something, and the Concordia faculty, too,” says William, who is a marketing manager for an office seating manufacturer.
Tara calls herself “the biggest advocate for higher education, and Concordia. I can’t say enough great things about the experience. The benefits I got were priceless.”
More than a degree, the MB8 members “feel how special this experience was for us and how special our group is,” Tara says. “I hope we set an example for other people to do this, because it really helps you get through the program. I want our story to encourage prospective students to talk to the person next to them. That’s how it started. Talk to your neighbor and make that extra effort to have those connections.”