Russell Walters is ready for a view from the top.
That's why the New Orleans native returned to college after more than 20 years to earn a Master of Business Administration online from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Walters graduated in December 2018.
"I did it for the advancement of my career," he said. "Earning an MBA was definitely something that was on my bucket list that I wanted to achieve. Plus, I thought it was the only way to get to the C-suite."
Walters is already knocking loudly on that suite door. He has more than a decade of managerial experience and is vice president of JMB Companies, a family land trust company that manages more than 300,000 acres in Lafayette.
In 1993, Walters graduated with a bachelor's degree in wetland ecology from Nicholls State University, where he played guard for the Colonels football team for four seasons.
"I worked for the United States Geological Survey (USGS) right out of college and got into the natural resource business line," he said. "It led to land management and other ventures throughout the course of my career. That's the basis for what I do."
After seven years at USGS, Walters was a project manager for Fenstermaker, multi-disciplinary consulting firm, for five years and a manager for regulatory and ecological services and vice president during a six-year stint at John Chance Land Surveys. Walters joined JMB Companies in August 2011.
When Walters enrolled at UL Lafayette in August 2015, he was in the on-campus MBA program. He then switched to the fully online format when it became available two years later.
"That flexibility is big," Walters said. "I started with the traditional MBA program because it was in my hometown. UL Lafayette also has a fantastic reputation. I know it's a great school."
The online format also allowed Walters more time to spend with his wife, Amy, and their two children, Claire (18) and Reid (13).
"My friends and family were very supportive," he said. "Graduation at the Cajundome was a good experience, and I am glad that I was able to attend. One of the reasons I felt it was important to go back to school for an MBA was to lead our kids by example. We sometimes do our homework together. "
So far, so good. Claire is deciding which of her father's two alma maters she wants to attend starting in the 2019-20 school year.
Despite not having been in school for many years, Walters had no trouble switching from a brick-and-mortar setting to the online environment.
"The transition to online was smooth," he said. "UL Lafayette does a good job of integrating all of the technology where you can communicate and interact with fellow students, as well as professors and instructors."
IBUS 540: International Business and MGMT 590: Policy Formulation, Strategy, and Administration were Walters' two favorite courses, although the majority of the information in the online MBA curriculum was applicable to his career.
"The first course gave you a real diversified look at international business," he said. "I especially liked the capstone course because it was a culmination of everything we did. The program, as a whole, gave me a better understanding of why senior management does certain things a certain way. That was the biggest takeaway. It was a fantastic program."
Walters was also impressed with the responsiveness of the UL Lafayette faculty and the interaction he had with his classmates in the online format.
"The professors in the online program were better than any other professors I ever had," he said. "It was amazing to me that I was able to do group projects with a small group of people with basically no direct conversation. It was all online with all of the integrated technology. It was pretty cool."
Up and Up
As a leader, Walters believes in the power of teamwork.
"Having an inclusive management style that encourages and facilitates progressive thinking by all levels in an organization is key to management success," he said. "This requires a manager to have the insight to set clear goals and expectations without dictating every move. Good listening skills and the ability to 'loosen the grip' are also important factors in this success."
Walters has seen that approach regularly pay dividends, which keeps his job fresh and exciting.
"The most fulfilling thing about my work is having the privilege to work with my team," he said. "As the leader of a growing operation in a highly competitive business, we often find ourselves in some very challenging situations. Having team members who believe in what we do and who are willing to get out of their comfort zone to achieve success, despite adversity, is priceless to me."
Now that Walters has a graduate degree to go along with his business savvy and experience, he is excited about what the future holds and is proud of his accomplishment.
"I'd like to be the president or CEO of this company or another company," he said. "I believe the MBA from UL Lafayette will absolutely help open doors for me. It's a serious program that takes a lot of self-discipline and dedication. It is well worth it."
Time to make room in that C-suite for a new member.
Learn more about the UL Lafayette MBA program online.
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