ANN ARBOR – In today’s business world, it takes a special mix of talents, skills, and experience to get ahead. And that’s just what Amber Gray brings as the new director of the MBA program at Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor.
From Corporate to the Classroom
After earning her Bachelor of Business Administration in Accountancy (she graduated Summa Cum Laude) and Master of Science in Accountancy, both from Western Michigan University, Gray got her professional start in auditing at KPMG, one of the “Big Four” accounting firms.
After quickly rising through the ranks in various corporate accounting roles, she later served as CFO and Controller of Alaris, a Michigan-based medical and vocational case management company. Despite her success, it wasn’t long before she realized the academic world is where she truly belonged.
“The classroom energizes me,” Gray said. “I like taking something that is hard and making it easy. I feel like I’ve done my job when I see students have those ‘aha moments.’ The greatest compliment I could receive is to have a student say, ‘You made this fun.’”
Her teaching career began in 2003, while working on her master’s degree. Since then, she has held faculty positions at Cleary University, Eastern Michigan University, and Adrian College. She came to Concordia University Ann Arbor in January as Chair of Quantitative Business and Assistant Professor of Accounting. Once again, it soon became apparent that the university needed her more in a different capacity: as MBA program director.
One thing that led her to CUWAA is its mission, Gray said. While many schools identify as “faith-based,” she sees Concordia as unique in how it truly lives that out.
“That’s what drew me to Concordia the most,” she explained. “I can just tell, culture-wise, that everyone really does care for each other. It’s an atmosphere that really believes in helping people and developing others for service to Christ in the world.”
Building on Something Great
Regarding her approach to her new role, Gray said she’s very pleased to have the opportunity to build on what’s already a very successful program, and to pick up on some new initiatives started by her predecessor, Brian Curry.
“I’m excited to be able to take a careful look at the different concentrations we offer and really focus on the ones that are most beneficial for our students,” Gray said. “We may even eliminate a few of the less popular concentrations and replace them with new and innovative concentrations that are more in demand in the marketplace.
“We’re at the point where we need to put the finishing touches on the program, to fine tune what is already a really competitive, solid program for our students.”
Another existing strength of the CUWAA MBA program is its “decision-based” approach, Gray said. Rather than focusing on a “standard MBA approach that emphasizes the basic business functions of marketing, finance, management, etc.,” the CUWAA program takes a more fluid angle, which focuses on the practical application of a mix of different business skills.
“We’re trying to use practical applications of all these functional business skills, and equip our students to be decision makers and leaders. That’s one big way that we’re different from the competition,” she explained.
Gray, who is currently enrolled in Concordia’s Doctorate of Education in Leadership in Innovation and Continuous Improvement (EdD LICI) program, said she would continue to be based in Ann Arbor, but is looking forward to visiting the Mequon campus frequently. As a faculty member and a student, she has a personal appreciation for the needs of busy working adults.
“We are very flexible these days,” she said. “Students can complete the program entirely face-to-face, or they can complete it entirely with remote learning. I suggest that students take courses in some of each modality that we offer.
“They can come take a face-to-face course to get that university experience, and meet their fellow students and faculty, while also taking online classes that they can do when they get home from work. Our students can choose a schedule that works best for them, which helps them to manage their time most effectively.”
However they approach it, the MBA that awaits when they’re finished is still very much in demand in the job market.
“Employers are still looking for MBAs,” Gray said. “MBA graduates are able to command a premium salary, so it’s still a worthwhile degree, even as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, and that’s something that’s not likely to change any time soon.”