How a surgeon saw an MBA as key to his future in healthcare

Before business school, Howard “Nando” Cooke, EMBA 19, had a highly specialized skill set. A maxillofacial surgeon, he could mend a cleft palate, repair a broken jaw, and fix all manner of problems concerning the face, mouth, or jaw. In the operating room, he knew how to excel.

But give him a spreadsheet and watch a man sweat. In twenty years of medicine, Nando had never once used Excel.

“That tells you the point from which I started,” Nando says, laughing. “So everything at business school was a stretch for me! I don’t think there was any class where I wasn’t learning the material almost from scratch.”

Before enrolling in the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program, Nando had never taken a single business class. He had built—and sold—two major surgery practices in greater Dallas-Fort Worth. And as he looked toward the future of healthcare, he realized: “If the future of medicine is going to be dominated by insurance companies and business people, then I need to learn business.”

Many of the core subjects, like Financial Accounting, Managerial Economics, and Operations Management, were a struggle and a revelation. “It was all new learning for me,” he says. “In every class, you’d see my brain pinging with thoughts of, ‘Oh my gosh! How can I apply this?’”

When the curriculum turned to organizational management and behavior, he felt right at home. “How to manage a team, how to work with teams, the HR responsibilities that come with running a small enterprise… the stuff in medical school you will never ever learn about—that’s the stuff I apply every day.”

After enrolling at Haas, Nando discovered what he calls “a hidden gem”: electives he took through the Berkeley School of Public Health. Healthcare Finance and Healthcare Organizational Management and Behavior were both taught online, which harmonized with his travel and on-call surgery schedule. Both focused on the business side of medicine—bringing it all together.

“This was a missing link for me,” Nando says. “It helped me tie the dots between the core business subjects (which were hard for me to relate to at times) and the things I do working in hospitals and in private practice.”

The climax of his time at Haas was participating in the Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM), an international exchange program. In Ghana, working with a team of MBA students from Haas and Yale, he helped get a hospital up and running.

“They built this beautiful facility but had no plans for running it,” Nando says. Suddenly, he found himself right in his element. “Not only did I have the knowledge within healthcare, and the knowledge of having run businesses in the US, but now I had a Berkeley MBA background that I could use to help them run this enterprise. I felt really special.”


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