Student Profile: Aaron Luneke

aaron luneke
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Update: Since publication, Aaron has accepted a position as CFO & VP of Finance at Foundation One Bank.

Over the coming weeks, we’re going to interview several students and professors involved here in the Midland MBA program. You can find our interview with Aaron Luneke, a student here at Midland, below.

Hi, Aaron. To start, tell us a little bit about yourself—what’s your professional experience thus far, and where are you currently employed?

"I currently work as Controller at a private equity company called States Resources Corp, whose current capacity is $120 million in book value of investments.

My background has been a bit of a mixture of everything in finance. I started out studying business finance and banking at the University of Nebraska—Omaha, went to Mutual of Omaha as an auditor, and while there, decided I wanted to take a more granular approach to finance. From there, I was picked up by Werner Enterprises. I worked in the Dedicated Fleets branch, and oversaw operations with about $1 billion in revenue. With an operation that large, you really have to know what you’re looking for and what to see, and I oversaw about 8 people during my time there.

My next step was working at the Controller level at First Nebraska Educators Credit Union. My real passion in life is financial leadership, however, and I wanted more of that in my life, and less processing—I want to be a CFO. Moving from the Controller level to the CFO level is all about age and education, and I saw an MBA as the logical next step, which led me here to Midland and to the next stepping stone in my current job."

You just hinted at this, but what made you decide to pursue your MBA, and why did you decide to choose Midland’s program?

"I knew that I needed my MBA to get to the next level and wanted a program that didn’t take two years to get through. With any MBA, you have to ask if the time and nominal value you’ll get are really worth it. I looked across the map in Omaha for an in-person or even hybrid program that fit my requirements, and at that point, Midland was just starting to advertise its hybrid MBA.

Hybrid learning provides true value and saves time; it allows me to take my education (for the most part) at the speed I want, with the flexibility to log in at 2am on a Tuesday if I want to.

One thing that turned me off from other programs is that many of them seem to be “all or nothing”—they’re either completely online, or completely in-person. I see online programs as sheer volume—they’re all about pushing people through, and students look like just a number—but didn’t necessarily want to leave my career to get the in-person experience. Midland found the right balance with a hybrid program, and with its faculty and support staff. Coordinating all of those resources was a big value add for me."

One of the unique things about our program is its office-to-classroom approach; both professors and students are working full-time (or close to it) throughout their involvement in the program. How has that approach benefited you personally?

"Especially from the vantage point of wanting to climb the corporate ladder—for me, that means making my way to the CFO level—it’s important to surround yourself with people who have climbed that ladder already or who are very achieved. When I found out that Terry McClain, the CFO of Valmont, was going to be doing business ethics, I was very excited. He’s seen business from nearly every angle in the world, and understands the corporate structure, but also business ethics.

Not only do we have accomplished individuals on the faculty at Midland, we also have people who are still leading an organization who have a ton of insight into business. Gina Russell [Analyst, The New Teacher Project], who taught statistics, did an amazing job—she can see the learning gap and knows how to accommodate for that. And Avi Atholi [Senior Associate, Treasury Risk Management, First National Bank of Omaha] is also amazing—he’s one of the top 50 employees in Omaha and is incredibly smart. With all of the professors in this program, the exposure that the students get in our classes is invaluable."

Have you seen any tangible professional value from your MBA thus far?

"For some of the accounting work I’m currently doing, I was able to apply classroom instructions directly to our income statements. The academic approach—the textbook piece—was very real-time and helped quite a bit. There are some classes where the knowledge is shelved for later on, but it’s still very valuable. To be able to speak semi-fluently in those kinds of business conversations is great, and it’s made me more versatile. My MBA has given me enough knowledge to really get the conversation started.

And from my vantage point, one of the biggest benefits overall from my MBA has been my own application of my time and resources. You go through life and you’re encouraged to do your best at anything and everything, but time is a finite resource, and that’s often just not possible. With my MBA, I’ve been able to zoom out and see the big picture. I’ve been able to scale back and identify what needs to be done now, and what needs the most effort. In a way, it’s a bit like triaging your own life, and that’s immensely useful for me."

To speak a little more about the office-to-classroom approach we mentioned earlier, what types of problems are you solving in the classroom? How do they relate to the problems you’re solving in a professional capacity?

"I don’t see it so much as solving problems as I do adding a robust database to my abilities. If you have a personal trainer, they don’t say, “Hey, go do whatever you want,” they say, “Grab that 20-pound dumbbell and get started,” even if you want to move on to the 35 pound weight right away. In this program, I’m not necessarily grabbing onto any newfound innovate tools that are earth-shattering so much as I am supersizing the understanding of my education, and grabbing hold of that 20-pound dumbbell until I build up my endurance and increase the scope of my knowledge.

Avi, for example, drew a circle with a dot inside it on the first day of class. He pointed out that everyone lives within that circle, but that what he was going to do is push everyone way outside. He noted that there’s going to be late nights, but that he was going to challenge us to take our version of reality and completely push it and twist it into what we need to succeed. I’ve really done that in this program, and I really do believe that I’ve pushed the limits of that circle and expanded into thinking in ways I never thought before."

You mentioned earlier that your career goals is to reach the CFO level. How do you see your MBA helping push you to that goal?

"To climb the corporate ladder takes a robust resume, an unquenchable hunger to grow, and a strong network. From my viewpoint, what I’m doing with my MBA is stocking the shelf with inventory and allowing myself to be more and more employable as I go on. It’s not so much the flip of a switch as it is a slow buildup of tools that are going to help get me where I want to go."

And finally, why would you recommend Midland to other coworkers or acquaintances? What do you see as distinctive about Midland, and what’s been the most valuable part of your experience in the program so far?

"Well, from my perspective, there’s a ton of flexibility. As I think I mentioned earlier, time is a very, very finite resource, and this program capitalizes on that. In my opinion, the hybrid approach is going to gain a lot of support from other programs as time goes on just because it works so well as a structure for learning.

If you’re going to make the investment into an MBA, you want to get a worthwhile education and not just a number on a roster. I see Midland succeeding because there’s no disconnect between the administration, faculty, and students—something that isn’t true in other places. I’m able to email Ray [Raymond Sass, Director of the MBA, Midland University] directly and ask him questions, and he’s great about getting those questions on to whoever can answer them best. The small university experience is really valuable, and here at Midland, I see a common bond between the administration, faculty, and students—everyone wants more, and wants to succeed and reach our community. Those are really solid values, and I’m very glad that I made the choice to earn my MBA from Midland."

 

Interested in learning more about Midland’s hybrid MBA program? Reach out to us directly in the comments, via LinkedIn, through Twitter @MidlandMBA, or by phone at 402-941-6517—we’d love to give you more information.

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