Reconnecting on the way to an MBA


by David Doremus

Brad Pennington (second from left) and Greg Facchiano (middle) renewed their undergraduate friendship when they returned to JMU as MBA students. Also pictured (left to right) are their fellow MBA cohort members Michael Blinn, Brett Garland and Zach Pruitt.

SUMMARY: Nearly three decades after earning undergraduate diplomas at JMU, friends Facchiano and Pennington begin reaping the benefits of their mid-career MBAs.

For Brad Pennington (ʼ95, ’23M) and Greg Facchiano (ʼ95, ’23M), two December 2023 graduates of JMU’s MBA program, the program’s ascent in the U.S. News and World Report rankings is a no-brainer.

“I’ve realized that MBA programs aren’t created equal,” explains Pennington.

“There may be others that allow you to get the letters behind your name,” he says. “But I’ve learned enough about those other programs to know they aren’t supplying education of the quality and depth we received from JMU.”

As he prepared in 2021 to take up formal study again at age 47, Pennington was thrilled to be joined by Facchiano, his former undergraduate classmate. “I was unaware – as was Greg – that we were both looking into the program at exactly the same time,” he says.

It was on a Zoom-enabled information session with the program’s marketing director that the coincidence was discovered. Afterward, Pennington and Facchiano each sought out the other to offer encouragement. “It was kind of like, ‘I’ve got you, you’ve got me, we can get through this!’” Pennington says.

The sentiment was echoed by Facchiano, who now reflects that, “It was really reassuring to go into something unknown – like returning to school after a lapse of some 25 years – with someone I already knew.”

After a long stint on Capitol Hill, during which he rose from an internship through multiple mid-level positions to become the chief of staff for several members of Congress, Facchiano currently serves as vice president for government relations and public affairs at the ESOP Association, the D.C.-based trade association which represents employee-owned companies such as the Publix supermarket chain and Gore-Tex, a developer of waterproof fabrics for outdoor and recreational wear.

Facchiano’s decision to enroll in the MBA program came, he says, as he was looking for a career transition. He thought that getting an advanced degree would benefit him, first of all, by helping him lead his team at the office. He also thought it would be a good way to put some formal structure around some of the things he had picked up previously simply through experience.

“My background was in politics, not business,” says Facchiano. “The MBA curriculum at JMU has without a doubt helped me become much more polished in the boardroom.”

He says that, when he decided to cast his job-search net, many of the vacancies he found appealing styled themselves as “advanced degree preferred but not required.” He recognized that, while his experience on the Hill did give him real credence with Beltway insiders, putting some scaffolding around it in the form of an advanced degree would give the accumulated wisdom even greater weight.

Pennington, a sales executive for a pharmaceuticals firm with global operations, says the MBA from JMU has not only elevated his effectiveness in his current job, it has also provided him with a perspective which extends far beyond it.

Like his friend Facchiano, Pennington says the program has delivered immediate benefits by enabling him to become a better leader of his own team. However, he says it is also bringing long-term benefits in terms of his ability to surmount some of the adverse circumstances with which his company has had to contend in recent years.

Pennington says he has been able to understand the challenges and explain them to his team in a different and better way than he would have been able to otherwise. He says he sees marked improvement in the level of the conversations he is able to have with other departments within the company, thanks to his increased understanding of advanced business concepts in areas such as corporate strategy, finance and operations.

Along with other members of their program cohort, Facchiano and Pennington took advantage of the opportunity to study abroad.

On their travels through Chile and Argentina, they learned, Pennington says, that business challenges transcend national boundaries. “Leadership is leadership, no matter where you are,” he says. “But the way in which challenges present themselves is informed by the culture in which they arise.”

Pennington credits the program with having given him a more global perspective, together with a real-time ability to apply what he has learned about cultural differences and how they manifest themselves in all kinds of business interactions.

Facchiano says the friendships formed with other members of the cohort may have been the most valuable take-away of all. He says he learned as much from some of them as he did through formal instruction.

Summing up his MBA experience, Facchiano says, “It has been wonderful getting back in touch with JMU and seeing how tremendously it has grown.

“The institution is in very good hands moving forward.”

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Published: Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Last Updated: Monday, February 12, 2024

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