Five questions for Nicholas Hamilton-Archer

Executive MBA director’s strategy: global-minded growth

Nicholas Hamilton-Archer’s first trips to Denver were not the most auspicious events. But six months later, after becoming the executive director of Executive Programs at the University of Colorado, he’s ready to call Denver home.

Hamilton-Archer had crisscrossed the country and the globe, but had never visited Colorado. He flew to Denver for an interview with CU officials on the day a tornado touched down at Denver International Airport.

“We were in a holding pattern for what felt like hours, and I finally arrived at 2 in the morning. It was a harrowing introduction to the city. The next time I came to Denver, there was flash flooding across the Front Range. Somewhere in the back of mind, I wondered if this was going to be a good move.”

After spending a much less eventful – at least weather-wise – six months in the city, Hamilton-Archer is enthusiastic about the state and the program he plans to rejuvenate. CU’s Executive MBA program helps business owners move forward through classes taught by faculty from the Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs campuses, international study experiences, and connections with area business people. His plans for the program include growing the number of students it serves and enriching the opportunities and access offered to students.

Previously, he worked at the University of Pittsburgh and George Mason University. He says similar programs along the East Coast are numerous and costly, averaging more than $100,000. “To have a dynamic program like this, leveraging the full strength of CU’s campuses is phenomenal,” he says.

The program began its 32nd year in fall of 2013. Despite the longevity, EMBA programs must continue to innovate, Hamilton-Archer says. “We have to provide our students with real-time conversations and offer perspective and insight to sharpen their skills. It’s more about building context around the challenges that they face on a daily basis. Our students solve complex problems each day, and our classroom provides a unique and collaborative environment where our faculty can share best practices and leading research.

“To take a program that has been in existence for so long and is on the cusp of moving to the next level is quite exciting. It’s got a great foundation, great opportunities, and there’s plenty of room for us to grow regionally and nationally.”

1. What is your vision for the program and how will you reach your goals?

I’d like to see us serve a population of 150 to 200 students a year. We’re also looking to expand beyond the Front Range.

We were very strategic this year and made some ad placements outside of the normal avenues. We went to DIA, for instance, and to Rocky Mountain PBS, to get a greater presence within the local market and to activate potential applications on the Western Slope. We’re targeting cities that are within a two-and-a-half hour radius by plane, and we’re looking at new programming to attract a greater national and potentially international audience.

We see ourselves as another dynamic attribute that can help to attract dynamic professionals and organizations to Colorado.

2. What do you consider the hallmark of the program?

The hallmark of the program is our international trip. Our trip is unique because it is a combination of discovering how general business is conducted within a given country and a chance to truly experience the culture and rhythm of a city. Our students form groups and research a question that is of interest to them, and this adds another layer, and context.

We spend 10 days in two countries. This year, in May, we’ll go to Istanbul and Paris. We tend to visit a developed market as well as a developing market, so in 2015, we’re considering Istanbul along with Moscow or Helsinki. We’re also interested in getting access to less traditional areas – India, Brazil, South Africa; we’ve even looked at Cuba. We’re also considering a second trip for each cohort to allow our students the opportunity to truly expand their perspective.

3. Clearly, continuing education helps the executive students who take these courses. Are there other impacts?

We have a group of faculty members that tend to push people beyond the bottom-line conversation. It’s always good to know the numbers and the levers of the organization, but we tend to have individuals who come through the program who also understand the human impact. What I’ve found quite fascinating about the alums I’ve talked with is that these are people who care. Our alums – 790 in the Front Range – are home-grown and they want to grow their community. Right now we’re working on an impact survey so that we can more precisely get a sense of what our students do. We are interested in learning about their true impact to Colorado and the region.

The program has an opportunity to leverage the true strength of CU -- finding high-level conversations, experiences and opportunities for students. A dean might speak with them about the challenges of higher ed, or we can go to Colorado Springs and talk about ethics with U.S. Olympics officials. The program gives students access to the many conversations that take place across the university’s campuses each day, and allows them to take what they learn in their own direction – to go back to work on Monday with a new perspective.

4. What activities do you enjoy, and, now that you’re in Colorado, are there others you’d like to pursue?

I’m a huge basketball fan and the first thing we did when we got here was get ourselves tickets to the Nuggets. We’re coming out of Pittsburgh where it’s all football.  The Penguins were in the conversation, but it is the heart of Steeler nation, so getting back to a place where there’s professional basketball is exciting. I love to watch and I love to play. I’m also inspired by the energy here in Colorado: Everyone is fit and outdoorsy. It’s a lot of pressure on us East Coast folks because our idea of exercise is more of a mental game than actual activity. I know how to ski, at least mechanically. I can go straight; turning is another conversation. But I’m going to figure that out between now and the end of this year. My wife and I are explorers at heart and we have a tendency to just hop in the car and find something new to see. We’ve traveled to a number of different places in the state, and it really feels like home.

5. Tell me about a favorite item that you own.

It is my passport. I absolutely love to travel. I remember telling my mom that I was going to travel the globe. I was paying my way through college, and the first opportunity I had to go overseas was my junior year. It has literally been a ride ever since, and I absolutely love being exposed to different cultures. I’m fortunate enough now to be able to pick up and go, and I never leave home without my passport.

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