Learning from Experience

M.B.A. Program Translates Theory Into Practice

By Andrew Hayenga

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Southern Company Services CEO Susan Story says her experiences in the UAB M.B.A. program helped prepare her to tackle workplace challenges.

Susan Story is, by any measure, a successful leader. In November 2010, she completed a climb through the ranks to become CEO of Southern Company Services, a subsidiary of Southern Company, one of the nation’s foremost energy providers. But what, exactly, fueled her on the road to career success?

Like many executives, Story attributes her leadership skills to a combination of natural inclination and the shaping influence of family, educators, and mentors. But she is also a firm believer in tackling weak points as well as improving on strong suits.

“You have to be able to augment your baseline skills with a rigorous commitment to learning and personal improvement,” she says. For Story, that meant enrolling in evening classes at the UAB School of Business. She graduated with a master of business administration (M.B.A.) degree in 1987.

Story notes that the line between work and study was purposely blurred in UAB’s M.B.A. program. “The professors at UAB encouraged me to use the classroom as a kind of laboratory,” Story says. “I was allowed to use class projects and assignments as a testing ground for strategies and ideas to solve my real workplace challenges.”

Beyond Book Learning

Faculty in UAB’s M.B.A. program resolutely keep their focus on “real workplace challenges, because they have extensive professional and corporate experience,” says Doug Ayers, Ph.D., the program’s director. “This is important, because many of our students are working professionals who want to understand how to apply theory in a real way to benefit themselves and their employers.”

Ayers says the School of Business, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is proud to have an M.B.A. graduate serving in a key senior-level position at a Fortune 500 organization—a rarity for such a young program. But Story isn’t the only M.B.A. graduate from UAB currently serving in a leadership role at Southern Company. She is joined on the organization’s executive management council by 1979 alumnus Art Beattie, an executive vice president and chief financial officer at Southern Company.

Beattie shares Story’s sense of what sets the UAB M.B.A. program apart—a determination to make classroom experience translate seamlessly into workplace action. He also highlights another strong suit: the school’s location in the heart of Alabama’s prime banking and business district. “My professors, the library, and other resources were right at my fingertips, and I could balance my professional career and classroom work easily,” Beattie recalls. “It was the best of both worlds.”

More Information

UAB School of Business

UAB Master's of Business Administration program

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