May 27, 2021 • By Laurie McLaughlin
To build a career in leadership, Jared Burk FEMBA ’17 says, “Number 1, do not be afraid to take risks and take control. There are going to be times you are asked to do tough things, and if you really want a chance to be a leader, you should look for those risk-reward opportunities that deliver the value the business is looking for.”
Burk applied this strategy to his own professional journey as he stepped up along the way to solve high-pressure, high-visibility problems. The approach resulted in a series of important promotions and increased responsibility within his career: in his 20s, he was already leading teams that were responsible for millions of dollars in revenue at Grainger industrial supply company, where he worked with clients like NBC and Warner Bros.
A few years ago he transferred to Grainger’s Lake Forest, Illinois, headquarters and ascended to director of sales execution, communications and skill building. In January 2021, he joined James Hardie Building Products in Downtown Chicago as senior director of sales operations, leading a 60-person organization and a $3 billion business. He recently accepted an offer at Berlin Packaging where he is excited to be a part of the ridged packaging industry.
“Taking on leadership roles early in a career requires not being afraid to say ‘I can do that,’” says Burk. “Most people want to stay away from a ‘hairy’ problem, but those are the best opportunities to advance quickly. If you untangle those problems and are willing to take risks to drive incremental change, you will get the chance to do more.”
A Graduate Program that Fits a Family Life
Burk’s professional goal is to head a company as CEO, and from the very start, he has focused on that objective when making career decisions. With his rapid ascension into more significant roles at work, he knew an MBA was necessary. “I was looking for a top-50 business school with the kind of reputation that can be leveraged in the marketplace and allow me to lead at the most senior level,” he says.
When Burk began his MBA studies at the Merage School, he and his family lived near the university in Irvine. He was accepted to a number of top-tier schools, including UC Irvine, which he chose because the Fully Employed MBA (FEMBA) program made the most sense on a very personal level.
“UCI’s FEMBA program was the best decision from a family perspective: My second-oldest son, who was the youngest at the time, has Down syndrome and needed a lot of help,” says Burk, who required the flexibility of working full time and studying at night. “UCI supported me in the way I needed to be an active dad and a husband, and that remains very important to me.”
Maximizing the MBA Program
Burk’s list of favorite experiences within the FEMBA program is long, but the most beneficial, he says, was the team of fellow students—relationships with people across industries that he still maintains. “We had a really good group of folks who were dedicated, smart and worked hard,” says Burk, who continues to draw on the ten-week consulting experience with Cisco and his international residential study trips to Thailand and Singapore. “The program was exactly what you would expect—building a lot of solid, valuable relationships, really great educational knowledge and real-world experience.”
Through the Merage School’s mentorship program, Burk met retired aerospace sales and marketing executive Daryl YeeLitt, who connected him to nonprofit board membership with the Council on Aging. “It was a chance to give back and to learn,” says Burk, who strongly recommends young business leaders serve on charitable boards. “A nonprofit is a different kind of business model, but they still need to make decisions about how to be profitable and drive revenues. For me, board membership has been very insightful.”
Looking back at his career, he is grateful for the opportunities he was able to seize, and again underscores the importance of embracing the tough problems. “It may be more common for people to sit back and be part of the change instead of leading the change,” says Burk. “Don’t be afraid to be the one leading the change.”