By Amy Watkins The Herald Business Journal
EVERETT — Shannon Affholter has always valued education.
The son of a high school teacher, he grew up in Toppenish in a home where education was highly regarded as something that was important to pursue. Affholter, 45, said for a long time he’s also had a keen interest in business.
A desire to better himself through continued education and a natural curiosity about the business world led Affholter, an Everett City Council member and the vice president of business and economic development for Economic Alliance Snohomish County, back to the classroom.
He is part of a cohort of a dozen professionals who are earning master’s degrees in business administration at Everett Community College from Western Washington University. The Western Washington University Weekend MBA Program is designed for working managers and professionals. Classes are offered every other weekend during the two-year program held at Everett Community College’s University Center of North Puget Sound.
“I always want to make sure that I’m getting better and that I’m in a position where I can continue to grow,” he said. “I think in my process of developing my own self and my skill sets, this was the natural next step of getting more training.”
Affholter’s first job after graduating in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Pacific Lutheran University was selling long-distance phone service. He went door to door in Seattle to make sales.
“It was probably the hardest job I ever had,” Affholter said. “In retrospect, that was a great experience because I really got a firsthand knowledge of how to deal with people.”
From there, Affholter, who played tennis and basketball in college, ended up taking a job as a sales representative for the company Baden Sports. He worked his way into a manager position before he went to work in 1994 as a district representative of the Lutheran Brotherhood. He successfully organized and supervised a new Snohomish County office while in that position. Affholter said he considered it to be a nice regional opportunity, but decided he wanted to get a better understanding of what a Fortune 500 company was like.
So in 2000, Affholter went to work for Merck &Co. and worked his way up to account executive. While he didn’t have a science background, he was able to manage teams of people and communicate highly technical information, he said. He learned how to analyze a business and recognize opportunities for growth and development of products and messages.
During his eight years at Merck, he said, there was some discussion about him moving into leadership positions.
“Part of that discussion was to go get my MBA,” he said. “And the game plan was always to go back and get my MBA, but you get busy and you have a family and have work and there’s never a perfect time to do it.”
As a business development executive for Moss Adams from 2008 to 2011, Affholter considered pursuing his MBA at Seattle University or the University of Washington. The topic was also discussed with Troy McClelland, president and CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County, before Affholter started his current job in January 2012 as McClelland’s lieutenant.
“Troy’s always been very supportive of me getting my MBA but knowing that I was going to be starting my new job, there was just no way I was going to be able to go down to Seattle every Tuesday and Thursday night,” Affholter said.
David Beyer, president of Everett Community College, suggested Affholter look into Western Washington University. He followed up, learned about the weekend MBA program and applied.
“The timing is very flexible for somebody who has a busy lifestyle like I do,” he said.
In January, it’ll be four years since the weekend MBA program began, said Craig Dunn, associate dean and MBA program director at Western Washington University. He knows students have referred to the program as “the best-kept secret in Snohomish County,” but he doesn’t consider that to be a point of distinction.
“What we haven’t really done is promoted ourselves effectively,” Dunn said. “I have to say it’s not as core as having the right product in the right place at the right price. We have that, but we have to find a way to connect with key employers in the region.”
The program begins in January each even-numbered year. Enrollment has increased from seven students in the first cohort to 12 in the second, Dunn said.
“We’ve been delighted with the response we’ve received in Everett,” he said. “We’d like to see (enrollment) double and I would say there’s no reason for that not to happen.”
Dunn instructs two courses throughout the program so he can better stay in contact with each student. The current cohort consists of professionals who are employed at Boeing, Fluke and Microsoft and who also work for local financial institutions and with the Catholic Church. Students in the program waste no time in applying what they learn to their work, Dunn said.
“It’s rewarding to know that on Monday morning when that student goes to work they’ll be able to apply what they learned,” he said.
Dunn added that prospective students need to consider work, life and school balance before beginning the $40,000 program. Classes are held for eight hours every other Friday and Saturday and time outside of class is needed to work on homework and group assignments.
“We want students who understand that pretty fully and are able to make sacrifices,” he said. “Our job is to equip students to achieve their professional aspirations.”
Affholter said he felt prepared for the amount of work that would be part of earning his MBA, but it turned out to be more than he was expecting. Even so, the program has been rewarding, Affholter said. He recommends it to other professionals who are interested in pursuing their MBA.
“It’s a great program to continue to develop your skill sets and grow and become better at what you do,” he said. “To continue to be where I desire to be in executive positions, an MBA is something I believe you need to have because it develops your analytical skill sets and it develops your leadership skill sets.”
He appreciates that professors who teach in the program make themselves easily accessible by phone, email or face to face. And he’s learned just as much from his classmates as he has from his instructors.
“Who knows, maybe some of my colleagues will hire me someday or I’ll hire them someday,” Affholter said. “The relationships that you build with your classmates, I’m sure will last for a while.”
He’s also been supported throughout the program by his family, Affholter said. Graduation will mark a grand day for him as well as his wife, Shannon Lee, and their two children.
“It’s a team effort,” he said. “We’ll all be excited. That will be a great day for the Affholter family.”
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On the Web
To learn about Western Washington University MBA programs, go to www.cbe.wwu.edu/mba. More about the Western Weekend MBA program is located under Quick Links and Curriculum Information.