UW Bothell MBA provides global perspective

Tony Gepner

Tony Gepner / Marc Studer photo 

By Douglas Esser 
Tony Gepner is a kind of thrill-seeker — an experience seeker. The experiences he seeks as a management consultant are big, strategic initiatives. He’s a senior director at the CORTAC Group in Bellevue, whose clients have included Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Premera Blue Cross.  

When you’re working across a breadth of industries, there is no typical day, he said, and “you can gain so much experience.” 

Over his life, Gepner has made multiple career-changing decisions. One of the biggest was choosing the MBA program at the University of Washington Bothell.  

“My experience at UW Bothell opened my eyes to a lot of things in the business world that I had no experience with before — from the strategy side, from the marketing side,” Gepner said. “I think of things with a much more global perspective than I ever thought I would before I went to school.” 

Gepner went to Central Washington University for his undergraduate degree. He started college as a music major but switched to political science. After graduating in 1997, he worked for a time in Gov. Gary Locke’s office and managed some election campaigns in Snohomish County. It was exciting, but the day after the election you don’t have a job, said Gepner, who still lends advice and attends fundraisers for candidates he supports. 

In 2003, Gepner had a management job at Premera Blue Cross, a “great” employer, he said, where they weren’t just moving paper, they were making a difference in people’s lives. He had learned about data analysis and project management and could look forward to moving into the highest level of the company if he remained another 20 years. Or did he want an MBA and the experiences that could bring? 

Gepner chose the MBA. And, he chose UW Bothell after investigating the MBA offerings in the Seattle area. A key figure in the decision was Don Whitney, the longtime manager of graduate services at the School of Business. He explained the cohort system where a group would take the same classes together all the way through the program. 

“In talking to Don and talking to professors, it really felt like this was the place to be. The campus is beautiful. I put all that together and made my decision,“ said Gepner, who added that Whitney remained a friend until his death in 2012. 

Gepner, who served as president of the campus MBA Association in his second year, also stays in contact with other members of his cohort. 

“Some of the brightest people I have met in my entire career — and being a consultant you get to meet a lot of people — go to school here. Motivated people, people who want to change the world.” 

Gepner recalled the two-year experience, while working full time, was intense. Memorable faculty included Pete Nye, Sandeep Krishnamurthy, James Burton, Alan Leong and Sundar Balakrishnan. For an entrepreneurial class, his group drew up plans for purchasing a winery and launching a brand. After their final presentation, they all sat down with a glass of wine and talked about doing it for real. They agreed they could do it but not right then. 

After graduating in 2005, Gepner worked at several consulting and health-management companies and has been at CORTAC, where he oversees a team of 16, for about a year and a half. He returns to UW Bothell to serve on the dean’s advisory council and to speak to MBA classes about management consulting. 

It’s a way for graduates to apply all their information on Day One, he said. 

“You’re going to have a certain set of tasks to move a project forward. You’re going to be working with experts who will be able to provide you with information. At the same time, you’re going to be a trusted adviser to them. They’re going to ask you for your opinion, your thoughts and experience, and you’ll say this is how I’ve done this in the past or if I were in your shoes these are the kind of steps I would take and here’s why. You’re influencing strategic decisions.” 

Gepner, who grew up in Kirkland, lives in the Monroe area with his wife and three children. They are active in their church, home schooling and their children’s lacrosse teams. Gepner also is a musician. He played trumpet in college and still performs with two community groups, the Woodinville Concert Band and the River Winds. Each performs about three concerts a year, and Gepner finds time at least twice a week to practice. 

Some management consultants use the position as a steppingstone to another job. But not Gepner. Even if you have a C-level suite, he said, sometimes you won’t have the experience of working on an “exciting, strategic level big-risk, big-reward project — the thrill of making a huge difference.”