M.B.A. helps alumna broaden her focus

Ronda Dean started her career as a clinical microbiologist.

As the founder, president, and chief executive officer of Afaxys Inc., her mission-driven, social- business enterprise, Ronda Dean, Weekend Executive M.B.A. ’92 brings a wealth of knowledge to the table: She has more than twenty-five years of healthcare industry experience and a decade of executive-level work in public health.

Her company’s focus is ensuring that patients who receive care from public health providers always have affordable access to high-quality contraceptive products. In fact, the company’s name, which comes from truncating “affordable access,” is emblematic of that mission. It’s a value she learned as the daughter of an electrician and a stay-at-home mom, and one enforced by the memory of receiving health-care services from a public-health provider while an undergraduate student at Ohio State University.

“My views on women’s health and reproductive rights were informed by my first interaction with Planned Parenthood when I was eighteen years old,” she says. “When a young woman takes control of her reproductive life, it allows her to manage everything else in her life.”

Dean launched her professional career as a clinical microbiologist and then moved to the business of health care when she started working for Parke-Davis Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Early in her management career, Dean enrolled in Fuqua’s Weekend Executive M.B.A. program. And to her surprise, despite her vast knowledge, she learned something new about the things she thought she already knew.

The twenty-two-month intense program provided her with the staples of a business curriculum: financial management, operations, and statistics. What she didn’t count on learning was the ability to quickly recognize and manage the areas where she lacked information and how to find those who had it.

“I got a keen appreciation for what I didn’t know and became very comfortable knowing that I could never be a functional expert in all the areas necessary to operate a company successfully. But knowing how to find and qualify those who are the experts, that is what is really important.”

Dean says she also acquired a skill she describes as “landscape multitasking.” Working full time, taking a full class load, and handling family obligations meant learning how to manage and prioritize important responsibilities across multiple areas without letting the really critical ones fall short of expectations.

“It was like twirling plates,” she says. “I learned how to recognize the plate just as it started to wobble and keep it spinning while spinning lots of other plates at the same time. And if it looked like one of the plates was about to fall, I learned when to reach out and catch it before it crashed to the ground. That skill evolved into a way to prioritize in times of stress—a typical day at a startup, right?”

Now an emerging leader in the public-health sector, Afaxys provides reliable and affordable oral contraceptives to health-care providers for their patients. “The trajectory of our company has far exceeded my expectations,” she says. “The education I received while at Fuqua helped cultivate the critical thinking and management skills I use every day as I lead the company forward."

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