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        Alumni, MBA Programs

        Harbert graduate executive programs open doors to career change, opportunities

        February 25, 2021 By Ava Johnson

        All News



        “Somehow the Auburn family always finds its way back to each other.”                                                                                                       — Jessica Denham, Auburn Executive MBA alumnus

        The Harbert College is committed to effectively supporting student and alumni efforts to explore, define and achieve their career aspirations.

        One objective of Harbert College’s graduate executive programs is to bring together students from diverse businesses and industries to create a dynamic learning environment and expand networking and career opportunities.

        Some opportunities present themselves sooner than others, as experienced by Auburn Executive MBA (EMBA) alumna Jessica Denham.

        Denham, of Johnson City, Tennessee, was attending her first on-campus EMBA residency in 2016 when she was introduced to a concept that would greatly impact she and her husband’s lives. While reviewing her cohort roster the first night of residency, Jessica noticed that a classmate worked for Chicken Salad Chick. She was baffled at the idea of a restaurant selling only 12 chicken salad flavors … until she tried it herself.

        execIronically, Chicken Salad Chick catered lunch on the last day of residency. The excitement of faculty, staff, and students leading up to lunch piqued Jessica’s interest. Her husband, James, had always wanted to franchise a restaurant, and the moment she tasted Chicken Salad Chick, she knew this was the restaurant for them.

        This would represent a dramatic career change for Jessica, who came into the EMBA program as a business development director for an inpatient rehabilitation facility, a job she started after nursing school. She had long considered earning an MBA to gain a solid business foundation and began researching degree options at Auburn on the encouragement of her husband who, himself, had earned an Auburn Physicians Executive MBA (PEMBA) in 2011.

        Jessica had hoped to have an educational experience similar to that of her husband when she began considering the Auburn EMBA program. Similar to the PEMBA program, it is primarily delivered online, but students also attend five on-campus residencies during the 21-month program. The residencies were a draw for Jessica, who favored collaboration with her cohort. 

        cscIt was that collaboration during first residency that helped Jessica to discover a new business opportunity. Fast forward six months and James and Jessica contacted Chicken Salad Chick about a franchise. Ironically, the corporation was planning to expand into the east Tennessee area where James and Jessica lived. To help them establish a new restaurant, the corporation introduced them to other franchise partners, including another married couple who are both Auburn alumni.

        It goes to show the strong connection between the Auburn Family and Chicken Salad Chick, which was founded by alumna Stacy Brown.

        “I think there are four of us in the area and we somehow all found each other and now are in business together,” Jessica said of the alumni connection. “Somehow the Auburn family always finds its way back to each other.”

        Interestingly, the EMBA cohort member who first piqued Jessica’s interest in Chicken Salad Chick is the franchising business developer who helped them establish their franchise in Bristol, Tennessee, which opened September 15. Their second franchise in Johnson City, Tennessee is currently under construction.

        “It is more than just a restaurant. It’s a culture, it’s a way of life, it’s about building relationships and how your treat people,” Jessica said. “These values are what makes Chicken Salad Chick so successful and loved by so many communities.”

        When asked to sum up his PEMBA experience, James Denham said, “I was blown away by the entire program … all the faculty, making some of the best friends of my life. I just can’t say enough good things about it.”

        Next time you are in the Bristol area and feeling “Auburn homesick,” stop in for some chicken salad. Be sure to give a good “War Eagle!” as you walk in.