Each day, as Ernst Wittenschläger drives to his office, he passes by the local state university where his exams are proctored. He lives in Newmarket, N.H. He goes to school at the University of Arkansas.
When Ernst was offered a chance to transfer to the New Hampshire school, he did some research. Continuing his monthly 3,000 mile roundtrip commute to Fayetteville was more affordable – even when figuring in his flight, hotel and car rental, he says.
Plus, the Sam M. Walton College of Business is ranked higher. This is what lured him to the school in the first place, he says.
“When I considered the entire package, Walton College was the best deal going, hands down,” he says.
As a student of Walton College’s Managerial Master’s of Business Administration program, which meets one Saturday a month, Ernst will complete the program at the end of the summer following nearly two years of hopping on a plane and trekking across country.
He says it all began two years ago when he lived in Joplin, Mo., and was working for TAMKO Building Products Inc. He and his colleagues were looking for a college in the region where they could further their business education. They soon realized Walton College had the most to offer.
Just a few weeks into his first year at the college, Ernst moved to New England to pursue a better opportunity. “I’ve been commuting for nearly the entire program. I’ve even flown in for class from Europe a few times,” he says.
He says he appreciates the flexible curriculum, which allows for substituting certain electives in place of other classes. In particular, it enabled him to take Advanced Corporate Finance, taught by Tomas Jandik, a challenge he says he enjoyed. “It was very, very hard,” he says. “It was the best.”
Ernst grew up in both Germany and Richmond, Va., with a German father and an American mother. His bachelor’s degree, which he earned at the United States Naval Academy, was in political science with a minor in systems engineering, he says. Upon graduation, he served in the Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer. During the Iraq War, he and his boarding team inspected merchant ships for weapons, drugs and any other items that could be a threat.
When he left active duty, he discovered that his management and leadership skills acquired in the Navy were attractive to employers but he wasn’t sure he was fully prepared.
“I was simply clueless to the business world outside of the military,” he says. “I would hear the words ‘sales and marketing,’ ‘supply chain,’ ‘finance,’ but I had no idea what they really meant.” He would soon find out.
Ernst was hired to work as a territory manager in supply chain operations for Wolsely PLC, which manufactures plumbing and building products, in Newport News, Va. His supply chain experience coupled with his knowledge of German led to his promotion to manager of corporate supply chain. He was relocated to Zurich, Switzerland, where he managed the European supply chain operations. When the company closed the Zurich office, Ernst took a position with TAMKO and moved back to the United States.
“I had spent so much time in supply chain, I really didn’t know much about the other parts of a business enterprise outside of the supply chain,” he says. “I had a strong desire to have a more holistic understanding of the entire end-to-end business, especially the finance end of the business.”
He says Walton College has helped him meet those goals, even if he had to travel 3,000 miles each month to do it.