EMBA Profile: From Recently Laid Off to CEO

A profile about Penn State Smeal Executive MBA alumnus Tony Pangano, who was able to reach his professional goals after graduating from the Smeal EMBA Program.

Portrait of Tony Pagano.Tony Pagano was in his late 30s and had just been laid off. Standing at a professional and personal crossroads, he decided that an investment in education would help him plot a new course.

Five years later, Pagano’s instincts proved correct. He graduated in 2013 from the Philadelphia-based Penn State Smeal Executive MBA Program and is now CEO of StrataScape Technologies. The company he founded is a 15-employee next-generation IT service and support firm focused on advising, selling, and supporting both managed IT services and cloud computing platforms for small and mid-sized companies.

How Pagano transitioned from there to here, he said, reveals the strength of the Smeal Executive MBA experience.

Why Smeal

About a year after leaving Credit Suisse for a new position at West Pharmaceuticals, Pagano wanted to “move up to the next level” but kept hearing the same message: He needed either more business experience or an MBA.

In exploring MBA options in the Philadelphia area, the Smeal Executive MBA, based at the ACE Conference Center in Lafayette Hill, caught Pagano’s eye.

“What I really liked about the program was the cohort system of it, the selection system. The class was very diverse and spread out with experiences. That was a big plus for me,” he said. 

“The professors were another big deciding factor. I was so impressed with their knowledge and experiences. The third and maybe the biggest piece, was Penn State’s big networking dimension. The width and breadth of the Penn State alumni system is huge.”

Pagano was already leaning toward Smeal when West reorganized and he was laid off. 

“Now I definitely wanted an MBA,” he said. “I was nearly 40 years old. If not now, when?” 

With the support of his family — his wife, Gayle, and children, Adam, 10, and Liliana, 7 – Pagano began figuring out how he would manage the competing demands of business school, family obligations, and the consulting work he was doing.

“I was one of the first people accepted in the 2013 class, so I had a whole year to figure it out,” he said. “I am thankful for my wife allowing me to do what I needed to do. I couldn’t have done it without her. And the program coordinators are considerate of your family life.”

A Business Epiphany

Alongside his classmates, Pagano started his Smeal Executive MBA journey in August 2011 with an intensive week of classes on the Penn State University Park campus.

“We had accounting and finance, some of the toughest courses, right out of the gate. When you look at it, you’re like, ‘wow, it’s really quite a challenge,’” Pagano said.

“That first week, I remember everyone was tired. We barely slept. But it was a good, positive experience. It brought us all together. We were all experiencing the same type of challenge.”

Eventually, Pagano said, he figured out how to balance the demands on his time. It was also during that first year of working through real-life business problems that Pagano experienced an epiphany.

“I knew I wanted to do something on my own, build something else that can grow and benefit others. I used that program to essentially jumpstart my business. It was a huge, huge benefit,” he said.

Pagano said StrataScape has grown each year. Revenue in the first quarter is up 275 percent compared to the same time a year ago. And, in the next few weeks, the company will receive word on its first deal of more than a million dollars. 

“One of the things I tell people is to really take the time to sit down and listen to what is going on, understand there is a time commitment and effort is required,” he said.

“The other thing is that in 21 months you are done. People know life is going to get in the way, but the Smeal EMBA keeps you focused and drives you to get the degree.”

Posted April 2015