Actor’s Latest Role: Student in Rutgers Executive MBA

MBA Blog / 29th January 2024

Being led away in handcuffs isn’t the best look for someone in business school – unless, of course, you’re Michael Worden.

The first-year student in the Rutgers Executive MBA program has also been caught spying on guests in a seedy motel, participating in an illegal dice game, and fleeing the law across the rooftops of London. These and other unsavory activities are mitigated by the fact that, in addition to pursuing an Executive MBA, Worden is a successful actor and vocalist, and the transgressions listed above were committed on TV’s long-running series Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and in the classic musicals Oliver! and Guys and Dolls.

A man of many callings, Worden is also manager of business affairs at the music publishing company Alfred Music, where he’s worked for 13 years while actively pursuing his career as a performer – though in no way does he consider his work at Alfred a day job. “I love protecting artists’ rights, and I love copyright law,” he said, a dual passion that has its genesis in the early 2000s, in Worden’s personal experience in a punk band called Stu during his undergraduate days at the State University of New York at Oneonta. Before its release, the band’s first album was leaked on the file-sharing app Napster where it could be accessed for free, effectively ending any chance the band members had of profiting from the recording.

While Worden’s Executive MBA is likely to be an asset in his music industry career – he’s already put to work lessons he learned about negotiations, for example – that’s not the primary reason he’s pursuing it. He’s a performer at heart, but also an academic, with a lifelong love of learning. Paraphrasing education reformer John Dewey, Worden said, “Education isn’t preparation for life; it is life.” His pursuit of education has taken him from an undergraduate career majoring in vocal performance to commercial bootcamp to a variety of improv workshops. An interest in screenwriting impelled him to pursue an MFA in writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He said he hopes to put his Executive MBA – along with his experiences in music publishing – to work in academia, with the goal of teaching in a music industry program. He said many of those now teaching in the field have never actually worked in the industry, and he believes his first-hand knowledge – along with his Executive MBA – could be a significant asset.

Learn more about the Rutgers Executive MBA Program: The next in-person info session is Feb. 3 in Newark.

Worden chose the Rutgers Executive MBA Program for its high rankings and for its director, Farrokh Langdana. When he was deciding which program to attend, he said that Professor Langdana took the time to speak with him. “He was so easy to talk to, he just drew me in,” Worden said.

Of Worden, Langdana said, “as an actor, singer, and businessperson, Michael has had to focus not just on his stage presence but also on customer demand, consumer confidence, inflation, and the overall economy. In a roomful of EMBAs, his comments and perspectives took the whole classroom experience to a higher orbit.”

Langdana said Worden is one of a kind but, in a sense also emblematic of the program, which is known for its multifaceted student body. “In one year, for example,” Langdana said, “in addition to executives from finance, healthcare, IT, consulting, and pharma, graduates included curators of museums, directors of ballet companies, and four colonels.”

Worden is finding the program everything he’d hoped for and more. “Every professor that I’ve had so far is engaging,” he said. “They’re always willing to help.”

The one thing he didn’t expect to like was macroeconomics, but the course won him over. “I’m a news junkie,” he said, “and discovering how economics shapes the whole world has been wonderful.” In fact, one of macro’s tenets had intense personal resonance for him. “Right after learning from Professor Langdana that when inflation rises, unions get more power, the actors’ union went on strike,” he said.

He’s relieved that the strike is finally over, and with it the proscription against talking about his work as an actor. Though a nondisclosure agreement prohibits him from delving into the details, he’s clearly excited to say as much as he’s allowed about his most recent role in the forthcoming movie Drive-Away Dolls. Starring Matt Damon, it’s directed by Ethan Coen, who with his brother, Joel, directed critically acclaimed films including Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men.

“Working with a director as acclaimed as Ethan Coen was unlike anything I’d experienced in my career to date,” Worden said. “It was an honor to be able to work alongside so many of the industry’s greatest talents.”

As a performer, though, Worden’s most fervent love is musical theater, in which he can put his undergraduate training in the classic bel canto opera technique to work. “I love the way that music is used in the storytelling in musical theater,” he said. “I feel that allows for a greater depth of emotion than many other performing arts.” Among the many musical theater productions that he’s appeared in are Chorus Line, Company, Kiss Me Kate, and The Last Five Years, in which he had a star turn in Los Angeles as Jamie, one of a pair of ill-fated lovers.

Though Worden’s multifarious passions may not be all of a kind, they sometimes overlap in unexpected ways. Recently, for instance, he wrote and produced the musical score for a presentation to his fellow students in Business Law for Managers class taught by Professor Lewis Kerman.

He muses about his many roles, dramatic and otherwise: “If I could have told my college self, ‘You know, when you get older, you’ll be acting professionally in TV shows and movies, and you’re also going to work in the music industry full-time and have this interesting job,'” he said, “I would’ve been very happy.”

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