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Meet The Michigan Ross MBA Class of 2018

Members of the Class of 2018 at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business

Members of the Class of 2018 at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

Every business eventually faces one question: Do they specialize or do they pursue excellence across-the-board? It is a defining choice. By focusing, companies can own a segment, but leave themselves vulnerable to market whims. In contrast, generalists can transform themselves into behemoths, but risk becoming sidetracked and ordinary in the process.

ACROSS THE BOARD EXCELLENCE DEFINES ROSS

Business schools wrestle with the same question. Only a select few have been able to excel in every facet of the curriculum. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business is one of those schools. In U.S. News’ most recent survey of business school administrators, the program ranked among the top 10 programs in 9 out of 10 MBA specializations, topping out at 4th in operations and 5th in accounting, management, and logistics. How hard is that to do? Take Kellogg, another Midwest power school. Here, just 5 specializations made the Top 10, one better than intracity rival Booth.

Why does this matter? Doesn’t specializing open doors and bring job security? Maybe early in a career.  To move up, students must possess a well-rounded skill set, something easier to gain in a controlled academic setting than an unpredictable workday. With top companies investing over six figures in every MBA hire, graduates are expected to make an impact early.

You can only be ready do that by exposing yourself to the best instructors, students, and resources in the field. That’s the Big Blue advantage. Blessed with the resources of one of America’s largest public research universities, Ross offers something for everyone. With a diverse curriculum comes a diverse student body. In the Class of 2018, you’ll find students from every corner.

CLASS INCLUDES A ROCKET SCIENTIST, AN OPERA SINGER…AND LOTS OF ENTREPRENEURS

Soojin Kwon, the school’s director of admissions, points to the class arriving in Ann Arbor from a wider range of organizations than ever, listing NBC Universal, the KIPP Foundation, Net Impact, the Housing Justice Foundation, and the Turkish Treasury (among others). Contrary to conventional wisdom, Ross is far from a regional player. California and New York, not Michigan, furnished the largest number to the school. At the same time, every Ivy League school is represented in the class, with UCLA, Duke, Northwestern, and Michigan acting as the largest feeder schools.

Just how diverse is this class? Just look at how they describe themselves. Jim Gawron, who’ll hold four degrees from Michigan after his MBA, is a “rocket scientist turned environmentalist striving to create a sustainable world through the power of business.” He’ll be joined by Japan’s Hiroaki “Kobby” Kobayashi, “an enthusiastic emergency physician hoping to make healthcare more reliable and quality-controlled place through business.” Anjin Stewart-Funai adds a poet’s flair to the class as a “former professional opera singer and talent agent from Chicago who loves yoga and BBQ chips.” Let’s not forget Matthew Weiss, “a native New Yorker, photographer, journalist, children’s book author, small business owner and shark lover.”

Their backgrounds are jaw-drop impressive…and scary. Thais Hernandez, a Stanford grad originally from Cuba, performed in Carnegie Hall as a youth. Jessica Jennings, who has already worked for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Edelman, and JPMorgan Chase, enjoyed the spotlight as a child model. “It was probably the best job I’ve ever had, but I was too young to appreciate it,” she jokes. Stewart-Funai tested her theatrical chops by playing “a hormonal, teenage boy in the opera Ariadne auf Naxos.” Weiss has scuba dived on every continent, “including Antarctica.” On a sad note, Edward Norwood once wrecked his brand new Kawasaki Ninja 600…in the dealership parking lot. Chances are, he wouldn’t trade places with Aaron Wolff, a Teach For America veteran who “once starved for four days in the Patagonia wilderness.”

Soojin Kwon, director of admissions at Michigan's Ross School of Business

Soojin Kwon, director of admissions at Michigan’s Ross School of Business

HWANG RISKS HIS LIFE IN NORTH KOREA TO SAVE DEFECTORS

When it comes to the 2018 class’ accomplishments, it’s hard to even know where to begin. Eric Hwang, a Berkeley grad and baseball lover, dodged military checkpoints to escort North Korean refugees out of the country. Stewart-Funai was the feature performer at a ceremony honoring her hero, pianist Van Cliburn. Not to be outdone, Weiss is the author of a convention-shaking children’s book, Please Be Nice to Sharks, which was featured on Shark Week. The goal of the book: change the perception of sharks from “ruthless man-eaters” to endangered species who play a vital part of the ecosystem. “If they can see sharks through my eyes and photographs, rather than through terrifying film and television images, maybe they’ll understand why sharks are more valuable alive than dead,” he says.

Kwon has also observed an uptick in the number of entrepreneurs in the Class of 2018. No doubt, the quality is increasing alongside its numbers. Wolff, for example, co-founded a firm, Chalkfly.com, that quickly grew into a $10 million dollar operation that was named one of one of Business Insider’s “Best Startups to Work for in America.” Kobayash helped develop a medical heart valve device that is now being used in nearly a dozen countries. Looking for a profile in courage? Try Madeline Bourgeois, who left Microsoft to help build “a no-name food delivery company called Peach.” Her leap of faith eventually paid off, however. “I grew my customer territory from 100 to over 10,000 users and drove growth metrics that helped Peach raise a Series A round of $8 million dollars.”

The Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan

The Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan

The class is packed with intrapreneurs too. At JPMorgan Chase, Jennings was among the first volunteers to participate in the Detroit Service Corps, who shared their expertise with local nonprofits to help them serve their clients. Thanks to Jennings’ team’s success, this model has been scaled to other cities, emerging as the company’s key corporate social responsibility initiative. Kobayashi has worked alongside his director at the University of Tokyo Hospital to implement reforms that have made it the destination for many emergency patients. When it comes to a ‘wow’ factor, it’d be hard to top Gawron, who designed a satellite that helped his firm land a $55 million dollar contract at NASA.

40% FEMALE ENROLLMENT REPRESENTS AN ALL-TIME HIGH

By the numbers, Ross remains the picture of steadiness with the 2018 Class. The number of applicants increased for the third consecutive year according to Kwon. Specifically, applications rose from 3,207 to 3,353, with the school accepting 26% of applicants. The class also boasts 415 members, up from the 407 from the 2017 Class.

GMAT scores remained anchored at 708, just five points higher than they were five years ago. That said, average GPAs did creep up .04 to 3.44. The real progress, however, was reserved for the percentage of women, which jumped from 32% to 40%, putting Ross in the same conversation with Kellogg, Booth, and MIT by that measure. It was the school’s all-time high for recruiting women after being seemingly locked in the 30%-32% range for the past five years. By the same token, the percentage of international students fell from 35% to 31%, a repeat of the drop that occurred between the 2015 and 2014 classes.

Looking at their undergraduate majors, the Class of 2018 is pretty evenly balanced. 38% of the class holds degrees in business or economics-related areas, followed by STEM (32%) and liberal arts and social sciences (30%). Like most MBA programs, financial services accounts for the highest percentage of students at 20%. However, you’ll also find large blocs of students whose previous work experience included consulting (14%), education and non-profit (10%), manufacturing (9%), technology (9%), healthcare (6%), and media and entertainment (5%). Every branch of the armed forces is also represented in the class and account for 4% of the students.

To read profiles of 12 incoming Ross MBA students, go to the next page.