I am large, I contain multitudes.
Each year, we report on some of the most accomplished, unique, and interesting young professionals. As a news site that reports on the most elite business schools, we live and work in a bubble at the apex of higher education. And so, at the end of each year, we like to take a step back and reflect not only on our reporting and writing, but on just whom we are writing about and for.
This year — like every other — the most intriguing MBAs we’ve written about come from all sorts of backgrounds and have a smorgasbord of pursuits and passions. The list below is a group of activists, athletes, and innovators. One has persevered through early tragedies; another was a victim of a senseless and random act of violence. They are writers, scientists, and chefs. But no matter the pursuit or passion they have sought and will continue to seek, they, like so many others in elite MBA programs, are like the words Walt Whitman penned more than a century ago: Individually, and collectively, they are large, and they contain multitudes.
Below is a list, in no order, of our top 10 favorite MBAs of 2016. At the end are four additional MBAs we wanted to include as honorable mentions.
Patrick Ford isn’t your typical MBA. At all. And while Ford is certainly worthy of this list for his immediate work in gender equity at the University of California-Berkeley Haas School of Business, his uncouth B-school background also places him here. Growing up in California’s Marin County, Ford’s activism is less surprising than his enrollment in one of the most elite MBA programs in the world.
As an undergraduate at UC-Berkeley, Ford was deeply involved in Berkeley’s co-op community. The culture of acceptance, sharing, community, and tolerance planted early seeds, and upon graduation Ford went back to work for his high school, the Marin Academy in San Rafael. But not as a teacher. Instead, he led students on backcountry trips all over California’s vast wilderness.
Leading a group of teenagers through some of California’s pristine wilderness areas like Death Valley, the Trinity Alps, and the Lost Coast, certainly has its complexities, but it’s not at all the kind of management experience typically seen on the resume of someone in an elite MBA program. Also atypical: After six years guiding trips, Ford pivoted and began working for the Burning Man Foundation. “It’s not as exciting as it sounds,” he told Poets&Quants in October. As a team logistics coordinator, Ford spent the majority of his time behind the scenes of the annual festival in the Nevada desert.
When Ford decided he wanted an MBA, he applied to only Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and UC-Berkeley’s Haas School. Once Ford arrived on the Berkeley campus, he was a bit taken aback by his cohort’s level of social awareness. Impressed, and seeing a desire of men on campus to make Haas a more gender-equitable environment, Ford soon got involved in the Women in Leadership organization, inviting groups of his friends to his apartment to take “deep dives” into the role of men in gender equality. Growing out of those initial grassroots meetings was a student organization with nearly 100 members dubbed “Manbassadors,” now one of the most active student-run organizations on the Haas campus. The club coordinates activities with other, similar clubs at B-school campuses across the U.S.
2016 was an incredibly politically charged year. And B-school campuses were not immune to the social activism taking place. Following the police shootings of Terrence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Keith L. Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, in September, hundreds of Wharton MBAs wore black and gathered on September 21 in solidarity with other groups to protest the shootings.
Originally organized by Wharton’s African American MBA Association (AAMBAA) and the Return on Equality organization, the protest not only sparked interest on their own campus but on the campuses at NYU-Stern, Columbia Business School, Harvard’s Kennedy School, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, and Wharton San Francisco, as well. “We decided that members of AAMBAA and our allies would wear black to campus and ask our friends and classmates to do the same,” Wharton second-year and president of the AAMBAA, Dimia Fogam, told Poets&Quants in September.
“Wearing black was a sign of mourning, but more importantly was an indication of a willingness to engage in difficult conversations about race and policing.”
Sparking one of the most heated discussions in the comments section this year was the story of Shantanu Misra’s journey to Harvard Business School. As an applicant from India, Misra represented the most over-represented group of elite MBA applicants. It is believed Indians face rejection rates four to five times the amount of elite business programs. Admissions consultants estimate around 1,300 Indians apply to HBS every year, yet the school often enrolls around 40 Indian passport holders in a typical class.
Enter Misra, a 26-year-old senior associate from Boston Consulting Group’s Mumbai office. He was an early career riser and notched a 770 GMAT before moving to Geneva to join Gavi, the vaccine alliance, as strategy manager. Despite attending an elite Indian high school, having early success at BCG, and knocking the GMAT out of the park, Misra still needed something more to elevate him from the rest of his demographic.
“I had a good amount of global exposure,” Misra told Poets&Quants in August. “For BCG, I worked in five different geographies and then I spent one and one-half years in Switzerland for Gavi. And I made sure my career focus to be a social entrepreneur came out in my application. I think these two things really differentiated me.”