At Stanford, there is a popular metaphor that likens students to ducks. On the surface, they appear smooth and serene —gracefully coasting along with no wasted motion. Below the water, they are paddling feverishly to make it all look so easy.
That may sound like your prototypical MBA overachiever, but the Stanford Graduate School of Business student body is far more exemplary than everyday. Academically accomplished, purpose-driven, and globally-minded, classes come to Palo Alto to fulfill the school’s mission: “Change Lives, Change Organizations, Change the World.” Of course, they just tackle those demands with the Stanford style, laid back and fun-loving — a quirky journey that starts with fountain hopping and culminates with wacky walks.
The school itself is an interdisciplinary laboratory where clashing ideas are refined into inventive solutions that inspire game-changing organizations. In the end, a Stanford MBA is a transformational experience, a place to open up, push boundaries, and learn by doing. “Stanford GSB is a small community of amazingly talented individuals and has a strong focus on leadership skills and interpersonal dynamics,” explains Ruth Adu-Daako, a first-year who plans to nurture emerging markets in Africa through finance and technology.
ELITE, ENTREPRENEURIAL AND ECLECTIC
If you had to boil the Stanford GSB experience down to a few words, it would be defined by three E’s: Elite, Entrepreneurial, and Eclectic. The program’s elite status is cemented by consistently ranking among the top three MBA programs worldwide. However, these high rankings also mirror the school’s popularity. During the 2015-2016 admissions cycle, for example, the program received 19.5 applications for every open seat. In other words, barely 6% of all Stanford applicants get accepted into the program, making it twice as selective as Harvard Business School. Even more, nearly 9 of every 10 applicants accepted by Stanford ultimately enroll, further reinforcing the degree’s cache in the marketplace.
Despite placing the majority of its graduates in tech and finance, the program has garnered the reputation for being an “entrepreneurship school.” No surprise there, as Stanford GSB sits on the outskirts of Silicon Valley, home to the top dogs in tech: Google, Apple, Tesla, Cisco, Netflix, Facebook, Oracle, and eBay. In fact, you have to take the exit to Sand Hill Road — synonymous with deep-pocketed venture capitalists — to even get to Stanford. Alas, you’ll find Stanford MBAs often frequenting the same haunts as experienced entrepreneurs — not to mention talented coders, engineers, and scientists from Stanford at large. The result, of course, is a surplus of big ideas coupled with operational expertise and available capital. This has produced startups ranging from StubHub to SoFi (not to mention billion dollar cash outs like Trulia). As Coursera shows, even Stanford faculty can get into the act.
The results have been jaw-dropping. In Poets&Quants’ 2017 ranking of the top MBA startups, which measures investment in firms that are five years old or younger, the Stanford GSB matched Harvard Business School for the number of firms ranked in the top 100 among MBA programs. Here, GSB alumni had launched 24 firms that raked in a combined $958.64 million dollars in VC funding, including DoorDash ($186.70 million), NuBank ($178.3 million) and Shift ($74 million) — all founded in 2013. While the Stanford and Silicon Valley ecosystems are ripe for collaboration, the lifeblood is Stanford’s entrepreneurial program, with over 90 startup-flavored courses ranging from “Managing Growing Enterprises” and “Biodesign Innovation” to “Technology Licensing and Commercialization.” Not surprisingly, the school’s entrepreneurship curriculum is ranked #1 by U.S. News & World Report. “Our entrepreneurship curriculum is stunning,” once boasted former Stanford GSB Dean Garth Saloner, “and our courses are taught with a faculty and a practitioner. All the cases are ours, and the protagonists in the cases are almost always in the classroom.”
After elite and entrepreneurial, the Stanford GSB is eclectic. Look no further than the Class of 2018, where students have matriculated at undergraduate programs as different as the U.S. Naval Academy, the American University of Cairo, Seoul National University, and the University of Cape Coast. Their majors cover the gamut from literature and aeronautical engineering to physiology. Inside the Knight Management Center, you’ll find troop commanders, former athletes, and Goldman Sachs alums alike. Such diversity is the hallmark of its MBA program. Just look at the school’s alumni rolls, which include such big names like Seth Godin, Charles Schwab and Phil Knight, along with current CEOs at such category leaders as Time Warner, Abbott Laboratories, General Mills, General Motors, Capital One, and Anheuser-Busch InBev.
A PLACE THAT PRIZES IDEAS AND EXECUTION
In general, Stanford students are those who’ve been working through the deepest questions…and are closing in on finding the answers. Perhaps that’s why a fourth E is needed to encapsulate the Stanford MBA program. That’s experience. It is a program that prizes authenticity, independence, energy, ideas, and courage like no other. In bringing together like-minded students and faculty, Stanford acts as a force multiplier, raising the possibilities and performance of any industry it touches.
Shammi Quddus, a first year who spent the summer as a consultant for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), could immediately see the difference from the application. “Stanford has an essay prompt, “What matters most to you and why?” It is unlike any other business school essay and it really required me to dig deep and be courageous,” she explains. “I wrote about inclusion and what that means for a Muslim woman from Bangladesh who aspires to be a global leader. I felt really proud of what I wrote as it was the truest reflection of my core values. I thought to myself: “Wow, if the GSB can bring out the best in me even before I have gone there, what will it bring out of me if I do?”
Quddus wasn’t alone. Kenny Diekroeger earned his bachelor’s degree at Stanford before playing for the Kansas City Royals organization. His reason for returning to Palo Alto was simple: the program touched his greater aspirations. “Stanford is unique in that we seem to define success not in terms of money or fame but whether an individual is happy and fulfilled in their journey. It’s through this motivation that lasting societal change happens, and this way of thinking resonated with me during the application process.”
STUDENTS FEAR MISSING OPPORTUNITIES, NOT MAKING MISTAKES
Change isn’t made by the dull, the skittish, or the cynical. Those are few-and-far-between in the GSB’s Class of 2018. Instead, you’ll find plenty of colorful and cozy characters around the quad. Justin Larkin, who describes himself as a football fan, dad, heath tech guru and future ER doc, was part of the medical services team at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Andrew Sparks, who spent 18 months in Afghanistan mentoring his Platoon Commanders, admits that kittens are his kryptonite. Perhaps he could set up a pet date with Yasmin El Baily, a dog lover and “relentless perfectionist” who once spent a week baking 6,000 cupcakes for a marketing campaign. Martin Rudigier turned his childhood passion for fish breeding into partnering with marine biologists to protect Caribbean coral reefs. Don’t believe in serendipity? Talk to Lucas Giannini Mendonca Abreu, who met his soul mate when he was just seven years old.
The class is equally accomplished. At Visa, Josephine Ruiz-Healy led the launch of the company’s first digital payments platform across Central Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. El Baily was instrumental in transitioning her firm from private equity to investment holding, which enabled her to climb from being an analyst to a VP in just three years. How about Larkin? As a medical student at Penn, he co-founded WellSheet, a software platform that helps physicians quickly locate electronic health data and customize it to their needs. “The company has raised a successful seed round, is piloting at multiple health systems, and recently was recognized by the Office of the National Coordinator as one of the most innovative new solutions improving medical provider workflow,” he says.
If you’re looking to make an impact, Rudigier is your guy. Barely three years ago, he was an analyst at Daimler Trucks. Early on, he was tapped to lead a strategy re-alignment, despite having no experience in this field, let alone the wide scope and “ambiguous nature” of the project. Undeterred by learning strategy development on the fly — and having his proposals rejected time-after-time — Rudigier eventually hit his stride. Through sheer sweat and salesmanship, he formulated a strategy group from all corners of the operation who bought into his vision. The result? Daimler implemented his strategy across 20,000 employees in the division!
First years like Rudigier are the rule at Stanford, not the exception, according to Yossi Feinberg, senior associate dean for academic affairs. “The highly accomplished Stanford MBA Class of 2018 represents a depth and breadth of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and world views,” he shares in a statement with P&Q. “The first class to enroll and study under the leadership of Stanford GSB Dean Jonathan Levin, this first-year group is comprised of insightful and passionate professionals who fuel our collaborative culture. Our students are not afraid of making mistakes; they fear only missed opportunities.”
GSB BOASTS ALL-TIME HIGHS IN APPLICATIONS AND GMAT AVERAGES
In many ways, it is a historic class as well. For one, the school boasted an all-time high in applications —8,116, up nearly 3% from 7,899 the year before. Stanford GSB also retained the crown of being the most exclusive MBA program in the world, accepting just 6% of applicants.
That wasn’t the only record set by the Class of 2018. The class comes to campus with a 737 average GMAT score, four points higher than the second years (and 8 points better than the 2012 Class). More strikingly, this is seven points higher than either Harvard or Wharton. The class also brings a 3.73 average GPA, besting their northern neighbors at Haas by nearly 0.1 of a point.
In fact, the class’ numbers are strong across the board. Some 41% of the class is made up of women, while another 29% is comprised of minority students. International students account for 40% of the latest incoming students from 62 countries. Taken together, this makes Stanford one of the most diverse graduate business programs in the United States.
To read 12 in-depth profiles of first-year Stanford GSB MBA candidates, go to the next page.