Business school is considered a place for students to try on different hats, to explore, experiment, and even fail. It is a supportive, risk-free arena for MBAs to discover who they are and what they want.
The University of Maryland’s Nadine Payne is one student who used business school to change careers. A former attorney with the U.S. Justice Department, Payne initially struggled with both esoteric quant concepts and a highly collaborative culture driven by teams. But she quickly embraced the challenge. Payne stepped out of her comfort zone, taking on leadership roles in student clubs and volunteering to help run several campus events. In the process, she earned several accolades in case competitions and thrived in once-daunting finance courses (eventually securing a job with Citibank). Through her efforts, Payne earned the ultimate compliment from Vice Dean Joyce Russell: “She has touched numerous parts of our MBA program and in every case, has vastly improved what was in existence.”
RE-INVENTION A BIG THEME AMONG THE WORLD’S BEST GRADUATING MBAS
And Payne wasn’t alone in re-inventing herself. Notre Dame’s Elizabeth Owens served several years in the United States’ Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), including stints in Iraq, as she rose to being a Senior Intelligence Officer (Think “Maya” from Zero Dark Thirty). Seeking to continue a life of purpose, Owens focused on re-tooling the school’s career services program to better fit the needs of the school’s MBAs. Kevin Bentley, who spent ten years as an NFL linebacker, has transitioned into being a senior consultant at Infosys after choosing Rice over 13 other schools. Similarly, Ellen Gartner Phillips came to Indiana University as a music teacher. By the time she graduated, she was ranked in the top 1% of her class academically and had landed a job as a senior consultant in strategy and operations with Deloitte.
Imagine looking at your reading list and realizing it included work by a classmate? That’s what happened at Harvard Business School, where Ali Huberlie teamed up with Senior Lecturer Shikhar Ghosh to produce a case study on CrossFit. In fact, the case was taught to the school’s entire first year class this spring. If that wasn’t intimidating enough, Huberlie is also a competitive powerlifter in her spare time.
Two years ago, Katherine Beaulieu found a mission. 45 minutes after she completed the Boston Marathon, two bombs exploded, killing 3 people and injuring another 264. It was an event that deeply touched her. “In order to honor and remember the victims,” she wrote in her nomination, “I decided to dedicate myself to making a positive impact in my community – as a runner, marketer, and business leader.” And Beaulieu has lived up to her vow.
CREATING JOBS, SAVING LIVES & OVERCOMING ADVERSITY
Enrolling in Ohio State University’s full-time MBA program, she has truly made every moment count. As a student, she has led numerous clubs and served as a teaching assistant and student ambassador. In her community, she sits on the board of Girls on the Run of Franklin County to inspire and train the next generation of female runners. In the process, she had a baby, completed five more marathons, and graduated at the top of her class. To borrow a runner’s term, Beaulieu set the pace for her classmates.
Top 50 MBA students are also creating jobs and saving lives. During her time at the University of Chicago, Kaitlin Smith has grown her Simple Mills startup to the point where it employs six full-time people and sells its products in 500 stores nationwide. At HEC Paris, Emily Groffman – originally a Texan – has shined in the non-profit sector, educating peers on sustainable enterprise and interning at UNICEF and UNESCO. After graduation, she heads to Haiti with the Clinton Health Access Initiative to help fight malaria. At the same time, the University of Toronto’s Karthik Bagavathi Pandian founded Educare Foundation India (EFI), a not-for-profit that helps 50 underprivileged students in India receive higher education.
Sacrifice is a big part of the business school experience, as students forgo two years to return to campus. At the University of Minnesota, Tim O’Neil missed out on extracurriculars but oozed commitment, as he commuted an hour-and-a-half to school (each way) to accommodate his wife, who was completing her medical residency program as they raised two infants. Liat Kaver faced a dual challenges at MIT. Along with being a non-native English speaker, she also suffers from hearing loss (though she can read lips in three languages). Despite such obstacles, she emerged as a campus leader, even earning job offers from Google and McKinsey.
NOT A DULL GROUP BY ANY STRETCH OF THE IMAGINATION
Likewise, Scott Schmidt, a United States Army Major from the University of Iowa, faced a major learning curve after being away from the classroom for several years. At the same time, he was raising three children under five years of age. But managing his time would soon take a backseat to a different challenge: A fourth child was born with Down Syndrome. Schmidt responded by becoming heavily involved in local support organizations, including volunteering at the Hawkeye Area Down Syndrome Association. “This positive outlook in the face of adversity is indicative of Scott’s upbeat nature,” says Dave Deyak, the assistant dean of Iowa’s full-time MBA program. “It is this resilience that makes him a model for his fellow students and an inspiration to the staff and faculty.”
Next Page: Individual profiles of 25 of the Best & Brightest MBAs (Alphabetized by school)