MBAs To Watch In The Class of 2015


In May, Robert Woods, 29, graduated from the University of Georgia’s Terry School of Business. To an outsider, he might be just another name on the roll call, a vague figure draped in black who walked the stage for his MBA. For those who knew him, Woods embodied resolve and served as their inspiration.

Woods wasn’t your normal MBA who fretted over internships and job offers. A 2008 Georgia grad, Woods served as an Army Captain for the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan. It was there, in 2010, when he suffered a near fatal gunshot wound to the head. For most, such events are a footnote in the daily paper.  For Woods and his loved ones, the real story began after the attention faded.

Enduring a traumatic brain injury and a grueling rehabilitation, Woods lost nearly 30 IQ points. “While getting my undergraduate degrees, I did not have to study or take notes,” he writes. “I had to learn how to study, take notes and just manage how to learn again.” Against his doctors’ advice, Woods enrolled at Terry in 2013 to pursue his dream to earn an MBA and then leverage his education to launch a business.  And it’s a dream that’s already come to fruition, as Woods recently opened BMWoods Enterprises — and has already booked his first client.


Woods is one of thirty MBAs that Poets&Quants is honoring as “MBAs to Watch.” Earlier this spring, Poets&Quants selected 50 MBAs among its most exceptional MBAs from the Class of 2015. These MBAs, submitted by over 60 top-ranked MBA programs worldwide, were assessed on their academic and professional achievements, extracurricular leadership, and personal narratives. Choosing these 50 MBAs was a painful process, however. In reality, many MBAs who missed the cut were also quite exceptional. As a result, Poets&Quants is sharing their stories with its readers as well.

Unlike the original list, the “MBAs to Watch” are headed by men (by a 17-to-13 margin). However, the real difference is where these MBAs will be working. Among the 30 graduates selected, seven have already joined the ranks of entrepreneurs. Not surprisingly, the remaining students have accepted offers from such prestige mainstream MBA recruiters, including BCG, Kraft, Bain & Company, Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, Apple, Deloitte, Barclays, Citi, AT&T, and PwC.

As before, you’ll find “MBAs to Watch” at traditional powers like Harvard, Columbia, New York University (Stern), Cornell (Johnson), and the University of Chicago (Booth). At the same time, Poets&Quants’ list features students from several new schools, headed by the University of Washington (Foster) and Cambridge University (Judge), which each placed two students among the “MBAs to Watch.” Among American schools, Penn State (Smeal), Southern Methodist University (Cox), Michigan State (Broad), the University of California-Davis, Georgetown (McDonough), and the University of Florida (Hough) are new to Poets&Quants’ list. Internationally, you’ll find students from IE Business School, ESADE, IESE, and CEIBS on “MBAs to Watch” as well.


And each of them comes with a story that’d liven up any cocktail hour. Carnegie Mellon’s Amanda Olar, 27, is a first generation college graduate whose mother worked two jobs to support her family. For Olar, an MBA is her way to repay her mother for her sacrifices. “I’m proud to say I can take care of her now and she won’t be needing to work 6 days a week to make ends meet anymore,” Olar writes.

Bernhard Bonelli, 32, an Austrian, wanted to attend IESE so badly that he actually learned Spanish. And he counts this as his biggest achievement to date. “I started from scratch in the summer before the MBA with learning Spanish,” Bonelli writes. “Learning a new language is quite humbling – and then not being able to express what you have in mind due to the language restriction was sometimes frustrating. So obtaining the requirements for the bilingual degree is probably the part where I struggled the most, put the most effort and I’m very grateful for all the support that IESE provided for that.”

Other MBAs on this list left a deep impression on their classmates. Kyle Rojas, 32, a 12-year Air Force veteran and soon-to-be private wealth advisor at Goldman Sachs, was so respected by his Rice classmates that 90 percent voted for him when asked to name the classmate who “best models leadership, exemplary service and significant contributions to the Jones Graduate School.” Shijie Lu, 32, seemingly single-handedly opened China up to the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business, coordinating visits with over 30 Chinese companies for his classmates.  And UCLA’s Jessica Cortez Kimball, 29, worked tirelessly with several clubs to pool their resources and orchestrate their efforts, giving them greater impact on campus.


Others have been making a big difference off campus. Notre Dame’s John Henry, 32, co-founded the Haiti Business Plan Competition, giving entrepreneurs in this struggling nation a place to get advice and gain capital. Before enrolling at the University of Washington to pursue healthcare consulting, Kate Thorson, 30, worked as the Rwanda Project Manager at Partners In Health (PIH), where she built a fund-raising apparatus that helped support over a million people. At ESADE, Anne Kiehl Friedman, 32, was among the founders of Educuento, a firm that fosters early childhood education in low income communities. For their efforts, Educuento, where Kiehl Friedman is now CEO, is a finalist for the Hult Prize, an honor that Grameen Bank’s Muhammad Yunus dubs the “Nobel Prize for students.”

Of course, you’ll always find those students whose talents sometimes eclipse their many accomplishments. Pato Bichara, 29, earned a shout out from Beyoncé after she witnessed his dance moves when he filmed a video for Harvard Business School’s case on Strategic Marketing in Creative Industries. He might find a dance partner with the University of California-Davis’ Venita Sivamani, 30, who is professionally trained in several forms of South Indian dance. You’re likely to encounter Cambridge’s Akosua Ayim, 26, performing spoken word poetry around New York City and London. In similar circles, you may encounter Columbia’s Anna Rawson, 33, a former professional LPGA golfer and model who is applying her business school lessons to launching a startup.