Meet The Cornell Johnson MBA Class of 2017

Moghaddam Mehrdad

Mehrdad Moghaddam

Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University  

Hometown: St. Paul, MN

Undergraduate School and Major (Include Graduate School if Relevant)University of Minnesota — Marketing

Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation:

Ameriprise Financial — Leadership Development Program Trainee, Marketing Strategy

McMaster-Carr Supply Company — Management Trainee/Supervisor, Warehouse Operations

Local, Los Angeles-based IT Consulting Firms — Analyst/Business Systems Consultant

Recalling your own experience, what advice do you have for applicants who are preparing for either the GMAT or the GRE? As a part-time GMAT/GRE instructor for a well-known test preparation service, my observation has been that recent college graduates find the transition to studying for those exams much less challenging than those who have been out of the formal study “circuit” for two or more years. That’s not to say that recent grads tend to do better than the latter group – based on my experience with both groups – but that more recent grads find it easier to set and adhere to a study schedule. So I recommend studying for either test as shortly after graduation as you can! I felt that this strategy worked well for me, especially since I wanted to clear the GMAT requirement well before beginning the B-school application process.

Based on your own selection process, what advice do you have for applicants who are trying to draw up a list of target schools to which to apply? When evaluating which schools to include in my consideration set, I found it useful to first think about each “Top 20” program according to the academic area(s) in which it specializes and its geographic “reach.”

Along the first dimension, I knew that I wanted to pursue my MBA at an institution with a robust finance curriculum (since I want to enhance my financial analysis skills in preparation for a quantitatively rigorous post-MBA role) and an emphasis on entrepreneurship (to help expand my Italian leather goods startup and possibly fulfill my interest in app development). I also wanted a program that encourages student involvement in its research centers.

As to my second criterion, I wanted to apply to a program that — based on employment reports — demonstrates success in placing students in jobs across the U.S. After conducting research on school websites and third-party sites like this one, as well as speaking to current students and alumni from many of the “Top 20” MBA programs, I drew up my list of target schools.

One way that I could have streamlined my list of target schools further, before committing to beginning applications for all of them, would have been to actually visit the schools in the year preceding my decision to apply. In one case, I ended up devoting numerous hours to working on a target school’s application only to realize that I didn’t want to apply there after visiting the campus.

What advice do you have for applicants in actually applying to a school, writing essays, doing admission interviews, and getting recommenders to write letters on your behalf? Try to set up a plan and schedule for applying to each program. Ideally, this would begin by determining to which programs you’ll apply and, even more importantly, why you intend to apply to those programs (refer to my thoughts on drawing up your target list). I got this process started somewhere between four and six months before the start of the application cycle in which I intended to apply.

Similarly, a lot of the preparation for the essays and letters of recommendation can take place well before any school’s application deadlines. What worked well for me was having a clear explanation for why I wanted to pursue an MBA, documenting and constantly evolving what my value proposition could be for various programs, and signaling to prospective recommenders — those who had the most intimate familiarity with my professional and personal qualities — that their support of my candidacy would be a crucial element in my success. Because I spent a lot of effort on introspection and researching my target programs, I found the application process relatively straightforward. Once I received interview invitations, I was then able to leverage a lot of the insights that I had formulated during the research and self-exploration I had conducted many months prior. As a final step in prepping for my interviews, I practiced my responses with friends and family after feeling comfortable with articulating my story in my head. Their feedback was truly invaluable.

What led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA? Johnson is a great fit for my academic interests. I know that it is strong in finance and that its curricular offerings effectively span the entire university for second-year MBAs interested in broadening their business education. The latter is important for me because I want to complement my finance courses with exposure to world-class offerings in the data analytics space, which Johnson develops in conjunction with Cornell’s computer science program.

I was also drawn to the fact that Johnson offers students the opportunity to get involved in a number of its research centers and institutes, chiefly the Emerging Markets Institute and the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute, which respectively afford student fellows the opportunity to participate in school and company-sponsored research or consulting projects and a platform for conceptualizing, developing, and evaluating new ventures. After visiting Johnson and interacting with students on campus, I saw the value of the school’s smaller class size, especially to someone who, like me, wants to focus just as much on career recruiting and academics as on developing deep relationships with classmates. While class size hadn’t previously been as important to me during my initial consideration of MBA programs, I realized after my Cornell visit that this factor could be an important one considering my entrepreneurial aspirations.

My final reason for selecting Johnson was the school’s

generous financial aid package — and the unique professional and personal development opportunities that are stipulated therein. As a recipient of the school’s Roy H. Park Fellowship, the full-tuition award gives me greater freedom in selecting a career path free of the pressure to pay back school loans. Moreover, I’ll be able to give back to my school while developing my leadership competencies in collaboration with other fellows in the program.

What would you ultimately like to achieve before you graduate? Given my background in IT, my participation in the Park Leadership Fellows Program, and Johnson’s projected growth in its technology MBA program (which I can assume will be targeted in light of Cornell Tech’s new campus in New York City), I’d like to explore ways to increase participation by two-year MBA candidates in evaluating digital business concepts devised elsewhere within both Johnson and in the broader Cornell community. Ultimately, I’d like to work with classmates and faculty members to review and build upon existing frameworks for advising and accelerating the commercialization of digital ventures at Cornell.

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