2016 Best MBAs: Sonie Guseh, Columbia Business School

Sonie Guseh Columbia

Sonie Guseh


Columbia Business School

“I learned to be thoughtful about how I spend my time each day, which is a lesson I’ll continue to carry with me as a manager. Even though no week is the same in business school, I found that it was important for me to find my own rhythm and craft some sort of consistency in my schedule. It was helpful to have regular time with some of the friends I’d made in school to unwind and bounce ideas off of each other – whether it was exercising with running club members or grabbing dinner and wine with the ladies in my cluster. These regular activities were crucial parts of my business school experience, and helped me get to know my peers in creative ways outside of the classroom.”


Age: 28

Hometown: Durham, North Carolina

Education: University of Pennsylvania, BA in English (cum laude)

Where did you work before enrolling in business school?

Google – Online advertising sales account manager (2010-12)

Group Gordon Strategic Communications – Senior communications consultant (2012-14)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2015? HBO (Home Box Office) – New York, NY

Where will you be working after graduation? Comcast/NBCUniversal – MBA Rotational Leadership Program

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Hermes Society: President (group of 300 selected admissions ambassadors, among largest and most reputable groups on campus)
  • Media Management Association: co-VP of Speakers
  • Black Business Students Association: VP of Alumni Relations
  • Career Fellow (selected to advise fellow students on career management process)
  • Columbia CaseWorks Fellow
  • Business Analytics Tutor (only offered to students with top marks in course – a particular pride point given my nontraditional background)
  • Teaching Assistant (fall 2015): Digital Marketing: Strategy & Tactics, Professor Jeremy Kagan
  • Pangea volunteer consulting project for Coach and Consult for a Cause (C3) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • Digital strategy fellow, Condé Nast

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As a Career Fellow, I serve as a peer advisor to first- and second-year students in their career management process. Since my professional area of focus is media and entertainment, I’ve gotten a chance to mentor and advise numerous students looking to transition into this field. It is incredibly rewarding to hear from students who are now securing their dream internships and jobs, after months of working together on resume and cover letter revisions, interview prep, and networking advice sessions. Having gone through the media recruiting process myself with support and advice from the class that came before me, I am so happy to see the successes of others I’ve been able to help and support throughout the process.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As a junior account manager at Google, I was invited to speak at a medical marketing conference in Las Vegas. I knew I had learned so much about digital marketing during my time at Google, but being able to share that knowledge and offer tailored, strategic advice as a keynote speaker to hundreds of marketing professionals was a tremendous experience for me. I was honored to be recognized, proud to represent my team, and thrilled to share my knowledge and experience with the group.

Favorite MBA Courses? I really enjoyed the core Strategy Formulation course with Professor Jerry Kim, along with Media & Entertainment Strategy Consulting Projects with Professor Ava Seave. In that class, I worked with a team to advise an NBCUniversal team on its digital strategy plans. The experience taught me a lot about the media industry, digital innovation, and advising executives. These sorts of hands-on, practical learning experiences are a huge value in coming to CBS, and being able to advise my dream company (and now my future employer!) through coursework is an experience I feel is unparalleled.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose CBS for two main reasons. First, I knew that, from a career perspective, I wanted to work in the media industry and that New York is considered to be a media capital of the world, with the headquarters of many prominent media companies housed right here. I knew that from a recruiting standpoint, it would be extremely advantageous to be able to set up regular meetings throughout the school week with professionals in my target industry. I also knew that the Media & Technology program at CBS brought industry executives to campus, so I would be able to interact with media professionals more easily as a student at CBS.

I also chose Columbia because of its core curriculum. Part of why I applied to business school was because I wanted the rigor that came with a mandatory set of courses that would ensure I learned and was exposed to a wide array of general management subjects and principles, from strategy to corporate finance to accounting to operations. The friends I made in my learning team and my cluster, with whom I took all of my core classes, were so instrumental in the experience. Learning together was fun and challenging, and turned us into a family – there’s nothing like the professor asking a question about a particular industry and everyone knowing exactly who in the cluster came from that field who would be best positioned to reflect on the question. I loved that level of familiarity that came with the core experience.

What did you enjoy most about business school? Coming into business school, I underestimated the value of traveling as part of the educational experience, but participating in three school trips that have taught me about doing business around the world – in Italy, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates, in particular – has been incredibly rewarding. These school offerings have enabled me to learn more about the particular norms and customs of doing business in these regions, as well as the unique strengths and challenges in those geographical areas as part of the global economy. For instance, in Argentina, our group visited la Casa Rosada, the Argentine equivalent of the White House, where we met with the Chief of Staff of the newly minted Macri administration. Hearing from businesses and government officials there during such a pivotal time for the country was incredible, and felt as if we were observing live what would one day be written about in history books.

I also worked on a consulting project in Dubai, UAE, and had the opportunity to sit down with entrepreneurs and professionals across the region to learn about the ins and outs of the budding social enterprise and entrepreneurship scene there. It was eye opening to learn about the rules and customs that were a) unique to the Middle East, and b) similar to the experiences of doing business in the US.

And finally, in Italy, we visited the factories of luxury brands like Salvatore Ferragamo and Gucci, and learned how these brands position their products to their luxury consumer base. I learned that the way luxury retailers think about their customers is quite similar to how premium media companies think about theirs, and I was able to apply those learnings to the industry I’ll be headed into after graduation.

And of course, with travel, comes amazing food and cultural experiences that I was able to bond with my peers over. I loved the gelato of Italy, the steaks and Malbec of Argentina, and the ornate religious sites in the UAE.

I realized that the value of these travel experiences – in addition to being fun and enjoyable – was in helping me to establish a global perspective on how business is conducted worldwide, and our role in the global economy.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? I was surprised at how much time I wanted to spend on campus, even when it wasn’t necessary. After the core, I oftentimes did not have classes on Thursdays or Fridays, but found myself coming to campus each week to spend time with my cluster, for weekly socials, and even to just get work done in the library where I would see my classmates and say a quick hello in between assignments. There’s something about being on campus and seeing my peers regularly that invigorates me; I can always count on the excitement of returning to campus after an extended break without seeing my classmates. There’s a community here at CBS that I know I’ll be sad to leave.

What was the hardest part of business school? Definitely time management. I’ve always considered myself to be very organized and structured with my time, but business school commitments have a way of testing your organizational abilities! I learned the importance of setting and sticking to priorities. I realized that my priorities each day or week didn’t need to be the same throughout my two years in business school, but that I did need to be thoughtful about what my goals were and how best to accomplish them, since I couldn’t be in every classroom and club meeting at once – as much as I’d love to be!

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your school? Be thoughtful about your goals and what you want to get out of your business school experience. There are so many opportunities to learn, grow your skills, meet new people, and test your leadership abilities – events to organize, clubs to manage, and teams to lead. Choose your forte and stay true to the goals that you set out to reach, but step outside your comfort zone a bit. It’s okay if your goals shift and evolve throughout your time in business school, but be sure to stay true to what it is that you want to learn and experience during this time.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I saw so many of the professionals whose careers I admired blossomed after their business school experiences.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…managing public relations for consumer and technology clients at a public relations agency, or doing public relations in-house for a media company.”

Which executive or entrepreneur do you most admire? Financial services executive Carla Harris writes and speaks about what it was like really pushing herself to have a seat at the table and speaking up in meetings so that her voice was heard. Her story inspires me as I continue along my professional journey, and I hope to be able to leverage my voice and skills as an executive one day as she has.

What are your long-term professional goals? The media industry has always intrigued me because of its power to inform and entertain mass audiences worldwide. In the long term, my ultimate goal is to be the chief executive of a media organization that is thinking creatively about how to distribute diverse, inspiring content to consumers in an engaging, captivating way.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My circle of closest friends have been so supportive of me during some of my most challenging moments, especially as I’ve made difficult professional decisions that will impact my career in the long term. One friend in particular is someone I have a very special relationship with – we’ve followed each other since being classmates and roommates in undergrad, and we’re now graduating together from CBS.

I also must thank my family, in particular, my parents, whose story continues to inspire me and remind me of what’s important in life. My parents fled war-torn Liberia, West Africa in the 1980s and have sacrificed so much for my siblings and me to be able to succeed academically and professionally. Their model of success is why I have been able to prioritize my career and professional goals in tandem with my relationships with family and friends. I am grateful for their inspiration.

Fun fact about yourself: In high school, I pierced an estimated 250 pairs of ears – my first-ever job was as a certified ear piercing specialist at Claire’s Accessories!

Favorite book: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – gotta love a good suspenseful mystery story

Favorite movie: A Beautiful Mind

Favorite musical performer: It fluctuates, but I’m loving Justin Bieber’s latest album – he’s a different person these days!

Favorite television show: How I Met Your Mother will always have a special place in my heart – it was my much-needed comic relief during GMAT study breaks. But overall, I’m a huge Homeland fan.

Favorite vacation spot: Anywhere on a beach!

Hobbies? Reading, writing, running, and yoga

What made Sonie such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

“Sonie has distinguished herself as an invaluable member of the community and a key student leader.

Sonie entered Columbia Business School (CBS) with a non-traditional professional background, having earned her bachelor’s degree in English, with a journalism concentration, then joining Google in Ad Sales, followed by two years in public relations. Although Sonie lacked the more traditional finance or consulting experience that many of her peers had, she found her place in the community as a high-profile student leader, as demonstrated through her active membership in the Hermes Admissions Society as President, Media Management Association, as the VP of Speakers, and Black Business Student Association, and as the VP of Alumni & External Relations.

It is Sonie’s intrinsic motivation for supporting students in their own career search, however, that I came to know her well. As a first-year student, Sonie was elected to be a Career Representative for her cluster and proved to be not only a strong advocate for her peers, but also a true thought partner on improving the student career management experience. In monthly meetings with me and other senior CMC administrators, Sonie consistently demonstrated ethical judgment, integrity, an ability to deal maturely with confidential matters and emotional intelligence. She manages relationships incredibly well and has a high level of empathy. These attributes, coupled with her advising mindset, led to her selection to the Career Fellows Program, a high-profile CMC leadership initiative that employs and trains second-year students to provide career management skills, advice and support to classmates.

In her own job search, Sonie’s showed creativity and resourcefulness, with a process that reflected long-term thinking, not just short-term reward. As a result, she secured a summer MBA internship with HBO and then received, and accepted, a full-time offer to join Comcast/NBCUniversal’s highly-selective MBA Rotational Leadership Program.

Sonie has an eagerness to learn, tenacity when digging into projects, and an ability to manage and execute multiple responsibilities. Further, she solicits, and is open to, performance feedback, and she understands both her strengths and her developmental opportunities and has self-confidence.

The Career Management Center team, and the broader Columbia Business School community, have found working with Sonie to be a pleasure. She is sincere in her the relationships and will share appropriate personal information as a way to build trust. Her enthusiasm never seems to diminish.” — Patricia Baione, MBA ’09, Director, Career Education & Advising, Career Management Center, Columbia Business School


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