Yanyu Zheng has a passion — soccer. At 13, she decided to pursue her dream. She would go to work for Futbol Club Barcelona, perhaps the most popular sports team in the world. It wasn’t going to be easy, of course. For one, Barcelona’s sparkling, breezy shores were a world away from those muggy summers along the banks of Fuzhou’s Min River. For another, FC Barcelona had never employed a Chinese staffer since its founding in 1899.
And, as Zheng readily admits, she had no sports talent, “(failing) lots of PE course evaluations.”
But what she lacked in speed and agility, she made up in pure moxie. After earning a degree in journalism from Beijing Sport University, Zheng took a leap of faith that most dreamers can only imagine: She flew over 6,200 miles to Barcelona to live. In the process, she learned Catalan and Spanish, developed expertise in event planning, and became China’s only sports correspondent in Barcelona. Barely a year after arriving in Spain, Zheng landed her dream job with FC Barcelona, where she opened up the Chinese marketplace through social media — with the club’s Chinese site eventually becoming its most popular.
In the end, Zheng didn’t settle for realizing her dream. After a two-year stint at FC Barcelona, she earned a full scholarship to Barcelona’s ESADE Business School, the alma mater of many of the soccer club’s past presidents. At ESADE, Zheng headed up the program’s Sports Business Club and in the process became a key member of a team that won the 2015 Franz Competition, earning them an audience with the International Olympic Committee. Given Zheng’s pioneering spirit, she was quickly snapped up as one of the first employees of AliSports — an offshoot of Jack Ma’s $500 billion Alibaba empire and a firm positioned to emerge as China’s answer to ESPN.
While Zheng is unlikely to be elected to replace FC Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu any time soon, it isn’t hard to picture her someday being a worthy successor to the Dick Ebersols and Steve Bornsteins of the past. She is, without a doubt, a 2016 MBA graduate who is poised to make an impact over the coming years.
McKINSEY AND AMAZON AMONG THE TOP EMPLOYERS OF P&Q’s MBAs TO WATCH
Yanyu Zheng is among over 90 graduating MBAs that Poets&Quants is honoring as MBAs To Watch. Earlier this year, P&Q selected 100 MBAs to be its Best & Brightest MBAs from the Class of 2016. These MBAs were drawn from nominations submitted by over 60 leading MBA programs, with candidates evaluated on the caliber of their extracurricular leadership, professional achievements, and personal insightfulness. Not surprisingly, the students nominated, as a whole, were exceptional. And the differences between students who made the Best & Brightest and those who didn’t were sometimes minute — with several candidates inspiring passionate debate. As a result, P&Q is celebrating the remaining candidates with readers as well.
And what a class the MBAs to Watch represents! It features 57 men and 40 women (nearly the exact opposite of the 57-to-43 ratio of “Best & Brightest”). Seventy-eight grew up in the United States, with 19 others coming from lands as diverse as Pakistan, New Zealand, Guinea, and South Africa. You’ll find the MBAs To Watch at renowned business programs like MIT, Northwestern, INSEAD, and Columbia — along with up-and-comers like Rice, IE Business School, Wisconsin, and Emory. Among this group, McKinsey is the leading employer, hiring eight members of P&Q’s MBAs To Watch. They were followed by Amazon (6), Deloitte (5), Boston Consulting Group (4), Apple (3), and Ernst & Young (3). Three of these MBAs even found their way into government, taking their sharpened business skills into the U.S. Justice Department and the city of Rochester’s mayor’s office.
CLASS INCLUDES INVENTOR OF THE COLLAPSIBLE SCREEN … AND ‘FATIM THE FABULOUS FINANCE FAIRY’
However, it is this class’ stories and achievements that truly make these students stand out. The MBAs To Watch stand out for several reasons. One is their commitment to serving others. The University of Toronto’s Anthony Harbour organized the first annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in Washington, D.C., an expansive program that included both workshops and entertainment, along with a venue where 50 attendees were able to get tested. ESADE’s Farah Haddad, who spent two years volunteering for Engineers Without Borders, spent a chunk of her time increasing access to safe water in Ghana by developing a prototype system that uses big data and wireless sensors to identify wells that are not completely operational. In Afghanistan, Matthew Astphan, a Marine Corps infantry officer who earned his MBA from Boston University, oversaw security for 15 villages — including the construction of a school, health clinic, and police station. And the University of Cambridge’s Fatoumata Diane’s webcasted tutoring sessions, earning her the nickname, “Fatim the Fabulous Finance Fairy.”
They were also a group that knew how to get results. In her first job at the Meltwater Group, the University of Cambridge’s Holly Engelbrecht rose from sales consultant to managing director in 15 months — and served as the model for hiring female graduates into the sales and management programs at her firm. Before enrolling at Emory, Brian Berkowitz developed and launched the first onsite employer clinic for Kaiser Permanente. In Honduras, Ohio State’s Coralia Nunez grew Convergys’s call center operation from four to 400 employees in under a year. At the same time, the University of Michigan’s Oliver Truong managed to get several African heads of state to sign a letter of intent to reduce barriers to intra-African travel. And let’s not forget Penn State’s Jaspreet Singh, who convinced his employer, John Deere, to customize its product features to the Indian market, resulting in annual savings of $3.6 million.
They’re inventive, too. Rice University’s Alex Wesley has developed a high-resolution 24-inch display that “collapses just like a small umbrella to the size of an Apple TV” and weighs less than 1.5 pounds. The University of Minnesota’s Elise Maxwell won the MN Cup, the country’s largest statewide start-up competition, for her Ova Woman online community, which provides a supportive “safe space” for women to talk about intimate health issues. Maxwell’s classmate, Steven Bruce, launched the Tech Cities Conference, drawing over 400 attendees ranging from Fortune 500 big shots to start-up upstarts to discuss issues ranging from talent pipelines to agile architecture.
The MBAs To Watch brought this entrepreneurial spirit to campus, too. Columbia’s Lauren Amery launched Columbia Business School’s Startup Founders Club, while Luke Douglas formed New York University’s first student-led impact investing fund. Marcos Fernandez initiated the TEX Talks Podcast to more deeply connect the University of Texas with the larger Austin start-up ecosystem. And Queen’s University’s Shashank Krishnamurthy started a business analytics case competition that has already spread across Canada.
Next Page: Best Advice from the MBAs To Watch (Go to pages 3-4 for student profiles)