The MBAs To Watch In The Class of 2016

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HIDDEN TALENTS RANGE FROM MAKING RECORDS TO BUILDING LEGOS

Most of all, the 2016 class has heart. No one epitomizes that more than the University of Missouri’s Zach Heath. During business school, Heath was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. In response, he helped start a company, Hunter Biomedical Group, designed to change how cancer is treated and even diagnosed. Most notably, the firm has developed a diet that fights cancer. Humbled by how fragile life can be, Heath shares this advice to future MBA students: Leave your ego at the door.

“Nobody knows everything,” Heath cautions. “Chances are, you don’t really even know that much. And, the more you learn, you realize how much you don’t know. Open your mind to all of the possibilities.”

For the 2016 MBAs To Watch, business school was a time when many possibilities were realized. For Notre Dame’s Laura McWhirter, the last two years opened doors to opportunities that otherwise would not have been available. “I’ve had the opportunity to have lunch with a retired three-star general, visit start-up and global companies in Brazil, go horseback-riding through the Andes, hear the chief editor of the Wall Street Journal share some thoughts on politics, watch Notre Dame’s football team beat USC and much, much more,” she explains. She wasn’t alone. Dexter Yu Galan took advantage of Northwestern’s study-abroad program to visit 10 countries in Europe. Before landing at Ford Motor Company, Penn State’s Kaitlin Sheehan received a dream assignment from a professor impressed with her work: developing a sustainability report for NASCAR’s Pocono Raceway.

Outside of work and class, these MBAs were equally talented and adventurous. Artistically, North Carolina’s Rodrigo Aquino and Carnegie Mellon’s Ohemaah Ntiamoah are both recording artists who have recorded albums. The University of Iowa’s Erin Crawford has been part of seven sketch or improv comedy troupes. UCLA’s Jovanna Youssef witnessed history in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Meanwhile, INSEAD’s Alex Pham spent much of 2014 scuba diving around the world and following whale migrations across the South Pacific, even as Washington University’s Kenneth Mao sailed the world as a tutor on a private yacht. Vanderbilt’s David Grometer walked away with a luggage set after competing on “The Price Is Right.” And Brigham Young’s Dave Tolley even earned a second MBA while studying at BYU — a certification from Lego’s Master Builder Academy.

WORDS OF WISDOM: SEEK IMPACT AND LISTEN

So what lessons did the MBAs To Watch take from their business school experience? For one, making decisions involves more than good intentions, gut instincts, and a strong will. “There are multiple ways to approach every problem that need to be solved, and that there is no right answer in an ambiguous world,” writes Arizona State’s Matthew Meads. “At the same time,” he adds, “you sure as hell better be able to back up your assumptions.”

For Boston University’s Nikasha Khetarpal, business school was a reminder of how much personal experience influences perceptions. “Five people can read the same sentence and interpret it five different ways, and their backgrounds play a large part in these interpretations,” she explains. As a result, the University of Rochester’s Gregory Sheldon counsels MBAs to focus on what really matters: building understanding and instilling commitment. “Having the right answer or a great idea is usually a lot easier and less useful than figuring out how to communicate and execute it,” he emphasizes.

Looking at the MBA experience itself, Vanderbilt’s Grometer reminds incoming students to remember the big picture. “If you spend time feeling anxious about your busy days and all the moving pieces, you’re ultimately missing out on opportunities to learn from an extra business reading, develop rapport with a fascinating faculty member, or building a relationship with a classmate you may not know so well.” And Texas’ Fernandez applies the lessons he absorbed from dining at “countless” all-you-can-eat buffets. “Your eyes are often bigger than your stomach,” he writes. “While it’s good to try new clubs and experiences, it’s important to focus on those that are most impactful.”

In the end, concludes the University of Oxford’s Hangwani Muambadzi, the MBA experience is a dress rehearsal for opening night, a place where missing your cues and flubbing your lines are a means to more deeply understand your part and master your craft.

“A friend of mine once articulated it really well for me. She mentioned that the MBA was essentially just a place where you are confronted with the most complex characters you’ll ever encounter all in one place, and your role is to survive, essentially, without burying anyone in the backyard (thank you, multiple group projects). She was on to something. Except, in this MBA arena, you are in fact pitted against every fear, insecurity, and flaw you have ever encountered within, personified through individuals and mirrored in the murkier experiences. The ultimate battle is against yourself. You’re the biggest winner. You’re also the biggest loser. If nothing else, I’ve learned to peel off each layer and self-validate at every level.”

Next Page: Student profiles from Cambridge, the University of Chicago, Columbia Business School, INSEAD, and MIT.

DON’T MISS: CLASS OF 2016: THE BEST & BRIGHTEST GRADUATING MBAS

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