MBAs WANT LEADERS WHO SPEAK OUT AND GIVE BACK
Knowing who top MBAs admire is one thing. If you’re wondering what principles will guide the next generation of business leaders, it helps to know why certain executives are so attractive to students. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, herself a Harvard MBA, is a case in point. According to the University of North Carolina’s Brittany Gulledge, Sandberg is an inspiring example of courage. “She saw a problem and did something about it even though people warned her not to do so,” Gulledge notes. “She made a decision about what to do as though she were not afraid (even though she was). Every major chance that I have taken has been terrifying, and the more terrifying, the more it paid off.”
Beyond her example, Sandberg also uses her celebrity to lend a voice to women everywhere, observes Wharton’s Justine Lai, who credits Sandberg speaking out as providing “a platform to raise awareness of systemic issues that women face across the world.”
Yes, the next wave of business leaders are likely to be as daring and outspoken as Sandberg. Chances are, they’ll carry a more altruistic streak as well. And you can credit Microsoft founder Bill Gates for taking the legacy of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller to the next level. His Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has doled out nearly $37 billion to charitable causes since being founded in 2000. While Gates’ innovation in the software market earns respect from MBAs, it is his personification of the “doing well by doing good” ethos that has won their hearts — and solidified his legacy.
“In deciding to apply his personal success to address global issues,” points out Caitlin Fross, who earned her MBA from the University of North Carolina, “Bill Gates has focused the world’s attention on neglected issues and coalesced enormous resources around the effort to address crises of global health and international development.” In doing so, Gates left a blueprint for how to stay relevant and successfully reinvent yourself when the time comes to pass the baton. “He is one of the most caring and genuine people I have seen in the spotlight,” adds Texas A&M’s Tyler Lorenz, a volunteer for organizations like Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity.
HOWARD SCHULTZ PERSONIFIES THE VALUE-DRIVEN LEADER OF TODAY
If you’re looking for the prototype of who MBAs aspire to be, you could start with Starbucks’ Howard Schultz. In fact, Tyler Erhorn credits Schultz’s example as one reason why he enrolled in Michigan State’s MBA program. For Erhorn, an entrepreneur himself, Schultz’s biggest contribution is reminding him that value comes before profit. “When Schultz came back to Starbucks,” Erhorn says, “he relentlessly focused on bringing the brand back to creating the value that customers had grown to love previously. He refocused the company on his core principles, proving that value is the ultimate long-term profit driver.”
Like Sandberg and Gates, it is Schultz’s commitment to speaking out and following his conscience that separates him from most other leaders. “Not only has he steered Starbucks toward historic levels of growth and success, he has done so while also expanding the impact the company has had socially,” emphasizes USC’s Rahul Sharma, who joined Starbucks as a product manager after earning his MBA at USC’s Marshall School of Business. “There is a very real sense of responsibility that guides the direction he has taken the company to empower its employees on a level unmatched in both size and impact.”
For Georgetown MBA Coral Taylor, Schultz is more than a role model. He is an inspiration. “I admire his courage to do what is right even if it is not the popular decision,” she says. “During the financial crisis, he refused to take away health care benefits for Starbucks partners even though it would save the company a tremendous amount of money. His support of gay marriage, hiring veterans and young people, access to education, and sustainable coffee-growing practices inspire me.”
JESSICA ALBA: FROM LEADING LADY TO LEADERSHIP GENIUS
It wasn’t only household names like Sheryl Sandberg and Bill Gates who stirred the imaginations of the 2016 class. Allison Davern, who transitioned from account management at Ogilvy to product management at Amazon during her stint at the University of Maryland, found herself drawn to more recent MBA graduates. In particular, she admires Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp, the founders of Birchbox, who earned their MBAs at Harvard Business School in 2010. To Davern, their example showed that her dream of finding a partner in school who could help monetize ideas wasn’t as far-fetched as some might think. “Although I know that Barna has recently stepped down as co-CEO,” Davern concedes, “it still remains a strong example of what can be accomplished when smart, ambitious women work together toward a common goal.”