Other MBAs turned to the nonprofit sector for guidance. Brian Kirk, a submarine warfare officer before joining MIT’s Sloan School of Management, applauds Eric Greitens, founder of The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that helps veterans transition to life after the service. Specifically, Kirk found Greitens to be a model for living a more balanced and meaningful life. “I admire the struggles he faced while starting his own company and his seemingly endless energy to help others,” Kirk says. “I aspire to find the degree of philosophical understanding and self-awareness he brings to all situations.”
Sometimes, MBAs find role models among household names — just not the ones you might initially suspect. That was the case for UCLA’s Maeghan Rouch, who interned last summer for the Honest Company, a consumer products firm co-founded by actress Jessica Alba on the principles of transparency and ethics. Through Alba, Rouch learned to play to her strengths, accept her limitations, and delegate strategically. “(Alba) is totally honest with herself about her strengths and weaknesses. She is great with design and great with branding — and (she) totally runs with that within the company. For everything else, she was wise enough to know that she needs an all-star team around her to make her idea work.”
SOME TOP LEADERS GO BY THE NAMES OF ‘DAD’ AND ‘MOM’
Speaking of “household” names, some MBAs found the best examples of leadership were in their homes all along. That was the lesson gained by the University of Iowa’s Kyle Wehr, who praises his father, Denis Wehr, a controller by trade and servant leader by temperament. What is his father’s secret? Quite simply, Kyle says, he has mastered the fundamentals that everyone knows, but that few have the self-awareness or discipline to consistently practice. “Dad is a quiet man who adds value when he speaks,” the younger Wehr says. “He fosters a culture of collaboration and lives his life in service to others. Dad is a humble man, but deserves a lot of recognition. If more people lived their lives in this way, I believe our culture would be much more appreciative of true community.”
Some business leaders are a reminder to be grateful for your blessings and to practice perseverance when the odds are against you. For USC’s Jordan Selva, Augie Nieto, founder of Life Fitness, represents something deeper than innovative product designs or enviable distribution channels. Instead, Nieto’s story symbolizes that “never give in” drive to maximize our time and potential that Life Fitness’ products promote. “Augie was diagnosed with ALS 10 years ago,” Selva says, “but refused to give in to this disease and decided to fight. The doctors told Augie he wouldn’t live more than two years. Yet, 10 years later, he is still fighting for himself and others. He is fighting to find a cure … Augie has raised tens of millions of dollars, and is the first person to ever show positive signs of reversing ALS. He is a true inspiration and leader, overcoming adversity that most people will never know or understand.”
Indeed, the most admired leaders show up in various guises. Forget the iron-fisted conquerors and men in gray flannel suits of yesteryear. Today’s leaders are audacious visionaries and selfless everyone and women who take risks and run their businesses by their personal credos. Not only do they develop game-changing products and services, they’re also accessible and inspiring. These were some of the qualities that led the the University of Chicago’s Emily Ruff into the education technology sector. Not surprisingly, she holds Salman Khan in the highest esteem.
“I think his products are phenomenal,” she says, “and I think it’s awesome that he walked away from a job at a hedge fund to do what he cared about.” However, Khan’s greatest legacy may stretch well beyond his video lessons to the innovations unleashed by admirers like Ruff, who multiply his influence by taking his example to heart. “I got lucky enough to be invited to a question-and-answer session with him this year, and I loved this axiom he shared: ‘You only live once, so swing for the fences.’”
Who do “Best & Brightest MBAs” consider to the best business leaders — and why? Check out the next pages for the 2016 class’ opinions on everyone from Janet Yellen and Warren Buffet to J.K. Rowling and Mark Cuban.
DON’T MISS: 2016 MBAs TO WATCH