A.J. Steigman describes himself as “an international chess champion, investment banker-turned-entrepreneur, and Lyme disease survivor.” Just 31, Steigman could easily be characterized as a prodigy. Competing in chess tournaments when he was just five, he bested Bobby Fischer by becoming a Master at age 13. In 2010, he co-founded Soletron, a social networking, content, and e-commerce platform, in his parent’s garage. A year later, it ranked in the top 99.7% of all trafficked websites in the world. Now, Steigman is taking on a new challenge as one of the 851 members of Wharton’s MBA Class of 2018.
What would drive someone like Steigman to take two years off to pursue a graduate business degree? For one, he hopes to become a better entrepreneur. Between Wharton’s resources and location, Steigman believes he can get the greatest return from his time at the school. “Wharton has a rich history of encouraging entrepreneurship, and I wanted to team up with the brightest minds there to identify the next industry disruptor,” he explains. “An important skill that I gained from chess is the ability to learn from other top players. To fully optimize oneself, one needs to learn from others, and I can’t think of a better place than Wharton for doing this to help me reach my professional goals.”
UPCOMING ‘CLASS OF 2018” SERIES WILL PROFILE OVER 40 MBA PROGRAMS
Steigman isn’t alone. This fall, thousands of top professionals will be streaming back to campus to position themselves for the next big step —whether that is switching careers or gaining the knowledge necessary for move up the ladder of success. Who are these students, really? What motivates them to pick certain MBA programs? What advice would they give prospective students? To answer these and other questions, Poets&Quants invited over 40 leading full-time MBA programs to participate in our annual “Meet the Class of…” series. Looking at their incoming 2018 class (or 2017 class for one-year programs), we asked these schools to share up to 12 first-year students who epitomize their program’s goals and spirit. Our objective was simple: We wanted to dispel the stereotypes by getting to know the students themselves. More than that, we hoped that readers could see themselves through these students, to erase any reservations they may have about pursuing an MBA, one of the most valuable degrees in the world. As a result, Poets&Quants will be running over 40 school-specific profiles of the 2018 Class this fall.
After reviewing nearly 300 profiles thus far, one theme emerges. Business school is truly a great melting pot, with this year’s first years hailing from locales as diverse as Bucaramanga (Colombia), Tirana (Albania), Accra (Ghana), and Dhaka (Bangladesh). As undergrads, these incoming MBA students majored in such traditional staples as finance and engineering, along with more exotic disciplines that include anthropology and architecture. While many boast McKinsey, Google, Goldman Sachs, and Procter & Gamble on their resumes, others are deeply rooted in service, working in institutions ranging from Teach For America to the Navy SEALS.
“IN MY HEAD, I’M WARREN BUFFETT-MEETS-BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN. IN REALITY, I’M PROBABLY WOODY FROM TOY STORY.”
Make no mistake, they bring far more to the table than just their hard-won work expertise. They are dreamers and doers whose intangibles are often the keys to their success. When asked to describe herself in 15 words or less, the University of Chicago’s Anjuli noted that she looked for adventure where others saw none. IE Business School’s Louise Brennan answered the same question with a world-weary aphorism: “My curiosity, enthusiasm and compassion are only bounded by a strong dose of pragmatism.” Northwestern’s Dana Weinstein pictures herself as “a champion for saying ‘yes’ to underserved people and communities when it’s easier to say no.” Georgetown’s Gershon Blyden struck a similar insurgent tone, calling himself “someone who’s unafraid to take the road less travelled to arrive at the right destination.” However, Cornell’s Gianne Middleton doesn’t necessarily see an end to her road. “I’m happily a work in progress, under consistent personal, social, academic and professional construction!”
Other members of the 2018 class were less introspective if more puckish in how they describe themselves. Emory’s Alison Martinez takes pride in being “independent and ambitious,” but admits that she’s “also that person who talks to strangers in line.” Her classmate, D. Wright Clarke, portrays himself as “an aspiring Renaissance man with far more interests than time.” Duke’s Angela Tenney fully owns that she’s a “bubbly, confident nerd with a penchant for lists, puns, and trivia.” That said, Northwestern’s Alexander Przewozniak wins the gold with this nugget: “In my head, I’m Warren Buffett-meets-Bruce Springsteen. In reality, I’m probably Woody from Toy Story.”
A SYNCHRONIZED SWIMMER, A ROCK DRUMER…AND A FIGHTER PILOT AFRAID OF HEIGHTS
Their life experiences are equally jaw-dropping and entertaining. Harvard’s Daniel Handlin actually has an asteroid —22939 Handlin — named after him. His classmate, Frances Dixon, tried out for the Olympic team in synchronized swimming, while UC-Berkeley’s Anna Braszkiewicz won several national championships in springboard and platform diving at the University of Utah. Duke’s Hannah Rose Ford is a classically-trained ballerina, while the University of Michigan’s Anjin Stewart-Funai is a professional opera singer who once paid tribute to her hero, pianist Van Clibum, by singing for him at a ceremony honoring his achievements. In the same vein, the London Business School’s Edward Adlard was once the drummer of the acclaimed indy band Patch William before becoming a Lloyds banker and a marketing manager for an encryption startup.
Others were adventurers who tested their boundaries long before joining case competitions or cracking open finance texts. After spending nearly a decade in the U.S. State Department, where he was among the original negotiators in the Iran nuclear talks, the University of Minnesota’s Chris Grantham took over a hobby farm in 2012, raising everything from pigs to honey bees. “I really had no idea what I was doing when we started,” he cracks, “but I had very sympathetic neighbors and you’d be amazed what you can learn from YouTube.” HEC Paris’ Maria Martyak spent last Christmas swimming with sharks —without the safety of a cage. “There were approximately 30 Tiger and Galapagos sharks swimming around me,” she says. “It was an incredible experience!” At the same time, IESE’s Coralie Vaissié confesses that she was once trapped in quicksand as a teenager in Thailand. No less harrowing: Yale’s Emily Burchinow has made six cross-continent moves in the past five years.