Stephiney Xie / Dartmouth (Tuck): In the 1980’s, the U.S. Army adopted a slogan: “Be all that you can be.” Xie — an “Army of One” if there ever was one — took this challenge to heart. A West Point grad who describes herself as an “unrelenting self-starter” who is “hell-bent on making a difference,” Xie took on responsibilities that would make a Fortune 500 CEO shudder. She started as a Lieutenant, leading a 50-member platoon responsible for “dozens of military vehicles and millions of dollar worth of equipment.” She was eventually deployed to Afghanistan, where she led a team that executed over 500 missions for NATO in Southern Afghanistan — the war’s hot spot. When politicians yap about saving money by reducing “waste and inefficiency,” they’re really talking about Xie. Her team saved $95 million dollars of taxpayer money. The reward? She was selected from 30,000 peers to receive the Army Transportation Officer of the Year Award in 2013.
What can she do for encore? Well, the Tuck School is just finding that out! Make no mistake: It’s going to be big. “The Army has whet my palette for leadership and innovation, but now I am ready to make an impact in a different capacity,” she says. “What intrinsically motivates me is the belief that I can create positive, lasting, and measurable results through transformational leadership and innovative disruption.”
Anjin Stewart-Funai / University of Michigan (Ross): Most business schools screen out “divas.” That is, unless they are truly divas. Meet Anjin Stewart-Funai, professional opera singer and poet extraordinaire. Armed with a Bachelor’s in Art History and a Master’s in Operatic Vocal Performance, Stewart-Funai has done everything from play a lovelorn boy to singing for piano legend Van Cliburn. Now, she is spending the next years making a career switch that helps her stay true to her roots — and give back to the artistic expression that she cherishes so dearly.
“My dream job is to be the General Director for one of the major opera companies in the U.S.” she shares. “The performing arts in the U.S. have been suffering for many years now, and quite a number of companies are barely able to meet their basic running expenses even with the help of donations on top of ticket sales. The fear that ‘opera is dying’ is extensive throughout the music community. After having witnessed the positive impact that the performing arts can have on people, I feel a personal obligation to try to guide the operatic industry towards a better financial future.”
Hila Shabtai / INSEAD: It isn’t easy being first. You’re the one who has to devise the strategy and set the standard. Mistakes are inevitable — and doubters are sure to spring up with the first signs of trouble. It takes a special kind of person to be first…someone like HIla Shabtai.
Her moment of truth came after nearly four years of service in the Israeli Defense Forces. She was asked to spearhead an initiative designed to better integrate women into the combat units for the armed forces reserves. Just one catch: her company was comprised of 120 men, including 10 officers and senior staffer. Not only were they all older than she was, but they had never served under a woman. No sweat, right? “In retrospective, I completely underestimated the resistance I would face in my reserve unit,” she admits.
That said, she earned their respect the old fashioned way…by leading instead of dictating or blaming. “As the only woman, I relied on my determination, professionalism, and asked them not to treat me differently than any other officer or soldier. I endured the same physical training as everyone and didn’t accept any special privileges. Over time, I gained their trust and appreciation and I am today an integral part of the unit’s officer group.” By taking the heavy fire as the first female Company Commander in the Israeli reserves, she cleared a path for the women who followed her. “Over the past eight years, I believe I’ve changed mindsets and attitudes that were deeply rooted and created a precedent for other female officers to serve in various reserve combat units.”
After graduating from INSEAD, Shabtai hopes to transition from finance to general management. Her philosophy for getting there is both potent and poignant and timeless. “When I reflect about my ambitions and values and how to integrate them from a business perspective, I realize that leading people is what I enjoy the most. I believe that in any business environment people are key and if you take care of your people, the business will take care of you.”
Kate Hanford / MIT (Sloan): Impact. It is a term that resonates deeply with Millennial MBAs. It harkens back to the roots of business: to challenge, create, connect, and contribute. It is a means to share and serve, to make a difference and leave one corner of the world better than it was.
Kate Hanford personifies impact. Describing herself as someone “obsessed with finding ways to make big ideas happen,” Hanford set off to Uganda to do just that. Here, her team built an accelerator that nurtured 21 companies — with 20 still in operation after two years (Beat those results, Y Combinator!). That doesn’t count $5 million dollars in investment these firms generated too! While growing the accelerator, Hanford discovered her mission. “I had never thought of myself as an entrepreneur, so learning I could build a successful business that benefitted others was very rewarding.”
Now, Hanford hopes to take her penchant for impact into the private sector. In the meantime, she has developed a kinship with her peers at Sloan. Considering the talent, you never know where these relationships could lead. “I really like the Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I’m not just going to business school because I want to create change. I’m going because I know I’ll be surrounded by smart, ambitious people that are also creating change.”