2017 Best MBAs: Ziad Jarjouhi, Cornell (Johnson)

Ziad Jarjouhi

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

Banker turned agri-entrepreneur.”

Age: 32

Hometown: Kuwait City, Kuwait

Fun fact about yourself: In 1998, I became the youngest person to receive the Eagle Scout rank in Kuwait.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Commerce (Honors in Finance) from the John Molson School of Business, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? I worked at one of Kuwait’s oldest and largest financial services firm, Kuwait Financial Centre (Markaz). Over a total of eight years, I held positions in numerous departments — real estate, fixed income, and private banking — with roles ranging from strategic initiatives to operational business development.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? I worked as a summer associate at HOF Capital, a VC fund in New York City. At the same time, I continued to work on PureSpinach — a startup that that I co-founded with a fellow Johnson colleague in Ithaca which locally grows and sells baby spinach using a unique implementation of deep water culture hydroponics.

Where will you be working after graduation? I have accepted an offer from Kraft Heinz to develop business in the Middle East and Africa out of their operations in Dubai as part of their MBA leadership program and will continue to work on growing our startup, PureSpinach.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Elected for the position of Health and Wellness Chair in the MBA Student Council
  • Chosen as an associate on Johnson’s student-run venture capital fund, the BR Venture Fund
  • Organized and led the High Tech Club’s annual trek to Seattle to meet with technology companies
  • Organized and assisted in leading the “Experience in International Management” one-week course to the UAE
  • McAllister Prize for excellence in business writing
  • Treasurer for both Cookin’ the Books (Johnson’s culinary club) and the Entrepreneurship and VC Club
  • Teaching assistant for two core MBA classes: Financial Accounting taught by Robert Libby and Managerial Finance taught by Gideon Saar

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud of creating PureSpinach. I had to keep up with my coursework and honor my extracurricular commitments, all while launching a startup that progressed from an initial idea to a revenue-generating business in under 14 months. I frequently would have to run from class to the greenhouse to seed and harvest, then run back to the business school to hold office hours. It was very satisfying to see our hard work validated after we won the pitch competition at the Entrepreneurship Summit in NYC and advancing to the final round of the Bangkok Business Challenge.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? During my pre-Cornell job at Kuwait Financial Centre (Markaz), one of the achievements that I am proudest of is the creation of the first comprehensive database of bond issuances in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region. Coverage of the fixed-income market in the GCC was nonexistent, and after primary research the database was complete. The database allowed me to author the first comprehensive research report on the region’s bond market; the publication has since become a much sought-after reference tool, as it is published twice a year. I am both humbled and proud when central banks and regulatory authorities quote the periodical I created and use the terms coined in the report.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? There are two professors that have left a significant impact on both my personal and professional life: Manoj Thomas and Randy Allen.

Professor Manoj Thomas provided instruction in the Strategic Marketing Immersion that I was a part of and was instrumental in helping my business partner Serdar and me in launching PureSpinach. His assistance and guidance with conducting consumer research and testing product benefit statements were invaluable. Manoj’s philosophical approach and aptitude to focus on the bigger picture have left a mark on the way I tackle problems.

Senior Lecturer Randy Allen is a phenomenal individual whose professional accolades do not require an introduction. I got to know Randy well while assisting her with the class trip to the UAE. She has been a great support since and has been a personal mentor who has provided treasured advice on life choices. I will always remember her mantra that “your career is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Why did you choose this business school? I chose to study at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management primarily for the environment and culture. Cornell is an educationally diverse institution that attracts a particular type of student and fosters a close-knit community. While I had previously heard this about the culture at Cornell, it wasn’t until I had spent a few hours with the recruiter and the head of the Cornell Alumni Club in London that it became clear to me that this wasn’t a marketing gimmick. The professors know each student by name and are genuinely attentive to their interests and aspirations; the weekly socials held in Sage every Thursday play an important role in providing the venue for the Johnson family to come together and socialize and build meaningful, long-lasting relationships.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? When I was leaving Kuwait to start the MBA at Cornell, I came across the following quote: “As you set out on your journey to Ithaca, pray that your journey be a long one, filled with adventure, filled with discovery.”

At that moment, I did not realize that those words would predict and illustrate my experience at Johnson. The business school experience has been a truly unique journey filled with continuous adventure and discovery — and that is what I enjoy most about business school. Every interaction has been meaningful and impactful. I constantly learn from all people I work with, be it the professors, peers, or administrators, whether in a classroom setting, in a bar, or at Wegmans grocery store.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? The most surprising thing about business school for me is the diversity in people’s backgrounds. You would think that most business school students are coming from finance and business backgrounds, but it has amazed me to see how engineering, military, and arts backgrounds bring intellectually stimulating conversations into our classrooms. This diversity provides a fresh approach to traditional business concepts and allows our class to learn to take diverse knowledge to apply even post business school.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Culture and character fit are extremely important at Johnson. Before I advise anyone to consider an MBA at Johnson, I recommend that they reach out to as many people as they can from the current classes, especially those individuals from outside their community, and try to determine if those people are ones they can picture themselves befriending and maintaining relationships with after business school.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth that I had heard about Johnson is that there is nothing to do outside of class. While Ithaca is a much smaller city than what I am used to, I haven’t been bored once since coming to Cornell. At the start of the program, I anticipated that I would be in New York City every weekend racking up miles on the Campus2Campus bus, but my visits to the city have been minimal.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret in business school is not strategizing well for the summer break. There were so many different options available, and I left the decision to the last minute. If I were given the chance to do it all over again, I would have managed my time better to get the corporate exposure and startup traction I would have liked to get in one summer.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The MBA classmate I most admire is Serdar Mizrakci, my friend and co-founder of our startup. Serdar has an ability to visualize a goal and the discipline to reach it without getting distracted by miniscule obstacles. He infuses passion with faith that we can accomplish our mission even when it doesn’t seem attainable. If there is any barrier to our goal, he will metaphorically jump over it while most people I know would focus on tearing down that barrier.

 I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I wanted to step outside my comfort zone by working on projects and subjects that I would not be exposed to in my daily job responsibilities.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…pursuing a traditional career path in finance, and it would have been tougher to explore and experience other opportunities.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Seeing PureSpinach expand to the top 10 U.S. metropolises and go global to arid places of the world where food security is an issue. It would be fulfilling to see this company which we started at Johnson become a driving force for change in this world.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My gratitude goes to my parents. They have embedded in me strong social and academic values. Their support and encouragement, to this day, provide me with the fuel I need to run after my aspirations.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?  He is the guy that went from modeling statements in three-piece suits to harvesting greens in overalls.

Favorite book: Journal of an Ordinary Grief by Mahmoud Darwish

Favorite movie or television show:

Movie: Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (Bollywood film)

Television Show: The Newsroom

Favorite musical performer: Carlos Vives

Favorite vacation spot: Turkey — specifically Istanbul and Alaçatı, a town on the Çeşme Peninsula on the western Aegean coast.

Hobbies? My hobbies include running, traveling, cooking, and exploring new cultures though food.

What made Ziad such an invaluable member of the Class of 2017?

“Ziad Jarjouhi is one of the most entrepreneurial students in the class of 2017 as a co-founder of Johnson MBA startup PureSpinach. In that role, he brings a diverse background as an international student (both the middle east and Canada) as well as a deep background in corporate finance. I know Ziad as a key member of the PureSpinach team, which started in NBA 5640 (Entrepreneurship and Business Ownership) and progressed on to be one of the 15 of 45 student companies admitted to eLab, Cornell’s student business accelerator. Ziad’s work has been instrumental to the formation, planning, and implementation of the company, and particularly in developing a startup business model that has enabled PureSpinach to become one of the rare student startups that transitions from idea to company to revenue, all within the period of a 2-year MBA. It is through interactions with students like Ziad that I continue to learn and grow as an instructor – so I am very thankful that I have had the opportunity to have Ziad in class in both NBA 5640 and in eLab. Besides his entrepreneurial venture, Ziad is a leader in the Johnson community, working to assist faculty teaching the finance and accounting courses, and serving on the Student Council to improve health and wellness programs for Johnson students. He is passionate about strengthening the network of entrepreneurs throughout Cornell.”

Tom Schryver
Visiting Lecturer, Johnson Graduate School of Management
Executive Director, Center for Regional Economic Advancement

DON’T MISS: THE COMPLETE HONOR ROLL: BEST & BRIGHTEST MBAS OF 2017