2017 Best MBAs: Ross Chesnick, Babson College (F.W. Olin)

Ross Chesnick

F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business, Babson College

“An unyielding force for conflict management, social innovation and constructive confrontation.”

Age: 28

Hometown: Brookline, MA

Fun fact about yourself: I was on the founding team of the first undergraduate microfinance club/organization in the country at Vanderbilt University.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Vanderbilt University, B.A. Political Science, Corporate Strategy

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? uAspire, Assistant Director of Operations

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? CareerNumbers (now MeetAway), Boston, MA

Where will you be working after graduation? Aquadat, Director of Growth and Strategic Partnerships

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Co-President, Graduate Net Impact Club; Campus Director, Hult Prize 2016; Graduate Assistant, Lewis Institute & Food Sol; Creative Design Award, Design Sprint Challenge; Founding Member, Usurpers (Social Innovation Group); F.W. Olin MBA Scholarship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my involvement with the Usurpers, an off-campus social innovation group dedicated to evolving the university’s approach to business education. The group started within the first 4 weeks of my MBA, when 30+ Babson graduate students came together and mobilized around a single mission, “rendering service to humanity.” As future leaders in the business world, we felt an imperative to find ways in which we could inject social innovation into Babson’s existing ecosystem and to position the institution to be a thought leader in using business as a tool for social impact. Like many business schools, Babson’s MBA curriculum and resources are intrinsically intertwined with the notion that a business’s sole purpose is to maximize profits and increase shareholder value.  In response to this baseline, the Usurpers came together and challenged Babson College’s pedagogical approach and strategic plan by engaging with various stakeholders at all levels of the university, and presented out an implementable roadmap to more fully integrate social innovation across campus. In response, Babson’s Board of Trustees, as well as the President’s Cabinet, have pushed social impact into its long-term strategic plan, and faculty have begun to more thoroughly integrate social innovation themes into their daily lessons.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Over a period of four years at uAspire, a nonprofit dedicated to college access and financial aid advising, I took incredible pride in helping the organization grow from 25 employees with 3 locations in 1 state, to 65 employees spread across 7 offices in 4 states. During this period of rapid growth, I solicited services and funds from VMware to rebuild our entire IT infrastructure, worked with brokers and contractors to move our corporate office to a new space in a $600k buildout, and built-out a cross-platform virtual infrastructure to remotely advise 50,000 students on topics related to financial aid. In anticipation of joining uAspire, my personal aspiration was to work for and scale an organization that had a concrete social mission, and being able to watch this vision manifest into a reality was nothing short of a dream.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Marty Anderson’s Extended Enterprise Management Practicum introduced students to a concept that few had previously heard: “Walking the Gemba.” As soon as Marty mentioned those three words, a look of confusion encompassed the classroom. When translated, this phrase can be simply defined as the practice where business leaders go to where value is created. If you’re in manufacturing, it could mean walking on the manufacturing floor and talking to your employees to figure out how to improve systems. It also can be defined as the method to explore each level of your business ecosystem through photos and interviews with stakeholders to better understand the impact and opportunities of one’s business. While it’s very easy to get lost in this business jargon and terminology, the underlying concept of “Walking the Gemba” was that in order to understand your business and it’s ensuing opportunities, you need to gain rapport with all of the players and resources that are affected by your operations. Only then will your business fully realize its full potential for continuous growth.

Why did you choose this business school?After three years of working operations at uAspire, I started to notice that my creative spark was starting to diminish. Although I felt accomplished in my role and was aligned with the company’s mission, I felt a dearth of creativity and continuous challenge. This void pushed me to explore the possibility of pursuing a graduate education. After talking to Cheryl Kiser, the Executive Director of the Lewis Institute and Social Innovation Lab at Babson College, I was finally able to formulate what I was looking for: a graduate program that focused on creating positive social change. I wasn’t interested in management frameworks or financial models. Instead, I was interested in emerging businesses and startups that could have a direct social impact on its target constituents. Naturally, with its reputation for incubating and teaching entrepreneurship and its resource rich environment for social innovators, I rolled the dice and applied to one graduate program, the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? In the fall of 2015, I was diagnosed with Crohns Disease, an incurable chronic autoimmune disorder that causes excruciating pain throughout one’s body if untreated. That time period also happened to be the first semester of my MBA, which is one of the most intense and exhausting phases of the two-year graduate experience. In parallel, the medication that I was initially prescribed caused short-term amnesia, severe mood swings, and sudden exhaustion, all while I was still experiencing continuous pain.  As this shocking new chapter altered my life’s course, I was absolutely shocked by the level of support I received from the Babson faculty and administrative staff. The two entities worked together to ensure that I was kept up to speed with the curriculum by providing private tutoring, rescheduling exams and even checking-in with me one-on-one to provide emotional support. Somehow, I was able to get through my first semester without lagging behind or feeling helpless thanks to their continued efforts. I am forever grateful to them.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? I’d give them the same advice as I’d give others who are applying to any MBA program. If you’re thinking about business school, make sure you’re going to a program that amplifies your areas of interest. There’s no value in going down this path if you just decide to apply for your MBA because it’s a “reasonable next step.” If you’re interested in startups, entrepreneurship and change making, apply to Babson. If you’re interested in middle management, apply to a school that specializes in that area. If you’re not sure why you want to get your MBA, go back to the drawing board and start sketching out the areas that interest you. If some of those interests overlap with some portion of business education, go research and apply to those programs that overlap with those interests. Be intentional!

What was your biggest regret in business school? It’s very easy to get caught up in the intensity of your first year of business school. Classes and school work are ultra-condensed to deliberately acclimate you to the Babson MBA pedagogy and lifestyle. While this time period is more of a test of will than merit, it’s very easy to get caught up in the momentum of demands, and not be able to see the bigger picture of what the institution is trying to do: prime us as future business leaders. Although I was also struggling with Crohns Disease during this period of time, I also got caught up in the first-year hustle, and gave myself very little room to fail on any demand, when in fact, Babson was training us to make peace with failure. Until the conclusion of my first year, I didn’t give myself the opportunity to reflect on the process and digest the importance of failure, an inevitable component of any future employment opportunity.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My fellow classmate, John Kluge, was an invaluable friend and resource that has taught me almost as much as any professor on-campus. In John’s prior life, he was a social entrepreneur and founder of Toilet Hackers, a sanitation social enterprise. Being an individual who is hyper-focused on change agents and social innovation, I eagerly listened to John’s humbling stories of failure and success, which brought to life the realities of entrepreneurship and social impact. Outside of academic and intellectual value, John was incredibly supportive during my worst Crohns flare ups, and was always there when I needed to vent on any topic, be it politics, academics or business. I look forward to our continued professional and personal relationship for years to come

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I met Babson’s social innovators and entrepreneurs.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…still working at uAspire on a trajectory to become their first COO.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? Build out our resources for social entrepreneurship by bringing in experienced mentors, speakers, and workshops.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To lead and advise companies on how to integrate principles of social impact into their company’s DNA. To do this, I will first need to lead a business, in both its startup and later phases, and inject these principles from within. I will then draw on this experience to advise other companies in an effort to change the “why” of business from Friedman’s concepts of “profit,” to Roger Babson’s philosophy of “rendering service to humanity.”

Who would you most want to thank for your success? Cheryl Kiser, the Executive Director of the Lewis Institute, has been the integral force that inspired me to work for uAspire, and then unintentionally guided me towards my MBA at Babson. When I graduated from Vanderbilt in 2011, I didn’t know how best to apply myself to the professional world. I was passionate about activism, social impact and politics, but I didn’t have a firm grasp on how to translate that to tangible career. As I struggled to find opportunities in the midst of a difficult job market, I met with Cheryl to help ground my thoughts and guide me towards aligned opportunities. Through her inspirational words, I was able to collect to my thoughts and focus my sights on the nonprofit sector. After three years at uAspire had passed, I again visited Cheryl to discuss the next phase of my life. The rest is history.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? The student who never shied away from controversial topics and who always challenged the status quo.

Favorite book: Mission in a Bottle by Barry Nalebuff and Seth Goldman

Favorite movie or television show: Doctor Who

Favorite musical performer: The Beatles

Favorite vacation spot: Seward, Alaska

Hobbies? Cooking, Snowboarding, Gardening, Traveling Alone, Hiking

What made Ross such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“I am writing in support of Ross Chesnick’s nomination for Poets and Quants’ Best MBAs of 2017. Ross came to Babson on a mission and that mission was to learn, contribute, change what wasn’t working and leave with an expanded knowledge base and network of friends and colleagues.

He was also going to make sure that Babson delivered on its mission of educating leaders to create economic and social value simultaneously. He came to Babson oriented in this mindset, and his journey here was to take leadership within the MBA program poised to amplify what already existed and create new things that would be a part of his legacy.

From day one, Ross took leadership in Net Impact, along with many other student driven initiatives. He was one of the founders of a group of MBAs’ called the USURPERS. These individuals activated leadership inside of Babson and “nudged” the administration to do more in including social value creation in the core curriculum and into the core of its operations.

One project that highlights Ross’ ambition was a co- created project called a MCFE (Management Consulting Field Experience).  He and his colleague wanted to make the business case for more resources, and more intention around social value creation and social innovation.   They were successful and engaged a multitude of key stakeholders within and outside the campus who would help inform and further their mission. This project was enormously successful in getting attention at the cabinet level as well as the Board of Trustees.  As a result of his efforts Babson is changing.  The focus of social impact and social value creation is front and center to Babson’s Centennial Plan poised to attract more resources.  His efforts also helped accelerate the development of the Intensity Track in Business and Social Innovation.

This is one of many commitments Ross has made to furthering his ability to be an entrepreneurial leader both inside of an organization as well as outside.  Babson is one of 30 campuses within the Ashoka Campus Network. Ross has exemplified the attributes and qualities of a change maker. He has been one of the most respected members of his class, and most importantly has contributed to positively disrupting by masterfully engaging his MBA cohort and colleagues to make a difference.”

Cheryl Kiser

Executive Director

The Lewis Institute & Babson Social Innovation Lab


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