2017 Best MBAs: Ward Wolff, New York University (Stern)

Ward Wolff

New York University, Stern School of Business

“I’m a fifth generation Californian, fascinated by cities and nature, grateful for my opportunities in life.”

Age: 31

Hometown: San Francisco, CA

Fun fact about yourself: During a very brief stint as a cater waiter in my early 20’s, a high point was working a private The Who concert, low point was accidentally running into Justin Timberlake with a bag of dirty towels, and rock-bottom was dropping a full tray of red wine in the MoMA.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Middlebury College, BA English & Writing

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? I co-founded a company called Recess, where we developed an online event management and marketing tool for public and private recreation venues. Prior to that I did sponsorship marketing and corporate partnerships for SummerStage and City Parks Foundation in NYC, and served on the operations team for Mayor Bloomberg’s reelection campaign.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? I was an NYU Stern SIIF Fellow (Social Impact Internship Fund) working with the Marron Institute of Urban Management on a large-scale urban planning project based in Montería, Colombia.

Where will you be working after graduation? I am participating in spring recruiting for real estate development, investment, and asset management.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Chair, NYU Social Innovation Symposium (academic and professional conference jointly produced by MBA, JD, and MPA students)
  • Vice President, Social Enterprise Association
  • President, Stern Adventures (outdoor club – hiking, skiing, cycling, climbing, etc.)
  • LAUNCH Captain (new student orientation) and Day of Service coordinator
  • Leadership Development Program

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Last spring, I began working with Stern’s Urbanization Project through an independent study as a Stern Signature Project, which pairs students with faculty to tackle real-world challenges. Our team was advancing work done in partnership with various levels of the Colombian government to assist rapidly growing mid-size cities in the sustainable and equitable planning of infrastructure development and public open space. As part of the project, I was excited to bring in a personal mentor, Adrian Benepe, former Commissioner of the NYC Parks Department under Mayor Bloomberg, and currently VP of City Park Development at the Trust for Public Land (TPL), who would serve as one of our advisors. Our initial work with him and his team resulted in the formation of a partnership between the NYU Marron Institute, TPL, and other stakeholders, the aim of which is to develop a methodology to plan for and monitor public open space in growing cities worldwide, primarily in emerging markets. This spring, we will be piloting the methodology in the Philippines and Ethiopia in addition to Colombia, with hopes of developing a replicable and scalable process for hundreds of cities in the near future in line with key parts of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

I am also really proud to represent Stern in the school’s inaugural MIINT team (MBA Impact Investing Networking & Training) and compete in the finals at Wharton this coming April. And on a personal level, I am glad that we have been able to expand the membership and event offerings of Stern Adventures, which I think is an important outlet for students to connect outside the classroom and get to know the city and the surrounding outdoor areas.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am proud of my experience establishing partnerships across ­the public and private sector to help deliver hundreds of free SummerStage concerts, sports, and education programs to parks across New York City as part of my role with City Parks Foundation. Through my years there, I got to know many sides of the five boroughs, met all sorts of interesting and inspiring people, and developed important business and management skills on the ground. I felt really lucky to have a job in which I could make a local impact and merged my passions and professional interests in an interesting and productive way.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Matt Statler did a fantastic job of making the required Professional Responsibility course relevant across industries and functions. He masterfully led discussions and activities around ethical leadership and decision-making, philosophy, social psychology, organizational culture, discrimination, and social and environmental impact.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Through the Stern Consulting Corps and its affiliated class, Consulting Practice, taught by Professor Sonia Marciano, I had the opportunity to work with high-level administrators at the New York City Housing Authority to help address a long-standing city-wide operational and budgetary issue. As the only group in our cohort with a public sector client, the experience taught me a lot about the applicability of business fundamentals, strategies, and frameworks for organizations serving the public interest.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Stern because I felt it was the best place for me to take a multi-disciplinary approach to my intended specializations of real estate, finance, and social innovation & impact. New York City had already become a second home for me, and the opportunity to be in school in downtown Manhattan and the access that provides — as well as the diverse, interesting people it attracts — was a really exciting prospect. In the middle of such a vibrant university and urban ecosystem, it was also important to me to have the daily option of total immersion in school, complete independence, or something in between. Overall, I felt Stern is doing exciting things to leverage its traditional strength in finance to re-define the scope of business school, and I felt a strong alignment with Dean Henry’s vision of the evolving roles and responsibilities of the MBA graduate in today’s society to use business as a vehicle for positive change.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Something I will really miss is crossing paths and connecting with people from all over the world, with different backgrounds and perspectives, all day and every day. We’re all in this relatively small building — a concentrated space in a lively neighborhood — so there is this buzz of activity around campus all the time that is infectious. I generally describe my time in school as busy but not stressful, which is an ideal, fulfilling balance I hope to be able to continue throughout my life and career.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? At first I was most surprised by my classmates — so many had come from self-described “non-traditional” business school backgrounds that I think we need to revisit the term. As my first semester progressed, I was also impressed with how hard students worked and devoted their time and resources to helping to shape the school and its culture (particularly second years), whether through academics, career-related activities and recruiting, or things of general interest.  And I’m continually surprised whenever I strike up a conversation with someone and we get the opportunity to go below the surface level stuff. I wish we had more time and avenues for that.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I think the biggest myth is that outside of the heavily structured banking and maybe the consulting recruiting tracks, everything else at Stern is secondary. Those sectors are certainly a strong focus and priority, and as such have a lot of resources dedicated to them (for good reason). However, I think something gets lost in that perspective, which is that there is a lot of benefit to having the freedom to customize your own path in other fields. Opportunities are readily accessible at your fingertips, but only if you take the initiative to make the connections, particularly with the wealth of resources, centers, institutes, professors, and alumni provided by NYU as a whole. Things will not just fall into your lap, but it is exciting that way, and Stern is better off for it. More broadly, I think a common perception of business school in general — especially compared to other graduate programs —  is that with its networking, travelling, and other social activities, academics are regarded as a lower priority. To that I would be sure to add that you are completely free to shape your experience and structure your priorities however you see fit and to help you make the most of the experience. I think that what you get out of business school it is directly related to what you put in.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I cannot say that I regret anything, but if I could do it all over again, I would work in more time to prep and plan for my life as a student, since this short window of time goes by even faster than everyone warns.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The list is very long, and I loved thinking about this. What they all have in common is that they are high achievers with wide ranging interests, yet are humble, well-rounded, and have something pretty goofy or strange about them that they embrace.  I would have to single out Nancy Van Way — she is very sharp but is never afraid to ask questions or put herself out there in class. I think her professional interests related to agriculture, supply chain management, and human rights are bold and admirable, and she does everything with a big smile. I’m not sure if I have ever heard her utter a negative comment.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was having an increasingly difficult time working to establish a small startup.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…finishing my degree in urban planning.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would magically find untapped funding for more scholarships to advance diversity in the MBA ranks and to reduce classmates’ student debt load.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To integrate social impact and sustainability strategies as a leader of a real estate development and investment firm.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My family: Dad for relentless positivity, Mom for embracing exploration and travel, and two older sisters for showing the way through their own unique professional successes.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me as an integral teammate, a dependable friend, an independent, creative, positive thinker, and a fun adventure companion.

Favorite book: Currently 10:04 by Ben Lerner

Favorite movie or television show: Three-way tie: Friday Night Lights, The Wire, Planet Earth

Favorite musical performer: David Byrne and Sharon Jones

Favorite vacation spot: Mountain river with a swimming hole

Hobbies? Biking all over, solo traveling, playing and seeing music, sleeping outside, tennis, house plants, cooking, politics

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

“Ward Wolff is a second-year MBA candidate at NYU Stern. Ward came to Stern with the goal of one day helping to influence the shape and characteristics of the world’s cities to accommodate sustainable growth and produce vibrant, livable spaces. Ward has started to do just that during his time here at Stern, taking on several curricular experiential projects through which he has made a significant impact locally here in New York City and in cities around the world.

Ward first worked with our office when he participated in our Stern Consulting Corps course working with the NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA), the country’s largest public housing agency, to help address a critical operational issue.  He then led a Stern Signature Project with Stern’s Urbanization Project and NYU’s Marron Institute to develop a business plan to preserve public space in the growing city of Monteria, Colombia. Ward then received a coveted Social Impact Internship Fund (SIIF) award, which supports 1st year, full-time MBA students who wish to complete a summer internship working at the intersection of business and society. Ward used his SIIF award to continue his work with Mayor’s office in Monteria, Colombia advising on the city’s urban expansion as well as its long-term sustainability strategic plan.

Now in his second year, Ward is continuing his work with the Urbanization Project. He is building upon his experience working with public spaces in Colombia to help develop a tool to assess the quality of park systems in the Philippines. He is also a member of Stern’s first ever team competing in the MBA Impact Investing Network & Training (MIINT), further honing his skills in social impact related investments and impact.

In addition to his incredible project-based work at Stern, Ward has also played an essential role in the planning and execution of NYU’s Social Innovation Symposium in both 2016 and 2017. He spent countless hours on programming and securing speakers. Ward is calm and collected under pressure and happy and willing to step up to challenges that arise. He is thoughtful and organized, always on top of his game, even taking the time to answer emails while in another country on one of his many projects! Ward embodies Stern’s philosophy of using business as a force for good in the world and we can’t wait to see what he does next.”

Jamie Tobias
Executive Director
Office of Student Engagement

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