2017 Best MBAs: Buzz Becker, University of Virginia (Darden)

Meet Buzz Becker, a member of the Poets & Quants Best & Brightest 2017.

Buzz Becker

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

Age: 28

“My modified Twitter profile: “Infantry Officer. LGBTQIA+ ally. Feminist. Oklahoma Everything. Reformed oilman, now proselytizing renewables. Above all: brother.”

Hometown: Bixby, OK

Fun fact about yourself: My allergy to sulfa-based medications is so severe that when I once took one to treat an infected spider bite, I went blind for 30 minutes.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Oklahoma – BA in Economics

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Phillips 66 Company – Unbranded Fuels Sales Rep

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? CustomerFirst Renewables, Gaithersberg, MD

Where will you be working after graduation? Hexagon Energy, Business Development Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Recipient of the Jefferson Fellowship, University of Virginia’s top academic honor
  • Recipient of Samuel Forrest Hyde Memorial Fellowship, Darden’s highest honor for a second-year student
  • Darden Student Association Vice President of Student Council (2016-2017)
  • Pride at Darden Vice President of Allyship (2016-2017)
  • Diversity Rep for First Year Academic Section (2015-2016)
  • Business and Public Policy Club First Year Liaison (2015-2016)
  • Entrepreneurship Instructor at Fluvanna’s Women Prison Re-entry Education Program (2016-2017)
  • Infantry Platoon Leader in C Company, 3-116th Virginia National Guard (2016-2017)
  • Buford Precinct Co-Chair for Charlottesville Democratic Party (2015-2016)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The summer before my enrollment at Darden, my youngest sibling came out to me as transgender. As a way of showing love to her from afar, she encouraged me to pursue equality for her community locally. Unfortunately, Darden did not have resources as simple as gender-neutral bathrooms at the time and had lost out on prospective students because of it. After a year-long process of encouraging our leadership and facilities organization to address this issue, we debuted our first gender-neutral restroom during Love is Love Week this year. It is my hope that this serves as a small, symbolic gesture towards the transgender community that they are welcomed at Darden.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My proudest professional achievement was co-founding and leading our veterans’ employee resource group. I was able to secure access to executive leadership in HR and Refining and pitch the importance of hiring and supporting veteran employees. At the time of my departure, 1/3 of all skilled labor hires at Phillips 66 had previously served in the armed forces. Additionally, our company was selected for a seat on the board of the largest post-9/11 veteran non-profit in Houston thanks to the community involvement that I helped spearhead.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Ed Freeman is one of the premier thinkers in business ethics and a true philosopher. After taking his Creative Capitalism and Income Inequality & Social Mobility courses, I am further convinced that businesses can and should serve as powerful vehicles to improve the lives of people. As business leaders, we should consider the triple bottom line as our base responsibility rather than simply good marketing.

Why did you choose this business school? After my visit to Charlottesville, I knew I had found my new home. The sincerity and warmth of the people, the idyllic setting, and the intensity of the community made me feel welcome at every step of my process. This is the kind of place where people do not merely enter your life; they get in your soul.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Learning through my classmates’ contributions has been a richly rewarding format. Seemingly every case offers a small glimpse into a new industry or different culture through the experience of my diverse and impressive class. Gaining hundreds of new friends from all over the globe has helped me grow as a cross-cultural thinker.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? One of the pleasant surprises of the second year is the many ways to spend this transition year. Some work on a start-up venture, some focus on deepening technical expertise, and others develop a great golf game. The flexibility to express one’s interests during this developmental time is key for long term success.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? My advice to an applicant is to know what you bring to the program and know what you need from it. Especially in the case method format, communicating previous and unique experiences is invaluable. Having the awareness to foresee that contribution as well as acknowledging areas that you will be served indicates the kind of reflective mind that will thrive at Darden.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? When I think of classmates I want to emulate, Sydney Hartsock leaps to my mind. We serve together on the Darden Student Association exec team and she is the model for strength and grace in leadership. Between a charged political season and our own community’s divisive event over a faculty member’s public comments, Sydney has led Darden as VP of Diversity through a host of public forums and individual outreach. Her ability to synthesize and reconcile competing perspectives and her own irreproachable character make her the gold standard of a Darden student.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…my mentor at Phillips 66 described the depth and longevity of the relationships she made during her MBA program.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…leading a team of customer service employees in Bartlesville, OK as my first supervisory rotation.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? If I were dean for a day, I would require every student to attend an international class as a prerequisite for graduation. Last May, I joined a group of 30+ Darden students to study the entrepreneurship community in Stockholm alongside the Stockholm School of Economics. This exploration of Sweden’s start-up culture served as challenge to the lazy narrative that a robust federal government must detract from the economic engine of a country’s private sector. As future global leaders, we should pursue opportunities to expose ourselves to different cultures and question our prevailing assumptions.

 What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Over the next several years, I hope to play a significant role in helping our nation combat climate change and achieve energy security through the expansion of renewables in the private, public, and individual spheres. Eventually, I would like to pursue public service and help make Virginia the envy of all 50 states.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? It’s not an original answer, but my mom deserves the most credit for my success. A lifelong educator and speech pathologist, she taught me that an aggressive pursuit of education is the best way to improve oneself and that the only way we can earn our gifts is by using them to help other people. If I can achieve a tenth of my mom’s work ethic and service ethos, then I will move mountains.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I hope my peers remember be as a thoughtful, mission-driven friend who used his voice to amplify those with less access.

Favorite book: The most compelling book I have read this year is The Second Machine Age. The world it convincingly depicts of decreasing dependence on human labor is an exciting but deeply challenging prospect for current and future leaders to tackle.

Favorite movie or television show: Mr. Robot has really captured my imagination; especially as cyber security has grown in prominence on the geopolitical scene. Rami Malek’s performance is incredible, even if I have to re-watch some scenes!

Favorite musical performer: Radiohead – I saw them perform live for the first time this past summer at Madison Square Garden and I can die happy now.

Favorite vacation spot: Iceland – Driving the Golden Circle after my class trip to Stockholm was one of the most breathtaking experiences of my life.

Hobbies? Podcast junkie, fullback on Darden’s soccer team, live theatre, Virginia beer advocate

What made Buzz such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017? “Buzz Becker exudes the leadership for which he has been recognized at Darden. He serves all, especially those that might feel underrepresented. He wants all voices to be heard and makes incredible efforts to reach out to those who may not be heard over the loudest voices, recognizing that wisdom can be lost in rhetoric. Because of his efforts to understand the people around him, he frames class discussions to ensure that the nuances of the strategic issues are not lost not among the calculations. He gets that institutions are made of humans, and humans are more complicated than a spreadsheet.”

Mary Margaret Frank
Associate Professor of Business Administration
Academic Director, Institute for Business in Society
Darden School of Business
The University of Virginia

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