Best & Brightest MBAs: Class of 2017

Molly Duncan of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business

That’s just the start. Ah, the secrets that London Business School’s Nick Deakin could spill! He knows just about everything his classmates are doing. “I’m their go-to doctor,” he jokes. The University of Michigan’s Aaron Silver once ran with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Think that’s scary? Just ask the University of Pittsburgh’s Andrew Brennan about the time he met up with a grizzly bear, an event he found more unnerving than being a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. When it comes to courage, perhaps they could compare notes with Boston College’s Katie Philippi, who has climbed glaciers in Chile and Argentina. Of course, some members of 2017’s Best & Brightest are downright zany. Take Georgetown’s Charles Gallo, who once ran a marathon in a monkey suit for charity. Think that’s goofy? During a hurricane, Darden’s Molly Duncan dressed as a bee with black spandex and a yellow tutu to ease her classmates’ nerves. “This is what student leadership looks like,” exclaims Kimberly Whitler, an assistant marketing professor at the school.

Yes, the Best & Brightest can be silly and spirited, but they’re also heavy hitters who’d occupied some rarified air before they’d even sat for the GMAT. At Goldman Sachs, Booth’s Jennifer Dunn rose from being a lowly analyst to a vice president in six years. Her classmate, Joanna Si, was formerly corporate counsel to Amazon Web Services. At Natixis, INSEAD’s Myriam Ahmed served as the firm’s youngest VP.  Think that’s tough? Try being IMD’s Andrea Michahelles Barreno, who became CEO of her consulting firm at 25, eventually growing it to a team of 20 people who managed projects with budgets up to 100 million Euro.

Katy Mixter is no stranger to complex, high profile initiatives, either. Before enrolling at Yale, she served as an associate vice president on the corporate sustainability team at Citi, which employs over 250,000 people across over 100 countries. Her big assignment? Citi asked her to bring together these various locales and departments to reduce climate change. Talk about mission impossible! In the end, she empowered local groups to form their own “Green Team” franchises to tackle the issue as they saw fit. Sure enough, her plan produced results by the second year. “It was extremely rewarding to see our work come to fruition,” Mixter explains. “That year, 18 formalized teams collectively sent out over 400 environmentally-focused communications, hosted 65 volunteer events worth over $55,000 in volunteer hours, planted over 6000 trees, restored 53 acres of land, and recycled 440,000 metric tons of waste.”


Lamis Sleiman of Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management

Mixter wasn’t the only member of this year’s Best & Brightest who devoted themselves to the greater good before business school. Before hunkering down in Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue’s Lamis Sleiman spent over six years in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, partnering with organizations like USAID and the United Nations in areas like humanitarian relief, health education, and building up municipalities. Along the way, she picked up a handy lesson to bring with her when when she moves into operations with Amazon. “I learned that nothing is impossible when there is a will and a solid plan in place, be it the refugee camps of Al Zaatari in Jordan, to the terrorism stricken terrains of Aleppo and Dera’a in Syria, or the sectarian shredded neighborhoods of Lebanon.”

The class shined equally as bright as MBA students. How much of an impact did Michigan State’s Rose Glendinning make during her two years? The school actually created an annual student award in her honor. “If a Mount Rushmore existed for MBA students from MSU,” emphasizes MBA Director Wayne Hutchison, “Rose Glendinning would be on it.” Think that’s impressive? How about the University of Washington’s Vanessa Kritzer? She was the only student member of the school’s Board of Regents, the governing body that is appointed directly by the state’s governor. That’s right: Kritzer was the lone student voice for 47,000 students across three campuses on critical issues like tuition. Oh, and Boston College’s Philippi may have had the most successful internship ever. Hasbro was so impressed with her performance on the Transformers team that they asked her to work 25 hours a week during her second year. “While the commute back and forth to Rhode Island wasn’t ideal,” she admits, “the experience I gained throughout the semester was invaluable.”

Other MBAs left their marks as volunteers. The University of Toronto, for one, was a hotbed of public service. St. Bernard, for example, co-founded Summit Leaders, a mentorship program that connects high school students with business leaders through work shops and pitch competitions.  “My goal is to inspire high potential students from low-income backgrounds to become the next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs,” St. Bernard explains. His classmate, Alex Walker Turner, is applying a similar model for women by building up the school’s LINKS mentorship program and the Canadian Graduate Women in Management Conference. “Ideas like this have been talked about in the past by others,” admits Niki da Silva, managing director of the full-time MBA program. “But she stepped up and made more happen in her two years at Rotman than most students ever do.”


Make no mistake: The Best & Brightest seized the day, taking full advantage of their time in business school. As they don their caps and gowns, perhaps it is time to look at what’s next for these stars — and how they compare to the previous class. In terms of employment, the 2017 class was eerily similar to those on last year’s honor roll. McKinsey was again the big winner, hiring eight members of this year’s Best & Brightest, up from last year’s half dozen. McKinsey was followed by Deloitte Consulting (6), Amazon, Bain & Company, and the Boston Consulting Group (five each), and Citigroup (three). Another 15 students were still weighing offers or undecided as of early March, nearly identical to last year’s group (14). Entrepreneurship has continued to gain steam, with nine graduates planning to work at their own startups (a slight uptick from last year’s seven). Some 44 of the Best & Brightest graduates decided to return to the company where they interned, down just one from the 2016 list. However, there was one key area where the classes differed. This year’s crop tended to be slightly more risk-averse, with 59 graduates transitioning to different industries, down 11 from last year’s group. Another six students opted to return to their pre-MBA employers as well.

The 2017 Best & Brightest also enjoyed a lower debt load over the previous year, with the average dropping from $42,833 to $39,001. In context, that is within range of average student loan debt overall, which sits near $37,000, It is also a far cry from the average debt load at several top full-time programs, which can now go as high as $120,000. Better yet, a third of the Best & Brightest came away with no debt at all. Financial aid also creeped up for the Class of 2017, with the average support amounting to $39,720 for the 67 students who received aid.

Federico Mossa of the Stanford Graduate School of Management

As a result, it’s no surprise that the class came away highly satisfied with their MBA experience. Just nine members would have chosen a different path at business school if debt was not a factor. All but one of these students would’ve pursued entrepreneurship. The class’ satisfaction with their MBA education also remained high. On a scale in which 10 was the highest mark, business schools earned a 9.16 from the 2017 Best & Brightest, nearly identical to 2016’s 9.15 average. Some 40 graduates also gave their schools a perfect mark.


Hopefully, the Best & Brightest will find similar satisfaction in their careers. What will make the Class of 2017 truly happy? Cornell’s Patrick Grumley will settle for nothing less than being the Secretary of the Navy. Columbia’s Tiffany Yu Chia Chen hopes to open an investment fund that helps filmmakers to “tell all kinds of stories that can inspire people around the world.” For Vanderbilt’s Caroline Collins, happiness would mean seeing the people she has mentored become success stories. In contrast, Melbourne Business School’s Nathan Spence pictures something more simple — and universal.  “I know it sounds corny,” he admits. “I want to work in a company where I am consistently challenged and doing meaningful work, so I can go home at night and be proud of what I have done for the day.”

As they take the next step, we hope the Best & Brightest are blessed with the same experience as Stanford’s Federico Mossa. As the analytics director for a big three record label, Mossa was once tasked with shifting the company’s business model from retail CDs online downloads and streaming. Not surprisingly, Mossa helped the firm navigate this terrifying transition with aplomb. Before he headed off to Palo Alto, the label gave him a farewell gift: a framed platinum record of Abbey Road. However, it was the inscription that touched Mossa and serves as the reminder of the true mission and rewards of being an MBA graduate:

“Thanks for making sense of our business.”

Congratulations, Best & Brightest. Make whatever you do matter.

To read in-depth profiles of these 100 exemplary graduates, go to the next page.