2017 MBAs To Watch: Alexa Ing Stern, Cornell (Johnson)

Alexa Ing Stern

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

“I am an ambitious and curious marketer with a passion for food and sustainability.”

Age: 27

Hometown: Boston, MA

Fun fact about yourself: During college, I spent a summer living at an orphanage in rural China and was inspired to write a thesis on China-to-U.S. adoption.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Arts from Harvard College

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? I was the first employee at a startup, working to open and run a luxury hotel and restaurant called The Inn at Hastings Park.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? Unilever (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.)

Where will you be working after graduation? Unilever, Associate Brand Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Park Leadership Fellow
  • Co-chair of Student Council
  • Johnson Leadership Fellow
  • VP of Internal Relations, Women’s Management Council
  • Johnson Crisis Leadership Case Competition Winner

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Last spring, I had the opportunity to attend Johnson’s program at the Marine Corps base at Quantico and spend 24 hours learning more about officer training “boot camp” and participating in various exercises. This experience was outside my mental and physical comfort zones. At Johnson, I have sought out experiences that will push me and help me grow and this was certainly one of my favorites!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The proudest moment was when I welcomed my family for dinner at the hotel and restaurant I had spent two years working to open. The process of converting a collection of historic houses to a luxury hotel and restaurant was a long and complicated journey. Sharing the guest experience I had created was incredibly special.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My Managerial Accounting professor, Ryan Guggenmos, does a phenomenal job of making what could be a dry subject come to life in a fascinating and incredibly relevant way for decision makers in business. He goes beyond teaching the technical aspects and discusses how information can be used to both make a decision and sell others in the organization on that decision.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Strategies for Sustainability with Professor Glen Dowell was a fascinating course. Through a series of case studies about real companies tackling sustainability issues, we saw that many are focused on incremental improvements (such as improving gas mileage). We discussed ways to drive more systemic change that transform entire industries to make the world more sustainable.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Johnson because of its strengths in sustainability and leadership development. The Sustainable Global Enterprise Immersion has been one of my best experiences at Johnson. The professors and students in the program are all interesting and passionate about using business as a lever for positive impact in the world. Working with them is inspiring and invigorating (and fun!).

When I visited Johnson, I was also impressed with its leadership programming. It was clear to me that the school has a robust curriculum to teach students how to be more effective leaders. While some leadership programming can just seem full of trendy buzz words, I found Johnson’s approach is grounded in research and works to build skills and habits that will help us post-MBA. There are also ample opportunities to take on leadership roles within the Johnson community and practice the skills we are building.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Business school is a great mix of thinking and doing. I love learning about many different things and having the opportunity to apply various topics to real-world problems. For example, I had the opportunity to participate in various case competitions. My favorite was the Crisis Leadership Case Competition, which simulated a disaster and tasked us with responding, then presenting our response to our board of directors and at a press conference. Having to present under pressure and respond to hostile questions were experiences that helped build my confidence.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? I have been pleasantly surprised by how pervasive student leadership is at Johnson. There are so many opportunities to get involved and help shape our own experiences. I’ve been so impressed by my classmates’ dedication to the school and each other. For example, a few of my classmates founded REDtalks (based on TEDtalks) to provide a venue to share our stories with each other.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Johnson is a great environment for people who are proactive and create their own opportunities. Show Admissions how you will make Johnson a better community for all of us.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that Ithaca is isolated and boring. Ithaca exceeded my expectations and turned out to be a much more vibrant community than I imagined. There are always fun and interesting things going on in town and on the Cornell campus. The main problem is finding the time to experience it all! Some of my favorite days were spent exploring local hikes and swimming holes, and visiting wineries and breweries with friends.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I wish I had created more time to exercise the first year. This year I’ve prioritized balancing my personal care with my academic, professional, and extracurricular commitments. I’ve found more time to go on hikes with friends (one perk of Ithaca is that we can visit beautiful waterfalls during an afternoon study break!), and I’m taking advantage of my access to Cornell’s physical education classes.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? It is really so difficult to choose just one. One classmate I greatly admire, though, is Brett Lester. We worked together during a semester-long consulting project as part of the Sustainable Global Enterprise Immersion. He has a wife and two small children living in Ithaca with him. I cannot imagine what it would be like to juggle a family along with the rest of my responsibilities, but he, like many of the parents in our class, does a fabulous job at meeting the demands of an MBA while still being a present, loving parent and partner.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was in meetings with our accountants at my  prior job and realized I could be much more effective if I understood things like a P&L statement better.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be… working in the food industry in Boston (and maybe taking an accounting class at night!).”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would eliminate all weekend exams.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Long term, I want to inspire and empower people to eat better for themselves and for the planet. My interests are at the intersection of food, health, and environmental sustainability. The food system and culture in the U.S. are problematic, and I want to build a career around helping to fix them.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My grandparents! They emigrated from Shanghai, China over 50 years ago and built a life here that set me up for success. They and my parents have always encouraged me to be the best I can be, and this has given me the confidence to strive for my goals.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like them to remember me as a smart and caring classmate who always works hard to learn and grow, as well as to give back to the communities of which I am a part.

Favorite book: Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand and Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

Favorite movie or television show: The Good Wife

Favorite musical performer: Justin Timberlake

Favorite vacation spot: Jackson Hole and Yellowstone, Wyoming

Hobbies? Cooking, reading, swimming, skiing

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

“Alexa Ing Stern is the co-chair of the Student Council, a Johnson Leadership Fellow, a Park Leadership Fellow, and serves on the Women’s Management Council. One of the primary goals of the Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows program here at Johnson is to attract and develop students who have a desire to make a positive impact on the world beyond themselves. Alexa lives this goal every moment of every day. While she is interested in sustainability and positively affecting others through food, I believe the power of her impact is even greater than this professional goal. Alexa’s power to impact the world lies simply in the way she engages life and the community she is a part of: celebrating what is, while constantly striving for better.

Alexa thinks critically and systemically and can see opportunity all around her. Whether it is through her formal leadership roles, or simply through her everyday experiences, Alexa is constantly investing her energy in growth-oriented activity. She sets a high bar for herself and others and is not afraid to constructively challenge the status quo. I have watched her use a very effective balance of inquiry, advocacy, and determination to influence peers, administrators, and faculty on issues important for the Johnson Community.

Many leaders I have worked with struggle to find the balance between assertiveness and collaboration, often leaning too heavily in one direction at the detriment of the other. Alexa is someone who has naturally found an effective balance and is using it to make the world around her a better place.”

Laura Georgianna

Executive Director, Leadership Programs

Director of the Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows program



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