The Pioneering MBAs In The Class Of 2019

Alyssa Forman, a Teach for American volunteer, is a first year at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management

Then again, it might be hard to wipe away UCLA’s Hoonki Hong‘s knowing smile on influencing national policy. As an audit manager at Deloitte, he developed a new accounting standard for the largest savings bank in South Korea. Just one problem: It would de-value nearly a third of the bank’s assets. While the model was sound, the timing wasn’t, with the bank postponing the implementation by five years to give it time to restructure. Soon enough, other banks — and the government itself — followed his lead. “It was one of my biggest accomplishments,” he says, “not only because I helped build a valuation model for loans of a savings bank, but also because I contributed to deciding the nation’s policy.”


Many MBA candidates return to campus hoping to make a career transition. But many have already managed to switch roles and industries before then. After majoring in English and playing professional hockey, New York University’s Conor Pieri turned himself into a quant, becoming the “go-to” on finance questions by JetBlue’s treasury and c-suite teams. LBS’ Adeyemi transformed from a project engineer in oil and gas to a footwear designer. What can you make of Northwestern’s Alyssa Forman? After joining Teach for America, she was asked to start up a special education department in a new charter school. Just one problem: she majored in public policy and possessed limited exposure to special ed. You can probably guess how this one turned out. A year later, the charter school network was already copying Forman’s model.

Pioneers…Groundbreakers…Inventors…Champions. Whatever word you use, the underlying meaning is the same: The Class of 2019 is willing to step up, bear the risks and burdens, and turn ideas into category leaders. Before she joined HEC Paris to become an entrepreneur, Yanji Wang spearheaded the development of the merchandising structure for Adidas China’s Retail Factory Outlet, which resulted in 80% yearly scale growth. And she wasn’t above serving as the lead actress in the company’s recruitment videos, either. LBS’ Amanda Morgan brought KFC to Myanmar. If you’re a fan of Girls Who Code, you can thank the University of Michigan’s Dayna Hine. She headed the organization’s operations and built its infrastructure. “I had the opportunity to work with, and learn from incredible coworkers,” she says, “while building a movement bigger than any of us could have imagined in the beginning. I’m proud that my work contributed to helping thousands of young women see potential in themselves and learn skills that will help them advance in school and their careers.”

Yanji Wang, formerly with Adidas, is now an MBA student at HEC Paris

There is one virtue that first years share with so many past MBA classes: An irrepressible desire to give back. Yale’s Rakesh Saha dumped a comfortable living as a senior software engineer to join Make a Difference, a decade-old non-profit serving children in foster homes. In less than a year, his after school support pilot ballooned from one shelter focused on 40 students to 67 shelters catering to 3,400 students.  At Cummins, Emory’s Ryanne Fennimore inaugurated a corporate social responsibility business that forged 100 teams who donated thousands of hours of volunteer time. At the same time, the University of Michigan’s Kashay Sanders developed the curriculum for VOICE 4 Girls, an empowerment social enterprise for females in India, which grew from 3,000 to 34,000 participants over the past four years.

“The opportunity to work globally, lead a diverse team, and tangibly witness the impact of our content gave me a professional confidence that continues to serve me to this day,” Sanders notes. “The experience instilled in me a willingness to raise my hand to tackle complex challenges at subsequent places of work. It also moved me to be proactive and find ways for my skills to add unique value to an organization.”


So what’s ahead for the Class of 2019? For one, there are the dreaded “core” courses, where first years are certain to come face-to-face with a subject they dreaded — and probably avoided. There are meet-and-greets with recruiters, followed by all-night prep for case interviews and hard choices on where to spend their summers. Chances are, they will have one pivotal epiphany about who they are — or what they really want to do — that will rock their carefully-laid plans.

Gheremey Edwards of Washington University’s Olin School plans to stretch himself in every way

Going in, these students have set the usual goals for their first year. For many, success means experience, expertise, confidence, friendship, and (of course) a coveted internship. That doesn’t mean this class doesn’t drop the serious façade, if only for a moment. Take Yale SOM’s Britt Milano who is anticipating that Excel is more than “sum(A1:A4).” Chris Shen wonders if the “Freshman 15” also applies to graduate school, particularly with the renowned pizza joints in New Haven. And Katie Sierks isn’t looking for a wholesale change after year one. “Next May, I hope to be a new, improved version of the friendly, sustainability nerd I am today,” she jokes.

In the end, perhaps the best measure of the class’ success can be traced to what defines true pioneers: how often they fail over the next year. “I hope to finish my first year with a concrete list of subjects or careers in which I was not successful,” argues the University of Chicago’s Leila Cutler. “If I sail through first year, to me that means I will have failed in embracing what business school is all about: a chance to push myself outside my comfort zone.”

Washington University’s Gheremey Edwards admits that he has spent his life avoiding any experience that might “stretch” him or cause him “embarrassment.” For Edwards, business school is his opportunity to step out of the shadows and test his leadership and technical abilities like never before. “I plan on taking a supply chain course even though I’m concentrating in brand management,” he vows. “I’m going to join the case study competition team despite my fear of public speaking. I’ll also be attending every corporate networking mixer to learn from industry leaders even though I am quite the introvert. I’m finally going to invest in my learning, and I’m looking forward to my failures.”


Name School Hometown Previous Employer
 Linsha Yao  Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)  Beijing, China  SmartConn
 Babatunde Oshinowo Jr.  Chicago (Booth)  Naperville, IL  NFL
 Celine Tarrant  Columbia Business School  Toronto, Canada  Walmart Canada
 Barbara Demetrio Salgado  Cornell (Johnson)  Sao Paulo, Brazil  Itau Unibanco S.A
 Orlando Gómez  Dartmouth (Tuck)  Chicago, IL  Peace Corps, Perú
 Griffin Mueller  Duke (Fuqua)  Durham, NC  Cisco
 Richard Murray  Emory (Goizueta)  Birmingham, AL  Bain & Company
 Jennifer Rose Schwartz  Georgetown (McDonough)  New York, NY  FOX Business Network
 Kenya Hunt  Harvard Business School  Huntsville, AL  Chevron
 Luis Antonio Jiménez Rivera  HEC Paris  Mexico City, Mexico  McKinsey
 Kyle Lewandowski  Indiana (Kelley)  Muskego, WI  U.S. Army
 Nourhan Farhat  INSEAD  Beirut, Lebanon  Roland Berger Strategy Consultants
 Dolapo Adeyemi  London Business School  Irawo, Nigeria  Grolightly Ltd
 Hannah Smalley  Michigan (Ross)  Los Angeles, CA  United Nations Foundation
 Rosa Glenn  MIT (Sloan)  Dublin, Ireland  Anthropologie
 Ian Murphy  New York University (Stern)  Old Greenwich, CT  Behavior-Enhanced Adaptive Smart Thermostat  (BEAST)
 Kathryn Hennigan  North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)  Mooresville, NC  Houzz
 Alyssa Forman  Northwestern (Kellogg)  Cleveland, OH  Kaiser Associates
 Andrew Engvall  Notre Dame (Mendoza)  Barrington, RI  Capital One
 Tomiko Toyota Knopp  Rice (Jones)  Houston, TX  Mayor’s Office (City of Houston)
 America Gonzalez  U.C.-Berkeley (Haas)  Monterrey, Mexico  Bain & Company
 Adi Rajapuram  UCLA (Anderson)  Lafayette, CA  Oracle
 Dan Ben-Nun  Texas (McCombs)  Austin, TX  Adspace Agency
 Ronald Replan  Toronto (Rotman)  Nueva Ecija,  Philippines  NutriAsia
 Julia Brown  Vanderbilt (Owen)  DeRidder, LA  Aon
 Mercedes Rodriguez  Virginia (Darden)  Pasadena, CA  Brazen
 Skyler Brown  University of Washington (Foster)  San Jose, CA  U.S. Special Forces
 Gheremey Edwards  Washington University (Olin)  Memphis, TN  Frayser Elementary School
 William Vuillet  Wharton School  Paris, France  U.S. Navy
 Rakesh Saha  Yale SOM  Bangalore, India  Make a Difference