Meet Columbia Business School’s MBA Class Of 2019

Some of the extraordinary MBA students in the Class of 2019 at Columbia Business School

New York City is under constant renovation. Every day, you’ll hear blaring beeps and buzzing, the hammering and hollowing followed by the scraping and squaring. It is a place for collisions that court creativity and stylings that sweep the globe. New York is an ideal as much as a place, one that draws people who are dissatisfied with their lot, yet courageous enough to start anew.

Yet, the city has  increasingly leaned on finance – that is, until the 2008 economic collapse laid bare its jenga infrastructure. Over 100,000 jobs evaporated in one year when the Great Recession tore through Wall Street, leading Mayor Michael Bloomberg to push greater economic diversification beyond Wall Street. Nearly a decade later, the results are stunning, as the city has re-emerged as a startup and tech powerhouse – all while turbocharging its traditional advantages in tourism, retail, production, and entertainment.


Columbia Business School has undergone similar soul searching. Just look back to the Class of 2008, when 55.7% of graduates entered finance – making Columbia the pipeline to Wall Street. Eight years later, just 36.9% of the class entered finance – a segment that’s nearly equal to those entering consulting. In fact, McKinsey hired 62 grads from the 2016 Class – more than Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Citi, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse and Bank of America combined. That’s not because consulting firms are short on quant jocks who can build discounted cash flow models. Instead, they are seeking well-rounded talents with the passion to make a difference – and the know-how to make it happen.

2017 Columbia Business School MBA graduates

The school brands itself as being “at the very center of business,” which makes it a melting pot in terms of the courses it offers (over 200 electives) and the students it attracts. The Class of 2019 personifies this impressive fusion of cultures and experiences. Frank Sinatra sang in New York, New York that “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.” This class is a certainty to do just that. Here, you’ll find students like John Christopher, who transitioned from being a financial consultant to opening a hospital and school in Himalayan Nepal. Joseph Maier, a U.S. Army Green Beret, once went full-on James Bond, turning a sky dive into a scuba dive. At Macy’s, Shivani Hajela pioneered an operations model that connected store and online purchasing decisions, resulting in higher profitability and lower surplus. And Chi Achebe comes to Morningside Heights from Nigeria, where she developed an entrepreneurship prize through the MasterCard Foundation that fosters a network of entrepreneurs, NGOs, volunteers and media members that reaches into over 35 countries.


At Columbia, the Class of 2019 enjoys the best of everything: An M7 degree coupled a wealth of academic resources that’s just a cab ride away from many of the leading brands and hottest startups in the land. Maier, for one, applauds the school’s location, an “unparalleled access to a multitude of industries, companies, and alumni.” Along with Columbia’s “stellar reputation” and “global communication,” Hajela also lists the many advantages of the school’s upper west side locale.

“Here, a world-renowned faculty is complemented with guest speakers and adjunct professors who are leaders of industry. In fact, Columbia’s accessibility allows more business leaders to visit CBS than any other top business school. I can also apply my on-campus learnings in a real world setting with one of the many major companies headquartered in NYC either through a Master Class or an in-semester internship.”

Finance may still be a big draw, but Columbia is hardly a finance school – if it ever was. For Christopher, the real benefit was how the program’s deep roots in roots beyond finance amplified the opportunities available in the city. “While New York is at the very center of the financial world,” he explains, “it is also at the center of social innovation, entrepreneurship, and venture capital. As home to the second largest number of non-profits in the United States and countless socially conscious for-profit organizations, Columbia provides an unparalleled gateway to explore the intersection of business, government, and society.”

Make no mistake: Columbia’s finance prowess is as robust as ever. After graduation, Achebe hopes to work in increasing the availability of capital to emerging markets, pairing investors with “trailblazing African companies.” In her view, no program better integrated location, global mentality, and influential alumni than CBS. “I’m a curious person that derives energy from trying new things and immersing myself in dynamic environments,” Achebe notes. “As a CBS student, New York, and by extension the world, is truly my oyster. Columbia’s location in New York affords me the opportunity to seamlessly integrate in-semester internships, impromptu coffee chats with industry leaders, and the vibrancy of the city into my MBA experience.”


Columbia Business School – Ethan Baron photo

Who makes up the Class of 2019? Meet Ashley Allen, a wunderkind who’d already earned a Bachelor’s degree when she was 19 thanks to skipping two grades and finishing college in three years. She calls herself a “26-year-old audacious and personable, indoor-spin addicted, finance junkie and super mom.”  A former actor and dancer in a mainstream Bollywood movie, Nivedita Kohli describes herself as “a ‘poet’ with a vivid imagination and insatiable curiosity, motivated to inspire and influence change.”

And Sam Lamson, a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer, sounds like a guy who stepped out of William Whyte’s The Organization Man: “Ally’s husband, Harriet’s dad, “real straight shooter with upper level management written all over him.”

That’s just the warm up. Which thrill-seeking classmate is most likely to get arrested for climbing a skyscraper without a permit? Odds are, it’ll be Celine Tarrant, a Toronto native who enjoys volcano boarding, which involves (in her worlds) “hiking up a live volcano and then throwing myself down the other side on a wooden sled at 30 mph.” Think that’s scary? How about Brandon McCampbell, an executive officer with the U.S. Coast Guard who plowed a “378 foot ship through 45 foot seas when we were caught in a typhoon off the coast of Japan while conducting law enforcement operations.” Pity the fool who trifles with Aditi Bhatia: She holds a black belt and has won international competitions. For classmates who love classical music, Hajela can provide a fix. “I was principal violist in an orchestra that recorded a session with seven-time Grammy-nominated producer and recording engineer, Phil Bulla.”

If you’ve ever wondered what happens in chambers when the C-Span cameras stop rolling, just ask Lamson, who served as a U.S. Senate page when he was in high school. “When the Senate was out of session for an extended recess, our 30-person page class set up, unbeknownst to our teachers, an entire moot senate session,” he recalls. “We drafted fake bills, delivered pretend floor speeches, and cast mock votes from the Senate floor.”

The 2019 Class comes to the Big Apple with an impressive list of accomplishments as well. Kohli studied fashion design in India before coming to the United States to work for Ralph Lauren, where she launched two lines that generated over $40 million dollars in revenue. “Witnessing customers buy into my ideas, seeing the designs I had sketched on paper come to life on websites, in the windows of retailers such as Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, on TV shows, on people I’ve always admired and most importantly on the general public was exhilarating,” she gushes.


When Christopher founded the Oda Foundation, he hoped to make a difference for people needing healthcare in Nepal. While his initiative has treated over 30,000 patients thus far, Christopher didn’t realize his impact could be so small in scale yet powerful in nature. This epiphany came when he interviewed a young woman who’d received treatment in his hospital.

Columbia Business School Columbia University – Ethan Baron photo

“When asked about the Foundation she said, “Many children used to die before the Oda Foundation was established…our children don’t suffer anymore. Now we don’t have to carry old people on our backs to Manma [a two hour, mountainous walk + 2 hour bus ride)] for treatment.” Such sentiments which reflect the vision he laid out – and the risks he took – to ultimately improved life in a remote corner of the world. “My most significant career accomplishment has been overseeing a significant reduction in avoidable deaths within Oda’s catchment and helping improve the lives of people who have a challenging time doing so on their own.”

Christopher wasn’t the only class member who spent their pre-MBA days giving back to the less fortunate. In Afghanistan, Maier’s soldiers partnered with local police to push out Taliban insurgents. However, he realized that victory would be short-lived if they couldn’t put a sustainable framework in place to fuel local economic growth.

“I saw the opportunity to encourage greater financial freedom,” he points out. “The surrounding villages lacked physical infrastructure and know-how to promote business and trade. Knowing that Afghanistan relies heavily on its agriculture as a driver for economic stability and growth, I consulted with the village elders to facilitate the growth of the local agribusiness by rehabilitating irrigation canals. These changes enabled greater quantity and better quality of crops which allowed the Afghan government, under the guidance of USAID, to connect the farmers with access to financing as well as organize international trade.”


Columbia ranks as the third-largest full-time business program in the land, home to over 1,300 first- and second- year MBA students. Despite this size, Columbia remains among the most selective schools, accepting just 16.5% of applicants during the 2016-2017 cycle. In fact, applicants treat the school as more destination than option, with 73.9% of accepted applicants ultimately joining the program. At the same time, it continues to be a popular choice, with 6,188 applications arriving last year. That’s a 1% improvement over the Class of 2018 and an 11.4% increase over the past five years. However, these numbers miss a key detail: the school was able to post such numbers by slicing the number of students in the 2019 Class from 776 to 753.

Go to page 2 to see in-depth profiles of incoming Columbia MBA students.

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