Quick, think of a stereotypical Harvard Business School MBA. Now forget everything you just thought of and imagine a 32-year-old woman living out of a van with thousands of Instagram followers. That’s Suzanne “Sunny” Stroeer, who we wrote about last August. Stroeer, now a professional mountaineer and guide, graduated from Harvard Business School with an MBA in 2011. At the end of 2015, Stroeer had quit her job as a consultant at Bain’s Houston office and set off solo in a Chevy Astro van with hundreds of thousand miles on it. She essentially traded the typical fast-cars-and-big-money consultant life to Jack Kerouac herself around the Southwestern U.S. Along the way, she learned a couple things about herself. First, that she could push her body harder than about 98% of the rest of the world. Second, she has a knack at getting others to do the same.
Not only has Stroeer run some of the country’s most prestigious ultra-marathons, she has found a specific skill set in high alpine mountaineering. At the begging of 2017, Stroeer took her second trip to Aconcagua in Argentina. Towering at nearly 23,00 feet, Aconcagua is the highest peak in the world outside of Asia. On January 23, Stroeer left the Plaza de Mulas base camp, some 8,501 feet below the summit of Aconcagua, and exactly eight hours and 47 minutes later she topped out — 29 minutes faster than any other woman had ever done.
Now Stroeer is combining her love for outdoor pursuits and adventures and lessons she learned at HBS. With a “home base” in Boulder, Colorado, Stroeer is running an expedition business for women. In October, she led a three-week climb up Mera Peak near Mount Everest. And just this month, she made a return trip to Aconcagua.
“The rat race is just that. It’s a rat race,” Stroeer told us last summer when asked if she’d ever consider returning to Bain or a similar more traditional job. “You can always make more money, but you don’t get more days in your life — it doesn’t matter how hard you try.”
We certainly don’t know every student to be accepted to and attend Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (considering the 6% or so acceptance rate, the list isn’t too long), but it’s hard to imagine a more unlikely one than Benjamin Fernandes. The Tanzanian went to the University of Northwester-St. Paul, a small evangelical Christian college where about 70% of applicants get accepted, on academic probation. He graduated in four years with good grades, but bombed the GMAT. Still, a professor recommended him applying to the business schools at Stanford and Harvard immediately after graduating from undergrad. Fernandes told us in April, that he didn’t even know what an MBA was at the time, but applied anyway. He was waitlisted at both Harvard and Stanford before eventually getting rejected at both schools. But the seed was planted.
Fernandes returned home to Tanzania and revved up to apply during the next application cycle. His goal? Not only get accepted to Stanford’s GSB, but get the Africa MBA Fellowship, which gives full tuition to eight African citizens out of the 2,600 or so that apply from around the massive continent. On a December day in 2014, Fernandes got a call from Derrick Bolton, the former dean of admissions at Stanford GSB. Before the call dropped, Fernandes learned he had bee accepted to the GSB. When Bolton called back about 20 minutes later, he informed him he would also be attending Stanford for free as the youngest ever Africa MBA Fellow.
“I was all in tears, my mom and dad and I were in tears and that right there was a very powerful moment that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life,” Fernandes recalled of the moment.
After graduating this past spring, Fernandes returned to Tanzania, where he wants to upend the financial system.
“Financial inclusion is a huge passion of mine,” Fernandes told us last April. “I believe in allowing people to access financial services, and I believe that’s especially important in a country like mine which is growing very fast, with a very youthful population. Today I’m the youngest guy in my class at GSB, 24 years old, and today I’m older than 70% of my country’s population. Sixty-six percent of 53 million people in my country are under the age of 24 — it’s a very youthful country.
“So I believe the next four or five years is going to be a transformational period for my country, especially in the workplace, especially in business and industry. This is an important, vital period that we’re going to come into very soon, and who’s going to be leading them for it? Most politicians are age 55-60, so I believe there is an opportunity for the young people, and that’s what I care about.”
This year’s political — and societal — rhetoric and discourse has been charged. One of the most divisive topics has been immigration and the handling of refugees. That’s why Ema Pasic Reid decided to re-promote a 12-minute YouTube video of a Tuck Talk she gave to fellow students and faculty at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business in 2016.
“When we think of refugees, we often think of people in tattered clothes crossing our borders, or packed like sardines on a boat, because that’s all we see,” Reid says in the video. “We’re deeply suspect of their motivations and genuinely question what they’re doing here in our country, stealing our jobs. We often scorn, ‘Why don’t they just go back home?’ But as my story hopefully highlights, they don’t have a home to return to.
“And if they’re lucky enough to escape, and they find themselves here in the U.S., then to be honest we’re incredibly lucky to have them.”
At just age six, Reid’s family fled Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, where a siege lasting more than 1,400 days was taking place. The Bosnian War — the largest on European soil since World War II — resulted in the killing of hundreds of thousands, many of which were civilians, and the displacement of millions others, including Reid’s immediate family. Thanks to connections built during her father’s yearlong scholarship as a physician at the University of Louisville University Hospital, the family had a landing spot when they fled the violence.
Reid’s family is a primo example of the immigrant and refugee families that make this country better. Her father continues as a physician and Reid graduated this past spring with an MBA from Tuck.
“We were such a lucky, lucky family,” Reid told us last February, “and that’s what makes it so hard for me to talk about, because I harbor all of this internal guilt for being one of the people that was able to escape with my immediate family.”