Few people would equate the Stanford Graduate School of Business with risk. In fact, many would consider it to be the safest bet in business education.
Take income. GSB graduates earn $173,989 in total pay to start – a 26.5% jump over the past four years (and $6,800 better than its nearest rival). Better yet, they’re just down the road from Silicon Valley, the fabled home of tech innovators and deep-pocketed investors. The school has everything: prestige, elite students, deep-pocketed alumni, state-of-the-art facilities – even perfect weather! Where’s the risk?
RISK IS THE REWARD AND CHANGE IS THE CATALYST
It starts with the school motto: “Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.” At Stanford, students are expected to be catalysts who bring out the best in others and transform the realities around them. That’s an awesome responsibility to bear. In context, Stanford’s “change” motto demands even more from MBA candidates: engaging in introspection, developing self-awareness, and ultimately embracing personal change. Doing that requires a mix of vulnerability and valor – an openness and conviction that requires a true leap of faith.
That was Anna Frances Wood’s experience. A 2017 MBA graduate, Wood describes her Stanford journey as a time to “challenge your assumptions about yourself” and “embrace a growth mindset.” Even more, it was a time for daily discomfort, where any perceived self-limit was quickly affixed with a “yet.”
“We role played firing our classmates,” Wood reminisces “Engaging in conflict was celebrated. We gave public speeches we felt unprepared for. We filmed ourselves doing it. And re-watched it over, and over. While getting feedback from our peers.”
CLASS RISES AND FALLS TOGETHER
At Stanford, the MBA program is geared towards helping students shed their fear of failure. That’s why experimentation and self-discovery are championed here. Forget the cliché of setting off alone to a lake cabin or mountain monastery to find enlightenment. Instead, students become authentic leaders by engaging each other. It is growth-by-team, where peers push and support each other in equal measure.
“Our curriculum enables you to challenge people much more because if they compete they must work together – then their ability to go further is much higher,” explains Yossi Feinberg, senior associate dean for academic affairs, in a 2018 interview with Poets&Quants. “We can challenge students much more academically because they rise to the challenge, but they rise cooperatively.”
It was this high risk, intensely reflective, team-driven culture that drew Julian Nicks to Palo Alto last fall. A Bain consultant, Nicks aspires to someday leave what’s “safe” and familiar and enter the social or public sector. To do this, he hopes to surround himself with people who’ll encourage him to jump – or even push him off – when it is time to “jump off the cliff.” For Nicks, Stanford was a school where students relished taking on the unknown and challenging their peers to do what scares them.
“Stanford has a culture that values these things signaled by: an essay that starts with the premise of “what matters to you”; classes on introspection such as Touch Feely or the Art of Coaching; extra activities such as TALK focused on empathizing and learning more about your classmates’ stories; and entrepreneurial culture that emphasize charting your own path,” he notes. “Even though the answer didn’t seem so clear at the time, it is so obvious that Stanford GSB was the best program for me.”
A SWEEPING CURRICULUM FOR A DIVERSE CLASS
Welcome to Stanford, a general management MBA par excellence. How good is the program? It ranks with the top business schools in every conceivable concentration according to U.S. News, finishing among the top five programs for entrepreneurship, marketing, management, finance, operations, international business, and non-profit. Home to nearly 20,000 MBA graduates, the program boasts some of the happiest alumni according to 2017 Forbes and Bloomberg Businessweek surveys – not to mention one of the most effective alumni networks based on a 2017 Economist student survey. The world’s top MBA program according to the Financial Times, Stanford is built more on values than valuations – a place where, in Feinberg’s words, students are “all in.” And it is a culture held together by a supportive spirit that honors authenticity and nurtures passion.
This openness may be one reason why Stanford GSB’s Class of 2019 is so diverse, with students who neither fit into a neat box nor plan to follow the traditional MBA blueprint after graduation. Take Alex Pruden. A West Point grad who speaks two Arabic dialects, this Green Beret plans to enter the wild world of blockchain startups. Then there’s Lian Boerma, a neuroscientist from the Netherlands who went into consulting before moving to Northern California to pursue a dual degree in business and education. Let’s not forget Jayce Hafner, a Virginia native who describes herself as a “farmer’s daughter, policy wonk, and aspiring writer pursuing an MBA to address climate change.” Since graduation, Hafner’s resume includes serving as a Fulbright Fellow in the U.S. State Department, where she produced a documentary film on promoting social and political change through theater. From there, she moved onto being an advisor to the Episcopal Church, where she delivered the church’s positions to bodies ranging from the White House to the United Nations.
Some diverse backgrounds, indeed. Then again, they might be hard-press to match “adversity junkie” Hiro Tien, whose life story seemingly comes straight out of a Pete Seeger folk ditty. “I was once a fishmonger, cinema usher, milkshake maker, supermarket attendant, tuition teacher, and a college drop out.”
RISKS PRODUCE REWARDS
That doesn’t sound half as fun as Chaitra Yarlagadda’s “sweet” gig. As a manufacturing manager at Unilver, she had to spot check – i.e. taste – the different ice creams. Hafner’s special talent is being able to hypnotize a chicken in under a minute. Boerma has completed the world’s longest row marathon – the 100 kilometer Ringvaart Regatta – in just over 10 hours. Impressed? At just 15, Alice Song, a Yale grad, completed her first marathon. And you can bet that Song ranks among the best-known members of the 2019 class. “I’ve recently started barrel-aging cocktails,” she shares. Chances are, the “Bachata-loving Dionicio Herrera, a Barclays banker and Wharton alum, has pitched a tent outside her door. “I was named after Dionysus, the Greek God of wine and festivity.”
These first-years took plenty of big risks in their early careers, which should prepare them well for their time at the GSB. At 19, Tawanda Michael Mahere moved to China without knowing any Mandarin. Fast forward seven years and he was spearheading global growth for a desk computer company. With over four million customers in 190 customers – the firm was so successful that Google purchased it! Think that’s risky? Try being Felipe Kettlun, who had to tell his management team – some with 30 or more years of industry experience – that the strategy behind their $1.5 billion dollar energy project was too flawed (Turns out, he was right). At the same time, Tien applied the Groupon model to launch Brunei’s first group buying website. “[I was] leading a team of 15 to revolutionize the online shopping space of a country that had virtually no online shopping activities. We helped over 450 local businesses sell their services and products online, many of them for the first time ever.”
Go to page 3 to see in-depth profiles of first-year Stanford students.