2018 Best MBAs: Brandon Byers, University of Illinois (Gies)

Brandon Byers

Gies College of Business, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

A Chicago-born and raised engineer with an entrepreneurial spirit and passion for inclusiveness.”

Age: 24

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Fun fact about yourself: Played rugby in college for two years and was invited to compete for a spot on the USA Olympic Team in Rio.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Eastern Illinois University: B.S. Applied Engineering & Technology
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: M.S. Civil & Environmental Engineering (2018 Candidate)

Where did you work before enrolling in business school?

John Burns Construction Co: Project Management Intern, Electrical Infrastructure Division

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? Ameren Corporation, Champaign, IL/St. Louis, MO

Where will you be working after graduation? Intel Corporation, Supply Line Manager – Global Supply Management Division

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: 

  • MBA Dean Fellow, Gies College of Business
  • EntreCORPS: a student-managed consulting organization providing business strategy advice to entrepreneurial start-ups
    • Quality Assurance Manager
    • Head of Recruitment
    • Senior Manager
    • Project Manager
  • Engineering Graduate Student Advisory Committee (EGSAC): Advisory committee over all engineering departments
    • Committee Member (1 of 12)
    • Chair of Underrepresented Minorities Subcommittee


  • Foluke Gbolahan Rinkitola Memorial Scholarship
  • MBA Merit Scholarship
  • MBA Dean’s Fellow Scholarship
  • Winner of Illinois Internal Marketing Case Competition

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the diversity and inclusion work I’ve done as a member of the Engineering Graduate Student Advisory Board and as Chair of the Underrepresented Minorities Subcommittee (URM). As the chair of the URM committee, I worked hand-in-hand with the Dean of the College of Engineering and joint degree graduate students (Engineering/MBA) within the MBA program to create a recruitment and retention video that highlighted diversity and inclusion at the University of Illinois through the eyes of the students. The goal was to retain our diverse talent pool while encouraging multiple URM groups to apply to the program. These videos are now being used for multiple recruitment events and info sessions.

In addition, due to the success of the D&I recruitment video series, I was able to chair the first-ever importance of diversity symposium at the College of Engineering. The networking connections through the MBA program allowed me to garner participation from several Fortune 500 companies such as AbbVie, Ameren Corporation, and Sandia National Labs. The event highlighted the importance of the HBCU community and featured a keynote speaker from Morgan State University. Other aspects highlighted an interactive session on embracing diversity, and a closing session with personal stories. In all, diversity is at the core of what makes the University of Illinois great and I personally took the challenge to enhance the diversity of thought that lives within this community.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? There are two things I am extremely proud of. First, I am extremely proud of the work I have done as a Senior Manager for EntreCORPS. As a Senior Manager I was able to consult with an autonomic energy systems startup (AES) company that has created a thermo-responsive capsule to prohibit the combustion of lithium ion batteries. As the Senior Manager, I led a team of student consultants through market and competitor analysis, primary research, and engaging discussions with the client. We were able to identify the appropriate pricing strategy and valuation for the company as they compete for seed funding. Through the success of the project, AES won top prize for the best energy startup at the Cozad competition, (a competition for startups to compete and win financial prizes as well as mentoring from Fortune 500 companies). The company is also in the process of discussing their technology with Samsung. The work with this group encouraged me to get into the startup environment. I am now working with a classmate to compete for this same competition with our startup company that has created a SaaS platform to automate and streamline the international visa process.

Second, I am extremely proud of the work I was able to do while working at the innovation center for Ameren corporation. As a Project Manager, I was able to implement a new agile project management process that led to over 15 successfully completed app development and analytics projects during a three month summer period (which is the most to date since its inception). Through the agile process I was able to integrate project sponsor feedback and increase the scope execution rate by over 25%. Additionally, through my analysis of their transmission productivity data, I was able to point out an efficiency issue through a machine learning algorithm that helped the cost control division identify ways to save thousands of dollars through performance incentives (e.g., cash incentives when productivity targets are met or finishing project ahead of schedule) and productivity targets. The greatest part came when I had the opportunity to present the work being done within the innovation center in front of 12 members of the executive leadership team that included the CEO Warner Baxter and President of Ameren Illinois, Richard Mark.

What was your favorite MBA Course  Global Strategy is my favorite MBA course. I’m sure there are classes I did better in grade-wise, but the lessons far outweighed any grade I could get. Global Strategy allowed me to think from the mindset of a CEO and understand how decisions made domestically can affect an economy internationally. The cases in the course featured real world problems and allowed us to discuss it as a group. Since my international exposure to the areas we discussed were limited, it was hard to identify ways to connect, but through the various team discussions and interactive sessions, I left the class more informed about the world around me. That’s the great part of being in a MBA program. It forces you to think outside of your comfort zone because nothing exciting lives there.

Why did you choose this business school? The people are what led me to the University of Illinois. I already had friends that were currently at the university in various departments. The program has very unique features that I didn’t get from other programs.

  • Joint-Degree Option: I wanted the ability to do a MS Civil Engineering/MBA program. The business school allows a student to do a joint degree with pretty much any master’s program on campus. This has paid dividends and made me a double threat in the marketplace.
  • Research Park: I wanted an opportunity to garner more experience while I pursue my degree. The University Research Park has over 110 companies (such as AbbVie, AB inBev, Capital One, and Ameren), 50 of which are startup companies. I was able to secure an internship at Ameren, and it played a major role in the recruitment process.
  • Culture: There is a family-orientated and down-to-earth culture that resides at the Illinois business school and campus wide. You are surrounded by people that believe in you. It’s one of the greatest feelings a student can ask for.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Think carefully about how Gies makes sense for you and ultimately how you as a student can add value to the program. Everyone comes from different parts of the world and different walks of life, and your experiences add value to the diversity of thought that reside here at the University of Illinois. If you have an innovative idea or want to be a business owner, there is an entrepreneurial spirit that exists here. This is evident through our EnterpriseWorks Incubator, Illinois Ventures, and our iVenture accelerator. If you have a keen interest in consulting and want to provide innovative solutions to startups and Fortune 500 companies, our business school has IBC, the largest student-run management consulting organization in the United States, EntreCORPS, and OTCR. In addition, our program incorporates these real-world experiences through our action learning labs and global consulting projects. Being a small sized program, we are basically a family. As a person on the outside looking in, you need to ask yourself, what kind of family member you want to be and how can you help the family become better?

What was your biggest regret in business school? While I have been active on campus and working with both the engineering and business colleges on various diversity and inclusion initiatives, my first love happens to be art. I regret not going to more musical performances at our Krannert Art Museum or participating in one of the art tours. I enjoy hearing different forms of music and art gazing. It is peaceful and it opens your eyes to new things. My goal is that I can still seize that opportunity before I graduate.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My classmate Ted Halinski is a person I admire. Outside of serving our country and being a father, he is a great classmate. He is always on time for class and always well prepared. I admire that he is always in a great mood, no matter the weather or circumstance. Whenever I get frustrated, I ask myself sometimes, what would Ted do? Ted is someone you can easily come and talk to and get honest feedback. Having that outlet is helpful in an academic environment.

 Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My cousin is the person who influenced me to pursue business school. He is a guy that I consistently lean on when I need advice. As family and fraternity brothers, we can connect and be open about new opportunities. He showed interest in our iMBA program here at Illinois and encouraged me to investigate the business school. After talking with administrators and students of the program, it was a no brainer.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…working as a project manager, continuing my adventure in the startup world while identifying ways to grow socially through networking opportunities.”

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Go on a safari in South Africa
  2. Tour the Great Pyramid of Giza

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A selfless guy who motivated people to try new things and encouraged people to accept diversity.

What would your theme song be? Kanye West, “Touch the Sky

Favorite vacation spot: New York City (never a dull moment)

Hobbies? Weightlifting, running, traveling/sightseeing, art sketching

What made Brandon Byers such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“I have had the pleasure of getting to know Brandon Byers both in and out of the classroom. In the classroom, he has demonstrated leadership, perseverance, and intellectual curiosity. Brandon is a truly excellent student, but what impresses me the most is his openness to the world. I was able to observe his openness firsthand as a faculty advisor on the MBA consulting field class in China. During our trip, we discussed life goals not just as a professional but also as a person in today’s society. Our chats about traveling were as much about different places as it was about different societal and corporate cultures. Traveling was a metaphor that we used to discuss the deeper meaning of happiness and success. One repeated theme in our conversation was the need to be open to other people and cultures. I believe that Brandon took this to heart. Being in China, a place where an American is essentially illiterate and mute, Brandon absorbed as much of the culture as possible without being judgmental. His strong sense of empathy afforded him a deeper understanding of the Chinese citizens, and he was fearless in trying to make connections with new people with an open heart. Without reservation, I say that Brandon is one of the Best and Brightest.”

Sung Won Kim

Assistant Professor, Business Administration

Gies College of Business, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


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