2018 Best MBAs: David James, Babson College (Olin)

David James

F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College

Educator, entrepreneur, husband, dog dad.”

Age: 31

Hometown: Rochester, NY

Fun fact about yourself: I met my wife at a Halloween party. I was dressed as Bill Nye the Science Guy and she was dressed at Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus. We had instant chemistry.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bucknell University, B.S.B.A.

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? I started my career as a founding member of Teach For America – Greater Boston. I then helped restart a low-performing middle school in South Boston and later co-founded and led UP Academy Oliver, a 6-8 neighborhood public middle school in Lawrence, MA that was part of a state-led district reform effort.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? This past summer I interned at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts in their internal consulting group.

Where will you be working after graduation? In a role supporting and improving K-12 education.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • 2017 Semi-Finalist, Babson B.E.T.A. Challenge
  • Sorenson Scholarship Awards for Meritorious Achievement
  • President’s MBA Scholarship
  • Graduate Assistant specializing human and social capital research
  • Mentor, Coaching for Leadership and Teamwork Program
  • International Consulting Experience – Santiago, Chile

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Competing as the only first-year student in the semi-finals of the annual Babson B.E.T.A. Challenge was a blast. The competition is different from a traditional business plan competition in that it recognizes and rewards major milestones Babson businesses have achieved by taking action (instead of simply planning and researching the “perfect” business). Between the Entrepreneurship & Opportunity course in my fall semester and the New Venture Creation course in my spring semester, I was able to actively plan and then start building my business, K12 Landing (think Tripadvisor but for teacher professional development and training), that I presented in the B.E.T.A. Challenge. I didn’t make it to the finals, but it was an incredibly helpful experience and positioned me to continue working on the business into the summer and my second year.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Helping found UP Education Network, a nonprofit school management organization that works with local school districts to transform low-performing schools. After completing Teach For America, I was a founding teacher at UP Academy Boston, the first school that the network opened. Two years later I was given a chance to co-found and lead a school, UP Academy Oliver, and led it to become the fastest improving middle school in the state in only its second year.

What was your favorite MBA Course Entrepreneurial Finance taught by Professor Les Charm and Professor Jean-Luc Boulnois. Both are experienced operators and investors and gave a street-level, no-nonsense, this-is-how-it-really-works perspective on finance. The course changed the way I think about what a business is and redefined how I approach financing my own business.

Why did you choose this business school? Three reasons: First, Babson’s reputation for entrepreneurship is second to none. Second, it is location in Boston, which has such a vibrant start up scene and strong and innovative set of K-12 education institutions. And third, the school’s intimate size and international student body were attributes I was looking for in an MBA program.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Know how to tell your story and why business school in general, and Babson in particular, is the next logical step of that story. The best way to stand out is to have true passion for a particular goal, demonstrate what you have already done towards achieving that goal, and how coming to Babson will help continue to work towards it. In practical terms, make sure you have multiple friends or family members read your application essays ahead of time; they’ll be able to help suss out if your story come across as genuine and true to yourself.

What was your biggest regret in business school? If I could go back and do it all over again, I would spend more time simply getting to know my classmates!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Shu-Ning Hsu. She is a ferocious learner (who fluently reads, writes, and speaks three languages!), works incredibly hard, and is constantly reflecting on ways to improve. She has been a vital part of launching K12 landing and helped make the experience that much more exciting and enjoyable. She never hesitates to help, is constantly willing to try new challenges, and is an important thought partner.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? A number of former managers of mine at UP Education Network—Victoria Criado, Nicole Dorn, and Scott Given—had all pursued graduate degrees before founding the network. As someone who aspired to start and lead an organization of my own, I saw in them the value that a graduate degree could provide.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…working somewhere in K-12 education, likely at a school district or network.”

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Take the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Moscow to Beijing and complete the Tour de Mont Blanc.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Someone who is deeply committed to ensuring all students have access to a high-quality education.

What would your theme song be? Man on Fire by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Favorite vacation spot: Anywhere with my wife and family     

Hobbies: Photography, Squash, Hiking

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

“When I think of David James the words better teachers for a better world come to mind. It is so exciting to see a former K-12 teacher enter an MBA program, immediately engage in entrepreneurship and start a business to improve the education system by helping teachers become better at their craft. David (actually, we call him Dave at Babson!) founded K-12 Landing to solve a problem in the teacher professional development space. Teachers are required to spend time on teacher training and development activities each year, but the choices available to teachers are either limited by a school district or difficult to find. K-12 Landing is a marketplace that helps teachers not only imagine all the different ways they can enhance their craft, but to actually participate in quality training that was previously unavailable or unknown. As Dave told me when we recently met, “Think TripAdvisor for K-12 teachers.” I said, “TripAdvisor has changed my life when I travel.” Dave responded, “Exactly!”

I have seen K-12 Landing emerge from the beginning. The idea got traction only because of Dave’s commitment to the idea, resourcefulness, and contagious can-do mindset. His classmates have supported him 100% of the way and he has become a startup role model as he continues to learn and build K-12 Landing every day. He has an insatiable curiosity about him that every action – and even every startup – is a learning experience.

Walk through Olin Hall – the graduate building at Babson College – and Dave’s classmates will say he is loyal, thoughtful, sharp, innovative, explorative, collaborative, and, of course, entrepreneurial. He epitomizes what a Babson MBA Candidate is, and I am so fortunate to be one of his professors that often gets an email with a subject line “Can we have a check in?” I learn something new in every conversation with Dave – and that’s invaluable!”

Heidi Neck
Jeffry A. Timmons Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies
Babson College

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE BEST & BRIGHTEST: CLASS OF 2018