2018 Best MBAs: Faye Cheng, MIT (Sloan)

Faye Cheng

MIT, Sloan School of Management

Intellectually curious, driven, operations-minded feminist from the Midwest – who knows every ‘90s pop song.”

Age: 27

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Fun fact about yourself: I wrote my master’s thesis on WWII fighter aircraft and spent time in the declassified section of the national archives for my research.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • University of Pennsylvania: B.S. Economics
  • University of Cambridge: MPhil Innovation, Strategy, and Organization

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Senior Associate Consultant at Bain & Company in Chicago

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? Corporate Strategy Intern at Under Armour in Baltimore

Where will you be working after graduation? Consultant at Bain & Company in Washington, DC

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • 2018 Siebel Scholar
  • Creator of #SloanSpeaksOut, a series of interactive, improvisational workshops to develop students’ active responses to workplace sexual harassment
  • Sloan Women in Management: Creator of “Push for Parity” week to promote gender parity; VP of Admissions to introduce Sloan to 300+ prospective and admitted female students
  • Breaking the Mold Hackathon: Content lead for recruiting mentors and student leads for teams building technological solutions to combat bias
  • Massachusetts Department of Transportation: Winter Extern focused on strategic innovation projects
  • Teaching assistant for Economics, Communications, and Leadership courses

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of creating the first #SloanSpeaksOut series of workshops that were met with an incredible level of support from the student body and administration. The workshops came about in light of the outpouring of media revelations regarding sexual harassment in the workplace across a wide range of industries. In discussions with other Sloanies, we agreed that we didn’t want to just talk about the issue – we wanted to do something about it. This led to a series of workshops facilitated by Professor Daena Giardella, who used an improvisational acting method to walk through realistic instances of harassment in the workplace. By “pausing” the scene, discussing reactions, and “rewinding and replaying” the scene to try out different responses, she developed students’ in-the-moment responses from a variety of perspectives: bystander, person being harassed, or even an executive who hears about an instance of harassment on his or her team. The workshops were well-attended – notably, there was a diversity of genders that is essential to this conversation. While there is still work to be done, I am proud to have led the team that put this issue to the forefront of people’s minds and actions. If even one more person is better equipped as a result of these workshops, that could lead to an outsize impact in a life or organization.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Business people often times talk about “synergies” in nebulous terms – they exist, but no one really knows what they are or how much they’re worth. In one of my last consulting projects before business school, I was tasked with doing just that: quantifying deal-critical synergies in a potential merger to a level of detail that was defensible to the company’s board of directors – and would ultimately determine their decision on whether or not to move forward with the merger. I was working in a technical industry where I had no prior background, and even the subject area experts were skeptical that the task could be done. I started with an initial hypothesis and, even though it was far off, it got the conversation started. I remained persistent and didn’t take no for answer, constantly iterating with a wide variety of stakeholders and taking in stride surprise curveballs that arose in the analysis. I had incredible coaching from my consulting case team and stretched the boundaries of what I believed I could do. Even though I was the most junior person in the room, I established my credibility as the expert in this area and ultimately played a key role in the company’s multi-billion-dollar merger decision.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? It’s impossible to narrow down to just one! I have loved working with Professors Miro Kazakoff and Kara Blackburn from the Communications department, who go above and beyond in their commitment to developing students. I am inspired by Professor Zeynep Ton, who raises the bar for excellence in her class on Service Operations and whose research on The Good Jobs Strategy is something I hope to carry out in my career.

What was your favorite MBA Course? The Economics of Information taught by Professor Erik Brynjolfsson was an incredible class taught by a pioneer in the digital economy. We discussed and debated how technology will change the way we engage with work and each other and learned how some of the most cutting edge applications of technology are upheld by the basic principles of economics. Cameo appearances by Eric Schmidt from Google and Jeff Wilke of Amazon just added bonus points – I had the opportunity to ask Schmidt about his perspective of the state of diversity and inclusion in tech today and got to see my peers pitch their business ideas directly to Wilke.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose MIT Sloan because of its:

  • Flexible curriculum, where students start taking electives in our second semester. This has allowed me focus in on the topics I care about and that supplement my existing business education and training.
  • Collaborative environment, which stems structurally from the highly team-oriented curriculum and is upheld culturally every day by my classmates.
  • Commitment to diversity and inclusion, through initiatives such as the Breaking the Mold hackathon, which applies the “hackathon” format typically associated with computer science to tackling social science issues of bias.
  • Opportunities for exploration, through the Sloan Innovation Period (SIP) and the Independent Activities Period (IAP). SIP is a week-long break in classes at the midpoint of each semester where students take short seminars on topics of their choosing. I’ve taken bite-sized classes on ethics, resilience, and improv – a great way to broaden horizons without committing an entire semester. IAP is an MIT-wide break for the month of January that allows students to pursue special projects. For example, I spent my first IAP as an extern for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation working directly for the Secretary of transportation, an MIT graduate. I spent my second IAP working with a start-up in Lima, Peru through the Global Entrepreneurship Lab, one of the many action learning opportunities at Sloan.
  • Action learning opportunities, where students get real, hands-on experience in business settings. For example, through Operations Lab my team helped a major food processing company think through how they can reallocate their resources to accommodate increasing demand for customization. Through Global Entrepreneurship Lab (G-Lab), my team worked with the biggest co-working space company in Peru to strategize how they can expand in the region and strengthen their competitive advantage against international players entering Peru.
  • Integration with broader MIT, which allows students to benefit from the resources and classes across the Institute as a whole. In particular, the MIT Media Lab, which is just down the street from Sloan, houses the forefront of technological innovation and offers classes like “How to Make (Almost) Anything”, “Affective Computing”, and “Learning Creative Learning”.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Visit, if you can! It’s difficult to adequately convey in conversation the energy of the student body – you really need to experience it for yourself. Because Sloan is a smaller program, fit with our collaborative environment is essential. Also, really familiarize yourself with what Sloan has to offer. It is unique from other MBA programs in so many ways, and the more you can articulate how you will grow from the amazing opportunities it offers, the better.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Business school is an overload of opportunities and choices – and, as a result, inevitable tradeoffs. In general, I try not to harbor regrets but rather do the best that I can at every juncture, know that I have given it my all, and try to learn for the future. If I really had to name a regret, though, it would of course be that I wished I spent more time getting to know all of my classmates.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have a deep respect and admiration for my classmates who are concurrently starting their own companies while at school. Whether it’s Delta V Demo Day in early September, where student start-up teams who have participated in the Delta V summer accelerator pitch their companies onstage to a full auditorium and livestream feed – or it’s just a regular Tuesday on campus, these student-entrepreneurs live and breathe their start-ups. Their passion and vision for how they can change the world today inspires me.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? In my high school history class, I was awarded the J. Robert Oppenheimer award for my ability to lead a diverse team towards a common goal. While a sophomore history project is a bit lower stakes than The Manhattan Project, I took this recognition to heart. To this day, I still gain my energy from working on teams to bring together unique skillsets and perspectives to achieve an outcome that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…continuing to work at Bain or working in operations at a retail start-up. I would have to be at a place where every day presents a new challenge and growth opportunity.”

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  • Take my parents somewhere they’ve never been before – probably South America
  • Experience the Northern Lights

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?  I’d like my peers to remember me as the one who asked the thought-provoking questions in class.

What is your favorite movie about business? Twelve Angry Men: This was the opening movie for our “Power and Influence” class, and the lessons on group dynamics, decision-making, and leadership were relevant for nearly every class discussion thereafter.

What would your theme song be?Independent Women, Pt. I” by Destiny’s Child

Favorite vacation spot: Any place I can get some quality fall foliage

Hobbies? Hiking, yoga, smartphone photography, and coffee shops

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

“Faye Cheng truly stands out as a leader in our MIT Sloan community. In my conversations with other faculty, administrators, students, and staff, I often hear a similar refrain: “Faye is extraordinary…Faye is outstanding.” As I got to know her, I immediately understood how she earned this reputation. Faye has vision and she makes things happen. She knows how to grapple with a community need, identify a clear goal, and attain it with savvy determination and strategic influence. She has an instinctive understanding of what it takes to manifest a great idea with a passionate and contagious dedication to achieving excellent results. She is smart, generous, perceptive, engaged, caring, collaborative, and committed to making change wherever it is needed.

As the #MeToo movement was gathering its powerful momentum in late 2017, Faye stepped up to spearhead an initiative on our campus to address this issue. She was the perfect person to lead this effort. Her strong commitment to gender parity and creating more opportunities for women in management have been frequently demonstrated in her time at MIT Sloan. The idea for the #SloanSpeaksOut initiative was to create a series of three workshops over the course of a week that would explore how to respond to sexual harassment in a professional setting. I had the opportunity to work closely with her on this project when I was invited to teach these workshops. From the moment we began our collaboration, it was very apparent to me that Faye possessed unmistakable leadership capabilities, keen insights, initiative, empathy, tenacity, and the ability to mobilize contributors who would strengthen the team.

Because of many factors, including Thanksgiving Break, there were only a few weeks to organize the many moving parts of the project. She worked diligently with her team to create a very well-attended and well-received series of events at a busy time in our semester. I marveled at Faye’s ability to adeptly navigate and execute the pressing items of her “to-do” list, including event planning and design, logistics, marketing, outreach, the gathering of contributors, her own participation in our rehearsal meetings, and the creation of the various publicity pieces. She did all of this, and so much more, with unwavering excellence and enthusiasm.

The workshops were interactive skill-practice learning sessions that needed students who would enact the various roles in the harassment scenarios. Faye took charge immediately and skillfully gathered a dynamic group of nine students from diverse backgrounds who were eager to join the team to play the roles of the person feeling harassed, the harasser, the bystander and the executive receiving the harassment report. She understood that the success of these student driven events would depend upon the involvement of students from every area of MIT Sloan. She reached out to and collaborated with key groups around campus including, the Male Allies Program, Breaking the Mold & Hacking Discrimination, Sloan Women In Management (SWIM), The MIT Sloan Student Life Office, and others to invite their input and participation in the event.

Faye’s palpable commitment to finding solutions for the corrosive effects of sexual harassment in professional and organizational settings was powerfully apparent in her powerful opening remarks before each workshop. She emphasized that current MIT Sloan students will be tomorrow’s leaders and executives who will be charged with tackling the issues of sexual harassment, creating effective policies, and fostering a respectful organizational culture. Her remarks were inspiring. She is a persuasive, articulate, and dynamic public speaker. After she spoke, I was approached by many attendees who remarked about her “leadership presence” and the “stirring impact” of her words.

Faye is the embodiment of the MIT motto, “Mens et Manus,” which translates from Latin as “Mind and Hand.” This motto reflects the educational ideal of pairing of ideas, research, and learning with action, application, and doing. Faye has a unique ability to contemplate innovative ideas and apply them in concrete action. She possesses a rare combination of big picture thinking and a comprehensive attention to the important details of execution. Her strong communication skills give her an advantage as a negotiator and influencer. I witnessed her repeatedly and elegantly discover workarounds and solutions as inevitable obstacles occurred during the organizing stages of the #SloanSpeaksOut project. She is clear, specific, organized, and inspiring as she outlines the vison, goals, and next steps.

When Faye graduates in the Spring of 2018, she will resume her role as a consultant at Bain. I wholeheartedly believe that she will continue to shine as a leader, innovator, and influencer in her professional career. Bain is fortunate to have her on their team and I am confident she will attain whatever goals she sets her sights on. I also know for sure that Faye has enriched and strengthened MIT Sloan through her invaluable contributions.”

Daena Giardella
Senior Lecturer, MIT Sloan School of Management

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