2018 Best MBAs: Hosanna Odhner, Yale SOM

Hosanna Odhner

Yale School of Management

Physicist turned MBA, passionately solving problems using science and business to positively impact people’s lives.”

Age: 27

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Fun fact about yourself: I couldn’t read till age 11.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bryn Mawr College, BA in Physics

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? The Vanguard Group: first as an Investment Specialist, then Investment Consultant, and finally International Reporting and Data Analysis Administrator

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? Medtronic in Boston, Mass.

Where will you be working after graduation? Medtronic as a Product Manager in their Surgical Robotics division

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Forté Fellow for Women in Business
  • Graduating top of my class
  • Collaborated with Yale SOM game theory professor to redesign our bidding system for classes
  • Led design team with Design for America at the Center for Innovation, Engineering, and Design at Yale College to redesign the children’s play space at a local homeless shelter
  • Served as teaching assistant for eight different classes and a tutor for six more
  • Admissions Ambassador
  • Career Advisor
  • Member for Academic Affairs Committee
  • Club membership: Design+Innovation, Women in Management, Social Impact Lab, Net Impact, SOM Voices

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud of my work on redesigning the bidding system for Yale SOM elective courses. Like many business schools, Yale uses an auction system to match students to classes. As avid believers in the power of the free market, we would expect this to be an elegant and efficient way to capture consumer preferences and allocate the scarce resource of classroom seats. But going through the process as a first-year, it became abundantly clear that the auction was causing enormous stress, anxiety, and frustration throughout the student body. Friendships were damaged by bidding strategies. The idea that something as relatively trivial as class selection was hurting our community made my blood boil.

So I approached our deans with a proposal to redesign it. After teaming up with our resident expert in game theory, Professor Jidong Zhou, I fully embraced Yale’s approach to integrated curriculum. Drawing on Design Thinking methodology from our Design+Innovation club, employing market design and best response theory from our Competitor class, and adding a dash of behavioral psychology from Behavioral Economics, I came up with a list of recommended changes to improve not just the efficiency of the auction, but more important, the user experience. With enthusiastic support from the administration, the changes were implemented the very next year. While we’ll only know the full effects of my work after the auction ends in April, the initial results are very promising. I feel incredibly lucky to have created a lasting impact that affects all current and future Yale SOM students.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In my second year at my old company, morale was pretty low in my department. We were chronically overworked, and attrition was through the roof. So I decided to do something about it. I convinced management to let me try a pilot program focused on employee development and engagement. I chose six people to do monthly self-development days, where they got a reprieve from their daily grind to focus on improving themselves professionally. Honestly, it was far from a revolutionary idea. But I took pride in two things about it: one, I was able to convince an extremely risk-averse management team during a very busy time to allow me to try this experiment; and two, that my first and foremost priority throughout the process was protecting my team to give them the freedom to explore. More than once, I had to defend the project to senior leaders, and I took a lot of heat about how I was running it. But I had a responsibility to my team, and I wasn’t about to let them down. And it paid off. In a time of dropping employee engagement, it was one of the few projects that helped increase morale.

Why did you choose this business school? The most important part of Yale SOM to me is the mission: Educating Leaders for Business and Society. Before business school, I firmly believed that doing the “right thing” in business (good treatment of employees, honesty and transparency with customers, environmental responsibility, etc.) was not just the decent thing to do, it was the strategically smart thing to do. I felt in my gut that what was good for the world was also good for business. But I lacked the rigor and knowledge to back up my theory. When looking at business schools, I wanted a place that viewed business not as a vehicle of ROI, but as a way to create value—to be a place that believes that rather than firms existing to make profits, they make profits to exist. And that’s what I found here at Yale.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? The generic (but very true) advice is be yourself. If you try to be who you think the admissions office “wants you to be,” you’ll sound like every other applicant. So be yourself. Trust me, you’ll be much more interesting.

The practical piece of advice is, if at all possible, get former MBAs to look at your resume. My first week at business school taught me that I had no idea how to write a proper resume. Thank goodness Yale Admissions was able to see the value in the mediocrity, because I did a terrible job of highlighting it for them.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I don’t believe in regrets. To regret something implies an assumption of a counterfactual, an alternate reality, where things turned out better than they did in real life. You never know what would have happened, and there’s no reason to assume it would have been a happier story than the one you ended up with. Learn from your mistakes, and then move on and be grateful for where you are. You never know how things could have turned out for the worse.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I’ve met a lot of interesting people at SOM, but Michael Spencer takes the cake. Raised on a remote farm in Montana, he then moved to Kenya for half a decade, where he fully embraced entrepreneurship, adventure, and, most of all, knowing himself. Over the past two years, I’ve been surprised at the power of FOMO and peer signaling to make me second-guess my decisions. In my experience with Michael, I’ve been amazed at his unassuming and confident ability to resist herd mentality. Michael has a level of self-awareness, openness, and ability to forge his own path that I truly admire and aspire to, and I feel very lucky to call him a friend.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I didn’t pursue business in college. I was actually far down the path to pursuing a PhD in physics—I’d done four research fellowships, and had several published papers under my belt. But the same thing that drew me to physics eventually led me to business: the exhilaration of applying knowledge and understanding in real-world settings to improve people’s lives. So I guess I have my high school physics teacher to thank for inspiring me with the power of applied knowledge.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…a PhD in quantum optics. Or a PhD in behavioral economics and positive psychology. (Let’s face it, I’ll probably end up in a PhD program eventually.).”

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Become a mentor to younger business leaders
  2. Write a well-researched book that’s accessible to wide audiences

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? That’s the girl whose insatiable desire to learn is only matched by her enthusiasm to meaningfully help others.

What would your theme song be? “Everything You Didn’t Do” by British jazz artist Jamie Cullum—a song about how the possibilities in life are always before you, ready to be explored.

Favorite vacation spot: Any place where I can visit a friend or family member and explore a bit of the world.

Hobbies? My true passion is learning new things, so throughout the years I’ve dabbled in everything from pottery to debating to skydiving. I’m a bit of a serial hobbyist. My current interests include powerlifting and hiking, but my lifelong passion is blues dancing. I’ve traveled from Philadelphia to Denver to Boston to dance with hundreds of different people. I will always be grateful for such a welcoming and loving community.

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

“Hosanna Odhner is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, having earned a BA in physics there. She is an outstanding scholar who has earned more high honors grades in the Yale SOM core curriculum than any other student. Her outstanding academic performance is truly remarkable, given the rigor and demands of the program. She will be named our student marshal for the MBA program for this year’s commencement due to her outstanding scholarship.

Hosanna has also dedicated herself to improving the student experience for her classmates, engaging in an extensive independent study focused on applying economic theory to the course-bidding system. Her work improved the system and produced better outcomes for students. She also served as an outstanding teaching assistant, and her participation in her courses lifted the level of the classroom discussion. Hosanna also engaged in cross-disciplinary pursuits, serving as the Yale SOM liaison to the Yale Center for Engineering Innovation and Design. Her dedication to engagement across academic disciplines greatly adds to the university learning environment. She has been the recipient of a research fellowship from the National Science Foundation and is a Forté Foundation Fellow. Hosanna has chosen to join Medtronic after she completes her degree.”

Sherilyn Scully

Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs and Student Life


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.