The whispers swirled around him. ‘Don’t let him corner you,’ women warned. ‘Smile and pretend you don’t hear him.’ From a safe distance, some might wonder why no one spoke up about Harvey Weinstein. In the trenches, the women understood the odds: blowing the whistle meant career suicide.
Last year, the #MeToo movement exploded from casting couches to boardrooms. At many business schools, the Class of 2019 took notice. More important, MBA students like Faye Cheng were moved to action. An MIT 2nd year, Cheng partnered with Professor Daena Giardella to create #SloanSpeaksOut, a workshop series on harassment that relied heavily on improvisational acting. Think of it as a living case, where students could ‘rewind and replay’ scenes to test different responses. Cheng’s sessions even took the usual scenarios to another level, bringing key stakeholders like witnesses and CEOs into the discussion.
Such savvy, coupled with strategy, turned #SloanSpeaksOut into a hallmark experience for Cheng’s classmates. “Faye has vision and she makes things happen,” says Giardella. “She has an instinctive understanding of what it takes to manifest a great idea with a passionate and contagious dedication to achieving excellent results.”
Cheng was hardly alone in her mission to give women a voice. At Stanford GSB, Sarah Anne Hinkfuss launched a similar program called #gsbUsToo, which drew as many men as women. For her, the program was as empowering as it was cathartic. “We are now more equipped to be advocates for and creators of gender-safe workplace environments,” she tells Poets&Quants. “As someone who’s previously experienced workplace harassment, this was a big step forward for me as well.”
BEST & BRIGHTEST EFFORTS COLORED BY SOCIAL CONSCIENCE
Cheng and Hinkfuss are just two catalysts among this year’s Best & Brightest MBAs – our 4th annual celebration of students who’ve made a lasting impact on their business schools. If there is one theme that bands these students together, it would be a social conscience. The 2018 Class is composed of change agents who champion causes. They have heeded the call to tackle the big issues, applying business tools to pursue the greater good. It is a spirit that values service over self, action over assertion, and collaboration over commendation. Few students personify this ethos better than Dartmouth’s Alen Amini.
A veteran of AmeriCorps and Teach for America, Amini was a force of nature at Tuck. His fingerprints were found seemingly everywhere in Hanover. When he wasn’t jumpstarting the school newspaper and yearbook, he was helping to run two startups, co-chairing the school’s annual charity auction, or organizing Tuck’s first-ever cohort in the World Government Summit. He brought Manbassadors to campus – and enrolled half of the men in it. Working along side his classmate Stephiney Foley who interned at Tesla, he helped encourage the company to come to campus for Tuck’s first-ever case competition. At the same time, he commuted to Harvard University to complete his joint degree with the Kennedy School – where even he served as interim class president!
This obsession with easing and enriching the lives of his peers has turned Amini into a Tuck legend. “There are very few at Tuck who are not in awe of Alen and his many accomplishments, writes Sally Jaeger, the school’s assistant dean. “Most may not know half of what he accomplishes on a daily basis. We don’t know when he sleeps, or if he sleeps.”
FROM HUMAN RIGHTS CHAMPIONS TO PROFESSIONAL POKER PLAYERS
Business school didn’t turn the Best & Brightest into service-driven, action-oriented go-getters. Instead, it intensified their talents and passion for social good long before they stepped on campus. Take Fatoumata Sy. Before enrolling in INSEAD, she supervised fraud investigations for the Global Fund, the largest supplier of fund for programs that fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. In South Africa, Oxford’s Vuyane Mhlomi – a Rhodes Scholar and physician by trade – launched the Emergent Healthcare Group, which is opening health centres to offer affordable care to the poor. When Rachel Curtis wasn’t leading humanitarian missions, the Arizona State grad was battling human trafficking as a case manager for the International Rescue Committee. And then there’s the University of Minnesota’s Chris Grantham, a former diplomat with the U.S. State Department. His claim to fame? Working alongside the lead American negotiator in the Iran nuclear talks, he helped lay the groundwork for the landmark 2015 deal.
In other words, you won’t find this year’s Best & Brightest coming out of central casting. They don’t check every box. Some are rebels who blazed their own path. Others are late comers guided by a distinct vision – and a fire in their belly to realize it. After studying theater in college, UCLA’s Abby Williamson became a princess…literally. She opened an entertainment company, where she’d bring characters like Belle to Elsa to life at children’s parties and events. Speaking of Disney, meet Meg Kelleher. As a senior industrial engineer for Disney, this Kellogg MBA helped develop the long-anticipated Toy Story Land at the Hollywood Studios theme park. Don’t forget Babson College’s Ravish Majithia. Armed with a Ph.D. in materials science, he has already published ten research papers in his field. Not to be outdone, his classmate, David James, opened a middle school that emerged as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ fastest improving school in just its second year.
If you’re looking for a truly non-traditional pre-MBA career, pay a visit to Bennet Hayes at Vanderbilt University. He played professional poker for six years to pay the rent. Turns out, poker is perfect preparation for becoming successful in business too. “It’s easy as a poker player to let pure financial results define success and failure,” he admits, “but I tried as much as possible to focus on what I could control and understand that good process would eventually lead to long term success, if not short term wins. This can be difficult to do when the poker public naturally celebrates the big results with little awareness of the process that created them.”
2018 BEST & BRIGHTEST COME FROM 60 MBA PROGRAMS
To compile this year’s Best & Brightest, P&Q reached out to 68 full-time MBA programs (50 American and 18 international), with most programs chosen by ranking in P&Q’s 2017 MBA Ranking. Each school was asked to submit up to four nominees who best represented the spirit and values of their programs. In the process, P&Q encouraged schools to include input from students, as well as factor in qualities like “academic prowess, extracurricular achievements, innate intangibles and potential, and unusual personal stories.” While nominations are evaluated by P&Q editorial, the Best & Brightest is hardly a ranking. Instead, it is designed to serve as a source of inspiration, as well as offer a deeper look at the distinctiveness and diversity of MBA students.
Overall, 65 business schools submitted 239 nominations. In the end, 60 MBA programs were represented in the 2018 Best & Brightest. Like the previous year, Harvard Business School declined to participate since it conflicted with its own internal awards. Like previous years, women comprised a slight majority of the 100 students featured. By the numbers, this year’s list boasts 52 women, down from 53 in 2017 and 57 in 2016. 81 students from the Best & Brightest hail from American programs, down from 85 students the year before. By the same token, 35 students on the list hail from outside the United States, an uptick of last year’s 32. In a surprise, this year’s list features just 9 military veterans, down from last year’s watermark of 15.
Career-wise, consulting remains the industry of choice for the 2018 Best & Brightest. 8 students chose McKinsey, with Bain, BCG, and Deloitte snagging 5 graduates each. Tech was also quite popular, headed by Amazon (7), Microsoft (3), IBM (2), Google (2), and Facebook (2). Surprisingly, just 9 Best & Brightest MBAs entered finance – the same number who will be working for startups after graduation. In fact, no financial institution was able to lure more than 1 student on the list (with Goldman Sachs completely shut out). In addition, 18 students remained undecided in early March, with 2 others slated to return to the military.
Along with conscience, the 2018 Best & Brightest exude confidence tempered with humility. When they walk into a room, the energy level rises. When they speak, their peers listen. That doesn’t mean these well-rounded leaders were born for business. In fact, their choices suggest their career choices are part of more complex backstories.
MARIACHI SINGERS, CHILD ACTORS, OLYMPIANS, AND CARTWHEELERS
Just look at their artistic talent. Before starting at Boston College and landing a job at Pfizer, Sairah Mahmud spent years dancing with the Boston Ballet. Tuck’s Sravya Yeleswarapu studied Indian classical dance, while Yale’s Christine Chen danced alongside Lenny Kravitz in a music video. Oxford’s Elly Brown even won a breakdancing competition in Brooklyn! The Class of 2018 doesn’t just dance, either. Boston University’s Matthew Warshaw plays drums in a Weezer cover band. After studying classical violin and playing in a string quartet, the University of Virginia’s Catherine Aranda discovered new musical passions after taking a Mariachi class at Stanford. “I learned I could sing, and haven’t stopped since,” she gushes. “I performed with Mariachi Cardenal for four years…and then in salsa music ensembles in San Francisco for several years. Today, I sing with the faculty Bluesjam band at Darden, and on my own in whatever genre that inspires me.”
Go to pages 3-4 for 100 in-depth profiles of this year’s Best & Brightest MBAs.