2018 MBAs To Watch: Conor Leary, Columbia Business School

Conor Leary

Columbia Business School

“Driven by adventures, routines, social enterprises, friendships, learning, laughing and communities.”

Age: 27

Hometown: Rochester, New York

Fun fact about yourself: I played the French Horn for 10 years in high school and still stand by the idea that it was really cool.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Delaware, BA in Political Science

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Princeton in Asia fellow at Digital Divide Data, a social enterprise based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Digital Divide Data is a technology-based organization that offers a work/study program for disenfranchised students to obtain a university degree while developing practical, technical skills.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? Amazon, Inc. as a Sr. Program Manager in Seattle, WA

Where will you be working after graduation? Digital strategy associate at Adobe

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • VP of Citizenship for the CBS Peer Advisor program – A program that develops and runs orientation for incoming classes.
  • VP of Marketing for Pangea Advisors – A pro bono consulting organization that matches teams of MBA candidates with international non-profits for semester-long projects.
  • Benjamin Botwinick Scholarship – Awarded to a student who has demonstrated ethical behavior in business
  • MBA World Summit Speaker – Held a small session on the growing impact of CSR in large business
  • Cluster Career Chair – Liaising with our career advisors to disseminate information to our class

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? In the fall semester of 2017, I performed my CBS Matters in front of the entire business school along with our dean, Glenn Hubbard. CBS Matters is a 20 minute presentation students can choose to hold about their life, whether that is their linear story, values they care about, hobbies they hold, etc. I spoke about my coming out as LGBT and my learnings living abroad, particularly my desire to use social enterprise to create opportunities. I feel proud of this moment because it marked a confidence I developed in myself, both in what I had learned in business school and who I had become over the years that did not exist before stepping into CBS.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Rather than an achievement in work specifically, taking the chance to move from a B2B marketing coordinator role in Denver, Colorado to work as an operations consultant who was living on a small stipend in Cambodia was a bold professional move. I am proud of this achievement because I chose values over comfort, and the experience has only taught me to always trust those values.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Angela Lee – She is a blend of strength and kindness. Trust and approachability.

What was your favorite MBA Course? I loved Organizational Change, with the primary takeaway being frameworks learned for navigating the difficulty and subjectivity of how to make effective change within an organization. It was a class every person thinks they are capable of until faced with tense cases and hearing polarized points of view in the classroom. Professor Jick was incredible at navigating this discussion.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Columbia for its prestigious MBA curriculum and location in New York City. Both decision factors remain resoundingly true to my interests and I have only been impressed by the program and its offerings.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Columbia attracts many people because of its location in New York City, but what applicants (including myself) underestimate is the vibrant community that exists within the walls of the business school. From day one, a culture is created inside CBS that is supportive, cohesive, collaborative and fun, and it is in this space that people get to learn the most from one another. Applicants should think hard on how they would contribute to this supportive community if they hope to attend CBS, not for the benefit of admissions but so they can enter CBS with the highest expectations.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The school is only finance. Now that I’m a student, I still have applicants tell me, “Columbia is only a finance school.” Not only is this untrue, finance is now a minority of industries that students enter in to. Columbia is not only geographically close to Wall Street, but also tech startups, VCs, small businesses, major corporations, luxury products, non-profits, and every other industry people can take advantage of during their time here.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I wish I had gone on a Global Immersion trip to Israel. It is a place I would be fascinated to learn about from a business lens, as well as experience with classmates who are local to the country.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Thando Mtshali. She is a clustermate of mine coming from Johannesburg, South Africa. I admire her for her ability to embrace the MBA experience while never letting go of her truest person.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? While working in Cambodia, I witnessed a lot of good, smart people in organizations who were terribly mismanaged. My friends in development encouraged me to pursue business to return to international development with the skills to grow, scale and manage large organizations.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be… unsuccessfully making my way as a marketing coordinator for a social enterprise.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would institute more opportunities for students and faculty to get to know one another on a more intimate level. Being the most international business school, I worry we miss out on amazing life stories and learnings given the multiple priorities every person has thrown at them.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? I want to get my yoga teacher’s accreditation and learn a new musical instrument.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As a genuine person.

What is your favorite movie about business? Ha-ha, I watched The Intern with Anne Hathaway. I thought the movie was terrible, but it made me want to work in the ‘Brooklyn Start Up’ scene.

What would your theme song be? Postcards from Italy by Beirut.

Favorite vacation spot: Kampot, Cambodia

Hobbies? Live music shows. Yoga. Backpacking.

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

“We have had the privilege of working alongside Conor over the last year-and-a-half in an advisory role for our Peer Advisor (PA) program and our LGBTQIA+ advocacy club, Cluster Q. Conor has held leadership roles in Cluster Q, has been a Career Fellow Advisor, and has served as the Vice President of Good Citizenship for the Peer Advisor program. He has gone above-and-beyond to give back to student community.

The idea of citizenship here at the Columbia Business School is a largely talked about topic that spans across multiple student groups as well as the administration. Conor’s greatest contribution has been the role he played in changing the conversation at the beginning of new student’s entry into the CBS community and ensuring the conversation and behaviors continued throughout the school year. Specifically, Conor has been able to bridge his role to support the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Board and the Student Government Citizenship leadership so the goals and agendas of each group complements each other. Under Conor’s vision and leadership, the Peer Advisors have successfully been able to begin conversations with new students around sensitive topics such as sexual respect, and helping to define what citizenship means to our community. This is a skill that all business leaders need to be able to develop.

His infectious personality and his drive to help his fellow classmates are just a few of the reasons why he is admired by students and staff alike. As an out gay man, he has inspired many others to be comfortable within their own skin. With all the above reasoning and more, Conor’s impact on the Class of 2018 will leave a legacy of students that were not afraid to embrace the difficult conversations and help shape what the community of the Columbia Business School is today.”

Zelon Crawford
Assistant Dean and Dean of Students
Columbia Business School

 

DON’T MISS THE FULL LIST:

100 MBAS TO WATCH IN THE CLASS OF 2018