That said, many MBAs To Watch were wonders long before they returned to campus. IMD’s Schuyler Weiss made VP at Morgan Stanley when he was just 26. At Phillips 66, Chicago Booth’s Jingjia Zang worked as the company’s youngest trader – a distinction also enjoyed by Georgia Tech’s Reemon Silverman, the youngest attorney at Fischer Behar Chen Well Orion & Co, one of Israel’s largest and most respected law firms. That’s not to say you won’t find a few late bloomers among this class. “I learnt how to drive at the age 30, became a mother at 31 and learnt what it’s like to take exams again at 32,” says IMD’s Zehra Ali.
BALANCING THE NEEDS OF THE UN, NGOs…AND MILITIAS
Because the MBAs to Watch were builders and go-getters, they were often innovators in their companies, industries, and even countries. Look no further than Babson College’s Burcu Aydin. Together with her sister, she founded Turkey’s first women’s health clinic that acted as a “one-stop-shop” that and opened a path and set a standard for others to follow – even hosting a show on Turkish national television to spotlight health needs. “Through our initiatives, we built a strong patient base and expanded our approach to multiple clinics,” she explains. “Most importantly, we became a catalyst for innovation and brought better quality care to more patients.”
The Class of 2018 didn’t just make their proverbial dent in the universe through starting companies. At the Nielsen Company, Ivey’s Carlos González Meyer developed a strategic plan for Coca-Cola on managing the Mexican’s government taxation of food and beverage that was sent to governments worldwide as a benchmark. Similarly, the University of Melbourne’s Stuart Saare created a pipeline analysis model that has been turned into an award-winning software package. How is this for pressure? When Indonesia’s President, Finance Minister, and Central Bank Governor paid a state visit to the United States, Adhika Kartolekso compiled the presentation materials for them. “I was initially star struck,” admits the University of Cambridge Judge grad, “but then had to quickly learn to create a data-driven and balanced narrative for Indonesia’s bond and equity investors.”
Impressive, no doubt, but this year’s class rarely notched such achievements alone. Exhibit A: the University of Toronto’s Daphne Hemily. On a Doctors Without Borders project, she managed the handover of a hospital project in the South Sudan. The only catch? She had to negotiate with “4 United Nations Organizations, 9 NGOs, national, state and municipal government officials, community leaders and militia” – and keep them all on board! Then there’s Chicago Booth’s Anjana Angarwal, a Harvard-trained attorney. Her claim to fame? She designed and spearheaded an energy efficiency and conservation project in Bengaluru, India, brokering a partnership between a technical partner and a local utility in the process. The result? The project produced a 17% increase in efficiency, a boon Angarwal says for communities like Bengaluru, whose swelling populations often result in energy shortages. Angarwal’s efforts also generated notice, with the project now scaled to another Indian metro.
STUDENTS SIGN UP AS TEACHERS AND RESEARCHERS TOO
These MBAs weren’t just fun to watch at work. Many also blurred the line between student and teacher once they entered the classroom. At the Wisconsin School of Business, Benjamin St John lectured on biomimicry and design thinking. Reemon Silverman, who practiced commercial law, co-taught a Startups and Entrepreneurship course in Georgia Tech’s undergraduate program. Some even partnered with faculty on breakthrough research. While Anna Babinets served as a graduate research assistant to Professor Charles Mulford at Scheller, they published a research paper that was spotlighted on CFO.com. Purdue Krannert’s Desiree Shannon even published a research article of her own on Hurricane Harvey in the Purdue Journal of Service Learning and International Engagement. It stemmed from a volunteer effort she organized last fall in Houston, where nine graduate students delivered 265 hours of direct community services to flood victims in need.
Shannon wasn’t the only MBA To Watch who was marshalling school resources for maximum impact. At McCombs, Laura Richards organized an event on technology and gentrification, with a panel that included former HUD Secretary Julian Castro. As a first year, Greg Baesa teamed up with two classmates to organize a record-setting Consulting Day at Georgetown McDonough, a nine month effort that attracted 25 firms and 100 professional consultants. How successful was Sameer Zafar’s tenure as chief investment officer for Rice’s $1.8 million dollar student-managed investment fund? His team’s portfolio beat the S&P 500 index.
When they saw a need, the class also wasn’t afraid to start their own organizations. With gaming technology becoming an increasingly vital niche in the Los Angeles ecosystem, Vicken Bekarian founded the Marshall Interactive Gaming Association at USC, forming a partnership between the business and engineering schools that drew over two dozen students. In the process, they built networks with leading experts in computer science, design, and project management along with garnering the expertise needed to compete for jobs in the market. At Darden, Olamide Alli took a page from Stanford’s acclaimed TALK events to help foster deeper communication and connections between classmates through Darden Stories.
“During my first year at Darden, Carlos Escalante Trevino [a classmate] and I realized that students were only building surface level connections for the purposes of building their business network rather than building authentic long-lasting relationships,” she points out. “In order to make memorable experiences with other people you need to understand where they’re coming from and relate to them on a personal level, because authentic relationships take you the farthest… Innovation begins with empathy, so we get to know awesome members of our community more intimately as they share with us the moments that made them who they are today. Darden Stories has transformed the dialogue between students. So instead of asking “What’s your name and what are you recruiting for,” students now ask “What’s your name and how are you feeling today?”.
GHOSTBUSTERS: A CASE STUDY OF A SUCCESSFUL STARTUP
Like classes before, business school served as a transformational experience for the MBAs To Watch. It re-shaped how they viewed their own potential, values, and career path, not to mention their peers and their world. For better or worse, it even changed how they interpreted long-time favorites like movies. Carl Biggers, for one, will never look at Ghostbusters the same way again. “The team not only was the first to move into the market and identify and capitalize on the ghost problem,” argues the Wisconsin grad, “but they built their business on what appears to be a combination of expertise, hustle, and a fair amount of luck. In my mind these are all important elements for a successful start-up.”
That wasn’t the only surprise. For many, business school wasn’t necessarily what they expected. Often, it was far better than they hoped. “The biggest myth about business school is that the most important lessons you’ll learn are how to “do” accounting, or finance, or marketing, explains Foster’s Courtney Wenneborg. “Yes, these are skills you learn, but the bigger lessons come in understanding how to think strategically, see the big picture, and work with others to prioritize the pieces that will yield the greatest impact.”
It was a large investment of time and money for sure, but it was hardly a two year sabbatical from work. In fact, Matt Hillman found it to be exactly the opposite. “Since enrolling at the University of Michigan, I have gained two years of real world experience to compliment what I’ve learned in the classroom,” he emphasizes. “I’ve done this by consulting a number of organizations with a variety of business challenges, helping to create two startups and working in early-stage investments.”
BEST ADVICE: TAKE TIME TO ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE
That’s not to say they didn’t leave with regrets. What advice would the Class of 2018 give to future MBAs to help them make the most of their time? Perhaps the most popular response was to slow down and (in the words of Toronto Rotman’s Phoebe Luk) “soak in the freedom and savor the opportunities rather than just going from one thing to the next.” Benjamin St John puts it another way.
“Going back I would tell myself, “It’s not a question of IF you can handle that amount of work but instead it’s a question of SHOULD you handle that much work,” says the Wisconsin grad.
Part of that SHOULD, adds IESE’s Andrew Sims, involves knowing what you want to accomplish and prepare for it ahead of time. “Life moves fast, and the MBA moves faster—there are so many opportunities that everyone must make tough choices on which academic, professional, and extracurricular activities they want to pursue. You don’t have to have everything figured out by the time you get to campus, but the earlier you start thinking and preparing for the experience the better chance you give yourself of getting everything you want out of your two years.”
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