Meet The MBA Class Of 2020: Profiles In Courage

“I’ve only had one full-time job since college, and it was fairly non-traditional. A key factor that led me to choose Ross was the amount of hands-on, experiential learning opportunities outside of the classroom. At the end of my first year, I’ll work for seven weeks on an actual business problem for a real organization—not a hypothetical case.” — Georgia Cassady, University of Michigan Ross School of Business


Then there is the London Business School’s Jacob Appelbaum. Before coming to “The Great Wen”, he was a clam farmer in the Marshall Islands, which sits between Australia and Hawaii. Isolated for the most part, he built his business on being “resilient, resourceful, and adaptable.” His work also required him to rely heavily on trial-and-error. “Developing effective methods to grow one particular snail species took over a year of repeated failures with incremental improvements coming from experimentation with new techniques and discussions with colleagues,” he shares. “When we finally succeeded and started exporting them in large numbers it felt like a great victory.”

Harvard Business School’s Dominic Marrone

That was one victory among many for the Class of 2020. Do you ever call on Amazon’s Alexa? Well, Harvard Business School’s Dominic Marrone led a team that created the personalized “Works with Alexa” component. Cornell Johnson’s Thomas Stelle managed the logistics of President Obama’s final state dinner. Before joining Indiana Kelley, Jatin Gupta helped hire 3,500 people at Google over three years. Think that number is impressive? Check out LBS’ Faheem Ahmed, who led an international relief effort in Bangladesh that provided medical treatment to over 15,000 people. Ahmed wasn’t the only first-year who possessed a global reach. At Nike, Crosby Wright developed a content platform that connected over 1,000 Nike stores. “[It] became the primary way that Nike delivered communications, training, and other forms of digital content directly to their retail employees across the country,” says the Vanderbilt Owen MBA.

How were these students able to achieve so much in so little time? Like Harvard Business School’s Daphne Pham, they adapted to the conditions at hand – and dug deep for the courage to ditch the playbook. Pham, for one, was Uber’s first employee in Vietnam. Despite the brand name, Uber was basically a startup there, dogged by entrenched competitors, unwieldy regulations, and bad press. That doesn’t even count the standard startup issues involving scaling and payment – or the nation’s low car ownership rate. To survive, Uber innovated with programs like cash payment or making it easier for prospective drivers to borrow money to purchase vehicles. Over time, Pham built Vietnam into Uber’s third largest Asian market.


“Disruptive innovation is never easy,” Pham writes.

What’s more, the class contributed in areas where the public wouldn’t normally associate future business students. In her most recent position, Grace Zimmerly served as a lead for overdose reduction initiatives with the New York / New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).  Despite working in NYPD headquarters, this Chicago Booth MBA candidate didn’t carry a badge or a gun. Instead, her job was to develop a real time data collection and reporting system for the NYPD across five boroughs. When she arrived, the process between death and official reporting by the health department averaged six months, creating a gap between when strategies and resources are needed and actually delivered. Through Zimmerly’s efforts, the gap was driven down to 36 hours.

Such innovation – outside the normal scope of business operations – is what business sorely demands, says Zimmerly. “We need people who understand the minute operations of our companies and institutions and society as they are. However, we also need people who can look at that status quo, break it apart, and rebuild the pieces into something better.”


The Class of 2020 found their way to business school for many reasons. As a teacher, Vanderbilt Owen’s Brittany Hunter taught her students that “being illiterate can be a life-threatening disability.” When it came to business and finance, that’s exactly how she felt: left out and illiterate. Michigan Ross’ Fernando Palhares felt his career had careened “sideways” – where he’d lost his passion and failed to make an impact. For MIT Sloan’s Kevin Cheung, joining an MBA program was a deliberate act of courage – a means to “to push myself out of my comfort zone while in a safe space” so he could pursue his dreams.

MIT Sloan’s Kevin Cheung

MBA graduates themselves inspired their peers to return to campus. NYU Stern’s Schnurman, for example, reviewed the Linkedin profiles of senior leaders in global organizations she admired and noticed a trend: they all had MBAs. Similarly, the degree became increasingly compelling to North Carolina’s Jermyn Davis after one of his co-workers returned to Deloitte after earning his MBA. “I was astounded by his growth as a professional,” he admits.” I was also embarrassed because he was running circles around me.” The before-and-after shift drove Davis to take a long, hard look at where he was. “That experience was a catalyst,” he adds. “I realized: (1) I didn’t have a spouse or children so there were no real family considerations; (2) my company offered a sponsorship program; and (3) I was getting older so if I didn’t do it now I would never do it.”

For Hinshillwood, the decision to pursue an Emory MBA was a profoundly personal one. “My grandfather – or “Poppo” as I call him – was not only a huge influence in my life but also a major professional aspiration for me growing up. One of life’s most bittersweet ironies is watching a man who was the COO of a cancer research hospital battle cancer, and his journey showed me that there’s no time like the present to better yourself, pursue your passions, and make a difference. Sometimes, we don’t get a “tomorrow” or a “next time” and I want my grandfather to see my impact. So, business school, here we are!”


What is the Class of 2020 looking forward to once they arrive at business school? The club and extracurricular life, for one, stirs their imagination. Columbia Business School’s Shrey Gupta likens it to a “buffet meal” where he can “sample varied opportunities.” There is plenty of that of campus – particularly clubs that are more social nature. At Chicago Booth and Dartmouth Tuck, for example, students can sample the spirits as part of the Wine Club or the Whiskey, Scotch, and Bourbon Appreciation Club, respectively. For foodies, there are always epicurean clubs like MIT Sloan’s Happy Belly Club. At the same time, the Tuck Sailing Club has caught the eye of Cordaye Ogletree, while Zach Zimmerman can’t wait for the “challenge” of the Ross Poker Club.

Challenge, you say? Head on over to the forests surrounding HEC Paris, where business students organize and host the MBAT, a three-day sports tournament held each spring for over 1,500 peers. Lauren Appel considers it a great way to put her “leadership and teamwork skills to the test.” That’s not the only benefit adds her classmate Amanda Moritz. “I love getting swept up in the excitement around sporting events, and I cannot wait to meet other students from MBA programs all over the world.”

Such clubs are perfect platforms for networking – and finding support for like-minded peers. That’s what Molly Boschan is seeking as a member of the Kelley Association of Women MBAs. “I grew up surrounded by strong and powerful women who have taught me to always strive for my goals and stand up to the obstacles that get in the way. Having a cohort of women that support each other and offer advice and insights in a world that is not always set up to our benefit is vital.”

Better yet, some clubs, such as the University of Washington Foster’s CoMotion, even extend beyond the business school to foster collaboration among different university communities. “This program brings together students of various disciplines and offers resources and mentorship opportunities to help stimulate innovation,” writes Aaron Sachs, a Jersey-born product manager. “I’m excited to explore what opportunities might exist for a partnership between an MBA student and students from the Pharmacy or Medical schools.”


Chicago Booth’s Vanessa Buie

The 2018 Class is equally bullish on the classmates they’ve met so far. Their early impressions? Vanessa Buie, a former Minnesota Vikings cheerleader and current medical resident, calls her Chicago Booth classmates “full” – as in “full of life, energy, passion – you name it, they’ve got it, in abundance.” In contrast, NYU Stern’s Langinger uses “clear-eyed” to represent her class. “They know what they like, what they don’t like, and what they’re working toward.” At Rice Jones, Kory Li equates his class to a unicorn startup about to IPO.” His reason? “From successful entrepreneurs to consultants for NATIONS to former professional athletes, everyone here has already accomplished what most people would be happy with in an entire career, and they’re just getting started!”

To many, being characterized as “fierce” might come across as an insult. For Halle Morse, it is a term of endearment for her curious and charismatic classmates at Columbia Business School classmates. “The students I have met so far possess an insatiable appetite for growth and intellect. While currently scholars first, they are perfectly suited to take on the concrete jungle of NYC as well as the world stage. Witty, thoughtful and dynamic, they are also humble, hungry and focused on their future success. They are, after all, Columbia Lions — roar!”

Not surprisingly, Afnajjer Hernandez uses “altruistic” to characterize his fellow Berkeley Haas MBAs – a term no doubt rooted in the school’s guiding principles that celebrate humility, questioning, community, and support. “My classmates have shown such empathy and care for one another that I am amazed at how tight-knit our community has become in such a short amount of time,” he observes. “That altruism is also forward looking. My classmates are all looking for careers where they can make a positive impact on society through business.”

To read over 30 in-depth profiles of top MBAs from over 30 programs, go to page 4.

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