Everyone roots for the underdog. You know, the person who never gives up – or gives an inch for that matter. Against prevailing opinion, they speak out, braving the snubs and scorn that follow. Over time, their rallying cry coalesces into a mission and their actions drive history. They are, to borrow a well-worn phrase, profiles in courage.
In this year’s latest crop of incoming MBA students, you’ll find plenty of tales of bravery and integrity. Not only did many in the Class of 2020 beat the odds, they set the tone – and the bar – for those who followed. One such first-year was Duke Fuqua’s Alexandra Herrera Flores. A strategy consultant, Herrera Flores developed a passion for soccer as a young girl. Just one problem: only boys were allowed to play it in her native Peru. When she questioned why, a teacher told her that soccer was “too rude for a delicate little girl,” encouraging her to play with dolls instead. Her parents were even less supportive, grounding her when she tried to play a sport that was considered “almost a religion” in Peru.
FUQUA FIRST YEAR PROVIDES PLATFORM FOR WOMEN TO PLAY SOCCER
Herrera Flores, however, never lost her fervor for the sport – or equality. As an adult, she partnered with a friend to create Ligas Femeninas Futbol 7 (LF7) – Peru’s largest women’s soccer circuit. Herrera Flores was hardly an outlier, however, Today, LF7 boasts 3,500 female players – even hosting a 1,000 person tournament. What’s more, she has funneled LF7 profits into soccer academies that teach self-esteem and confidence alongside soccer skills to girls. Even Herrera-Flores’ mom – the one who grounded her – has become part of the act; she plays in LF7’s master’s division.
In fact, Herrera-Flores’ spirit is almost emblematic of the incoming class. “The thing that most defines me,” she says, “is that I am really passionate about projects and that I actually make things happen, no matter the problems and no matter if everyone says it is impossible.”
Few would question Martin Palmer’s courage. A Columbia Business School student and Green Beret commander, Palmer’s strengths extend far exceed grace under fire. This is illustrated by an event In Syria, where an intensive bombing inflicted painful casualties on the fighters who battled alongside his 12 member unit. In response to the losses, the Syrian commander wanted to pull back and leave a key city in ISIS hands. Rather than retreat, Palmer persuaded the commander to push forward – an act that enabled him to deal “a major blow to ISIS in the region,” Palmer notes.
THE COURAGE TO LISTEN…AND EMBRACE
It wasn’t the first time that Palmer’s soft skills came in handy. In Afghanistan, where he led an infantry platoon, Palmer partnered with elders to build a village police force. Sure enough, this force became formidable enough to repulse the area Taliban. To some, these successes can be chalked up to technical ability and training at some level. Look deeper and they can also be credited to Palmer’s courage: the courage to listen, learn, and work patiently with partners as equals – virtues that foster trust and amplify influence. They are skills he intends to apply after he graduates from business school.
“Working through language and cultural differences, limited resources, and difficult mission objectives, I was able to influence [people] to achieve success,” he explains. “In management consulting, I look forward to achieving similar success by working with a team of fellow consultants to take on complex business problems, influence senior business leaders, and develop actionable and practical solutions for our clients.”
It also takes courage to embrace what’s contradictory. Take Berkeley Haas’ Katharine Hawthorne. At Stanford, she earned her degree in Physics before eventually finding her way into impact investing. That glosses over her real passion: dance and choreography. Unlike many, who choose the most lucrative or easiest path, Hawthorne refused to compromise and courageously pursued all of her passions. For the past seven years, she has balanced her 40 hours work week as a finance manager with another 40 hours performing in dance troupes across the world.
For Hawthorne, dance was far more than a creative outlet. “Dance taught me how to lead, inspire collaborators, and connect to audiences,” she shares. “I decided to attend business school to build on these leadership skills and to further my interests in finance and data science.”
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST YEARS BEING PROFILED THIS FALL
These are just three profiles in courage from this year’s incoming MBA class. It is an electrifying class, one populated with driven doers, infectious idealists, and selfless supporters. They include D1 athletes, music producers, neuroscientists, activists, trauma surgeons, teachers, and techies. Hailing from lands as far-and-wide as Australia, Chile, Lebanon, Ghana, and Belarus, they bond over soccer as much as sneakers. When they weren’t shining at iconic names like McKinsey, General Motors, Edelman, or Twitter, they were making jaws drop at equestrian and ballroom dancing competitions. Their alma maters include household names like MIT, Cambridge, and Princeton, and Brown – not to mention Liberty, Campbell, and U.C.-San Diego. Forget the myth that most MBAs majored in finance or engineering. Like years past, some top candidates boast degrees in areas like creative writing, linguistics, medieval classics, anthropology, and urban studies.
More than anything, they are courageous. They are risk-takers who’ve started – and shuttered – businesses. They’ve launched departments and opened markets where no one had dared venture before. Some have even launched relief efforts in troubled areas like Puerto Rico. Overall, they reflect the spirit of their MBA programs, whether that be principle-driven, academically intensive, or team-oriented. That’s why, throughout the fall, P&Q will feature over 400 of these students as part of its 4th annual profiles of over 40 incoming MBA classes. In doing so, we’ll introduce prospective MBAs to the unique cultures and offerings inherent to these leading programs. In the process, we hope our student profiles inspire candidates to see themselves in these role model candidates – and decide to join them as MBA candidates.
So who are some of these students? Well, they are as daffy and diverse as they are courageous and clever. Dartmouth Tuck’s Colin Chapin considers himself to be a “liberal arts poster child” – “a government major turned English teacher turned investment professional.” Notre Dame’s Zeve Fefoame prefers to compare himself to a fine automobile: “Personality of a Lamborghini Aventador and calmness of any Bentley.” You couldn’t blame anyone who’d nickname Grace Ko as “Sybil.” The Cornell Johnson student describes herself as “a friendly Texan at heart, active Californian in spirit, and ambitious New Yorker by trade.” Then again, Duke Fuqua’s Shezanne Cassim seems to be perfectly in tune with his times: “I’m someone who would choose an interesting life over an easy life, any day.”
Interesting life? The class features its share of celebrities, that’s for sure. Before Columbia Business School, Halle Morse played Lisa (a bridesmaid) over a thousand times with the Broadway Mamma Mia! cast. On the opposite coast, USC Marshall’s Tina Cook handled the lead role of Dora the Explorer in Dora’s Pirate Adventure, Live! Eric Dodds never made the big stage. However, the Northwestern Kellogg candidate did blow off a call-back audition to be the lead for Home Alone 3. Carnegie Mellon’s Brian Porter probably wishes he had skipped his audition. He was constantly being stopped by strangers after they recognized him as a dancer in a Red Hot Chili Peppers video.
To read over 30 in-depth profiles of top MBAs from over 30 programs, jump to page 4.