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Meet the Michigan Ross MBA Class of 2020

Experience matters.

Every employer expects it. Every MBA applicant covets it. Fact is, inexperience means learning curves, mistakes, and missed opportunities – costs that exceed returns. That’s why companies want people who can jump in, take action, and make an immediate impact. That’s exactly what the MBA program at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business is designed to do.

To many, business school is a time to step back, to absorb cases and models that’ll sharpen their analytical skills and shore up their weak spots. For Matt Hillman, a 2018 Ross MBA, his two years were hardly a “hiatus.” Instead, he enjoyed a hands-on lab, where he practiced what he learned on several companies projects – all while launching two startups and partnering with early stage firms. It is this type of experience that led Afua Aidoo, a first year from Ghana, to Ann Arbor.

LEARN IT BY DOING IT

“I wanted to experience growth, learning opportunities, ability to connect with a wide community of individuals, deep resources, ability to make mistakes, and learn in a seemingly “test” environment.”

Students in the Ross School of Business Winter Garden

Action-based. Hands-on. Experiential. These labels have all been slapped on the Ross MBA program. Dean Scott DeRue, however, prefers to apply a different simile to better reflect why Ross is so different from most peers. He equates the program to a teaching hospital. Here, students undergo rotations – experiential opportunities in various fields – where they can “try before [they] buy.” At the same time, DeRue notes, Ross devotes heavy resources to “mentorship, coaching, assessments, and feedback.” In company projects, Ross students aren’t just producing and practicing, but reflecting and refining. In the process, DeRue says, they gain those important extras: “the skills of resiliency, being tolerant of ambiguity, understanding how to learn from mistakes by actually doing it.”

Such experiences give Ross graduates a decided advantage when they join employers like Amazon or McKinsey, DeRue adds. “You’ve learned about yourself in a really fundamental way. Because we’re not only developing business people, we’re building human capability here.”

BANGA GOES FROM MARKETER TO MODEL TO GAMER

The Class of 2020 may be the most ‘capable’ yet. Who makes up this 420 member class? Take Juan Andres Turner. He started his career selling wind turbines in Peru before building energy frameworks for the World Bank. After graduating from Stanford – where he served as editor-in-chief of the Stanford Daily – Zach Zimmerman managed ad campaigns at Red Bull and Nike. At Flipkart, India’s answer to Amazon, Shivani Gupta managed planning, merchandising and marketing for the firm’s television arm. Olga Vilner Gor is an Israeli army veteran and mother who was previously a nurse care coordinator responsible for 150 high-risk patients. How is this for the circle of life? After studying at Princeton and working at BlackRock, Hollis Farris is returning to her hometown to earn her MBA.

Then again, Farris is no stranger to the road. As a teenager, she competed around the world as part of the USA National Field Hockey team. Angad Banga pulled double duty when he worked for Major League Soccer. Not only did he serve as the league’s senior coordinator for properties and events, but he also modeled for the ecommerce site and merchandise promotions. Sankalp Damani, an engineer by trade, sings and plays guitar. Chances are, Georgia Cassady has already inspired her classmates to use their leftover airline miles for a trip to her hometown of Enterprise, Alabama. “In the middle of Main Street,” she writes, “stands the world’s first monument built to honor a bug—an agricultural pest called the boll weevil.” (Perhaps Ann Arbor could do the same with the fish fly.)

According to Soojin Kwon, managing director of full-time MBA admissions, Ross is a place for students who “work hard and drop their egos and get things done.” This philosophy displays itself in the class’ pre-MBA achievements. Turner, for one, masterminded a financial reporting framework at the World Bank for the off-grid energy sector – a market that encompasses over a billion people who lack access to energy. At Major League Soccer, Banga launched the firm’s esports league and platform, which is now connected to 25 million gamers. Similarly, Zimmerman organized a content storehouse for Red Bull TV. Better yet, he partnered with 12 partner platforms, such as Apple and Google, to generate over three million downloads without any budget behind it.

Impressed? Wait until you hear about Damani’s stint at the Boston Consulting Group. Over two months, he implemented a retention strategy that resulted in a $70 million dollar turnaround for one banking client over two months. “This has now become a key strategy at BCG and I also worked with a developer team to build a white-labeled customer retention app to help BCG sell similar projects to other banks,” he says.

“GENUINE, HUMBLE, DOWN-TO-EARTH PEOPLE”

In a February interview with P&Q, Kwon shared that Ross sought students who challenged themselves, took risks, supported their peers and valued their perspectives. Based on early returns, the class fits this culture to a tee. Jane Roberts, fresh off a cycling trip from Seattle to Chicago, notices a “genuine openness to new experience” among her classmates. In contrast, Fernando Palhares, an engineer-turned-consultant from Brazil, lauds his peers for being supportive. “[People] want to see each other’s successes rather than simply seeing everyone around you as a roadblock to your own dream job.”

Exterior of Ross’ Kresge Library

Palhares was hardly alone in viewing his peers as team players. “In most of my visits,” Zimmerman recalls, I encountered some of the negative stereotypes that follow MBA students: hypercompetitive, boastful, and disconnected from the broader university community. But at Ross, I connected with genuine, humble, down-to-earth people who seemed to really support each other and consider themselves part of the greater University of Michigan community.”

This spirit extends beyond their class, adds Farris. “It’s absolutely true that Ross is a close-knit, collaborative, and supportive community.  An email with “Go Blue” to a current student or alumni inevitably receives a response within 24 hours – it’s incredible!”

AVERAGE GMATs EDGE UP FOUR POINTS

This has been a banner year thus far for Ross. In the March U.S. News MBA ranking, Ross tied with Berkeley Haas for the 7th spot – the first time the program had reached the Top 10 in 14 years. In the process, it leapfrogged rivals like Columbia, Dartmouth Tuck, and Yale SOM, thanks to $148K median pay packages and 97% placement within three months of graduation for the 2017 class. By the same token, Ross, along with Stanford GSB, were the only full-time MBA programs to be ranked among the best in every specialization surveyed by U.S. News. A testament to the program’s top-to-bottom excellence, Ross finished 3rd in both management and operations (and 4th in marketing and accounting).

It wasn’t just rankings where Ross shined. In August, it launched a part-time online MBA program. Four months earlier, it added an analytics concentration and will be christening a “Datathon” team competition through its Center for Value Chain Innovation later this school year.

It is a momentum, however, that didn’t fully carry over to the Class of 2020, statistically at least. During the 2017-2018 cycle, Ross received 297 fewer applications – with the program’s acceptance rate edging up two points to 27%. On the plus side, Ross’ average GMAT climbed four points to 720, with the median holding steady at the same number. The same was true of undergraduate GPAs, where Ross maintained its 3.5 score in both average and median. Demographically, Ross kept pace with its peers. 43% of the incoming class is comprised of women, the same percentage as Wharton, Yale SOM, and Berkeley Haas. The number also matches the 2019 Class, with female representation jumping by 10% over the past four classes. Like many peer programs, the percentage of international students slipped by 2%, as the percentage of underrepresented minority students stayed at 23% from the previous year.

LEARNING BUSINESS BY RUNNING A BUSINESS

In terms of academic and professional backgrounds, the 2020 Class is a bit different than its predecessors. The percentage of business and economics majors, for example, rose four points to 42%. That difference was made up by STEM and humanities majors, which each lost two points and comprise 30% and 28% of the class. Career-wise, finance and consulting represented the largest blocs of the class at 16%% each – a loss of 3% for the former and a gain for 3% for the latter. Healthcare and tech pros each account for another 10% share of the class.

What’s new at Ross in 2018? Well, the program is hardly resting on its laurels. According to DeRue, the Ross MBA is on a “mission to really reinvent the student experience.” As part of this, the school has gone all-in on integrating experiential learning into every corner of the curriculum. Notably, the school has adopted a manta where every student will have opportunities to start, advise or invest in businesses – along with leading a business unit.

“We feel that that’s going to prepare our students for the world that they’re going into,” DeRue explains, “which is certainly defined by dynamism and change and the need to be adaptive and thrive in the context of ambiguity.”

Go to next page for in-depth profiles of a dozen members of the Class of 2020.