“Diversity” has emerged as a contentious concept in society. That’s because it means so many different things to people.
At the surface, diversity covers the usual variables: nationality, gender, background, religion, and economic status. However, it is far more than affiliation or aspiration. Diversity is also a strategy – a code of conduct, even – that demands that everyone be included and heard. Here, differences aren’t just ‘appreciated.’ They are leveraged for the benefit of the whole. In this 360 degree view, people and views clash – and that’s a good thing. That just sparks more encompassing and lasting solutions. In diverse settings, students absorb more than models and mindsets – they also encounter everything from the intricate workings of Asian legal systems to the conflicting criteria for making eye contact. That makes the learning even richer.
Diversity isn’t an easy path to take. As the saying goes, when you master working with people different than yourself, you can work with anyone.
AN INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY THAT MIRRORS AN INTERNATIONAL WORKFORCE
Diversity is also the backbone of the London Business School –where classes are carefully crafted to maximize differences in a high expectation, high talent environment. That’s particularly true for the Class of 2020, a 485 member cohort, where 91% of the class hails from outside the United Kingdom – including students from 64 nations. When first-years were asked to describe their class, “diverse” was easily the first word they’d use.
That includes Nasi Rwigema, an aeronautics engineer and project manager from Johannesburg. “I was most attracted to LBS, as an MBA institution, for the impressive diversity of its student body and faculty – diversity in terms of upbringing, international exposure, and professional experience,” he explains. “In my view, the greatest benefit of an MBA is the personal, mental development that is gained in and around class practicing problem solving with people who are smart but, more importantly, have different approaches to you – all under the guidance of world-class educators. To maximise the breadth of perspectives to learn from, inherent diversity is key.”
David Simpson has spent 22 years as an administrator at London Business School, most recently being elevated to the school’s admissions director of the MBA and MiF programs in 2012. For Simpson, LBS’ brand of diversity doesn’t just stimulate students intellectually, but also brings out the best in them socially.
“We work hard on building diverse classes made up of high achievers from all over the world,” he tells P&Q in a statement. “Students join us expecting to be surrounded by the best – all together to learn on London Business School’s amazing MBA experience. The story they tell me is how they had underestimated the highly collaborative nature of their fellow classmates and just how great everyone is. This isn’t just first week fun either. This is fellow students helping each other with exam or job interview prep. I even heard about a student taking his classmate along to share a coffee chat with a key recruiter (with their permission), because he knew she would be a great fit for the firm though she hadn’t considered them previously. Both ended up employed by the company! I know to expect this collaboration, as we focus hard on selecting the ‘right kind of people’, not just applicants who can give us the best class stats.
A “MULTIFACETED” CLASS FOR A “DIFFERENT KIND OF MBA”
You’ll find similar sentiments among the incoming full-time MBA class. Nikki Gupta, a UK EdTech entrepreneur (and P&Q columnist), has been impressed by just how smart her classmates are. “They can describe the most complex technicalities of their industry in the most wonderfully simple manner,” she observes. “This really does reflect how accomplished they are in their industries – they know their stuff!”
Accomplished, yes – but Gabriela M. Kestler – a “tiny, yet mighty Guatemalan” – uses a different term for her classmates: Multifaceted. “When joining LBS, you can throw all your previous misconceptions of what MBA students are like out the window,” she asserts. “From day one, I’ve been thrilled to be amidst a truly diverse community of the most outstanding individuals from every background imaginable. On any given day, we can be discussing Apple’s most recent valuation one minute, switch over to sharing our perspectives on classical violin concertos, make a small detour to set up a next day friendly soccer match, and then wrap the conversation up with witty recommendations of London’s best pubs. For most of us, the spirit of genuine friendship combined with an unparalleled sense of humility to enable and learn from others has already been a transformative experience.”
Simpson condenses the LBS experience down to a “different kind of MBA” – one where students “are pushing themselves even further outside their comfort zones than students at most other schools.” Take Tyler Hayes, a MD candidate at Harvard Medical School and research assistant at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. He is considering a move to both Western Europe and venture capital. His classmate, Dr. Faheem Ahmed, is taking a break from medical work to pursue social enterprise – an area that produced his biggest achievement: “Leading international relief teams to rural Bangladesh, providing free medical treatment to over 15,000 villagers who would otherwise have no access to healthcare.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Want global heft? Meet Stephanus Wicardo, who worked on the President’s Advisory Board for the Republic of Indonesia, where he worked with leaders in both the public and private sectors. At the Kellogg Company, Gabriela Kestler earned a K Value Award for reversing the sales decline in her region’s biggest customer – nearly breaking double digit growth in just nine months. After launching the b-to-b arm of a tea company in India, Priyanka Ahuja turned it into the source for nearly half of the firm’s revenue. Think that’s pressure? Just picture yourself in Nasi Rwigema’s shoes: He was already managing a large solar power plant soon after earning his degree. Alas, Rwigema wasn’t the only member of the 2020 Class shouldering big burdens early in their careers. Look no further than Andi Frkovich. A self-described “Harry Potter nerd,” Frkovich also happens to be a U.S. Navy Lieutenant on a guided missile cruiser – including serving as the “Officer of the Deck” who oversees all ship operations.
LEARNING HOW TO NEGOTIATE…WITH NORTH KOREA
Alas, some members of the 2020 have already stepped out of their comfort zones long before arriving in Regent’s Park. Take Jacob Appelbaum. Since 2007, he has been running a clam and coral farm in the remote Pacific Atoll islands. A castaway who’ll be chatting up a volleyball in the hallways, you think? Quite the opposite: This entrepreneur is a force who can run with anyone in an LBS classroom.
“Running a business in a remote island setting forced me to be resilient, resourceful and adaptable, while working with live animals meant constant surprises and challenges,” he explains. During my time managing the Mariculture Farm, I was able to more than double the number of species that we grew and exported. 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 throughout the region. When we finally succeeded and started exporting them in large numbers, it felt like a great victory.”
Then there’s David Tshulak, who faced a major dilemma after graduation. On one side, he could’ve taken the safe route and work for a global consulting firm – a respectable and potentially lucrative choice. His other option? Working as a runner for the BBC’s answer to Dancing With the Stars – replete with low pay and even less job security. Turns out, Tshulak’s shift to media was the right choice. Eventually, he climbed from being a producer at Warner Brothers to a development head at Argonon to the founder of his own media company. In the process, he lived the dream: “scouting beach locations in Jamaica, composing a theme tune for a property series that briefly aired in Norway, and leading a team responsible for inventing new TV show ideas that we pitched all over the world.” He even persuaded North Korean authorities to allow Monty Python’s Michael Palin into the country to shoot a travel documentary!
Non-traditional experiences granted, but ones that taught him lessons that some professionals never learn. “I gained invaluable skills that I may not have gained had I gone straight into a corporate environment – in particular, the entrepreneurial savvy that comes with regularly seeking the next freelance opportunity,” Tshulak adds.
CLASS SIZE JUMPS BY NEARLY 50 STUDENTS
In a 2017 interview, David Simpson told P&Q that that LBS was looking to add 60 more students to the full-time MBA cohort in two years. Turns out, he was more than a man of his word. The 2020 Class witnessed a growth of 53 students. These 485 students now represent a larger class than similar cohorts at Northwester Kellogg and Duke Fuqua. In fact, LBS managed this feat despite a 10.5% drop in applications.
Better yet, the quality of students remained relatively even with the 2019 Class. Average GMATs slipped by a point to 707, with the median holding steady at 710. At the same time, the percentage of women rose a point to 40%, with the percentage of international students getting an equal 1% boost to 91%.
Go to Page 2 for 13 in-depth profiles of the Class of 2020.