Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University
“Compassionate leader with a love for new cultures, good people, and delivering the seemingly impossible.”
Hometown: Harwich, Mass.
Fun Fact About Yourself: My husband and I met at the Philadelphia airport on our way to serve with the Peace Corps in Rwanda.
Undergraduate School and Major: Johns Hopkins University, International Studies and French
Most Recent Employer and Job Title: EarthEnable (a social enterprise in Rwanda and Uganda), Global Director of Operations
Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: As the COO for a produce distribution startup in Rwanda, I had the opportunity to build and manage a team that worked with smallholder farmers and cooperatives to build ISO compliant supply chains for more than 80 value chains. This had never been done in Rwanda, and we became the first ISO 22000-certified company in the country. I had no supply chain experience, and to this day I am very proud of what we accomplished.
What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Passionate. They all seem to be not only invested in personal goals, but also passionate about the greater impact, whether on their peers or the larger community.
Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? The Park Leadership Fellows program was the determining factor in choosing Johnson. Though the scholarship is helpful, I am most excited about spending time with my cohort and growing as leaders. After spending the last eight years devoted to my career, I’m looking forward to taking time to reflect on my path to date, better define who I want to be as a leader, and begin developing skills and self-awareness. I believe the Fellows program will allow me to learn and grow.
What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Sustainable Global Enterprise Club (and Wine Club!)
What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Three years ago, I made the jump from the NGO world into business in Africa. I had the opportunity to run operations for two startups in Rwanda and Uganda, and though I learned a lot on the job, I felt like it was time to formalize my business skillset and prepare to be a stronger leader in the years to come.
How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? For most of my life, I’ve prioritized work and volunteer opportunities that have a positive impact. I considered working my way up the corporate ladder to gain experience and knowledge, or staying in the African startup space. Ultimately, I chose to spend two years working on an MBA program so that I can return to the work that allows me to contribute to accelerated sustainable business and social impact.
What other MBA programs did you apply to? Harvard, Wharton, Columbia, Yale SOM, McDonough
How did you determine your fit at various schools? I strongly believe that businesses can do well while still doing good in communities in which they operate. I believe a strong core business education exists at most schools, but the nuances of the curriculum, access to other departments, the values, and the people, truly set the programs apart. Once I had a short list of schools and did my initial online research. I talked with people familiar with the programs — current students, alumni, and staff — so I could get a well-rounded idea for fit.
What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? During my first month as a Peace Corps volunteer, my house was broken into and my valuables, including my bed, suitcases, and electronics, were stolen. I felt so betrayed by the community, but chose to stay. A month later, I knew why I stayed. One of my students was kicked out of school for being pregnant. From that moment, I was committed to equipping my students with life skills necessary to excel. I rewrote lessons for my English classes to incorporate topics like goal setting and I adapted the Peace Corps GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) program and planned a camp for 60 girls. My three years with the Peace Corps serve as the foundation for who I am today. Beyond learning to listen more and take the time to connect with people, I learned that I can overcome adversity and be comfortable in the most uncomfortable of circumstances.
What do you plan to do after you graduate? With the majority of my business experience in early-stage startups, I’m looking forward to gaining greater exposure to various aspects of corporate business through management consulting or a leadership development program with a consumer goods or services firm. I hope to leverage my background in emerging markets to inform company growth in new or existing markets, while learning about company structure, interdepartmental coordination, and strategy development.
Where do you see yourself in five years? I know there is incredible opportunity for business in emerging markets, from manufacturing to agribusiness to product development and sales to the bottom of the pyramid. Over the next five to 10 years, I plan to define my niche and build a strong and sustainable business that has a positive impact on many stakeholders along the value chain.