Meet Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class Of 2020

Grace Ko

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

“I’m a friendly Texan at heart, active Californian in spirit, and ambitious New Yorker by trade.”

Hometown: Originally born in Seoul, South Korea. I’ve lived in California, Texas, and New York.

Fun Fact About Yourself: I am a professionally trained sushi chef and worked at a sushi restaurant part-time during college.

Undergraduate School and Major:

The University of Texas at Austin, Bachelor of Business Administration (2012)

The University of Texas at Austin, Master of Professional Accounting (2013)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: KKR Financial Services Company, LLC – Senior Accountant

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My employer provides onsite catering services for its employees, inevitably resulting in leftover food daily. To address this issue, I explored the possibility of having the leftover food donated to a local shelter by proposing a strategic partnership with a nonprofit organization dedicated to food recovery. I arranged a number of meetings between the nonprofit and my company’s head of citizenship to pitch the idea. The verdict was not exactly what I had hoped for: the buffet-style operation of the catering service meant leftover food had been “plated,” making it ineligible for donation. Nevertheless, I was able to introduce a new corporate social responsibility partner to my employer and encourage the firm to think creatively about using firm assets for the greater good.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Diverse and intellectually curious. I recently had the pleasure of connecting with a number of incoming Johnson MBA women at the Forte Leadership Conference and was blown away by the wide array of experiences, backgrounds and interests. Ranging from wine marketers at Napa Valley to dental school students from Harvard, my Cornell classmates bring so much passion and energy from their respective fields and I look forward to learning from their experiences as well as sharing my own.

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 number one thing that made Johnson stand out among the rest was the truly collaborative, tight-knit community I encountered throughout the application process. Each of the current students I reached out to went above-and-beyond in helping me decide if Johnson was the place for me – and if they didn’t have the answers I needed, they were more than happy to connect me with someone else in their network. The tight-knit community feel was even more evident during Destination Johnson (DJ), a weekend-long event for admitted students, at which I was able to connect with current and prospective students, faculty, staff, and alums. Upon attending DJ weekend, I felt that Johnson was a special place where I could see myself grow personally and professionally with the strong support of a real community.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Given my career interest in Tech, I’m looking forward to becoming an active member of Johnson’s High-Tech Club and Big Red Tech Strategy Club.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I had worked in the wealth management space focusing on financial due diligence and investment reporting for high net worth clients. In my role, I came across a number of venture capital deals focused on the technology sector and found myself drawn to the workings of the tech industry and its ability to make a tangible impact on people’s lives at scale. Taking my passion for tech one step further, I decided that pursing an MBA would give me the skills to explore these interests while helping me build the technical and business acumen that would help me transition into the tech industry.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? I decide by talking to people in my network to find out what motivated them to pursue an MBA and what they ultimately took away from their experiences. Pursuing an MBA is a significant investment in terms of time, money, and even personal life. I think it’s also important to hear from both sides of the spectrum – so while I spoke to many people who pursued the MBA route, I also reached out to those who decided against it to learn their side. This approach helped me decide what made the most sense in terms of fulfilling my career goals.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Kellogg, Stern, and Sloan

How did you determine your fit at various schools? The best way to determine fit was the campus visit. Each campus and student community embodies a particular “feel” that you can only experience by visiting. I would take advantage of the class visits, info sessions, and coffee chats. I also took a close look at each program’s employment report to gauge the programs’ hiring outcomes.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? The defining moment of my life was the rescindment of DACA in 2017. I would not be the person I am today without the protections and opportunities granted through former President Obama’s DACA program. When the program was temporarily rescinded last year, it felt as if my life was in limbo and that my future was being thwarted by obstacles outside my control. However, making it through this period of my life taught me the values of grit and perseverance and I am very grateful for the opportunities presented today.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? Post-MBA, I hope to transition into the tech industry. I’m still deciding on which role or capacity in tech, but I have no doubt that my time at Johnson will help me solidify my career aspirations.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Five years from now, I hope to become a more seasoned professional in the tech industry, an invaluable contributor, a mentor to someone trying to break into my field, and a success story for Johnson’s MBA program.

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