Meet Harvard Business School’s MBA Class Of 2020

Warm light glows invitingly from inside Harvard Business School on a cold, winter evening..

Harvard Business School


In recent months, Harvard Business School has made headlines – and for all the right reasons. That starts with November’s Class of 2018 employment report, where graduates hauled in a record $160,268 in total median first year compensation – nearly $5,500 more than the previous class. In fact, nearly two-thirds of spring grads pulled down median sign-on bonuses of $25,000 or more. What’s more, 95% of the class had received a job offer within three months of graduation.

That’s just the start. On October 1st, the school opened its 120,000 square foot Klarman Hall, the school’s new multipurpose venue for large lectures and events. Seating 1,000 people, Klarman Hall features a 1,250-square-foot video wall and over 100 speakers, with a flexible design that enables the school to easily scale in size. Along with classes and speakers, the hall can also accommodate music and artistic performances, all while including a recording studio for recording podcasts and filming HBX courses.

“Harvard Business School is truly unique in its ability to convene, to draw on the enthusiasm and creativity of a remarkable community of alumni, students, faculty, and staff, and to draw in leaders from many arenas,” noted Dean Nitin Nohria at the space’s dedication ceremony.


A week later, the school announced that it had raised nearly $1.4 billion dollars in its recently-concluded capital campaign. This eclipsed HBS’ original target by $400 million. It also represented an $800 million dollar improvement over the school’s previous campaign. Better yet, the campaign included a 59% participation rate from MBA alumni, a testament to the engagement, loyalty, and deep pockets of HBS graduates.

One of four temporary sculpture installations on loan at Harvard Business School. This cast iron piece is by Barcelona-born Jaume Plensa.

According to the school, $225 million dollars from the capital campaign will be budgeted to financial aid. That’s great news for incoming students, who already received generous aid package as a whole from the school. In HBS’ annual financial report, which was released in March, the school doled out $36 million dollars in fellowships to students during fiscal year 2017, a $2 million dollar bump. That amounted to a record $37,312 per student, up $1,800 over the previous year – and $6,500 per student since 2013. Better yet, HBS anticipates a 6% boost in fellowship aid during fiscal year 2018. That’s on top of a $3.2 billion dollar endowment war chest, which provides the resources and flexibility for the school to adjust as new curricular, operational, or spatial needs arise.

This support was particularly appealing to Nicole Koski. Growing up in a low income family and accruing sizable debt as an undergrad, Koski was terrified of the prospect of losing two years of income and piling on more debt.

“Business school is an incredible and exciting opportunity, but the reality is that MBA programs cost money,” she notes. “The high sticker price can be a major obstacle for many people, including me. HBS’s need-based aid approach combined with further efforts to increase socioeconomic diversity like the School’s Forward Fellowship—which helps students from lower-income families or with family financial obligations—made the idea of a Harvard MBA more accessible to me. HBS always made me feel comfortable discussing financial concerns with them, and this feeling of belonging and support was a key influence in my decision to enroll.”


Generous financial aid isn’t the only reason why 9 of every 10 candidates who receive an HBS acceptance letter ultimately enroll. The program also boasts star power. Harvard faculty, for example, are responsible for writing 80% of the cases used worldwide in business school classrooms. The alumni roll also reads like a who’s-who of c-suite royalty. In other words, when it comes to business thought leadership and networking, HBS’ influence is less like a footprint and closer to a fingerprint. It certainly left an impression on Daphne Pham as she was weighing her options.

“Frances Frei, one of HBS’s faculty members, came to Uber in 2017 as SVP of Leadership and Strategy,” she reminisces. “She organized a corporate training program via HBX, an online learning platform that simulates the case method experience of an HBS classroom. I attended a few sessions and immediately fell in love with the discussions, the energy, the intellectual vitality coming from the best minds sitting in the same room. To me, it is an extraordinary learning experience compared to a traditional lecturing style. I also read quite a lot, and many of my favorite books were written by HBS professors (Nancy Koehn, Bill George, Clayton Christensen), so I’m really excited to learn from them as well.”

The program’s scope also stirred the imaginations of the incoming class. The MBA program alone features 46,000 alumni, who live in over 150 countries and engage in over 100 alumni clubs. In other words, graduates can find key leaders in every industry from consulting to computers and petroleum to politics. “The sheer number of industries and countries HBS is involved with is breathtaking,” says Yazeed Al-Rashed. “I can quite literally explore any geography or business I am interested in, no matter how different it is from my previous experience.”


Retail is just one example of this dynamic, adds Bridgette Taylor. “Harvard has an incredible track record of producing utter game changers in the retail industry (Katrina Lake of Stitch Fix, Jennifer Hyman of Rent the Runway, Marla Beck of Blue Mercury, to name a few). As an aspiring retail leader myself, I can only hope to follow in their footsteps.”

A Harvard Business School classroom. Photo by Natalie Keyssar. Courtesy of HBS

Long known as a general management program, HBS focuses on a big picture, holistic look at business. While many courses include an experiential component, the majority of Harvard Business School courses are taught through its acclaimed case method. Over their two years, HBS graduates can expect to participate in over 500 case discussions, with participation – insightful participation – often accounting for 50% of a grade.

Basically, the case method teaches students how to think like an executive. Here, there is no right or wrong, just an ambiguous better or worse depending on factors whose validity and value often shift with context. In a 2018 interview with Poets&Quants, Jan Rivkin, HBS’ C. Roland Christensen Professor of Business Administration and Senior Associate Dean for Research, described a case classroom as a “lean forward experience.” Instead of jotting down lecture facts, students are actively engaged in the own learning – and that of their peers. At the same time, they master the same repetitive process that general managers follow to make decisions.


“Before class, you have to confront a messy set of facts; discern the facts, problems, and opportunities; consider alternatives in your own mind; and come to an initial point of view on what you can and should do. During class, you have to listen to what others think; try to draw others to your suggested course of action; consider alternatives again enriched by others’ perspectives; choose a course of action; and after class you have to ask yourself, what did I just learn?”

The wide-ranging experiences of the 90-member cohort also enrich the discussions, often taking them in unexpected directions that yield more creative, lasting, and inclusive solutions. Sometimes, case protagonists even drop in on class to share what they learned from their experiences.

“At any moment,” Rivkin asserts, “you can go from a classmate who founded a nonprofit to one who fought in Afghanistan to another who worked in the White House or did deals on Wall Street.” They might take the conversation in wholly unanticipated directions. That creates engagement. When students come to class, they don’t know what’s going to happen that day. That’s exciting. All they’re sure of is that they’re going to learn something important. That kind of lean forward versus lean back is really very different, along with the predictability versus the element of surprise.”


During her campus visit, Amy Hernandez Tucios sat in on several cases discussions. Immediately, she recognized how valuable this training was in analyzing data and arguments so she could make tough decisions in uncertain terrain.

I saw this learning approach as the best suited for my personal development because it would help strengthen my analytical capabilities, solidify my ability to synthesize information, and think on the fly (if cold called),” she says. “The case method simulates real world problems and I appreciate that we as students must put ourselves in the shoes of the protagonist to come up with solutions. This classroom experience will enable me to be a confident, thoughtful, and introspective leader.”

The case method was also a major departure for Valentina Toll Villagra, an engineer by trade who spent her undergrad years weighing variables in black-and-white terms, where “you either got the right answer or you didn’t.” As her exposure to business grew, she increasingly viewed it more as an art requiring personal judgment over an exact science that demands precision. That’s what made the case method really resonate with her.

Andrew Rothaus (left) and Abraar Karan won this year’s Harvard Business School New Venture Competition. Courtesy photo

“The case method is quite the opposite of what I was used to,” she admits. “A lot of the reading happens while you prepare for class. A lot of the learning happens in class listening to and interacting with other students. It’s a very active learning environment, where all students are engaged and helping advance the conversation with their expertise or personal experiences. Engineering experiments can be replicated and, under the same environment, would always produce the same result. Business decisions can’t necessarily be applied from one scenario to the next. In line with this, in cases there’s (usually) no right or wrong – just the guidance on what to consider when making the choice that’s right for your particular situation in your particular context.”


If cases are the means, then entrepreneurship is increasingly becoming the end for Harvard Business School grads. According to the school, 50% of HBS alumni label themselves as “entrepreneurs” within 10-15 years of graduation. Some don’t even wait that long. Among the Class of 2018, 70 students have already founded a venture – with 64 students each from the 2017 and 2016 classes doing the same. It’d be hard to argue with their success. In P&Q’s 2018 ranking of the best MBA programs for VC-backed startups, 26 HBS-founded ventures had raised roughly $543 million dollars over the past five years – including big names like Farmer’s Business Network, Catalant (Formerly HourlyNerd), and Elysium Health. The training ground for these successes has been the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship. A hub that brings together students, faculty, alumni, investors, and experts, the Center offers competitions, an accelerator, networking events, and fellowships…among other things.

Valentina Toll Villagra, who plans to launch a venture or join an early stage tech startup, is looking forward most to HBS’ Startup Bootcamp. “We’ll be taking an extended version of this program during winter break as part of one of the MS/MBA classes (Technology Venture Immersion). The program is like an accelerated incubator that walks you through the steps of starting your own company – from market definition through prototyping to capital funding.”

Chances are, you’ll find Toll Villagra raking in the VC dollars soon enough. Like her classmates, she is a ‘doer’ with a zest for life and a vision for her future. “I enjoy working in projects with a broad scope, where I can do very different things depending on the day. I like not having a set routine, and, interestingly enough, I love chaos. I find it exciting and motivational, giving me a reason to work hard.”

What led these professionals to enter business schools? Which programs did they also consider? What strategies did they use to choose their MBA program? What was the major event that defined them? Find the answers to these questions and many more in the in-depth profiles of these incoming MBA candidates.

Student Hometown Alma Mater Previous Employer
Yazeed Al-Rashed Riyadh, Saudi Arabia MIT Shell
Amy Hernandez Turcios Los Angeles, CA Wharton School Bank of America
Nicole Koski Pewaukee ,WI University of Wisconsin-Madison Walgreens Boots Alliance
Dominic Marrone Charlotte, NC University of South Carolina Amazon
Daphne Pham Hanoi, Vietnam Mount Holyoke College Uber
Bridgette Taylor Darien, CT Dartmouth College Stuart Weitzman
Valentina Toll Villagra Yerba Buena, Argentina Boston University Amazon

Meet the Class of 2020 Series

Harvard Business School

London Business School

IESE Business School

University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School

Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management

University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business

MIT Sloan School of Management

Columbia Business School

UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business

Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business

Yale School of Mnnagement

University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

New York University’s Stern School of Business

University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business

Emory’s Goizueta School of Business

Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business

Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management

Washington University’s Olin Business School

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