Meet Minnesota Carlson’s MBA Class Of 2020

The Gopher state has developed a mythology all its own. It is the land of Paul Bunyan, 10,000 lakes, and Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon – “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” If anything, Minnesotans are genuinely nice…despite braving sub-zero temperatures and two feet of snow each winter. In fact, the only way to annoy the locals is to sprinkle your chit-chat with an over-the-top Coen Brothers accent – one that opens with an “oh, yah” and gets punctuated with a “You bet’cha.”

Near the southeast corner of the state, you’ll find the famed Twin Cities – home to nearly four million people. It is an area packed with parks and bike trails, diverse cuisine and world class breweries – a place that ranks among the nation’s best for affordable housing and healthy living. Did I mention the Mall of America? Best of all, the region boasts 19 Fortune 500 companies, more per capita than any other metro.


The Carlson School overlooks Minneapolis.

The size pales in comparison to the scope, however. “It’s not so much the 19 Fortune 500 firms as it is the diversity of sectors,” says Phil Miller, assistant dean for the Carlson MBA and MS programs in a statement to Poets&Quants. “We are a major hub for healthcare and med tech, home to United Health Group, Medtronic, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Abbott. We have food and agriculture companies including Cargill, Land O’Lakes and General Mills; value-added manufacturing companies like 3M, Ecolab and Polaris; retail giants Target and Best Buy; and financial services firms such as Ameriprise, Wells Fargo, US Bank, Thrivent and Securian. All coupled with a growing startup scene.”

Calling that scene “growing” is an example of the understated nature of Minnesotans. In 2017, Twin Cities early-state startups generated nearly $500 million dollars in venture capital funding, a 40% uptick over the previous year. This includes Bright Health, an insurer that has raised $360 million dollars in the past two years alone. With a worth of $950 million dollars, Bright Health stands to become Minnesota’s next unicorn. By the same token BoomChickaPop netted $250 million from Conagra in 2017. What’s more, the region’s big players are investing heavily in startups. Last year, Techstars opened its second incubator in Minneapolis, thanks to partnerships with Ecolab, Target, and Cargill. At the same time, General Mills operates 301 Inc., which supports early-stage food companies.

In other words, Minnesota means business. That translates into hands-on learning opportunities for MBA students…and jobs for MBA graduates at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.


“The corporate headquarters based in the Twin Cities all need talent and want to engage employees because attraction and retention is critical in our market,” Miller notes. “We’re able to provide a broader range of learning experiences to our MBA students because local firms come from a variety of sectors and in a variety of sizes. We offer students both a wide range for functional experiences, including strategy, marketing, supply chain, finance, and analytics, as well as scope. For example, larger firms tend to partner with us for narrower scope questions with more complexity, while smaller firms tend to seek and accept more strategic help.”

Sure enough, the Class of 2020 is as diverse as the industries served by the Carlson MBA. Take South Africa’s Anees Sayed, who comes to Carlson after a successful career as a human movement specialist. Using a 20 camera motion capture system, he worked with the world’s biggest cricket stars, examining their techniques so he could help them maximize their performance and reduce injury. In contrast, Elizabeth Lunn earned her degree in theater at New York University before climbing the ranks at Penguin Random House. Eric Jacques, a former football player at the University of “Minne snow ta,” has already made the transition from human resources gatekeeper to marketing rule-breaker. Then again, David Ly is a man-for-all-seasons. Trained in supply chain and operations, he has worked as a music producer who doubled as a wedding DJ.  However, his real passion is food, which led him to become a shopper insights analyst at Hormel.

“While I had almost no prior knowledge of managing a brand,” he admits, “I joined the Category Expansion team of the Snack Division, and was tasked with forecasting, analyzing, and making decisions about products General Mills hadn’t managed before. In my first six months, our team successfully launched line extensions for Fiber One Cookie. After that experience, I knew that my greatest career accomplishment was taking the risk to pursue a career that I’m passionate about.


It is also a class committed to service, particularly in the military. Antonio Roa, for one, made All-American as a boxer at the U.S. Naval Academy and even shook hands with President Obama at his commissioning ceremony. His role? He became an Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer who was selected to be part of a joint exercise that used war tactics to hunt enemy submarines “in a real-world environment.” Peter Somerville also learned to lead as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. Make no mistake: it was trial-by-fire…literally.

MBA Students discussing a project.

“I will always be grateful for the opportunity to lead 44 young Marines in combat in Ramadi, Iraq in 2006,” he writes. “I was amazed and inspired by the dedication of my Marines under conditions of tremendous violence and adversity, and by how much we accomplished as a team. In my civilian career, I strive to build and lead teams with a similar mission focus and commitment to supporting each other.”

Indeed, Somerville fits the 2020 Class’ tendency to be Renaissance men and women. Before business school started, he spent the summer completing a web development boot camp in Bali before walking 500 miles across Spain as part of the Camino de Santiago. While Somerville takes pride in being a “servant leader,” his real passion is entrepreneurship. Most recently, he wielded it as a tool to support veteran-owned small business by building a 10,000 member investor community called StreetShares.

“A recent Syracuse University survey found that 25 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans plan to start a business of their own in the next 10 years,” he points out. “This wave of entrepreneurial leaders will create hundreds of thousands of new ventures, millions of U.S. jobs, and stronger local communities. Supporting these veteran leaders at StreetShares was my great privilege.”


Those weren’t the only achievements notched by this first-year class. Clare Smith is accustomed to working in elite company. At Harvard, she swam varsity all four years, even being named co-captain as a senior. That carried over to General Mills, where she worked directly with the company’s CEO and CFO to conduct intensive analysis on operational issues at the firm. Impact has also been a defining feature of Sarah Carroll’s career. At Second Harvest Foodbank, her outreach program served 1.7 million meals to the hungry, generating nearly $8 million dollars in economic impact in southern Wisconsin. The same could be said for Nicole Dillard, the first hire for trepwise, a management consulting firm based in New Orleans devoted to supporting local entrepreneurs.

“Over the course of four years, we helped build the capacity of over 200 organizations across sectors and industries that in turn contributed to a more robust and resilient local economy,” she says. “I am proud to have worked hand-in-hand with the founder to grow the team to 12 by the time I left to pursue my MBA.”

What has the class found since arriving at Carlson? Elizabeth Lunn, for one, observed that her peers come from so “many different “industries and life experiences,” adding she has been learning something new in every conversation. Beyond the backgrounds, the class brings a certain curiosity and open-mindedness to the fore, says David Ly.

“I’ve had so many great conversations about the state of different industries as a result of changes in technology, politics, social trends, etc. Continuing those conversations and deciding how we want to address the volatility of the world is something that makes me proud to be a Carlson MBA.”

However, it is the Class of 2020’s “drive” that has left the biggest impression on Rabeet Ahsan, a supply chain development manager from Pakistan. “They all desire the pursuit of excellence,” he explains. “A desire to marry their personal goals and self-belief to the careers they want to pursue. The conversation at Carlson begins and ends with how one can leverage their authenticity and essence to set themselves apart. Carlson grads are encouraged to become trail blazers instead of cogs in a machine.”

The Carlson School of Management


By the numbers, the Class of 2020 grew in size over the previous year, going from 88 to 92 students. However, applications fell from 665 to 529 during the 2017-2018 cycle, a trend that has dogged American MBA programs across the board. This, in turn, led to an increase in acceptance rate, which went from 31.2% to 39.3%.

Despite the downturn, median GMAT and GPAs held steady at 690 and 3.43 respectively. The percentage of female students also enjoyed a slight uptick to 31.5%, while the percentage of underrepresented American minorities fell from 16% to 13%. The biggest shift? International student representation tumbled from 26% to 18.5%.

That was the only change wrought by the Class of 2020. For one, the class features far more business majors than previous years. This year, 24% of the class studied business-related fields as undergraduates, up four points. Another 24% majored in the social sciences, up seven points over the previous year. The biggest drop involved engineering majors, which went from holding 24% of class seats to 18.5%. Another 18.5% of the class majored in science and mathematics, followed by humanities (7.5%) and economics (4.5%).

In terms of professional experience, student backgrounds are wide and deeply segmented. The largest number of seats are held by students who worked in manufacturing. They account for 19.5% of the class. Public administration takes up another 12%, followed by health care (7.5%), educational services (6.5%), finance and insurance (6.5%), and retail (5.5%).

Go to next page for in-depth profiles of 12 Carlson MBAs from the Class of 2020. 

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