Christian Nattiel, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford: Christian Nattiel describes himself as an “impact player in the lives of others.” His peers would certainly agree. In 2016, he won a Rhodes Scholarship, making him the first African-American recipient in the history of West Point. However, he doesn’t credit the recognition to academic aptitude. Instead, it stemmed from making himself a role model who set the bar and exhibited the possibilities for others to follow.
“I did not win the scholarship because I spent every waking moment studying,” he explains. “I won because I focused on using my talents for the good of others. Whether it be raising the grade point averages of at-risk Cadets, helping get a bill for veterans passed in the United States House of Representatives, or providing advice to my mentees, people knew that my legacy was one of selflessness. Once the news of my accomplishment had reached West Point, minority Cadets could now see that there is no goal that they cannot reach academically. More importantly, however, all Cadets could realize that the highest honors are to be gained not by focusing on yourself, but by improving the lives of others.”
Now the newly-married Florida native is entering a world as different from West Point as you can imagine – at least on the surface. In reality, Nattiel observes, the ethics and leadership values he holds are nearly identical to what he experiences at Oxford. It is these same values – taught through a business prism – that he intends to bring back to the U.S. Army, where he is committed until 2025.
“In five years, I see myself as a company commander (officer responsible for ~100-150 Soldiers) in a unit wherever the Army sends me.”
“Broke the sound barrier in a military jet.”
That was hardly the biggest achievement for this U.S. Marine Corps Aviator, who most recently served as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) Instructor. Instead, Vanun Premkumar views his impact in terms of the people he prepared to pick up his mantle.
“Over the course of a year-and-a-half, I have trained over 100 Marines and Navy SEALs in Close Air Support,” he explains. “The individuals I have trained have gone back out into the operating forces and have supported US military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Thanks to the GI Bill, Premkumar has made it to Georgetown University, motivated by the program’s strong international flavor. While graduation is still 15 months away, like any good navigator, he already has his post-graduation plans plotted out.
“Immediately go on an epic surf trip, then come home and start a career in consulting.”
William Liu, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper): Some leaders take their authority for granted, focusing on gathering power and suppressing dissent over sparking new ideas and unleashing talent. You won’t find that with William Liu. When he was first elevated to being an officer, he understood the gravity of the role – and why it was so much bigger than himself.
“I have vivid memories of the day I reported for duty and stood in front of my Marines for the first time,” he explains. “I looked out at my division and came to realize that I had a solemn responsibility to each one of the men and women that stood before me. For every Marine in my charge, I began asking myself: Is this person better off for having known me? If not, then what could I do to further his or her professional development? How can I help him or her grow personally? What resources are at my disposal that might benefit individual in question?”
Indeed, Liu is the personification of the servant leader, a man focused on building relationships and placing the needs of his reports above his own. That philosophy lies at the heart of Liu’s final post: serving as a company commander for a Wounded Warrior Battalion. “These men and women stopped at nothing to ensure the safety of our nation, often at the expense of their own physical and mental health,” he asserts. “They deserve the best possible treatment and resources for all the sacrifices they’ve made, and I feel honored to have been a positive force in their recovery.”
Now, Liu intends to “translate” his leadership skills to business – the tech or aerospace engineering sectors preferably. “I felt that there was a skill gap that prevented me from breaking into an industry and occupation that I was genuinely interested in,” he explains. “I believe that obtaining an MBA will bridge this apparent gap, create the opportunities I seek, develop my understanding of business principles, and broaden my professional network.”
Martin Palmer, Columbia Business School: In combat, the biggest victories often involve turning a skeptical populace into reliable allies. For Martin Palmer, that success story happened in Puzeh, a remote village in southwest Afghanistan. Every day, the Taliban would launch an attack – and every day Palmer’s infantry platoon beat them back. Long-term, this back-and-forth wasn’t sustainable. Once Puzeh’s infrastructure was rebuilt, the village needed to stand on its own. That meant building a local police force. That’s exactly what Palmer set out to do.
It was a rocky start. After a month, just one villager had joined the program. Palmer wasn’t deterred, meeting with village elders every day to assuage their fears. Eventually, two dozen villagers comprised the force – and became so formidable that the Taliban left.
“When the village elder thanked me, I knew I wanted to continue making a positive impact in challenging and seemingly impossible environments,” Palmer explains. “I decided to become a Green Beret. The motto of the Green Berets, “De Oppresso Liber,” meaning “freeing the oppressed,” defined my new career goal. Although it meant almost two years of intense training, and an even more demanding commitment as a Detachment Commander, I was able to live out this motto with my team of twelve Green Berets as we partnered with Middle Eastern forces in their fight for freedom.”
At Columbia Business School, Palmer intends to pair up the “teamwork, influence, and leadership” skills he gained in the military with a solid foundation in business. In particular, he hopes to make his impact through working in management consulting.
“I commanded a team of twelve Green Berets and we would work together to solve complex and sensitive problems in challenging environments,” he says. “Often, I was responsible for advising a very senior foreign military commander and my Special Forces team would integrate with his unit, sometimes numbering over 500 soldiers. Working through language and cultural differences, limited resources, and difficult mission objectives, I was able to influence these senior leaders to achieve success. In management consulting, I look forward to achieving similar success by working with a team of fellow consultants to take on complex business problems, influence senior business leaders, and develop actionable and practical solutions for our clients.”
To read an additional 30 profiles of military veterans who joined top MBA programs last fall, go to the next page and click on the links.