Illinois’ MBA Student-Gymnast Aims For New Heights

Brandon Ngai is in the first year of the Illinois Gies MBA program. Courtesy photo

Ribeiro says Brandon’s analytic approach helped him reverse the situation. He understood what he needed to do to improve and how to stay focused. Thereafter, Brandon won all American for the next three years. In his sophomore year (2016), he was individual NCAA champion, and in 2017, a Big Ten champion.

In his final year, his numbers pushed his team from No. 2 to the top of the Big Ten.

Ngai excelled academically as well. “Intellectually, he’s just superior,” says Ribeiro. “I thought, ‘At 16, this kid is 10 times smarter than me, and I’m twice his age.’” Rubeiro adds that Ngai can dumb down his brilliant engineering ideas so others can understand them: “He has the IQ and the EQ.”

MOVING ON BY STAYING IN PLACE

By graduation, Brandon was losing enthusiasm for gymnastics and engineering. In his senior year, he decided he could put his quantitative knowledge to better use in finance and business.

He wanted an MBA but had no money to pay for it and no business experience. In addition, the GMAT deadlines were flying by. There were only two and a half weeks left until the next one. With some doubts, he took it. “It was a little stressful,” he says. “But I just tried to do what I could.” He scored 740 out of 800.  

With little hesitation, Ngai chose his alma mater, interviewing at the Gies College. The school offered him a full-tuition scholarship. 

GIES: ‘SMALL ENOUGH SO THAT YOU CAN GET TO KNOW EVERYONE’

Brandon Ngai. Courtesy photo

Part of the attraction was the school’s familiarity. “We have an incredible team culture and we were a family to him,” Ribeiro says. “It’s a fantastic school, and at age 18, he didn’t necessarily want to leave that family.” 

That sense of camaraderie carried over to business school where the class is limited to 50 out of a total 6,000 business students. “It’s small enough so that you can get to know everyone,” Ngai says. 

Despite his inexperience, engineering gave him “a great quant background” that he can adapt to business projects and classes. His favorite part of the curriculum is Action Learning, where a team of six students works with a real-life top company to help it solve business problems. “I like that because I’m a learn-by-doing person,” Ngai says.

In the first Action Learning course, the team worked with a major agricultural manufacturing company on how to manage seasonal demand. The second problem is working with a Brazilian retailer to get its health-care costs under control. 

QUANTIFYING THE FUTURE

His marketing professor, Hayden Noel, who is also academic director of the MBA, remarked on Ngai’s focus and maturity. “He was always well prepared and eager to defend his position.” Based on Brandon’s experience, Haydon was surprised to learn that he wasn’t aged 25 or 26. 

Because his scholarship only covers tuition, Brandon works 20 hours a week with AXIS Capital inside the University of Illinois Research Park, and he will intern this summer with USAA at their corporate office in San Antonio, Texas.

 Taking the 20 hours out of his week is no hardship. He’s used to training in gymnastics 20 hours a week. He even works after he’s done with school and his job. He likes to devise software projects such as a gymnastic app to help coaches. 

What does the future hold? Ngai is keeping his options open, but leaning towards quant finance, asset management or maybe insurance. Whatever he chooses he shouldn’t have a hard time getting a job. The placement rate for Gies MBAs is 91% in the first three months after graduation, and the averaging starting salary for the class of 2018 was $91,500. 

In the long term, like his parents, Ngai wants to start his own business when he has the right idea and resources. “That’s been one of my aspirations,” he says, “to be self-employed and build something from the ground up.”

Courtesy photo

DON’T MISS ILLINOIS GRADUATES FIRST COHORT FROM $22K iMBA and MY STORY: FROM THE NBA TO AN MBA