2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Briana Saddler, Columbia Business School

Briana Saddler        

Columbia Business School

“Food enthusiast and Southerner committed to equity, empowerment, and eating.”

Hometown: Jackson, Mississippi

Fun fact about yourself: I accidentally broke my wrist by running into a tree—but I promise you I’m a lot brighter than I sound.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Columbia University, BA in Ethnic Studies / Race and Ethnicity Studies

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Decision Resources Group, Research Associate

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? A.T. Kearney, Summer Associate

Where will you be working after graduation? A.T. Kearney, Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Co-Chair of CBS Reflects (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Board)
  • Co-President, Cluster Q (LGBTQ organization)
  • AVP of Community, Black Business Students Association
  • Columbia Fellows Merit Scholarship Recipient
  • Laidlaw Scholar
  • Peer Advisor

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m immensely proud of my work as Co-Chair of CBS Reflects. As an organization, we strive to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within the business school and to improve the student experience so that each student can thrive academically, socially, and in their career pursuits. Through CBS Reflects, Columbia is one of the only schools that has concrete data about the student experience, and we track it almost obsessively. It’s used to inform new class offerings, teaching methods, and initiatives around affordability, along with other facets of the CBS experience. It’s been incredible to gather that data and work with other students who share my conviction and clarity about ensuring that CBS is a phenomenal place for everyone, without exception.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Before business school, I worked in healthcare market research. In one project, I worked with a major birth control brand that was looking for ways to partner with telehealth platforms, with an eye toward increasing its visibility in communities with high rates of teen pregnancy. It was rewarding to see a brand use its resources to create a meaningful impact.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Never in a million years did I think that my favorite professor would be my Capital Markets and Investments professor, but here we are. Simona Abis is a Columbia Business School gem. I went into Capital Markets fully expecting to hate it and thinking of it as a necessary evil (it’s a requirement for several other classes at CBS), but Abis made me excited to show up twice a week at 9 a.m. She’s incredibly adept at breaking down complex concepts and explaining them in an easily digestible format, all while being energetic and patient in her teaching.

Why did you choose this business school? While this probably isn’t applicable to most people, I chose Columbia (again) because more than any other institution, it has supported my growth and development as a human being, academically, socially, and financially. I have this (admittedly cheesy) saying that “I was born and raised in Mississippi, but I grew up in New York,” which feels true in every way. I first arrived on Columbia’s campus when I was 18. For roughly a third of my life, it has been the site of so many affirming and formative experiences for me.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Every MBA program wants to know why that program makes sense for you, right now, and Columbia is no different. Recognize that there is no magic formula for getting in, but the closest thing to it is thinking critically and introspectively about what you’re looking to contribute to the community at CBS and about what kind of person you’d like to be when you emerge from the experience two years later.

What is the biggest myth about your school? There’s a persistent myth that Columbia has no community. Community comes in all forms, and if you ask 10 different people what it looks like, you’ll get 10 different answers. Does Columbia offer the same type of community that a pastoral college town offers? Certainly not. But I’ve met an incredible group of supportive peers and alumni here—all nestled within this city with an immense amount of resources—and I personally wouldn’t want a community that looks any other way.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? I think about every educational experience as an opportunity to develop a different lens for looking at and analyzing the world. I consider myself much more of a poet than a quant, so business school has equipped me with a more quantitative framework for analysis. Beyond the classes, during these past two years, I’ve also stretched myself more than I have at any other time in my life, whether that be into leadership roles, into taking classes that I thought would never interest me, or into new and unfamiliar social settings.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Zenah Hasan, my Co-Chair of CBS Reflects. When we first found out we’d be Co-Chairs together, we didn’t know each other very well—only in passing or through mutual friends. It’s been less than a year since then, and now—together—we move like a well-oiled machine. But my admiration for Zenah extends far beyond our synergistic collaboration. She is humble, yet strong-willed, laid-back, yet incredibly efficient. I’m constantly in awe of her ability to move through spaces with poise and presence.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My parents, particularly my father. When I was growing up, “go to school and get your graduate degree” was a tireless refrain in my household. Neither of my parents had the opportunity to pursue grad degrees, but they’ve always known that education is one of the best tickets to opportunity. Truthfully, they didn’t care much about which grad degree I chose to pursue, but when I decided on business, they both supported me whole-heartedly.

What is your favorite movie about business? It’s not about business, but The Incredibles. A heart-warming family film about how teamwork can help you defeat any obstacle? Sign me up.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…

Realistically: a professor of Ethnic Studies

Idealistically: the host of my own Netflix series where I travel around and sample the culinary delights of the world, à la Samin Nosrat.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? It’s hard to put a dollar value on an experience that has given me an entirely new lens through which to look at the world and a community that I care deeply about and trust.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  • Learn more about the chemistry of food and develop a palate that can distinguish what ingredients are missing in any dish.
  • Return to Mississippi, although I’m not quite sure what that looks like for me yet.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As someone who is kind, open-minded, innately curious, empathetic, unapologetic…and maybe stylish too, that wouldn’t be so bad.

Hobbies? My movements throughout the city are dictated first-and-foremost by the restaurants that I want to visit or love to visit regularly. Cooking—and eating—are two of my favorite hobbies; I love experimenting with ingredients, flavors, textures, and nothing makes me feel more like myself than flexing my culinary muscles alone or with friends. Besides that, I do love a good home improvement project.

What made Briana such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“Briana is a shining example of a student who is passionate and dedicated to the improvement of the community and her fellow students’ experience here at CBS. Briana has played a central role in many of our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Specifically, Briana is not only just a co-president of our LGBTQ+ club, Cluster Q, but also is the co-president of our Diversity Equity and Inclusion student advisory board, CBS Reflects. CBS Reflects dedicates it’s time to taking the pulse of student experiences through academics, careers and community and particularly focuses on issues that impact our underrepresented student groups. As a member of these groups, Briana has led efforts to set forth new initiatives such as a first-year climate survey. At the highest level, Briana is an advocate and isn’t afraid to have difficult conversations around topics such as inequity amongst peers or LGBTQ+ rights.”

Scott Siegel Ortiz

Associate Director – Student Life and Engagement

Office of Student Affairs





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