Best & Brightest MBAs: Class Of 2019

Ohio State’s Neethi Johnson

Academically, the Best & Brightest earned undergraduate degrees in fields as diverse as Astrophysics, Drama, Ethnic Studies, Journalism, and Public Health. In total, 27 MBAs hold Bachelor’s degrees in business-related fields, including Finance, Marketing, and Management. Another 15 majored in Economics, followed by the Sciences (11), Engineering (10), and Political Science (8).

Among employers, Deloitte Consulting was the clear choice in 2019, landing 8 members of the Best & Brightest. McKinsey, the top destination in previous years, added 5 members from the list. Aside from JP Morgan Chase, which hired 3 Best & Brightest, several companies added two members, including Accenture Strategy, Amazon, Bain & Company, Bank of America, General Electric, KPMG, and Microsoft. Par for the course, startups attracted 8 class members, with another 13 still undecided on where they plan to work.


The Class of 2019 really catches your eye outside the office, however. Let’s start with Neethi Johnson, who’ll be joining JP Morgan Chase after graduating from Ohio State. Her passions are collecting insects and studying diseases. She even trekked off to Africa once to study cassava plants courtesy of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Her claim to fame? As a Buckeye undergrad, she was featured on the front page of the university newspaper…with a giant Madagascar hissing cockroach attached to her face (so much for making her classmates less afraid of insects!).

At the University of Missouri, Orvil Savery is the mild-mannered class representative who was chosen among thousands of students to be part of the MBA World Summit. Come Comic-Con, he transforms into the Scarlet Spider – a clone of the original Spider-Man. “I made the costume by hand the night before the event and the next day I had a full costume consisting of a blue sleeveless hoodie over a red bodysuit and mask,” he explains. “I also wore a sweet utility belt and wrist web-shooters…and you just found out how nerdy I am.”

That’s not the only role-playing you’ll find among the Best & Brightest. Before Michael Hilfiker earned a coveted spot at Cornerstone Research, the Wisconsin Business School MBA spent the past eight years as a “sous chef, a factory laborer, aerospace propulsion mechanic, and an economic consultant.” Dartmouth Tuck’s Marcus Morgan sang tenor in a barbershop chorus that placed third in the 2006 International Championship. Ashley Brown, a Duke Fuqua grad ticketed to PepsiCo, collected her first paycheck in first grade…as a voiceover artist on a computer game. Check out what Alissa Warne does for a side hustle.

“I’m a qualified makeup artist,” writes the IE Business School MBA. “I ran a wedding makeup business back in Australia, as well as volunteered for a not-for-profit conducting beauty and skincare workshops for cancer patients going through treatment.”


Georgetown University’s Ximena Gonzalez Rojas

Impressed? How about Eilon Shalev? At 23, this MIT Sloan entrepreneur had already written his first novel! His classmate, Janelle Heslop, is a former figure skater. Sticking to the sports theme, Arizona State’s Caitlin Styre can deadlift 315 pounds, while IESE’s Louis Williams is known to cage fight with London gang members…to help support a rehabilitation charity. You have to feel sorry for Vito Errico’s newborn. He has already been Rickrolled.

“I sing Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” to my toddler to make him stop crying.”

Entering business school, the Best & Brightest were already the mobilizers, standard bearers, and go-to people at their employers. That includes Ximena Gonzalez Rojas, who previously served as the Chief of Staff for Presidential Personnel at The White House. Starting out as the Associate Director of Michelle Obama’s office, the Georgetown McDonough MBA worked on everything from recruiting political appointees to pitching in on initiatives related to healthcare and equal pay issues. It was a transformative time that truly left an impression on Gonzalez Rojas, says Prashant Malaviya, Senior Associate Dean for MBA Programs at McDonough.

“Ximena had the insight that to be really effective in public service it is critical for public servants to be well-versed in business. She saw that government, policy, and business need to understand each other and work in concert to best serve society. As she puts it, “It was frustrating to see that public servants and business leaders were mostly speaking different languages and past each other, even though everyone in the room wanted to do good for all.”


Gonzalez Rojas wasn’t the only member of the Class of 2019 to push for the greater good. The University of Miami’s Geoffrey Rowan was drafted by MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays and eventually received the club’s Erik Walker Community Champion Award, which is given out to one of the organization’s 450 players who “represent leadership, community engagement, and teamwork.” In Turkey, Michigan Ross’ Nathan Stevens created good governance training for local councils in Northern Syria that had been elected during the civil war. After a stint with Teach for America, Earl Roach III bypassed more lucrative $300 per hour tutoring opportunities to start an SAT seminar at this church for underprivileged students.

“The test score improvement for Boot Camp participants was striking,” writes the Cornell Johnson MBA. Those who took part in the Boot Camp and had one-on-one sessions average a 250- to 300-point jump in their SAT scores. My work as a tutor and manager of the SAT seminars for students has been one of my proudest moments of my career to date.”

MIT Sloan’s Alyssa Murray made a similar impact in education. After graduating from Harvard, she joined Teach for America, where she took over a 5th-grade classroom. Starting out, barely half of her students tested at or above grade level. Within two years, that number had risen to 95%. She was quickly promoted to assistant principal at the school, where she further drove up the math skills of those same students who once struggled with reading.

“I had the opportunity to see some of my first students, who are now 11th graders, on a college tour in Boston recently,” she explains. “A group of them are going to be the first students at their high school to take mathematics courses beyond BC Calculus. I can’t wait to hear all that they continue to accomplish.”

Berkeley Haas’ Bosun Adebaki


This commitment to service was also found among the military veterans in this year’s Best & Brightest. Before enrolling in Fordham University’s MBA program, Douglas Quimby, Jr. trained over 1,800 recruits and active duty and reserve Marines on marksmanship at the Recruit Depot on Parris Island. At the same time, Chris Salinas, a partially disabled veteran, headed up the Coast Guard’s International Training Division. His biggest achievement: leading an 11-person team to help the Saudi military create their equivalent to the U.S. Coast Guard.

“Even though I was a relatively junior officer,” writes the University of Florida MBA, “I was placed in a highly-visible position of significant responsibility where I was working directly with senior U.S. and Saudi civil and military officials. The job was difficult, with constantly changing logistics, personnel, and security, but proved to be an incredible learning experience.”

In fact, the class impressed early and left a deep imprint wherever they worked. Chicago Booth’s Anish Bhatnagar, for example, was selected as the youngest-ever member of Citigroup’s TIGER training program – an exclusive group of high potentials at the firm. To top it off, he placed first among his peers during the training. Within a year of joining Coca-Cola, HEC Paris’ Isabella Ganem Espinosa had driven double-digit sales growth as a brand manager in a mature market. Not to be outdone, Berkeley Haas’ Bosun Adebaki headed up PwC’s M&A practice in Mexico City, where he managed over 40 people and oversaw transactions worth billions of dollars.

See pages 4-5 for 100 in-depth profiles of this year’s Best & Brightest MBAs. 

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