Best & Brightest MBAs: Class Of 2019

Business school isn’t a place to get comfortable. Think steep learning curves and stepped up demands – a place where answers rarely present themselves. For most, reading cases, running clubs, and engaging recruiters is a round-the-clock effort. Just imagine what it’d be like running a business on top of that.

That’s exactly what Lia Winograd did as an MBA student. A McKinsey alum, Winograd co-founded her startup, Pepper, right before joining New York University’s Stern School of Business. The venture – selling bras to smaller women – was hardly a hobby. Before the prototype had even been completed, Winograd had already turned a $5K investment into $100K worth of pre-orders.


NYU Stern’s Lia Winograd

Alas, sales turned out to be the easy part! On weekends, Winograd often jetted off to her Colombia manufacturer to review quality or her Denver warehouse to pack-and-ship. She pitched her wears on MSNBC’s Your Business, landing $400K in investment along the way. In between, Winograd served as the President of the Entrepreneurship and Startup Association at Stern. Here, she managed 18 board members and organized events that attracted leaders from juggernauts like Techstars and Pinterest.

Sound daunting? To make it work, Winograd sacrificed at times. Instead of hitting the beach for winter break, she plotted out new product lines and ramped up staff. As she scales Pepper after graduation, Winograd believes she learned something critical by being – in the words of one faculty member – “strategic, focused, and committed” as an MBA student.

“Upon entering Stern, I found that the demands on my energy and attention were indeed numerous, unrelenting, and often in direct conflict with one another,” Winograd admits. “But by focusing on what matters—by being selective, at times painfully so, about the initiatives I want to take on and social events I want to attend—I’ve found my path as an entrepreneur.”


Winograd is emblematic of this year’s Best & Brightest MBAs: a group of highly decorated professionals who beat the odds and get things done. In the Class of 2019, you’ll find the can-do candidates, the ones who are as unafraid to take risks and embrace discomfort as they pursue their purpose and make their world better. In some cases, they fly under the radar, the unsung champions who do the dirty work behind the scenes. Other times, they are the loud consciences of their classes – imploring their peers to dream bigger, push harder, and resist the lure of easy answers and quick results. Future-focused and proactive, the Best & Brightest set the tone, bringing their full self every day – and raising their classmates in the process.

This year, the 100 Best & Brightest MBAs come from every background imaginable. Take Sergio M. Navarro, an Iowa native from the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. As an undergraduate at MIT, he earned degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Medieval Studies. He parlayed that experience into a VP role at Goldman Sachs. After earning his MBA, he will complete his orthopedic surgical residency – when he isn’t running AugmentX, a medical rehabilitation tech firm he co-founded.

Yale SOM’s Vito Errico

“Very few people succeed in reaching the top echelons of the finance industry, but fewer still would then commit to such a profound career change as Sergio has,” says Ian Rogan, MBA programme director at Saïd. “This brave move typifies his personality and ambition, and demonstrates his commitment to solving world-scale problems.”


Navarro isn’t the only person you might not expect to dot a list of the most promising MBA graduates. Exhibit A: Aruna Sriraman. Before joining the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, she helped design games like Farmville and Mafia Wars for Zynga. At the Council of the Americas, London Business School’s Allie Fleder went from being the speechwriter to the chief of staff for the organization’s CEO. Think that’s a transition? Yale SOM’s Vito Errico served in Afghanistan – earning a Bronze Star among other commendations – before working as a U.S. Army Officer in the Pentagon. Oh – and he spent last summer helping the dean research his next book too.

Looking for impact? Try Ivey’s William Nguyen, who left a cushy gig at Deloitte to take on a true challenge: leading corporate strategy at a fledgling Vietnamese retailer. The switch was inspired by seeing people close to him die from contamination in the grocery supply chain.

“That prompted me to leave my successful consulting career and embark upon an impossible mission to build a local retail chain that reaches every corner in Vietnam. We were very late in the retail sector as some of the biggest competitors such as Metro and BigC have dominated the local market for some twenty years. But we successfully built a retail chain from the ground up, and turned it into the largest player as well as the market leader, all in well under two years.”


It is certainly a Best & Brightest class that defies definition. Northwestern Kellogg’s Allison Howard, a McKinsey hire, spent her younger years playing piano at venues like The White House and Carnegie Hall. In India, Rochester Simon’s Sree Madakkavil ran an arts academy where she taught dance to 150 students. Asini Wijewardane is unquestionably Babson College’s ukulele-playing phenom. After skipping two grades, she collected two undergraduate degrees and worked for three organizations – including Ernst & Young – by the time she was 20. A one-year MBA, Wijewardane even managed to earn an A or A- in every one of her classes!

Chances are, Wijewardane would get along famously with U.C.-Irvine’s Joy Mina, who waitressed at diners through college, using weekend tips to pay tuition. That left a mark on the Experian-bound graduate, who also served the class’ president and was awarded the school’s MBA Scholar Fellowship.

U.C.-Irvine’s Joy Mina

“To this day, I make an effort to go out of my way to find and patron diners, both at home and while traveling,” she writes. “Yuban coffee, pancakes, biscuits/gravy, a wait staff that has been there longer than I have been alive…I love every bit of it.”


To compile the 2019 Best & Brightest MBAs, Poets&Quants sent invitations to 71 MBA programs in December – including 18 from outside the United States. Just three business schools declined to furnish nominations, including Harvard Business School (for the fourth consecutive year after participating in the inaugural edition in 2015). The schools chose students based on their own criteria, though P&Q encouraged schools to include “trailblazers,” “servant leaders.” and “the most indispensable MBAs in the class.” In the end, P&Q evaluated nominations in three equal categories: extracurricular activities, academic and professional achievements, and the insightfulness of the responses.

Overall, P&Q received 243 nominations, with 133 being women and 98 hailing from outside the United States. Among the 100 selected as Best & Brightest, 56 were women, up from the 53 represented in the Class of 2018.  Another 34 Best & Brightest MBAs were born outside the United States – a near mirror to last year’s total of 35. In addition, 19 students earned their MBAs at non-American institutions – the same total as the previous year. By the same token, this year’s class features 7 military veterans, less than half of 2017 class’ high water mark of 15.

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

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