Leaders often harken back to a Golden Age, a “shining city upon a hill” defined by innovation, fairness, and prosperity. For some, that age was the Renaissance. Born out of the Black Plague, the Renaissance shook off religion’s clutches on arts and science. As Copernicus and Galileo mapped the galaxy, Leonardo da Vinci was sketching parachutes and robots. Across the Channel, Shakespeare was bringing life to Hamlet’s dithering and Lady MacBeth’s scheming – in iambic pentameter no less.
That sense of possibilities infuses Silicon Valley. Today, it is fashionable to compare ‘The Valley’ to Florence, VCs to the Medicis, and Jobs and Zuckerberg to Michelangelo and Gutenberg. The region’s advances have ushered in a new Golden Age, one marked by increased access that shortens distances and brings people together. In turn, technology has increasingly simplified processes, cut costs, and boosted productivity – all while unlocking the secrets behind health and learning.
THE PULSE OF THE DIGITAL AGE
All of this is happening within a 10-mile radius of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Sure enough, GSB alumni are fond of making the correlation between Renaissance Italy and Silicon Valley. It was a winning pitch to Abdul Abdirahman. The “son of nomads,” Abdirahman plans to someday head an early stage investment fund that supports promising startups in Sub-Saharan Africa. For him, Stanford GSB is ground zero for where the digital age is being shaped.
“I wanted to spend two years at this epicenter of innovation to learn how emerging technologies could be used to make a positive difference in the world, especially in emerging markets,” he explains. “I also wanted to understand how such an entrepreneurial ecosystem was built to help create supportive environments in other parts of the globe to overcome challenges faced there.”
You could say that Stanford GSB is the program with something for everyone in the Class of 2020. An hour drive from San Francisco, the school boasts unbeatable career opportunities and guest speakers in the “heart of innovation,” says Jordan Feyko, a Harvard grad who previously worked in private equity. While it is a myth that all GSB grads all enter the tech space or devote their spare hours on their unicorn startup, the school possesses a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that simply amplifies the wide array of resources it possesses and industries it touches.
FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS: AM I ON THE RIGHT PATH?
Call it a “choose your own adventure” program, where students are able to fully pursue their passions. One example, says Kaoutar Yaiche, is renewable energy and clean technologies. “Stanford is a leader in sustainability and has a lot of resources available to learn about and explore new innovations in energy generation, storage, and transportation,” she writes.
Of course, Palo Alto is renowned for its year-round sunshine too. Think of it as an urban resort, with a surplus of natural trails, great food, and (most important) quiet. However, location isn’t what sets Stanford GSB apart. Ask any Stanford MBA to tell you what they loved about the program and they’ll likely tick off items like experiential learning, interdisciplinary connections, diverse teaching methods, and a moderate class size where you get to know your peers. In the end, the difference boils down to two factors: culture and people.
The program thrives on transformation, hence its purpose to “Change lives, change organizations, and change the world.” That change starts from within. Here, students adopt what Zuber Memon calls a “beginner’s mindset,” where students return to square one to answer the big questions that many MBAs hope to avoid. “The school focuses on personal growth,” writes Geoffrey Calder, a 2019 Stanford GSB grad and P&Q Best & Brightest MBA. “The Stanford experience is built to help students understand not just how to achieve our goals, but what our goals actually are.”
TRACK STAR BECOMES A STUDENT MANAGER AT STANFORD
That’s one reason why Stanford GSB targets a certain type of student. Kirsten Moss, assistant dean of admissions and financial aid at the school, describes them as “individuals who dare to dream, who know themselves, who are curious, and who have changed the lives of those around them in some way,” in a 2018 interview with P&Q. In other words, Stanford GSB is the school for optimists, the genuine souls who aren’t afraid to be who they are – and driven by a mission of making a profound and lasting difference.
The Class of 2020 fits well into this long tradition. From a 30,000 view, their credentials are impressive. “Their passions are as diverse as their experiences,” Moss asserts, “from making movies to singing rock songs, from discovering cancer cell movements to founding stem cell start-ups, from launching spacecraft to manufacturing self-driving cars, from creating sustainable chocolate to selling beefless burgers, from investing for social impact to leading social activism campaigns.”
They include first-years like Jenny Carmichael, a track standout who went from walk-on to finalist for the NCAA’s Woman of the Year Award in 2017. A member of the Citizen Potawatomi tribe and devout Christian, Carmichael already holds a Master’s degree in Global Affairs and served as an engineer at ExxonMobil. At Stanford, she spent the past year giving back to the Stanford community: she served as the team manager for the women’s basketball team – which won the Pac-12 title and made the Elite 8 in the NCAA tournament. For her, the experience was like an MBA seminar, replete with unforgettable lessons in leadership and teamwork.
“I love going into the gym and learning from the best coaches in the sport because the game is about so much more than just basketball for them,” she explains. “They teach resilience and poise, grit and leadership. They care more about people as individuals rather than just as players, and watching their example makes me a better person and professional.”
PRODIGY JUMPS FROM HIGH SCHOOL TO STANFORD GSB
On the surface, Abdul Abdirahman has lived a charmed life. At the University of Minnesota, he managed a triple major: Economics, Accounting, and International Business. He followed that up at Ernst & Young by receiving the EY Culture Coin, an award for leaders who personify the firm’s values. If that wasn’t enough, he is currently earning an MPA in International Development at the Harvard Kennedy School – in addition to his Stanford MBA. The path wasn’t so easy for Abdirahman, a first-generation college student who came to the U.S. as a Somali refugee. Noticing that he lacked a path in high school, two of Abdirahman’s teachers urged him to participate in Business Professionals of America (BPA) competitions. Their judge of talent was dead right: Abdirahman eventually qualified for national competitions and competed against America’s best students.
“It provided me with the confidence I needed to know I could do very well in the business world and thrive in my new environment. More importantly, it also gave me the clarity I needed about my future and changed my life’s trajectory. It gave me a reason to pursue a college degree and a career in finance.”
Abdirahman wasn’t alone in making a name for himself. Before business school, Chris Barnum and Ashley Wu helped set strategy at Hulu and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation respectively. Think those roles are weighty? Try being Diana Nassar, who worked as a senior product manager at Souq.com, Amazon’s Arabic platform. Here, she ran eight cross-functional teams – including engineering, financing, operations, legal, and marketing – in developing the service for sellers in the Middle East and North Africa. If you’re wondering who the class underdog is, look no further than Jack Armstrong.
“Although having joined PwC as an Apprentice at 19, I completed my degree while working after qualifying as an accountant. This means I have never actually been to the campus and the GSB is my first time at school since high school.”
Go to page 1 for a dozen in-depth profiles from Stanford GSB’s MBA Class of 2020