‘You’ll never amount to anything more than an average C student.’
That’s what Elizabeth Breiter’s 5th-grade teacher once told her. On the surface, you could say it was the jaundiced judgment of a burned out teacher. For Breiter, a second-generation immigrant, it was a wake-up call – one that would “ignite” a drive to reach for the stars…literally.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY
By high school, Breiter would rank among the best students. Despite standing 5’3, she earned the moniker “Iron Woman” by excelling in sports. An honors graduate from USC, Breiter quickly landed a dream job at Elon Musk’s SpaceX. As a senior analyst, she spearheaded the supply chain development for the firm’s flagship rocket that will “ferry” astronauts into space. This week, she took the next step in joining Harvard Business School’s MBA Class of 2021.
Her mission? Trumpeting technology, Breiter intends to “provide communities without investment capital access to technology to ensure global intergenerational advancement.” Thus far, she would summarize her MBA experience in one word: opportunity.
“In a 24-hour span, I attended the HBS Tech Conference; met classmates from around the world who were extremely accomplished and inspiring yet incredibly humble; had candid conversations about personal growth with easily-accessible alumni; and participated in a thought-provoking Q&A with Dean Nohria, exhibiting leadership values to which I fully aligned. I was more confident I found the right program when I thought: How rewarding would it be if every day was as enriching as today?”
BREAKING THE GLASS CEILING…FOR HER DAUGHTER
Opportunity is something every MBA craves. Looking at the incoming students in the MBA Class of 2021, you’ll find true opportunists – they are go-to go-getters, dynamo doers, and scrappy self-starters as much as inventive spirits, electric personalities, and cerebral steamrollers. Forget the popular notion of Millennials as sheltered snowflakes. This is a class that was built on sweat equity, one that has embraced competition, challenge, and change on their way back to campus.
Want grit? Take Dartmouth Tuck’s Sarah Elizabeth Blatt. For 72 grueling hours, she completed a series of physical and mental challenges against male peers for a spot in the U.S. Army’s special operations aviation organization. Her ‘never quit’ mindset enabled her to land the post, making her the 5th woman in 30 years to achieve that feat. As an MBA, she plans to bulldoze a different set of barriers.
“In the Army, I had the chance to create space for future women teammates by earning a seat at the table,” she explains. “I hope to join the ranks of female business leaders who are paving the way for gender parity in boardrooms, c-suites, and business schools across the country. By the time my daughter Grace is my age, I hope the phrase “glass ceiling” is as antiquated as a flip phone.”
MICHIGAN MBA CHANGES PRESIDENT TRUMP’S MIND
Stephanie McCaffrey applied that same toughness to the soccer field, where she played on the U.S. Women’s National Team, notching a goal in her first game against Brazil. After turning pro, she set up a non-profit that connected her peers with soccer-playing young women in underserved communities. However, this Wharton first-year’s biggest test came off the field, when she was sidelined by a neurological illness in 2018.
“My defining moment came in the late fall when doctors and I realized it was not going to be an option to go back play the sport that had, ironically, defined me my entire life,” she writes. “It empowered me to develop a new-found capacity for gratitude, for the full recovery I would eventually make, and for empathy, for those who may be fighting something that is invisible like I was for so long.”
Jeremy Leung faced equally daunting odds as head of policy for the American Australian Business Council. After tariffs were slapped onto aluminum and steel imports from several countries, the Michigan Ross MBA stepped up and achieved the seemingly-impossible: He got President Donald Trump to listen and change his mind.
“I responded on behalf of the AABC by writing a letter to the President from our CEO members led by prominent Australian businessman Andrew Liveris, former Chairman and CEO of Dow Chemicals,” Leung explains. “The letter outlined the strong bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Australia and asked President Trump to reconsider the tariffs. I also asked former professional golf player and prominent Australian Greg Norman to make a personal phone call to President Trump to reinforce our message. The next day, we were pleasantly surprised by the announcement by President Trump that Australia would be exempt from these proposed aluminum and steel tariffs.”
THIS FALL: A SCHOOL-BY-SCHOOL LOOK AT PROMISING MBA CANDIDATES
You’ll find many stories like these from this incoming class of MBAs. If past is prologue, this class will boast tech moguls, financial heavyweights, and consulting partners in the years to come – not to mention thought leaders, public servants, and philanthropists. At this point, these MBA candidates are just getting warmed up. Think of them as the proverbial high potentials, the gifted and gutsy game-changers who’ve opened markets, launched products and formed coalitions at iconic firms like Google, Amazon, and Goldman Sachs. Their impact can already be quantified in terms of thousands of people and millions of dollars. Before business school, they were humanitarians, entertainers, and educators as much as salespeople, financiers, and entrepreneurs. They hail from every corner of the globe, with a dizzying array of cultural, functional, and academic experiences to boot.
Each year, Poets&Quants profiles over 500 full-time MBA students in its “Meet the Class” series. Now in its 5th year, the series introduces our readers to some of the most promising first-years at over 40 leading business schools in the world. Run from September through February, “Meet the Class” also outlines the unique cultures, resources, and benefits at programs ranging from INSEAD to UCLA. These students also freely share the strategies they used to earn their acceptance letters and choose between programs. More than that, these class portraits open a window into the types of students who ultimately populate these schools’ ranks.
For many, an MBA is a chance to make a career-changing transition – often amplifying their existing skills sets. It can be a gut-wrenching risk, considering the time and cost involved. While the 2021 Class features many candidates looking to make a jump, there are plenty more who’ve already transformed their careers. Exhibit A: Harvard Business School’s Mark Giragosian. After high school, he joined the Joffrey Ballet as a dancer, even taking home the silver medal at the 2009 New York International Ballet Competition. Eventually, Giragosian traded his tights for pinstripes, earning an economics degree from Northwestern before moving into private equity. However, as he noted in his HBS interview, succeeding in ballet and investing share many of the same traits.
“Dancing and investing are very different professions on the surface,” he concedes. “However, overcoming the obstacles I faced in my ballet career required the cultivation of many qualities that have been invaluable in my second career, including discipline, adaptability, creativity, empathy, and the ability to work as part of a team.”
To read over 30 in-depth profiles of top MBAs from over 30 programs, jump to page 4.