Meet the MBA Class of 2021: The Go-Getters

University of Virginia’s Annie Espinosa

A TOOL FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

Giragosian wasn’t alone in following an unconventional career path to business school. Emory Goizueta’s Steven Couche transitioned from being a field engineer at Schlumberger to an equity researcher at Robert W. Baird. After realizing that medical school wasn’t her future, the University of Virginia’s Annie Espinosa “parlayed” her “Jill-of-all-trades” background at startups into heading up email marketing for an online reservation service that had recently sold for $2.6 billion dollars. Not to be outdone, Ammar Ejaz ditched a lucrative banking job to launch an apparel company. This University of Washington MBA’s hard-won empire now includes five stores and 60 full-time employees.

The Class of 2021 isn’t just interested in changing their own career trajectories, however. Many are also channeling their business know-how into larger social purposes. Before starting at the London Business School, Jess Harcourt served as a program manager for the Clinton Health Access Initiative. Here, she worked alongside the Ministries of Health in two African nations on everything from deploying antiretroviral drugs to enhancing the quality of their health services. Holly Cramer returns to U.C.-Berkeley – where she studied history as an undergrad – after managing a program that delivered a million food parcels in war-torn southern Syria. Her classmate, Mihir Mehan, helped to scale a joint initiative sponsored by Google and Tata to reduce the “digital divide” in India.

“The initiative addresses the gender gap in 250,000 villages across 18 states by engaging ~70,000 women volunteers to successfully train 25 million women to use smartphones and the internet,” he explains. “In 2015, 1 in 10 Internet users in rural India was female. By 2018, four out of every 10 Internet users were female—and we are headed toward parity.”

A LIFE IN PUBLIC SERVICE

This call to serve also drew some MBA candidates into politics. As a staffer on the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, MIT Sloan’s Maura Fitzsimons worked on legislation, ultimately passed, that tackled opioid abuse. Before a stint at Deloitte Consulting, Yale SOM’s Taylor Barnard worked in the White House and the U.S. Treasury Department under President Obama. Impressed? Wait until you meet his classmate, Neil Noronha. He ranked among the youngest political appointees in President Obama’s Department of Defense, not counting two years as a special assistant to the National Security Council. Such roles didn’t always require intensive research and high-minded debate, Noronha jokes.

“I once played a drug mule for the DEA in a training exercise in Panama with the Panamanian police.”

University of Texas’ Rahul Sekhar Rajasekharan Nair

Indeed, the Class of 2021 isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself. Harvard’s Mallika Saharia, for one, describes herself as a “pocket-sized powerhouse.” Rahul Sekhar Rajasekharan Nair, a systems engineer for India’s space agency and a Texas McCombs first-year, uses a more colorful metaphor for himself: “An unholy alliance of eternal optimism and curiosity.” Watch out for UCLA’s Jacob Markus, a Facebook analyst, who claims to be “On the corner of “eccentricity” and “mania” – if you hit “certainty” then you’ve gone too far.”

NEVER HIKE ON AN ACTIVE VOLCANO

Others follow mottos that clarify their values. Washington University’s Jennifer Sylves Lanas, a theology major as an undergrad, embraces a philosophy of “Why not?” + “How might we?” The London Business School’s Natalia Estupinan’s mantra carries a more poetic flair: “I’d rather have a life full of “oh well” than a life full of “what ifs”.” You can almost picture Mihir Mehan’s motto being added to the triple bottom line: “Investment banker who measures returns in smiles generated.”

The class also boasts its fair share of celebrities – well, sort of. As a two-year-old, USC Marshall’s Aria Aaron starred alongside pop star Amy Grant on Monday Night Football’s introduction. Her classmate, Jamie Bock, has notched acting credits on Criminal Minds and CHIPS. Columbia Business School’s Christian De Allie was even directed by Spike Lee…in an NBA commercial as a nine-year-old. Of course, some first-years had to settle for rubbing shoulders with celebrities. On her first day of college, Georgia Tech’s Julia Deng got lost…and ended up wandering up to Owen Wilson during a movie shoot. Better still, her fellow Yellow Jacket, Kenneth Hettler, once made a veggie wrap for Bruce Springsteen (“Everybody’s got a hungry heart”).

What unites these various MBAs? Most carry a soft spot for adventure, apparently. Caroline Gill, a JP Morgan associate and University of North Carolina MBA, has combed nearly every inch of New York City, even walking the length of Manhattan Island. The London Business School’s Pierre Bize didn’t stop at Manhattan. “I enjoy trekking all around the world,” he writes, “from the cloudy mountains in Myanmar to the hot treks of Africa, going through the jungles of Brazil or the freezing Alpine landscapes.” That’s not to say every trip was joyful. Just ask HEC Paris’ Cecilia Fernandes Ramos.

“During one of my most emblematic hikes in the Atacama Desert,” she reminisces, “I decided to climb Lascar volcano, one of the most active volcanos from Chile. The climb started at 6 a.m. with one of the most astonishing landscapes I have ever seen. When we were less than 300 meters from the crater, Lascar erupted and we had to run down for our lives. The cloud of ashes reached Buenos Aires, San Pedro de Atacama village entered yellow alert stage, and my friend and I gave an interview to TV Chile about this incredible and terrifying experience!”

EASIER TO LAUGH ABOUT IT NOW

University of Chicago’s Sarah Presant

Yes, Fernandes Ramos can laugh about it now. That’s another virtue of the Class of 2021: They don’t take themselves too seriously. LBS’ Nicholas Rudder, an investment banker by day, once hitchhiked down Australia’s east coast dressed as Peter Pan. At his ten-year undergrad reunion, IESE’s Irwan Hernawan was shocked to learn he’d won the “Guy I wish I had dated” award. “It made me wonder why I kept single during that time,” he jokes. That still probably beats Mariah Harris’ honor in high school. She was voted as the classmate most likely to win the Hunger Games (whatever that means). Speaking of high school traumas, the University of Chicago’s Sarah Presant has everyone beat in that category.

“I participated in America’s Junior Miss, San Diego competition, and performed a water polo rap in a bathing suit and cap to an audience of strangers where my jokes failed to land.”

Presant has come a long way since high school, earning a degree at Brown University before designing a role for herself at Google. She wasn’t the only member of the Class of 2021 making an impact at the most respected brands. Been reading about Amazon Prime’s customer delivery drone? Well, Harvard’s Sebastian Fischer worked as its lead systems engineer, managing everything from developing parts specs to simulating flight tests. Anshul Garg’s creative touch is still being felt at Stubhub. The HEC Paris MBA created the Stubhub Festival Pass, an all-inclusive ticket that enables users to get into any American music festival. As a corporate vice president, Georgetown’s Santiago Mayoral helped Express Hotels double in size over six years to become Mexico’s largest hotel chain, even overseeing its IPO.

A THANK YOU THAT REALLY MATTERS

In fact, the class found a special joy in building from scratch. That’s what the University of Virginia’s Jay Sarcone had to do in Cambodia. A Civil Engineer Corps Officer in the U.S. Navy, Sarcone directed the efforts of 57 engineers to build three rural maternity wards. That’s a lot of personnel support – something that Rohit Dayal could’ve used when he moved from Deloitte Consulting to the Ignyte Group, which employ 94,000 and 30 staff members respectively. At Ignyte, this Carnegie Mellon MBA led a team of one – himself – in carving out a new niche: the U.S. House of Representatives.

Northwestern University’s Tracey Fetherson

“Very quickly, I learned about understanding client needs, bringing products to market quickly, leading teams, and business development,” Dayal notes. “There were tangible results; I was able to find opportunities analyzing new constituent management systems to help Congress better serve citizens and train incoming Congressional staff. We were able to build our presence to five new individuals which accounted for seven percent of the company’s revenue that year.”

Some achievements weren’t easy to quantify, however. As a Google product manager, INSEAD’s Andrea van Scheltinga helped launch the Smart Displays product. Still, the gravity of her achievement didn’t hit home until much later. “After launch, I was walking through New York and saw a big poster of the device in its home screen state – a part of the experience we had spent endless hours designing and building – and I felt really proud of bringing the product to market.”

Other achievements were deeply personal. In the U.S. Marine Corps, Tracey Fetherson held roles ranging from captain to senior instructor in its top leadership academy. During her eight years in the Corps, this Northwestern MBA led teams as large as 300 Marines. For her, the best moments came when she received notes thanking her for helping them. “I never took my role for granted, but I always underestimated my influence on them during my tenure as their leader,” Fetherson admits. “I was humbled and grateful for each Marine that thanked me, and consider their willingness to share their gratitude an accomplishment as a Commander.”

To read over 30 in-depth profiles of top MBAs from over 30 programs, jump to page 4.