Meet The Rotterdam School of Management’s MBA Class Of 2020

“Business school is cutthroat.”

That’s what critics say – at least those who’ve never set foot in one. After binging on House of Lies or Billions, they project some screenwriter’s dramatic license onto MBAs. To them, business school must be a cliquish, dog-eat-dog, ends-justify-the-means bloodsport. Where else would these TV characters learn to embellish credentials and steal ideas?


No, meekness isn’t the cardinal sin in business school. The business student mantra isn’t “everyone is doing it,” either. Certainly, MBA programs encourage students to take risks – they just provide a safety net in case they falter. At the same time, they push students to make an impact, particularly at the Rotterdam School of Management. Of course, impact isn’t viewed as snagging a corner office at this school. Instead, impact starts from a mix of sustainability, entrepreneurship, and diversity: all designed to train students to build initiatives that serve the greater good. Doing all this demands collaboration, says Brandon Kirby, who heads the school’s marketing and admissions.

“I know that plenty of schools cite a collaborative environment as a differentiator,” Kirby admits. “This is what we hear from our graduates every year. We like to tell students that we are collaborative before we are competitive (with one another). With the force for positive change mission, we are looking for students who want to work together to solve the world’s biggest challenges, but that starts in the classroom. The ability to collaborate is a key trait recruiters seek when hiring managers into an organization. From student-led study sessions to sharing internship opportunities with one another, our students form a tight bond early in the program that we feel is unique.”

MBA Students hanging out in downtown Rotterdam

That’s not the only unique aspect of the MBA program. The Rotterdam School is also affiliated with Erasmus University, one of Europe’s top research schools. In particular, the program is part of the Erasmus Research Institute of Management, which brings together the school’s top scholars to roll out the best practices in leadership, strategy, marketing, finance, and logistics. Not surprisingly, the program – which is mostly taught in English – is academically-rigorous, future-focused, and innovation-driven. What’s more, its alumni base features 34,000 professionals in 100 countries, enabling graduates to tap into nearly any industry, function, or region imaginable.


Shipra Singh, a KPMG manager who grew up in the shadow of the Taj Mahal, is one of the 137 students who make up the Rotterdam School’s Class of 2020. She boils the school’s appeal down to these elements: “student diversity for multi-culture exposure, research-oriented faculty, dedicated courses on sustainability, one-year duration, and smaller class size.” These features, Singh adds, bring a unique set of benefits to students looking to excel in international business.

“I believe in investing in relations and smaller class size makes the class a close-knit family, where you could know your batchmates better and establish stronger bonds (for life). I am looking forward to peer-to-peer learnings as much as learnings from the faculty. I know that leveraging close to 40 countries’ cultural values and wisdom to solve different business problems in the class is “the learning opportunity of my lifetime.” Finally, I resonate most with the mission statement of RSM: “A force for positive change.” We, as the next generation leaders, need to bring the positive change to the society to make this world a better place.”

The Class of 2020 is truly an international community. It includes 37 nationalities, with 99% of the class hailing from outside The Netherlands. It is also comprised of 41% women, a higher percentage than rival programs like INSEAD and IE Business School. In addition, the class boasts an average GMAT score of 640.


However, numbers only tell a small part of the Class of 2020’s story. In a class without a dominant nationality, “diverse” is a word that students use to describe their RSM peers. “My classmates are all open, curious, globalized, and tolerant. I’ve learned so much about the world from being around them,” writes Geo Corneby, an intrapreneur who launched a corporate social responsibility firm in a $50 million dollar professional services firm when she was just 22. “Because people have such diverse experiences and backgrounds, there isn’t a pervading school of thought and this has allowed me to grow in my understanding of the world.”

This has created, in Corneby’s words, “a positive and stimulating environment.” This setting is further enriched, adds Leonardo Silva, by a student body that possesses impressive backgrounds from a range of industries. “In the RSM Class of 2020, one can find a Ph.D. researcher in chemistry, architect, art manager, marketing analysts, consultants and an army officer,” notes Silva – who himself headed the administrative section of the Preparedness Command Cabinet with the Brazilian Air Force. “In this sense, we have the perfect storm of business ideas, personal experiences and knowledge that fosters invaluable class discussions and enrich the learning outcome in the MBA programme.”

Rotterdam School of Management campus in autumn

Outside the classroom, you’ll find Leon Laubscher jumping out of planes or exploring the ocean. The Cape Town native is a licensed skydiver and SCUBA diver. Eliran Tal went from growing up in a conservative family and serving in the Israeli military to marrying his boyfriend and helping to organize Midburn – Israel’s answer to Burning Man. Shipra Singh was once the youngest person at the same table with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and global CEOs at a Fortune 500 meeting. Impressed? The class also features Kostiantyn Kulyk, who was part of a team at Stockholm University that discovered the physicochemical mechanisms that produced growth in large carbon molecules in interstellar space.

Translation? “This work extended the understanding of nature,” Kulyk writes.


Why would Kulyk, who holds a Ph.D. in Surface Chemistry and Physics, enter business? For him, it was a means to connect theory and experimentation with practice and impact. “Engagement on the commercial side of the innovation process made me understand that things happen faster in the business world,” he writes. “Also, I realised that the potential to drive the translation of good ideas into practical commercially-viable applications is higher in this domain.”

In contrast, Ela Kurowska – a consultant who holds degrees in urban planning and information management – discovered that the MBA was a path to better aligning herself with a changing demographic. “Consulting as we know will need to adapt to new generations of so-called millennials, who have different needs and attitudes than consultants from previous generations. People are less driven by money and require the space and time for their personal development. I am pursuing my MBA now so I can become a new leader for them.”

For students, business school is a year of transformation: exploring new interests, testing new roles, and embracing new ideas. Here, failure would be defined as being the same person you were at orientation. Business mirrors this ever-shifting backdrop, as new business models and practices erase tired incumbents and usher in new players. For the Rotterdam School, complacency is the enemy that’s always tempting them to take it easy and relish their success. However, RSM – true to its roots in innovation and impact – is always seeking new ways to give their students an edge. For the Class of 2020, that includes expanding overseas excursions says Brandon Kirby.

Go to Page 2 for a look at 13 members of the Class of 2020.

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