RE-FRAMING A BRAND
This year’s class features students like Alexandra Ignatius, a Columbia University grad and Edelman sales manager. Before Olin, her life had already been transformed by her global travels. A DC native, she spent her high school years in France. After several years in public relations, she moved to Shanghai, which required her to ‘challenge her assumptions and behaviors’ every day. It also gave her a decided advantage when she spearheaded the communications strategy behind the ALDI chain’s successful move into China. Understanding the culture, she helped shift ALDI’s brand proposition from “discount grocer” to “trusted importer” to capitalize on the population’s distrust of domestic products.
“Working in partnership with e-commerce leader Alibaba,” she explains, “we held a “food fashion show” to launch ALDI into the China market, leveraging well-known fashion designers and media icons in Shanghai to capture attention and drive online sales.”
After studying theology as an undergrad, Jennifer Sylves Lanas found her calling in teaching. Her mantra of “Why not?” + “How might we” led her to help her students launch one of the country’s first gay-straight alliances and train others on data-storytelling. She isn’t afraid to take risks either, joining a “mission-driven urban education startup” to “build a school culture from the ground up.”
“The biggest takeaway from my experience is that “We begin by listening,” she says. “It is only fitting, teaching cultural literacy and game design, that I leveled-up for three consecutive years with the same group of 50 students practicing human-centered design and restorative justice. Pressure makes diamonds—and when the heat was on, my team knew that they could count on me as I counted on them. The night that my seniors walked across the stage as Nazareth College and Career Prep’s first graduating class was one of the proudest moments of my career in education!”
MAJOR RESPONSIBILITIES EARLY IN THEIR CAREERS
Raymond T. Wagner III comes to the Class of 2021 with more leadership experience than some MBAs will ever accrue. As a company commander in the U.S. Army, he oversaw 150 soldiers and $40 million dollars worth of equipment. He was heartened by watching his men and women rally around a mission, achieving goals as a team that would seem impossible individually. With rewards come responsibilities. For Wagner, being a leader also meant bearing the hardest of duties, such as bringing a fallen comrade back to his family.
“Escorting Steve home was particularly difficult,” he admits. “I felt a level of responsibility after encouraging him to attend West Point and join the Army. From that day, I vowed to live life to the fullest; to honor those who have gone before me; and to seize every opportunity because life, simply put, is a gift that is not guaranteed.”
Nitish Kumar Yadav’s rite of passage came early in his career. Six months out of engineering school, he was tapped to build a multi-billion dollar desalination plant – one riddled with delays thanks to heavy opposition from the local population. Rather than cursing his luck, Yadav rolled up his sleeves and turned a daunting project in a growth opportunity that fast-tracked his career.
“This project gave me much to learn about business, leadership, teamwork, negotiations, and interpersonal communication skills. I had to overcome local resistance and learn a completely new language to be an effective leader and also liaise effectively with the villagers. I built trust in the villagers and took them into confidence to explain to them how the project would benefit them and improve their lives. The villagers ultimately became the biggest advocates of the project.”
FROM RUGBY PLAYERS TO A BALLET DANCER
Outside the service, Wagner was the captain of the Under 21 Luxembourg National Rugby Team. Ironically, his classmate, Lungile Tshuma, served as vice-captain for the Zimbabwean National Rugby Team. Alexandra Ignatius is equally athletic. Starting ballet at the age of five, Ignatius eventually joined a regional company after graduating college. While she chose a different path, her ballet training has prepared her to excel in business.
“The qualities I learned from ballet – the constant pursuit of excellence, discipline and teamwork – have made me a great businesswoman. I spent days and weeks rehearsing, analyzing and rethinking behind-the-scenes, so that when the curtain went up and I had my brief moment with the audience – in a boardroom now, rather than a theatre – I could have maximum effect.”
Kendra Kelley also honed her business skills at an early age – in politics. As a college freshman, she volunteered for the 2008 Obama for America presidential campaign, energizing the youth vote in Missouri while maintaining a 3.8 GPA at Georgia State University.
“Working for the Obama campaign completely changed the course of my life and opened doors I never imagined would open,” she asserts. “The campaign showed me the power of delivering the right message, to the right people, at the right time, and through the right channels. I was able to experience the essence of effective marketing daily. I also learned the power of perseverance.”