Meet Northwestern Kellogg’s MBA Class Of 2021

‘Talent wins games, but teams win championships.’

Most CEO’s trumpet this line. In business, the team represents the long-term and big picture, where the sum bests the parts and the whole trumps the individual. In teams, experts say, you can churn out more ideas, explore different angles, and remove blind spots. The result: more inclusive and lasting solutions – or so they say.

Teamwork is exactly what employers expect from MBAs. After graduation, they will assume different roles and partner with people from different backgrounds. That can spark clashes – or spur innovation. That’s why the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University has made teamwork the very centerpiece of the program for over 40 years.

In every class, faculty dole out team projects. Not only do students hone their problem-solving and decision-making skills daily, but they practice soft skills like openness, listening, flexibility, and persuasion. Over two years, Kellogg MBAs estimate they hold over 200 team meetings, with classmates often sharing feedback with their peers. Such evaluations, along with continuously work in teams, give Kellogg MBAs a head start in team-driven industries like consulting, finance, technology, and startups.

KELLOGG’S CLASS OF 2020: ‘A HIGH-IMPACT, LOW EGO’ GROUP OF MBA STUDENTS

Kellogg classroom

To be admitted, Kellogg requires what it calls a “high-impact, low ego” mindset. It is one that the Class of 2021 has embraced. When it comes to teamwork, the incoming class brings a number of values that fuel successful collaborations. Ben Silton, for one, plans to bring out the best in his peers by being mindful of their strengths and carving out opportunities so they can use them. In contrast, Babatunde Oladosu intends to foster trust to motivate classmates to bring their full “intellect, time, and energies” to the cause. For Kristen Kelly, teamwork is amplified by a “willingness to listen without judgment.”

TEAM CONCEPT EXTENDS BEYOND THE CLASSROOM

“The best ideas often stem from an open-mindedness that allows for creativity and innovation,” writes Kelly. “I intend to do my best to listen, especially to the quieter voices in the room, and advocate for more inclusive approaches to teamwork while at Kellogg.”

Those aren’t the only virtues that the Class of 2021 will be bringing to their teams. Georges Durot has found that a positive attitude often energizes and empowers his teams. By the same token, Jeanette Stock touts transparency about strengths and weaknesses, particularly given the student-run nature of the Kellogg MBA program. “I’m quickly realizing that the “teams” at Kellogg end up being much more than those assigned for classwork – from industry clubs to KWEST leaders to student leadership positions. I’m looking forward to learning from the diversity of experience and expertise my peers bring to the table.”

For Caroline Nguyen, the most important part of teamwork is the willingness to support and share. “I can’t think of a time I wasn’t better off for having learned from another person’s perspective and experience. One of the reasons I’m so excited to go to Kellogg is because it already has this collaborative, rising-tide-lifts-all-boats spirit embedded in its culture and community. As I start school, I can’t wait to learn from my classmates and share more about my experience in the nonprofit and philanthropy sectors.”

A CLASS OF BUILDERS

That experience translated into impact, where this anthropologist-turned-consultant worked with a Fortune 500 company’s executive team to help them execute a $10 million dollar innovation initiative in education and health. Nguyen wasn’t the only member of the 2021 Class to thrive in the social sector. Take Carmen Sheils, whose claim to fame is playing Carnegie Hall – twice. She co-founded an all-girls middle school in Brooklyn, where students beat the state average in reading by 27%. Babatunde Oladosu channeled his love of learning into starting an employment institute for college graduates, which helped clients land full-time jobs at Goldman Sachs and Bank of America. By the same token, Kristen Kelly, another anthropology major served as a community project manager at a private game reserve in South Africa. As the liaison between the local community and the lodge, Kelly was able to develop programs to aid the community’s most vulnerable members.

“I worked alongside incredible community leaders, supporting them to implement strategies for sustainable development,” she writes. “One leader, Nyiko, envisioned the first nursing home in the municipality to serve vulnerable elderly. Today, Nyiko manages a team of 28 to care for 70 formerly neglected elderly people. I worked with Nyiko to strategize next steps for scale-up by building partnerships with both the local government and other safari lodges. This work was exciting and inspiring and what most directly led me to seek an MBA.”

Inside the Global Hub

The class’s impact can also be easily quantified. Juan Felipe Builes Villegas, for example, developed a financial tool at NEXTracker that changed how the company looked at the financials behind $800 million dollars in annual revenue. Heading up analytics at Divert, a solutions provider in the retail supply chain space, Ben Silton helped his firm grown from 7 to 90 employees in five years. At Coca-Cola, Georges Durot went from being a treasury analyst to an intrapreneur by developing an app that allows consumers to split restaurant bills on their smartphones.

BUILDING A STARTUP…INSIDE COCA-COLA

“After months of late-night collaboration and bug fixes, we bootstrapped a prototype, branded it “BillBoss”, and activated a local pilot,” he explains. “BillBoss began gaining momentum, so we pitched the app to CEO Muhtar Kent and CFO Kathy Waller in an Atlanta restaurant, recommending that Coca-Cola invest in our product. After probing our business model and paying with BillBoss, they funded the app and I set aside aspirations in corporate finance to lead this digital start-up within the world’s largest beverage company.”

At the same time, Jeanette Stock made a difference by launching Venture Out, a series of community events to better connect the LGBT community in the tech sector. “It was overwhelming to lead a team of volunteers to raise funds, generate interest, and launch Canada’s first conference for LGBTQIA2+ folks in tech while working full-time at a startup. I joke that for two years I had “a day job and a gay job”. But when I speak to folks who connected with their employers, their mentors, or their community as a result, it feels more than worth it.”

For Tracey Fetherson, a U.S. Marine Corps Captain and Company Commander, the biggest reward came from the notes sent to her from marines who served under her. “I never took my role for granted, but I always underestimated my influence on them during my tenure as their leader. I was humbled and grateful for each Marine who thanked me and consider their willingness to share their gratitude an accomplishment as a Commander.”

MBA students at Kellogg's

MBA students at Kellogg’s Global Hub in Evanston, Ill. Photo by Jonathan Gibby

A BUDDHIST MONK AND A NEUROSURGEON

How would the Class of 2021 describe their classmates so far? Jon Leist, an entrepreneur and Deloitte consultant, uses this analogy: “It’s like the top three classmates in every single one of your undergrad classes are all combined into every single one of your classes.” That’s a lot of intellectual horsepower, but the class doesn’t disappoint, with students ranging from an ordained Buddhist monk to a neurosurgery resident. They also include, says Assistant Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Kate Smith, class members whose credentials run from “managing United’s US-wide operations to leading Uber’s expansion into emerging markets to helping diagnose and treat preeclampsia in Africa.” Beyond smart, Kellogg MBAs are often described as “down-to-earth,” “accessible,” and just plain “nice.” More than that, they are engaged and curious, says Caroline Nguyen.

“Everyone has been so genuinely excited to start this experience together, genuinely curious about the different knowledge and experiences we each bring to the table, and genuinely supportive in helping each other reach the personal and professional goals we’ve set for ourselves.”

Similarly, Babatunde Oladosu was struck by the class’ “zest for life” and “strong sense of purpose.” That was also apparent to Carmen Sheils during her first meeting with her classmates. “I met students who care about the world and want to intentionally use their career path to make the world a better place. When I first arrived, I met a fellow incoming student who worked for an organization dedicated to improving maternal health care in Tanzania. I met another student who is interested in impact investing to ensure that people of color secure investment in their businesses. These kinds of conversations just happened over-and-over again at Kellogg, which was different from any other school I had visited.”

Go to Page 3 for a dozen in-depth profiles of the Class of 2021. 

Go to Pages 2-3 for a Q&A with Assistant Dean Kate Smith