Meet Northwestern Kellogg’s MBA Class Of 2021

Jon Leist

Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University

“Unrelenting in working to better the world, myself and the people I care about most.”

Hometown: Cincinnati, OH

Fun Fact About Yourself: When I was 16, I saved the life of a young boy who passed out at the bottom of a pool. It was life-changing, extremely stressful, and an amazing reminder of how fragile life is.

Undergraduate School and Major: Miami University, Finance

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:

Consultant at Deloitte Consulting

Founder at Wakea Studios

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: The biggest accomplishment in my career so far has been figuring out how to bootstrap my small digital aerial media business (Wakea Studios) in my free time when I was still working full-time. I learned the best choice I could ever make is to take the small steps toward things I initially would write-off as too time-consuming or out-of-reach. Although I currently don’t plan to grow and scale the business due to my shift in long-term interests to sustainability, I learned a lot of valuable life lessons from the experience. They included navigating complex government regulations (especially in urban environments), drafting and negotiating contracts, exceeding client expectations, communicating more effectively, and understanding asset management/maintenance and legal considerations.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Inspiring. Admissions did a phenomenal job curating a globally diverse and unique-in-experiences class. The best analogy I have is that 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. For example, one of my classmates is a neurosurgery resident whose long-term goal is to teach and research leading brain surgery techniques. These people are all next-level intelligent, motivated, and personable. My favorite aspect is that every single one of them wants to make the world a better place.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? One of the key factors that went into my decision to go to Kellogg was the strong alumni base in the Midwest. My wife and I have our family, friends and entire life based in the Midwest and I feel that the region is often an overlooked opportunity. Kellogg’s alumni are living and working around the world, but at Kellogg I’m able to connect with so many alumni in the Chicago area. For example, prior to my admission, Kellogg invited me to the 1871 (an entrepreneurial working space in Chicago) for a networking event with alums who either founded their own companies or are working in private equity/venture capital. Another event was held at Google’s offices in West Loop. Both of these experiences enabled me to meet and develop meaningful relationships with alums right in the local community.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I’m most looking forward to my Venture Lab experience! Kellogg has an awesome program where you can share your resume with high-quality venture capital or private equity firms who may offer you a chance to interview and then offer an internship/co-op during a quarter. This fall, I’m really lucky to have the opportunity to work with New Stack Ventures in Chicago which focuses on investing in IOT startups. Without Kellogg, the VC world is extremely difficult to get experience in, so I’m really looking forward to this opportunity of a lifetime in my career. I’m also stoked for Ski-Trip in Whistler B.C. this year!

Kellogg is often described as “team-driven.” In your experience, what is the most important quality of a team member? How do you intend to bring that in a culture where “students run everything.” In my eyes, the most important characteristic I think a team member can possess is a creative and open mindset. When a team member brings innovative ideas and simultaneously is open to others’ perspectives, they catapult the team to achieve bigger goals. My intention is to bring fresh ideas to our class’ goals. For example, one of the more creative goals I’m working on with classmates is fostering a more environmentally-sustainable Kellogg culture. We’re starting small by replacing traditional plastic cups with our own purple reusable beverage containers at the weekly happy hours held at Kellogg.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? I was asked, “What would people who don’t like you say about you?” I was completely taken aback; it’s easy to be prepared for the greatest strength or weakness question, but this question dug much deeper. In retrospect, this question made me more self-aware because after I reflected on my shortcomings during more negative life experiences. This is a topic that I think we all naturally tend to avoid thinking about.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I started to consider an MBA after I recognized the rate in which my growth and breadth of experiences started to plateau. Without tangible skillsets in my target interest areas, lateral mobility would have been extremely difficult. The big catalyst for me to ultimately decide to pursue an MBA was when I could tell there was something vastly important missing in my day-to-day. All of the boxes in my current role seemed to check out; challenging work, good people and teams, impactful outcomes, etc. However, after reflection and a lot of conversations, I was able to figure out that my primary motivator is “purpose.” The big thing missing from my day-to-day was working toward a meaningful mission I fully buy into. With that perspective, I realigned my long-term goal to identify and work specifically on projects where I run down two stairs at a time in the morning so I can continue working on it. It was also incredibly helpful to have the support from my wife, family, and friends who encouraged me along the way.

An MBA program is the perfect opportunity to recalibrate your goals and intentionally align them to your own specific niche where you want to make an impact. If you’re struggling to figure out your own personal motivators, I highly encourage you to read Kellogg Professor Carter Cast’s book The Right and Wrong Stuff.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Apart from Kellogg, I applied and most considered attending Ross, Fuqua, and McCombs. I also applied to Haas, Anderson, and Yale thanks to the Consortium common application process. I placed the highest priority on the programs where I felt the strongest cultural fit and where I felt I would build the strongest relationships during my time at school. My next most important factor was the type of opportunities/resources that would be available.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I figured out my fit at all of my target programs in two main ways. First, I met with alums from each program that I knew would share what to look for and what to consider based on their unique experiences. From there, I went and visited the programs in-person. I found it critical to visit more than once. It’s so hard to assess fit based on a single day let alone a single subset of people you interact with at the program on a given day! I also used all of the online forums like Poets & Quants as a way to initially filter the programs that aligned with my interests and goals.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? I think a defining moment in my life was when I first was denied to the MBA programs that I had applied to in the 2nd round of 2017. It was one of the most humbling and most needed failure experiences I’ve ever had. It helped me soul search and identify the person and professional I wanted to be, not the person and professional I wanted to look like in my essays. It helped me identify my purpose to work on business models that address a sustainable future and how I could better display my genuine passions, especially the WHY behind my application. Most importantly, the experience made me a much more intentional and creative person in everything I dedicate my time to.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? In ten-years I see myself scaling my own business in the sustainable Green-Tech industry. The cause I care about most is to preserve and improve our incredibly beautiful and diverse planet for the generations to come long after I’m gone.

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