Meet London Business School’s MBA Class Of 2021

In business school, FOMO takes on a mythical dimension. The acronym for “Fear of Missing Out,” FOMO describes the dizzying sensory overload that first-year MBAs experience when they return to campus. Everything is fresh and fascinating. There are waves of opportunities and something is always happening. Some call it “drinking from the firehose,” with all the clubs, events, and trips – not to mention cocktail hours with recruiters. That doesn’t even count meeting new people and juggling course loads!

By October, many MBAs aren’t so sure what they want to pursue with all the options available to them; business school has become a race against time to get in everything. In the end, a full-time MBA program is an exercise in determining value and setting priorities. That’s particularly true at the London Business School, home to MBAs who are traditionally as ambitious and accomplished as they are curious and cosmopolitan.

Each year, more than 2,000 professionals from over 100 countries converge on Regent’s Park, including 497 students in the full-time Class of 2021. At LBS, there is something for everyone, including 100 clubs, 30 international exchange programs, custom-tailored leadership development, and London-based consulting projects. The program boasts academic thought leaders like Herminia Ibarra and Lynda Gratton. At the same time, LBS attracts world-class speakers, with recent luminaries including Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus and former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.


Of course, it is easy to attract such star power in London, an economic powerhouse that rivals New York City as the world’s financial center. In London, proximity pays, as LBS students enjoy peerless opportunities for learning, networking, working, and entertainment. This location only makes the FOMO – the tempting choices and endless pathways – all the more pronounced for LBS students.

LBS students gathered after a speech

“I think the access to world-class organizations and business leaders that comes with being situated in the heart of London really sets LBS and its location apart as a place to earn an MBA,” writes Frederika Pardoe, a diamond mining CEO who joins the school’s 2021 Class from South Africa. “From a personal point of view, London is this huge melting pot of different cultures and nationalities, it is home to some of the greatest museums, historical sites, and cultural and sporting events, which I think makes it a very enriching place to live.”

That said, FOMO cuts both ways. In two-year MBA programs, students can pursue a summer internship, semester abroad, extracurricular leadership, or additional electives. For some students, those benefits pale in comparison to what they’re missing by returning to school. Not only do they halt their fast-paced careers, but accrue additional cost and debt in a two-year program. That’s one reason why the London Business School has implemented a more flexible MBA model that enables students to better customize their experience and ensure they aren’t missing out on what’s important to them.


“From the choice of 15, 18 or 21-month exit points, to choosing options from the Tailored Core and a large and varied elective portfolio, the LBS MBA provides personalized journeys to suit students’ diverse aspirations,” explains David Simpson, the MBA program’s admissions director, in an interview with P&Q. “Career paths and employer requirements have changed rapidly over recent years and modern professionals need to be equipped for managing change, ambiguity, and shifting global trends.”

Such flexibility makes LBS an outlier in Europe, where competitors like INSEAD and Oxford apply a one-year structure. For Prateek Gupta, previously a senior analyst at McKinsey, that approach would’ve been “too fast-paced” and denied him the chance to experiment and intern. In contrast, Frederika Pardoe argues that the differing exit points enable her to chart a course best suited for her goals.

“An MBA is a big investment and I felt that the different options for structuring the second year would provide a unique opportunity to get the most out of the programme – to do multiple internships and get involved in a variety of projects.”


That’s exactly what Brady Dearden did. A 2019 Poets&Quants Best & Brightest MBA, Dearden ultimately returned to his employer, Lockheed Martin, as a cyber analyst. For Dearden, “flexibility” had less to do with LBS’ duration and more with freedom and resources. While he may have missed out here-and-there, he capitalized where and when it counted as an MBA student.

Sammy Ofre Centre

“The LBS MBA curriculum is arguably one of the most flexible in the world, allowing students multiple opportunities to drive their own development,” he writes. “During my time at LBS, I have been able to undertake two internships, consult for an emerging identity verification company through the school’s London Core Application Practicum (CAP) program, and have the time to explore London’s technology ecosystem.”


Ask employers to describe LBS MBA and “versatile” and “global” will surely be included among the superlatives. Indeed, 92% of the Class of 2021 hails from outside the United Kingdom, which means they aren’t afraid to pick up and take a risk. That certainly describes Portugal’s Pierre Bize, who took a leap of faith after earning his MIM degree in France. Working for an E-Commerce Logistics Provider, he headed up company operations in Algeria and Myanmar before moving to a solar systems provider to run their West African operations. Working in countries with very different cultural and religious traditions, he helped grow operations from 100 to 800 employees.

“On top of the challenge of hiring, training, structuring, managing operations, and leading large teams in different countries,” he writes, “this truly developed my humility and ability to accept people with different backgrounds and perspectives. Furthermore, it felt incredibly fulfilling to be able to bring clean energy to remote villages, seeing the immediate impact on our clients’ capacity to work, study and improve their own lives.”

Natalia Estupinan encountered equally formidable hurdles in her home country of Columbia. Holding an MsC in Human Rights, Estupinan’s career has been defined by crafting strategies to fight poverty and support victims of violence. However, her work also brought factions together in the wake of a failed peace accord between the government and FARC rebels – a 50-year conflict that has cost the lives of over 200,000 people. In response to the setback, Estupinan launched Vamos Colombia, a campaign designed to spur dialogue between various stakeholders in the country.

“Vamos was established under the premise that it is possible to work towards a common goal despite our differences,” she writes. “We promoted reconciliation actions in regions of Colombia affected by the armed conflict. 1668 corporate volunteers from 62 enterprises, victims of the armed conflict, former members from guerrillas and paramilitary groups, the army, and local communities worked shoulder-to-shoulder to achieve concrete goals such as the reconstruction of schools and reforestation of specific areas. Vamos was about bringing people together and humanizing the other.”


This impulse to say yes and leap into the unknown also drives Francois van der Merwe. Before he became a French national champion rugby player, he had settled on becoming a 24 year-old desk jockey. Then… fate intervened. “On my way to qualify as an actuary, I received an opportunity to go and play professional rugby for Racing 92 in Paris, France. I decided to put my studies on hold and embraced my new challenge. The new environment opened me up to new cultures and gave me an appreciation for hard work and determination.”

van der Merwe wasn’t the only class member in the spotlight. Prateek Gupta played on the Indian National Basketball Team in college. Bonnie Yiu, who has already founded a blockchain firm and clerked for a Justice in the New South Wales Supreme Court, has appeared on Australian national television and presented in front of the Duke of York and the Princess of the Netherlands. Speaking of startups, Peru’s Diego Vega Jenkins grew his venture to 29 employees and developed original scripted content for StudioCanal, a film production and distribution company that helped develop Terminator 2 and Bridget Jones’s Diary. At the same time, Frederika Pardoe re-started a mining operation in Botswana, ultimately building a new processing plant and employing 100 workers. In the UK, Chidi Amadi, an emergency room physician, co-founded a school in inner-city London that was rated “Outstanding” by OFSTED, the government agency that inspects schools.

LBS students gathering after class.

Amadi wasn’t alone in making a difference. At the Clinton Health Access Initiative, Jess Harcourt advised government leaders in Rwanda and Eswatini on enhancing the quality of their national health systems. In India, Prateek Gupta tackled education, as in designing a program that enabled 7,000 young people find work. For Sarah Miller, her biggest achievement was helping to oversee the launch of Apple’s first retail store in Thailand, a stressful effort where success is measured in “how little goes wrong.”

“I found success by keeping calm, asking simple questions, and learning from my peers,” she writes.


Those basics have served her well, as has Natalia Estupinan’s motto: I’d rather have a life full of “oh well” than a life full of “what ifs”. The Class of 2021 has seemingly taken this spirit to heart too. Outside work, Jess Harcourt is known for “motorcycling to Burundi, climbing an active volcano in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and running a half-marathon through the rainforest in Rwanda.” Think that’s daredevil? Pierre Bize could probably give Harcourt a run for her money: “I enjoy trekking all around the world, from the cloudy mountains in Myanmar to the hot treks of Africa, going through the jungles of Brazil or the freezing Alpine landscapes.”

While its American counterparts experienced a downturn in MBA applications, the London Business School enjoyed an uptick during the 2018-2019 cycle. The program received 2,489 applications – or 37 more than the previous year. At the same time, LBS increased enrolment from 485 to 497 students, ultimately accepting 34.8% of applicants, who brought a 701 average GMAT to the table. This year’s class also includes 38% women (down two points) and 92% international students (up one point) who hail from 65 different countries.

The student profile numbers don’t really tell us who the class is. Diego Vega Jenkins, for one, has been impressed by how his classmates are as self-aware as they are accomplished. “No matter what blue-chip company they came from, the students I met showed a very clear-eyed perspective on themselves and what they brought to the table,” he writes. “None seemed satisfied with whatever amazing career path landed them at LBS. They all seemed very aware of their shortcomings in a way that breeds a healthy sense of ambition and competence. LBS students are smart in a way that transcends books and spreadsheets: they seem to possess the right instincts to build a great career and to truly be assets for those around them.”

Go to Page 2 for a Dozen In-Depth Profiles of the Class of 2021.

See The Entire Meet The Class Series Here

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