Meet Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class Of 2021

Jefferson Betancourt 

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

“Humbled by the journey and dedicated to inspiring others through leading by example.”

Hometown: Orlando, FL

Fun Fact About Yourself: As the first American-born Betancourt, I was fittingly named after the father of our constitution and became a first-generation college graduate.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Florida — Bachelor’s in Business Administration, major in Finance and minor in Real Estate; University of Connecticut — Master’s in Accounting

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Vice President at Bank of America Merrill Lynch (Middle Market Global Commercial Banking)

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My biggest accomplishment thus far consists of multiple smaller achievements that amounted to the most successful year in my career. I kicked off 2018 by founding a nonprofit corporation that helps first-generation college students succeed in their first semester. One month later, I graduated with my Master’s in accounting from UConn. I closed out the year by earning the promotion from assistant vice president to vice president at Bank of America. During this same year, I also took the GMAT and applied to eight business schools. What kept me motivated during this challenging yet exciting year was my wife, Melanie Tarabay, who is also enrolling at Johnson as a full-time MBA student, and my family.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? A combination of humility and drive. Every incoming student I have met so far is genuinely humble, yet extremely driven to succeed. In addition to their individual success, everyone has a strong desire to see their classmates do well.

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?  The key factor that led me to choose Johnson is its culture and sense of community. From my initial interactions and coffee chats to my interview and Destination Johnson (our welcome weekend), I felt at home and had a sense of belonging with the faculty, staff, and students. Elite but egalitarian is the perfect way to describe the ambiance on campus. In conjunction with the fact that Johnson’s class size is smaller than other top programs, the faculty and staff make your MBA program feel personal. They remembered my name and background from day one and truly made me feel part of the family. Aside from culture, community and a large alumni base, Johnson has a solid presence in finance, where I aim to continue my career. In addition, Johnson’s unique curriculum provides immersion programs and I plan to join the Investment Banking Immersion to hone in on my interest in banking and prepare for my internship and career. Overall, I chose Johnson due to like-minded people in a prestigious and competitive program and environment.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I’m looking forward to joining the Old Ezra Finance Club, the Student Council, and the Hispanic American Business Leaders Association (HABLA). The Old Ezra Finance Club is the primary organization that will help me achieve my professional goals, while the Student Council will be a great avenue to refine my leadership skills and give back to Johnson.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “What has been the biggest commitment you have made in your life thus far?”

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? After working as a commercial banker for eight years, I was ready to take the next step in banking and finance and pursue a career in investment banking. After completing research and understanding the core fundamentals needed to excel in investment banking, I knew that an MBA from Johnson would help me achieve my goals.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Chicago Booth, Columbia Business School, Emory Goizueta, Georgetown McDonough, Michigan Ross, NYU Stern, and Yale.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I began my search for business schools by analyzing several different websites that ranked the top 25 business schools in the United States. I then went onto each school’s website to download the employment report to determine the success rate in career placement. After narrowing down the top schools I would like to apply to, I attended several info sessions and webinars to verify my research. Once I got a good sense of culture through this research, I spoke with several students and visited campuses to confirm that the culture would be a good fit for me. In the end, Johnson’s culture and successful placement in investment banking are what drove my decision to enroll.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? The defining moment in my life was when I learned about my parent’s immigration story when I was 14 years old. Although my parents have been American citizens for many years, their trek out of Colombia was difficult, yet inspiring. Their journey consisted of life-threatening situations and tested their spirit and will. While visiting my relatives in South America my father first shared the story of our beginnings and what my parents had to endure to escape the drug wars that plagued Colombia in the mid-1980s. Fortunately, through hard work, dedication, and overtly positive attitudes, they successfully raised a family of five with minimal financial and educational means. As the first American-born Betancourt, I did not necessarily understand that I would have an advantage over my distant family members by the sole virtue of living in the United States. Their story made me appreciate my birthright citizenship and the opportunities others may overlook. My approach to life changed, and I adopted a mantra to never be complacent and to seize every day and opportunity in order to eventually give back to people with similar backgrounds.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? In 10 years, I see myself leading a division, as a senior-level manager, within a financial services institution. My lifelong goal is to become an executive and be responsible for the success of a team within banking. Banking is crucial to the health of the economy, and I look forward to becoming a leader and an integral part of the success of a financial institution. I know with great certainty that my background and experience, coupled with the education I will receive at Johnson, will enhance my chances at being a true “game-changer” in the banking industry.

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