Growing up in the 80s, teenage boys gravitated towards pro wrestling. Forget the alpha patriotism of Hulk Hogan. It was the heels who made us tune in on Saturday mornings. And there was no better villain than the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
Patterned after Ivan Boesky, DiBiase personified the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” excess of the Reagan era. His introductory vignettes found him bribing his way into an emergency room after cutting his finger on a crisp $100 bill. A different time, he challenged a young man to bounce a basketball 15 times for $500…and then kicked the ball into the crowd at 14. He paid another wrestler to win the ‘world title’ for him; after he lost it, he crafted his own diamond-studded championship belt to save face. While his bodyguard handled his dirty work, DiBiase would flip through his wad of cash before dropping his catchphrase: “Everyone has a price for the Million Dollar Man.” And the evil cackle that followed punctuated a time-honored truth: the system is rigged – and there is nothing you could do about it.
CLASS OF 2021 DEFIES STEREOTYPES
Back then, my dad was completing his MBA by mail. I’d joke that he was going to turn into the “Million Dollar Man” after graduation. DiBiase – who’d hop his private jet back home to Hyannis Port after matches (as the story went) – was my first exposure to the MBA stereotype. Sure enough, my later encounters reinforced the impression. MBAs were the bean counters who’d reject my meticulously-researched marketing ideas – rarely bothering to explain why. They were the ‘pigeon’ consultants: After swooping in, they’d crap over everything we did before flying off (never to be heard from again). In a nutshell, MBAs represented “the man” to me: the DiBiase who reassured us in private and then gutted our firm. When the 2008 financial collapse hit, I wasn’t surprised that MBAs were scapegoated. To me, they were risk-takers who skated on other peoples’ money without paying a price for their mistakes.
Alas, the world was far more nuanced than I understood. Turns out, DiBiase wasn’t Michael Milken’s flatmate at business school. Out of character, he is an ordained minister who exalts Christ over cash. And my dad never took limousine rides to luxury hotels. He carved out a niche selling insurance and securities to overlooked markets, earning customers through word of mouth and service. As I began to write about MBAs, I found they were hardly the Wall Street showoffs they were portrayed to be (let alone the naifs I had run across). These students came to business school for a mission. More catalysts than fortune hunters, they were focused on big-picture solutions over fleeting gratification. For them, the MBA was a means to build a toolkit and community to support their calling to serve and change.
They include students like Columbia Business School’s Courtney Johnson, a future leader in the social sector. She spent eight years in the U.S. State Department performing humanitarian assistance and conflict prevention in areas like the Middle East and Asia. Duke Fuqua’s Jackie Callahan also served in hot spots. As a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy, she was often tasked with overseeing all maritime activity in the Middle East, including 25 NATO warships. That call to service extended to Yale SOM’s Neil Noronha. One of the youngest political appointees in the Obama administration, he worked in both the National Security Council and the Department of Defense. Then there’s Emma Finkelstein, who joined Virginia Darden after serving as chief of staff for a nonprofit that managed over 500 programs in 180 countries. Not surprisingly, Finkelstein’s ambitions – grand yet vague – reflect the spirit of the Class of 2021 near and far.
A BANKER AND BALLET DANCER
“I can’t say exactly where I will be in 10 years,” she admits, “but I see myself using emotional intelligence, quantitative analysis, and a diligent work ethic to solve some of the world’s most intransigent problems. From developing a clean energy economy that works for everyone in addressing the affordable housing crisis in this country, I hope to be at the intersection of the public, private, and civil sectors generating solutions.”
Such solutions will come from unexpected corners. Before enrolling at Chicago Booth, Julia Boserup, a future management consultant, played professional tennis – even making it to the third round of Wimbledon. Wharton’s Stephanie McCaffrey was a member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team. Georgetown McDonough’s Katherine Jo comes from the newsroom: She is the former editor of China Law and Practice. Mark Giragosian technically fits the Harvard Business School profile: a Northwestern economics major who moved into investment banking. Look further and you’ll find an artist who spent eight years in the Joffrey Ballet, earning a silver medal in 2009’s New York International Ballet Competition.
“Dancing and investing are very different professions on the surface,” he tells P&Q. “However, overcoming the obstacles I faced in my ballet career required the cultivation of many qualities that have been invaluable in my second career including discipline, adaptability, creativity, empathy, and the ability to work as part of a team.”
ROLE MODELS FOR THE NEXT CLASS OF MBAs
It is students like Giragosian who inspire me to continue P&Q’s “Class of” series. This year, I will profile incoming classes at 51 full-time MBA programs ranging from Berkeley Haas to the London Business School. My goal is to introduce you to the types of students who populate these programs – and inspire you with their stories. My intention is to tear down the notion that MBA students are simply consultants and financiers from blue shoe backgrounds. This year’s class, for example, includes actors, teachers, entrepreneurs, soldiers, and doctors (though no professional wrestlers…yet). And their academic backgrounds range from accounting and engineering to anthropology and gender studies.
At the same time, the “Class of” series is educational. Every year, P&Q loses a portion of its audience as applicants turn into students and graduates return to the workforce. Thankfully, there are plenty of candidates to take their place. Still, many readers are just starting their journeys. They’re still wrestling with the differing strengths, resources, and cultural nuances that make each school so unique. As a result, the “Class of” series acts as a gateway, introducing readers to potential target schools. Along with enabling applicants to take deep dives into prospective programs, the series also enables readers to stay current with school news. Each story features an exclusive Q&A with a high-level school administrator, covering new offerings to the how’s and why’s behind the programming.
Wondering whether a school aligns with your interests and goals? Check out our in-depth class profiles from top business schools below.
DON’T MISS: MEET THE MBA CLASS OF 2021: THE GO-GETTERS