Each year at Poets&Quants we have the privilege of reporting on and writing about some of the world’s most interesting, intelligent, and caring MBAs. 2019 was no different. Some of our favorites included a reality TV star, applicants that pulled off the ultimate MBA application trifecta of being accepted to Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford all in one cycle, and MBAs who have used their degrees to make the world a better place.
One common theme cropped up among this year’s group: resiliency. Whether it was overcoming years of abuse, tragedy, incarceration, oppressive societies, institutional racism, or the odds of coming from an unlikely background to a top-shelf MBA program, the MBAs below impressed us this year.
So take the time to read about the group of MBAs below and the inspirational and impactful early lives they’ve led so far.
After seven years in the United States Marines and at the age of 30, Tracey Fetherson felt as though she was at a crossroads. The Marines had become comfortable and familiar. But the desire to challenge herself was also a passion of Fetherson’s. So in 2018, Fetherson applied to and was accepted to Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management where she is now studying and developing skills to make an impact in K-12 education.
“There’s strong alignment between how we thought of strategy in the Marines and how we’re learning about it at Kellogg. In the military, strategy is about trying to stay two steps ahead of the enemy. In business, it’s about forecasting market trends or staying ahead of competitors, and gaining the foresight to act decisively,” Fetherson wrote earlier this year. “For example, this past summer I was an Education Pioneer Summer Fellow for a charter school in Memphis, Tennessee. I had to think several steps ahead of the partner vendors, and my supervisor, to make sure we opened on time!
“In some ways, Kellogg has made me realize that I underestimated the value of strategic thinking in the Marines. It’s about not sitting back and waiting for things to happen, but proactively making them happen — and thinking about the consequences of decisions, whether related to suppliers or competitors.”
We appreciate Fetherson both for her service to the U.S. but also her future service and impact in education.
This past March and April when many second-year MBAs were enjoying their waning time as students, Wharton’s Kellee Kim was flying about 8,000 miles away from the University of Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia-based campus. Instead of completing her finals — which were mainly take-home exams or papers — near her fellow classmates, Kim completed them in Fiji while filming for Survivor: Island of the Idols. Kim was able to put her newfound strategy knowledge gained while earning her MBA at Wharton to compete on the popular reality show, Survivor.
“Survivor, in many ways, is all about gossip. It’s who can tell the most effective stories, lies, or half-truths to get a group of people to perceive certain things about them and the other people around them,” Kim told P&Q in October. “Business school is quite similar, since there is such a heavy focus on socializing and networking. ‘Gossip’ is a word that has been primarily associated with women, but the truth is that everyone does it. It is what establishes and spreads culture and power.
“In business school and in Survivor, information and storytelling is moving at a rapid pace. One day feels like a few weeks and things can change in an instant. Being able to gauge a group of people comes in handy on a show like Survivor!
“Wharton was certainly not cutthroat and a lot more honest than a reality television show, where lying is the norm, but I learned a lot from just socializing and observing how information flows.”
Resilience is an often coveted trait in business and entrepreneurship. It’d be hard to find a current MBA student at one of the top schools with more resilience than Ida Valentine, who is a first-year MBA student at Harvard Business School. Valentine’s childhood was filled with hardships and tragedy. At the age of eight, Valentine began being sexually abused by her father. She told her mother of the abuse as a child but it continued. By the time Valentine was 18, graduated from high school and on her way to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Charlotte-native, with the encouragement of her three older siblings, reported the abuse to local police. Months later, Valentine’s father tragically killed her mother and then himself. Being a high school teacher, the father’s murder-suicide was splashed over local media headlines and broadcast segments, forcing the family into the public eye at its toughest time.
At the time, Ida was months into her first year of undergrad and recently joined the dance team at UNC. “I was numb,” Ida told P&Q last summer. “I felt very lost and that all eyes were on me. I was getting calls from so many people I barely even know. I had no idea how to handle it along with school and dance–how to go on.”
In the face of tragedy and unwelcomed limelight, Ida poured herself into her studies and dance and eventually found investment banking as an outlet and passion. As an investment banker, Ida began interacting with entrepreneurs on a regular basis. She saw something in them she liked. “Talking to all these entrepreneurs made me think, ‘I want to try that, too,’” she said. She was pouring her heart into other people’s projects. She wanted to work for herself. “I want that hard work to go into my passion,” she said. “I want to see if I can be as successful with my own business as with other people’s businesses.”
With that desire, Ida applied to the full-time MBA programs at Chicago Booth, Wharton, Stanford, and Harvard and was accepted to Harvard where she enrolled this past fall as a 25-year-old. No matter what Ida decides to do with her MBA, Poets&Quants is already a fan of her strength and resilience.