Microsoft. Amazon. T-Mobile. Starbucks. Nordstrom.
What do these companies have in common? You’ll find each headquartered around the Puget Sound. Forget the skyscrapers and cruise ships. The area is a throwback to simpler times, marked by stunning coastlines and snowcapped peaks. Here, the land caters to farming and fishing, island retreats where people can unplug by hiking kayaking, and camping – even glimpsing a gray whale at low tide.
Beyond the meadows and evergreens, you’ll find Seattle – a bustling port and tech hub filled with coffee houses, craft beers, and rainy days. Not surprisingly, Seattle is associated with green, the color of renewal and relaxation – nature, youth, creativity, and money. Yes, the Emerald City brings it all together. That’s why it has become such a popular place for high potentials – including MBA students like Emmy Armintrout, A Stanford grad and entrepreneur, Armintrout enrolled at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business this fall. A Seattle native, Armintrout decided to return home so she could join a tech scene where peers had “more diverse backgrounds.”
A CERTAIN MOMENTUM
“San Francisco has a lot of entrepreneurial energy, but it’s more entrenched. In Seattle there are established companies that have attracted a ton of talent and energy, but also room to carve a unique path.”
Indeed, Seattle is startup central. Last year, it raked in $3.5 billion dollars in VC funding. That doesn’t count recent disruptors like Expedia, Rover, and Outreach. More than that, it is a city with momentum. Foster first-year Francesca Aba Rosa Essilfie, describes it as a place where “career opportunities, the outdoors, and nightlife come together to form a comfortable, yet exciting living environment.” Her classmate, Devin Doyle, lauds Seattle as a city with a low barrier to entry where graduates can make an impact quickly. More than that, he adds, the surrounding area provides a certain respite.
“I wanted to be in a creative, liberal city where thinking outside-the-box is valued. Not to mention, when my schedule starts to feel as turbulent as the markets, I can rent some gear from the college and hike Mt. Rainier to clear my head.”
“A NATURAL PLAYGROUND”
Carly Presho-Dunne is another member of the Class of 2021 who grew up in Seattle. Like her classmates, she believes the area’s appeal stems from a diverse mix of industries, awe-inspiring natural beauty, healthy lifestyles, and a wealth of events like food festivals and concerts.
“I grew up enjoying the region’s beauty – its spectacular mountains, lakes, oceans and islands,” she explains. “The Pacific Northwest is an undeniably inspiring natural playground that balances the thriving tech economy that keeps the city humming during the week. I can’t think of a better place to earn my MBA because nowhere else that I know of can offer me such rich personal benefits so close to so many companies that are meaningfully impacting the way business is done around the world.”
The Foster School offers access to these organizations, developing deep networks within the likes of Amazon and Microsoft. In fact, the program draws 2,000 business executives every year to campus, not counting a 60-member advisory board to the school – and another 240 advisory members across various academic centers.
“I think MBAs are looking for companies that have breakthrough business models that are changing life,” says Naomi Sanchez, assistant dean of MBA Career Management at Foster, in a 2019 interview with P&Q. “They like the idea of innovation and creativity,” “They want to work for an exciting, cutting-edge type of situation, with smart people. They want to be surrounded by this energy.”
MAKING THE SALE…WITH FEMINISM
That energy and innovation is exactly what the Class of 2021 brings. Take Ammar Ejaz. He left a cushy banking career to start a business in a developing country – one that eventually employed 60 full-time people and operated five retail outlets. For him, an MBA is a means to step back and learn how to effectively run larger and more complex organizations. However, his original inspiration for launching his business originated from a two-month stint in intensive care with a life-threatening illness.
“My illness gave me an opportunity to introspect on my true priorities in life. I resigned from my job on my very first day back and set to work researching entrepreneurial opportunities that I had in mind.”
Emmy Armintrout has also tested out entrepreneurship, building out a sports management platform that grew to 100K users before she sold it. In contrast, Devin Doyle is more of an intrapreneur, overhauling an onboarding platform for a 90,000-person real estate firm that eventually produced higher employee engagement scores during his tenure. When it comes to out-of-the-box thinking, look no further than Carly Presho-Dunne, who outlined how ads with “feminist subtext” could enhance clients’ appeal to young women.
“I helped even my most senior and risk-averse clients understand feminism as an ideology and see how important it was to their millennial audience to know they supported it. The research helped us sell them better, more provocative work including a film about a transgender woman facing the stress of leaving her restroom stall, an ad that generated more earned media than ever before in the brand’s 50+ year history.”
LEADING WOMEN IN AN AFGHANISTAN DEPLOYMENT
The Class of 2021 also includes students who’ve put others’ lives before their own. Most recently, Jeff Snell served as a UH-1Y “Venom” Helicopter Pilot for the U.S. Marine Corps. During his service, Snell also worked as a flight instructor and an aviation subject matter expert for 800 infantry marines where he coordinated ground support operations.
“I was being relied on for planning and execution, all while fitting in with a different work culture outside of my aviation-centric comfort zone. All of this gave me the confidence to trust my abilities and instincts when proposing and conducting business endeavors.”
In contrast, Jenny Perkins spent her time in the U.S. Army as a Logistics Officer. Like Snell, she was also forced out of her comfort zone when she was deployed on a female engagement team in Afghanistan for nine months.
“The experience was unique for me as a leader, having to integrate a team of females into an all-male combat unit and complete the required pre-deployment training which included learning Pashtu,” Perkins explains. “Being able to use our training in country while working to build relationships with the locals was incredibly rewarding in seeing the result of working towards a common goal.”
BRINGING GOOD THINGS TO LIGHT
True to the creative nature of the Foster School – and Seattle at large – Camilla Casey Polakoff brought to life Current, a startup within General Electric that became its first software partnership program. Long-known for manufacturing lighting fixtures, GE added sensors to their products. Able to collect data, GE enabled buildings to reduce usage and costs while enhancing city safety and livability.
“Current was one of the first business units to launch a software partnership program and I was tasked with creating and operationalizing this program,” Polakoff explains. “I created a global partnership program that consisted of creating market segmentation of potential partners; developed a tiered program structure guiding partners on critical milestones to go to market together; managed customer engagements with partners, co-marketing events; and built out internal commercial operational tools to support the program and sales activities.”
By day, Joey Delgado worked a staff attorney for RAICES, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. Most people probably wouldn’t guess that he once lived in a Mayan city. That’s one of the fun facts about this year’s incoming class. Devin Doyle, for one, is a trained actor who played teen singer Aaron Carter in a cable TV show. Camilla Casey Polakoff helped win a D1 National Championship in Rowing as a freshman at Brown. And how is this for being adaptable?
“My father was in the military,” writes Ammar Ejaz. “Growing up, we moved cities and countries quite often. I had gone through 16 schools by the time I got into college.”
WE > ME
What does Ejaz think of his new classmates at Foster? “Driven, energetic, and ambitious” are three words that come to mind, he notes. However, he has been “caught off guard” by his peers’ inclusiveness and collaboration.
“I came into the program expecting cut-throat competitiveness and rivalry. Instead I was taken back by the collaborative atmosphere and community spirit of the cohort. I feel that this reflects the general atmosphere of the school where everyone is supportive and considerate.”
Ejaz’s classmate, Francesca Aba Rosa Essilfie, also applies the “supportive” label to her classmates – a common theme considering the school’s “We > Me” ethos. “My classmates have consistently shown their concern for not only their success but my success as well. I’ve experienced this through our conversations about career trajectory, helping each other prepare for interviews, and simply helping each other meet deadlines. I can confidently say that I am a part of a class that genuinely cares about others.”
Go to the next page for 12 in-depth profiles of the Class of 2021.