Many students come to business school for answers. They want to sharpen skills and test boundaries, build a network and land a job. The Stanford Graduate School of Business carries a different vision for education. Here, students ask the questions – and furnish the answers themselves. For Stanford MBAs, the grade that matters is the one they’ll assign themselves when they look over their life and career.
Stanford GSB is a place, in the words of first-year Peixi Yan, where the focus is on “leadership development, introspection, and interpersonal dynamics.” It is a school where students put themselves out there and dream big, knowing like-minded classmates will act as their safety net. That’s because their MBA peers are there to answer many of the same questions. You see, the secret behind Stanford GSB is that the students make the experience. And they come to Palo Alto to wrestle with the tough questions so they can become leaders who can influence the future.
“WHAT MATTERS MOST” AND “WHY SHOULD SOMEONE FOLLOW YOU”
“One of the things that has been proven over and over in research is that highly inspirational leaders who get the highest level of performance from their organizations really know what drives them, and they are thinking beyond themselves to the problems they can make change and have an impact on,” says Kristen Moss, Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions & Financial Aid, in a 2017 speech. “So in our application, one of our key questions is ‘What matters most and why?’, and it has been an iconic question for a long time. Taking the time to understand what matters to you will be your true north as a leader, no matter what school you go to, in the rest of your life… You will be one step ahead of the game in terms of being able to motivate others.”
Answering “What matters most and why” may get students into Stanford GSB. Once here, they must ponder a different question: “Why would someone follow me?” The answer, says first-year Alokik Bhasin, is developing an authentic, holistic leadership style: “the way we lead, communicate, make decisions, and manage people,” he says. To bring that out, Stanford GSB leans heavily on an array of experiential practices, including role-plays, simulations, labs, projects, and interactive cases.
“A significant portion of the Stanford GSB curriculum and co-curricular programs is focused on developing the leader as a person, as opposed to the leader as an extension of the organization,” explains Olivia Sayvetz, a Princeton grad who joined the Class of 2021 after working in private equity. “Interpersonal dynamics, empathy, integrity, coaching, feedback, deep listening, and connecting over common interests and differences are all central focuses of the program. It is not the accounting finance, or marketing classes that will be change agents in the future, but rather the classes and interactions that teach how to manage difficult conversations, understand diverse stakeholders, and put yourself on the same side of the table as others.”
What makes this style of learning so effective? Sayvetz’s classmate, Morgan Wiley, points to how individualized the program is, calling it a “choose-your-own-adventure” for creating leaders. In other words, after Stanford MBAs answer the why, the schools offers a wealth of resources to help them determine the how.
“Through programs like Arbuckle Fellows, Stanford promised opportunities to both have and be a leadership coach; its countless entrepreneurship classes offered not just large lectures, but individualized mentors assigned to help you (and your idea) develop – on your own terms,” Wiley observes. “As someone considering a non-traditional route after school, I came to the GSB to become a leader prepared to tackle any challenge my career might throw at me.”
That flexibility extends to the larger university, adds Geoffrey Calder, a 2019 Poets&Quants Best & Brightest MBA who joined Bain Capital. “There is flexibility within the business school curriculum (i.e., most “compulsory” courses are offered at the Base, Accelerated, and Advanced level). Second, there is the flexibility to take classes “across the street” (i.e., can easily take electives at the Law School, Medical School, Engineering School, etc.). As someone who had already completed a 4-year undergraduate business degree, this meant I was able to avoid nearly all overlap and push myself intellectually throughout the program. But there were other draws: varied teaching method, small class size, proximity to Silicon Valley, great weather, collaborative culture, and so on.”
Perhaps the school’s biggest selling point is something near impossible to measure: Passion. That’s what has always struck Annie Robertson Hockey about the Stanford GSB. After collecting a Psychology degree from the school in 2012, she returned four years later to earn her MBA at the GSB. Now a Bain consultant, Robertson Hockey attributes the school’s success to recruiting – and bringing in prospective students who are dynamic, diverse, and deeply devoted.
“Stanford is excellent at finding people who have extreme passion and bringing them to campus to challenge them, to fuel that passion and channel it into industries, companies, and jobs that can make the world better,” she explains in a 2019 interview. “They’re also putting them into a situation where they can meet other people who are on working on those same things, which is magical. What you find is that people who have an extreme passion for something non-academic are able to bring that into their professional lives. That’s where true innovation and true disruption happen because that’s where people think outside the box. They can envision a future that is not necessarily constrained by the way things are done now but the way things should be done.”
Sure enough, passionate students listen, support, and share. More than that, they are curious and ask questions. Perhaps the most Stanford question of all didn’t originate at the school. When Olivia Sayvetz was mulling over her business school decision, her mother posed the most important question of all: “What makes you jump out of bed in the morning?” Her answer, she says, led her straight to Palo Alto.
TAKING ON THE ESTABLISHMENT
“I realized that I didn’t have a very good answer to the question that I actually believed in. What struck me about the GSB is that it is a place people go to in order to figure out the answer to that exact question. I have been in highly-competitive and structured environments for the majority of my adult life…and I felt that it was time I immerse myself in an environment that would encourage me to take risks and to think outside the box. In my opinion, this is precisely what sets Stanford GSB apart from the rest. The world is changing before our eyes and Stanford is at the forefront of that evolution.”
Soon enough, so will the Class of 2021. Chances are, you’ll find Joshua Adeoye (aka Dr. Strange) leading the charge. In Nigeria, he taught dentistry and public health. However, his influence extends far beyond academia. Disheartened by his nation’s political caste, he decided to join his friends and “disrupt” the electoral space…despite the risk it posed to himself.
“We decided to tackle the unfortunate resignation that Nigerians worldwide have developed to the constant recycling of aged, low-quality candidates by political parties, occasioned by equally aged, usually nefarious, Godfathers,” he notes. “Our solution was a socio-political non-profit called the “Take-It-Back” movement, which registered a political party against all odds. We then proceeded to make a spirited run for the Presidency that made the news locally and internationally, for all the right reasons. I served as the Director of Operations of the campaign and Chief of Staff for the candidate.”
PUBLIC SERVANTS AND ENTREPRENEURS
Benjamin Lazaroff also entered the political fray, public service to be exact. Starting at McKinsey, he moved over to working as an economic development associate for the Office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, where he made his impact in workforce development.
“I helped lead a pilot to redesign a prison system and bring a rehabilitative, workforce-driven approach to several thousand incarcerated individuals,” he writes. “From a professional standpoint, I took on a significant deal of responsibility in making this happen and learned from some incredible individuals who have made this their life’s work. From a societal perspective, if the results of this project are only half of what we projected, the ripple effect on communities and cities will be far-reaching—and will hopefully set the stage for continued reform at the national level.”
Joshua Yang found his path in entrepreneurship. Armed with an M.D. and Ph.D. in Bioengineering from John Hopkins University, Yang founded Nephrosant, which he describes as a “reliable, inexpensive, and noninvasive assay to monitor kidney injury.” Despite boasting an accuracy rate over 95%, Yang takes his greatest pride in the culture that his company has fostered.
“I reminisce about our earliest days in 2017, eating in the Palo Alto Il Fornaio with the rest of my co-founders, laughing boisterously about hectic late-night conference calls just weeks prior and tearing up while sharing feelings of how privileged we felt to work with each other. Now 14 people strong in 2019, our most recent holiday party involved playing White Elephant at a South San Francisco Chinese restaurant, laughing about stolen gifts and sharing our optimism for the coming year.”
Go to Page 3 for a dozen in-depth profiles of the Class of 2021.