Meet Stanford GSB’s MBA Class Of 2021

Olivia Sayvetz

Stanford Graduate School of Business

“I have a lot of energy.”

Hometown: Vashon Island, Washington

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have lived exclusively on islands for the majority of my life. I was 18 years old when I first moved to the mainland, prior to which I had lived on Vashon Island, Orcas Island, Speiden Island, St. Thomas, and St. John. I will always live near the water!

Undergraduate School and Major: Princeton University: Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, certificate in Environmental Policy

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Golden Gate Capital, Private Equity Associate in Software and Tech-enabled Services

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I could talk about any number of deals, or portfolio companies, or industries. All of those things were difficult and required focus and time and intensity. However, I believe that my greatest accomplishment/skill is my ability to build relationships along the way. I’ve always found that taking the time to build trust and familiarity, even in an otherwise transactional work relationship, pays significant dividends in the long term – in my career and otherwise. Remembering the human relationship in the midst of a deal has helped me to build my reputation and my credibility far after a transaction has concluded. I was able to do this with investment banking clients who came to me for professional training after our engagement ended and portfolio company management teams who have both asked for and offered advice long after our work together ended – not to mention former colleagues, friends, and advisors. I am most proud of my ability to connect quickly, and leverage relationships for mutual learning, personal enrichment, and career goals alike.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Ambitious – but not in the traditional sense you might expect at any business school. GSB students seem to wear the weight of the world on their shoulders. My GSB classmates embody the University’s slogan: “Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.” I have been struck by the amount of good that my classmates hope to create, and the scale at which they hope to do it.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? When toiling over my business school decision, my mom asked me, “What makes you jump out of bed in the morning?” and 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 – whether it be at Princeton, in investment banking, and most recently in private equity – 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.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve found about Stanford GSB so far? Access. I have been stunned by what “” can do, and how willing and excited so many people are to spend a few minutes of their time talking about anything under the sun. Whether it be professors, local VCs, founders, or institutional CEOs, the university is a golden ticket into most conversations. What strikes me is that this privilege only exists because of the consistent and repeated caliber of the person whom one encounters when they engage with the GSB. I must also mention the access that the university provides just by the guest speakers and practitioners that they attract. In the last few months, I’ve heard from executives at Microsoft, Netflix, AB InBev, numerous PE firms and VCs, and entrepreneurs. If education-by-osmosis is real, GSB is the jackpot.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “Why do you want to go to business school?” If you’re going to have a good answer to any question, this is probably the one you should master.

So why was this so difficult? It’s no secret that the value of business school has evolved over the last few decades. The MBA was once a necessary credential for people who aspired to certain levels of general management. As we all know, however, the world is changing. College students are starting billion-dollar companies in their dorm rooms; an MBA is not required to have a great idea. I knew in my gut that I wanted to go – deeply wanted to go – but I had trouble articulating exactly why. I had a great career path ahead of me. I had prospects and opportunities that were not limited by my existing degrees. Not to mention, there is always the looming financial cost of a business school education. I’m still not entirely sure how to adequately articulate my “why.”

What I do know is that perspective is probably the most important thing to have in business (and in life), and I felt that I had one perspective. I had the perspective of the investor. It’s a good perspective – I think – a relatively broad perspective. But it is a singular perspective and one that was reinforced for me every day that I stayed on the “path” that I had started. I wanted to go to business school to gain new perspectives, to hear how my classmate who was in the Marines thinks about the same problem, or my classmates from consulting, or big tech, or human resources, or bootstrapped startups view it. It’s the biggest business school cliché out there, but there is so much intangible value to this education and to the classmates who are making that education possible by taking the same leap that I did.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Harvard Business School (admitted)

What is the biggest epiphany you’ve gained about yourself or the world since you arrived at Stanford GSB? At the end of the day, the world is built on human connections. Whether it be your next co-founder, your first investor, your self-appointed advisors, coaches, friends, your next job opportunity, or the unknown person who is going to change your life and the world, it is the people we connect with – not as business prospects, but as humans – that are the propulsion in life. Human connections are the only real sustainable drivers of growth. This was not an insight that I expected to gain within the first few months at the GSB, but it is more obvious to me now than ever before.

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. 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. These – and many other interpersonal lessons I gained at Stanford – are what I believe I will carry with me for life.

What do you see yourself doing ten years from now? It is impossible to say where I will be in 10 years. I am someone who fiercely lives in the moment. What is certain is that, like my classmates, I too feel the weight of the world on my shoulders more often than I’d like to admit. I aspire to build something greater than myself. Perhaps I will leverage my growing investing expertise to build an investing enterprise that optimizes variables beyond financial returns, that accounts for social, political, or environmental returns. Whether an impact investing firm, a search fund, a social innovation company, I want to use my skill set and my education to effect real change.

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