Meet Stanford GSB’s MBA Class Of 2021

Stanford GSB photo


Still, the school isn’t afraid to tinker with its proven formula. In September, Stanford GSB announced that Economist Paul Oyer – a 20-year veteran of the school – would take the reins as the senior associate dean of the MBA program. He replaced Yossi Feinberg, who quickly snapped up a new project. In October, the school announced it would be introducing new “Action Learning” courses, ten-week electives for intimate classes of roughly 20 students. Led by Feinberg and applying a learning-by-doing model, these courses pair MBA teams with nearby startups or embed them with Intel innovation teams and big data research projects.

“The idea behind this is to create a learning experience for students where they learn in a real work environment but it is structured so that what you learn can be generalized for whatever your career path is,” explains Feinberg. “Students will work on a real project. It’s not an internship or a toy project. It has to be a real project that is meaningful for an organization. Then you have a team of students who are asked to invest time in it. The faculty member supports the learning and provides foundations that they need to execute and is also this leader who the organization would love to have as a consultant.”

Of course, Stanford GSB also benefits from its location – and we’re not talking about Palo Alto’s breezy Mediterranean climate. The school sits on the outskirts of Silicon Valley – just a five-minute drive to Sand Hill Road. As expected, MBAs take full advantage of the nearby talent, expertise, and funding. In P&Q’s 2019 MBA Startup Ranking, for example, Stanford GSB alumni boasted 39 of the top 101 MBA-founded startups over the past five years. In sum, their startups had raised $1.3 billion dollars. What’s more, this number had increased from 27 startups the year before – and nearly doubled the 21 MBA-founded startups from Harvard Business School.

Knight Management Center


One reason? Entrepreneurship is almost a requirement at the GSB. In the school’s electives catalog, 47% of courses focus on entrepreneurship and innovation – more than any other MBA program. At the same time, nearly every student completes one of these electives. In recent years, 16%-24% of GSB graduates have founded or joined a startup right after graduation.

What makes Stanford GSB’s approach to entrepreneurship different? Look no further than the Startup Garage, a project-intensive elective taught by Stefanos Zenios. Grounded heavily in design thinking and lean frameworks, the course – which launched the $2 billion dollar DoorDash – prepares students to identify gaps and design models that enable them to forge a niche. More than that, the course requires students to view their solution through social responsibility – the contribution it makes to the greater good.

“There was a period where our students wanted to create the Airbnb of X or the Uber of Y, so taking those models and figuring out what the next model would look like — but now they are increasingly becoming more problem-driven,” Zenios told P&Q in a 2019 interview. “They are finding problems to solve, looking outside the window, or talking to customers, users, and people outside of the environment in which they are in. Once you start doing that, there are some problems that are deeply social in nature.”

Such resources, along with the GSB’s impact-driven bent, appealed to Alokik Bhasin. “Every business is going to be a technology business,” he asserts. “What better place to study technology than at Stanford – the epicenter of the global technology world. The access to industry, combined with cutting-edge research done by faculty is simply unbelievable. This led me to choose GSB.”


Another reason? The program is synonymous with spurring personal growth and fostering emotional intelligence. GSB is the place where students go, in essence, to experiment and reflect. “Students are being trained to challenge each other’s leadership practices, provide feedback in an effective manner, and constantly reflect upon their own conscious and unconscious behaviors,” observes Christine Kaptan.

This approach is deeply woven into coursework and activities. Perhaps the best example is TALK, a rite of passage for most. On Monday nights, a student will step up in front of classmates. For a half-hour, they’ll open up on their passions, dreams, and defining moments, often revealing their most intimate moments in the process.  Kaptan considers it one of her defining moments at the GSB thus far.

MBA students at the Stanford GSB

“I gave the first TALK in our year and was terrified since I had never revealed personal information about my life and never talked in front of that many (about 200) people. What I realized after seeing the reactions of my classmates is how powerful and inspirational authenticity and vulnerability are. It made me understand that finding one’s own voice (not what people think that others want to hear) and embracing the character traits that one views as weaknesses are the most powerful connector to build personal relationships, which again is – to me – the key to living a satisfying life and achieving professional success.”


Another hallmark is the Interpersonal Communications course, otherwise known as “Touchy-Feely.” Think of the class as a boot camp in self-awareness. Small “T-Groups” engage in continuous role-plays, with students buffeted by feedback on how they are perceived by others. The class takes a page from Las Vegas, where what is said in class stays in class. That’s because the course isn’t just about taking feedback. Students also learn how to deliver it, stripping away judgment and assumption to zero in on behavior and impact.

“It’s a powerful experience,” explains Brian Lowery, the school’s senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, in a 2018 interview with P&Q. “Without getting into the particulars of the course, the reason it’s powerful is because often we don’t have the opportunity or inclination to get honest, transparent feedback about how we show up. For a lot of people, it really is an epiphany to have people really tell you how you’re affecting them. Often people are afraid to find that out.”

Another popular course is LOWkeynotes. Think of it like a TED Talk. Over a quarter, students author, memorize, and deliver a presentation on a topic where they are passionate. Guided by coaches, the course continues Stanford GSB’s ‘safe space’ approach to learning. Translation: students are comfortable enough to share their unfiltered thoughts – and receive support and feedback in return.

“I also really value the culture of vulnerability and openness at Stanford,” notes Soha Yasrebi. “Voicing insecurities and concerns in a safe environment provides opportunities for self-improvement and allows us to build empathy and deep connections with others. I also find vulnerability an important aspect in leadership as it cultivates honestly, transparency and a culture of support.”

The purple ball is a signature style element of Mexican architects Legorreta + Legorreta


This honesty also sets an expectation and builds a sense community that goes far beyond Palo Alto, adds Christine Kaptan. “Other people’s successes are celebrated, not frowned upon; if someone needs encouragement, that person receives lots of smiles, pats on the back, and kind words. Whoever has an idea is quickly joined by a crew of people who want to help. I’m truly grateful that I get to experience this incredible support system, and I’ve made it one of my personal goals to foster this kind of caring and encouraging behavior wherever I go.”

This environment has also stirred several epiphanies for the Class of 2021. This fall, Nadine ElAshkar learned how much people lose when they gravitate towards others like themselves. “The GSB does a great job at 1) Raising awareness of such short-cuts and biases in classes such as Organizational Behavior, and 2) Encouraging cross-pollination through activities such as “Pods” and “Small Group Dinners,” she explains. “I can guarantee you, if you think of the most different person from you, have a couple of conversations with them. You will find you are much more similar than you think. This was the biggest epiphany I gained: we are quick to box people out, and miss out on great perspectives.”

Just as important, adds Morgan Wiley, the Stanford MBA experience teaches you that you can’t do it alone…and the most important question of all can sometimes be, “Can you help me?”

“There are plenty of people around who can help you. “Asking for help is the greatest personal and professional gift you can give yourself. People are always more willing to help than you think and the impact they can make – as a colleague, mentor, or friend – can be exponentially greater than the challenge of reaching out.”

What led these professionals to enter business schools? Which programs did they also consider? What strategies did they use to choose their MBA program? What was the major event that defined them? Find the answers to these questions and many more in the in-depth profiles of these incoming MBA candidates.


Student Hometown Undergrad Alma Mater Last Employer
Wes Adams Anaheim, CA Howard University Goldman Sachs
Joshua Adeoye Mopamuro, Nigeria Obafemi Awolowo University Bayero University Kano
Alokik Bhasin Delhi, India PEC University of Technology, Chandigarh Docon Technologies
Nadine ElAshkar Cairo, Egypt The American University in Cairo McKinsey & Company
Anderson Alvaro Gava Muller Santa Rita, Paraguay National University of Asuncion AB-InBev Paraguay
Marie-Cristine Kaptan Zurich, Switzerland University of Zurich Niederer Kraft Frey Ltd.
Benjamin Lazaroff Floral Park, NY Washington University in St. Louis Office of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Olivia Sayvetz Vashon Island, WA Princeton University Golden Gate Capital
Morgan Wiley Ridgefield, CT Duke University SingleThread Farms
Peixi Yan Tianjin, China Montana Tech Chevron
Joshua Yang San Diego, CA University of California, San Diego Nephrosant
Soha Yasrebi Tehran, Iran University of Toronto OMERS Ventures

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