2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Randall Niffenegger, Purdue University (Krannert)

Randall Niffenegger

Purdue University, Krannert School of Management

“Mad Scientist Turned Manager; Perfection-ish-t; Renaissance Man; Dad Joke Connoisseur.”

Hometown: Waldo, WI (You found it!)

Fun fact about yourself: Last spring I went on a two-week road trip directed by my Instagram followers. Every morning, people voted for North, South, East, or West on my Instagram story, and camping in the back of my car, I drove that direction until I hit something interesting. Starting in West Lafayette, IN, I visited Louisville, KY; camped in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for two nights; and met up with some friends in Asheville, NC. I drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway to Shenandoah National Park, obviously playing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” the entire time, then drove as North as I could to Lake Erie. When I figured it was time to start heading home, I turned left and drove until I reached Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Finally, I ended my trip with a visit to Indiana Dunes National Park, welcoming it to the national park family since only a few weeks earlier it was promoted to “National Park” status. Feel free to check out some of my photos from it on my Instagram: @randy.niff

Undergraduate School and Degree: Mississippi State University, B.S. in Physics, Minors in Mathematics and Business Administration

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Before coming to Krannert, I was an Astrophysics Research Assistant at Mississippi State University. My research with Dr. Angelle Tanner focused on creating a more precise method for detecting earth-sized planets around other stars by combining simultaneous observations of a star’s light “flickering” from Kitt Peak National Observatory’s WIYN telescope and a star’s rotation “jittering” about its axis from the Kepler Space Telescope.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? Bank of America, Charlotte, North Carolina

Where will you be working after graduation? Undecided.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • President, Krannert Graduate Student Association, 2019-2020
  • Dean’s Masters Student Service Award, 2020
  • Samuel Hochman Fellow, 2020
  • Treasurer, Krannert Energy Club, 2019-2020
  • Second Year Mentor, 2019-2020
  • Student Managed Venture Fund, 2019-2020
  • Technology Sector Lead, Student Managed Investment Fund, 2018-2020
  • Founding Member, Men as Allies, 2018-2020
  • First-Year MBA Representative, Krannert Graduate Student Association, 2018-2019
  • First-Year Representative, Krannert Energy Club, 2018-2019
  • Graduate Assistant, Leadership Communication Studio, 2018-2019
  • Graduate Mentor, Purdue Astronomy Club, 2018-2019

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the strength of the Krannert Graduate Student Association (KGSA) during my time at Krannert. With the constant turnover of students each year, KGSA’s ability to impact the student experience can vary widely, so our collective goals were to substantially increase engagement and lock in that benefit through serial documentation. As President of KGSA, the thing I am most proud of is empowering the other board members, even through some strong personalities (theirs and mine) to not just reach our goals, but crush them! The rest of the KGSA board I had around me were not only individually some of the strongest at their position in recent years but collectively operated like a finely-tuned orchestra with the common goal of increasing engagement and building enthusiasm for the future. Because of this, I had the privilege of acting as conductor to extremely talented players that at one point organized four different, successful events on the same day, and encouraged a record number of candidates to run for positions on the KGSA board the following year. The support this team provides to me, and I was able to in turn provide to them, is the spirit of Krannert and why I am proud to call myself a Boilermaker.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? While interning for Bank of America, I was assigned the task of managing the migration of SQL servers for Global Wealth and Investment Management from hardware to the cloud. Part of this required regularly publishing a report on the status of these servers, which took approximately 3 hours to complete, and l was given six weeks to investigate a way to possibly automate this process. Using ideas from code I wrote to automate data analysis in my old astronomy research, in a little under a week I had a robust one-click program made to automate this report in not 3 hours, but 30 seconds. This was a very thrilling experience for me because it was one of the first times I was able to truly capitalize on my scientific background to solve problems in the business realm.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Although it’s not aimed at professional development, networking with alumni, or anything else we sometimes feel obligated to be doing, the Krannert Winter Formal was my favorite business school tradition. Years ago, the Winter Formal was a staple of Krannert that brought together all the management masters students. Some of our current students even have parents that still mention attending it while they were at Purdue in business school. At some point, it died out along the way. In the past two years, the Krannert Winter Formal has been brought back, and in full force! It is one of the few events that truly brings students from every program in Krannert together. Winter Formal provides an opportunity to create a committee of six bright first-years that join the Krannert Graduate Student Association. We are also able to partner with the Management Volunteer Program to award the proceeds of this event to the winning group’s charity in their annual Charity Pitch Case Competition. This event reflects the work hard, play hard mentality that happens when all of us Boilermakers come together.

Why did you choose this business school? Besides the fact that Purdue runs in the family, with my older brother and older sister both earning PhDs in Physics from Purdue University, I chose Purdue for its analytical prowess. Coming from an undergrad in Physics (surprise, surprise), I wanted to find a program that would best help bridge the gap from my technical background to business problem-solving.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Purdue University and the Krannert School of Management have connections to a lot of incredible resources and centers for nearly every area of management. I highly recommend looking into the resources that match your career goals and homing in on them. Look into their events, what current students working with them get to do, and maybe even communicate with them. Getting a sense of what you would like to experience and accomplish in your two years at Krannert, and being able to articulate that, can be a large X factor.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Although I came from a background in science, Krannert is not a school for just the STEM-oriented. Yes, it is true that we have some incredible opportunities with the STEM-MBA concentrations – and we have more than a handful of former engineers in our cohort – but we also have graduates from art school, former professional and collegiate athletes, Peace Corps volunteers, and active-duty military members. From communicating with school recruiters before arriving at Purdue, I learned this myth to not be true, but more surprising was how much these different backgrounds – or the titles and stereotypes that came with them – disappeared and didn’t matter once you got into the study room together to get to work.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have spent more time at Harry’s Chocolate Shop sooner in my business school career. Harry’s is the iconic Purdue bar, and with it being located just 60 feet away directly across the street from the business building, you can go there at any time, any day and always find a friendly face from Krannert willing to share food, a drink, and good times. Coming to business school so quickly from undergraduate, it took some time for me to understand just how much value is created during this time getting to know your classmates outside of the classroom, and not just over a case study.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Sometimes in business school, it can feel like a competition of who is the busiest, worked the longest last night, or has the most things on their to-do list. However, one classmate, Morgan Ellis, rarely participated in these competitions, which he probably would have heartily won. Morgan started at Krannert in the MS in Human Resource Management program but realized with his background in accounting and career goals, that an MBA concentrating in HR would be a better fit for him in the long run. Toward the end of our first year at Krannert, he began the tough process of switching from our 1.5-year MSHRM program to the 2-year MBA. This meant that in his final year of the MBA program he took over 20 hours of classes per semester, instead of the standard 15, to go back and get the MBA core classes he missed the first year.

Outside of the classroom, he also served as the Head Second Year Mentor, Director of Professional Development for the Krannert Graduate Student Association, and Graduate Assistant to the Interim Director of the Krannert Professional Development Center. He also revamped our orientation as an Individual Study assignment for one of our Academic Directors and continued to work part-time for Dell, where he will be going to work full-time after graduation. If this was not enough, throughout his time here at Krannert he has also been training for a Half Ironman, but somehow still says “Yes” to helping anyone that asks it of him. Anyone can be busy, but few can be as intentional and caring while doing it, as Morgan Ellis.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My parents said all along that I should go into business rather than science because I was personable and liked working with people so much, but I was still hesitant because I worried I would get lost in the crowd and didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk or feeling like I wasn’t making an impact. Wally Waldhart, a family friend and mentor to my siblings and I, showed me that a successful career in business doesn’t need to make you a captive of your work, but instead can free you to make an impact as you see fit. Not only a leader in his organization, but in his community, Wally volunteers, mentors, and elevates everyone around him to a higher level, especially impressionable young adults like myself.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • Start my own winery. I started planting vines with my dad when I was 12. By 14, we were dabbling in making our own wine. Since then, he has gone on to be an award-winning winemaker, which is something I would love to do and get back into as a second career.
  • Re-invest in the places that molded me. For example, I would love to give back to Mississippi State University through providing scholarships and having the ability to recruit and employ some of the incredible students at this diamond in the rough that taught me so much about discovery and learning.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As someone that is adaptable, but uniquely himself; may not have all the answers but is always willing to find them.

Hobbies? Photography (I once did an astrophotography time-lapse for the National Optical Astronomy Observatory); Hiking (I used to work as a ranger at Bryce Canyon National Park); Traveling around the country (36 states down!); Singing (In high school I competed in the real-life Pitch Perfect. My group won 5th at international finals); Wine (I love making it, studying it, drinking it).

What made Randall such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Randall Niffenegger, a current Full-time MBA student, has been one of our exceptional students. Randall was elected as the Krannert Graduate School Association (KGSA) president for 2019-2020 school year. As President, he had oversight of 21 clubs and a six-figure budget along with a board of vice presidents. He also was selected to be a Mentor of the Graduate School for a group of first-year graduate students where he provided guidance, motivation, and served as a role model as new students learned to navigate graduate school. Furthermore, all of these activities display his remarkable leadership skills. Randall has an exemplary Grade Point Average (GPA). This highlights his work-life balance, given that he also manages the responsibilities as a student, mentor, and president. Randall is polite and courteous and genuinely gives his best effort in every activity he pursues. He takes on tasks with full enthusiasm and displays an “out of the box” mentality.”

Jennifer Schukraft
Associate Director of Student Services


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