2020 MBAs To Watch: Kevin Shen, Cornell University (Johnson)

Yuankai (Kevin) Shen

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

“Food-obsessed problem solver who remembers too many random facts.”

Hometown: Tianjin, China / West Hartford, Connecticut

Fun fact about yourself: I didn’t learn the English alphabet until I was nine years old.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Boston University, Biomedical Engineering with a Minor in Business

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Accenture

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? IBM Extreme Blue, Austin, Texas

Where will you be working after graduation? IBM, Product Management

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Vice President of Education, High Tech Club; Vice President of Event Planning, Asian Business Association; Johnson Leadership Fellow; Career Work Group Leader; Teaching Assistant, Designing Data Products.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As a student who came to Johnson intending to switch careers into product management, I am most proud of winning awards in two Major League Hacking hackathons: The Big Red Hack at Cornell and the Stanford Tree Hack. I appreciate this achievement because I was able to add value as a relatively non-technical MBA student in a very technical development competition. Applying a lot of entrepreneurship and product design concepts, which I learned at Johnson was also meaningful. For each Hackathon, I formed a team with strangers on Slack and was able to quickly create a positive and constructive working dynamic.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of helping a federal client that was enforcing the Affordable Care Act compliance to adopt agile development methods. The client wanted to implement legislative and development methodology changes at the same time. This situation caused resistance to change in many stakeholders, which made the transition difficult. Finding out what each stakeholder was most worried about, and creating a plan or a solution to address those concerns was very rewarding. In the end, we delivered the change and accelerated the project’s progression by three weeks, despite having to overcome a few hurdles. I’m very proud of the work I did because it was a project that had a positive impact on hundreds of millions of people.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Johnson Follies is my favorite event and it reflects the easy-going nature of the students and staff while emphasizing the importance of community. The event is a night full of skits, comedy, memes, and roasting of classmates and faculty. The show highlights significant events, trends, and stereotypes in an over-the-top manner. The faculty, including the dean, are involved in the performance. This event highlights the inclusive and easy-going nature of the Johnson community. Students spend a month preparing for the event, and it’s an example of students’ dedication to the community. Furthermore, students take roasting and memes about them in stride, reflecting our camaraderie and calm nature.

Why did you choose this business school? I came to Johnson because of the tight-knit community and collaborative culture. When looking for business schools, I wanted to be at a place where students help each other succeed, rather than compete. I was fortunate enough to get an inside look because one of my coworkers came to Johnson a year before me. He shared with me how second-year students dedicated many hours each week to help first-years succeed. My co-worker’s experience helped me decide that Johnson was the best fit for me.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? I think talking to Johnson students and understanding our culture is important. Johnson is a small program, and fit is important. As students relocate to Ithaca for two years, fitting into the community and collaborative culture is a must. Johnson helps applicants understand our culture in many ways. There are many events that prospective students can attend to understand the school better. There are many student ambassadors and club officers who are happy to share their experiences.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I think the biggest myth is that Johnson is a finance school. Although investment banking, corporate finance, and investment research make up a significant portion of the class’s career path, there is also a large emphasis tech careers and other paths. With the launch of the Cornell Tech campus, the introduction of our Digital Technology Immersion, the refresh of our Marketing Immersion to include an emphasis on strategic product management for tech, and the creation of our Intensives in Digital Marketing and Fintech, Johnson is offering more and more resources to students who are seeking a career in technology.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently, and why? One thing I would have done differently would have been to serve as a host for the LEAD (Leadership Exploration & Assessment Day), a weekend where prospectives stay with a current student while attending events). I enjoy hosting classmates for dinner, and hosting a prospective for LEAD would have allowed me to share my experience and cooking with them. Additionally, I have a spare bedroom in my house so it would have been a comfortable arrangement as well. However, my schedule didn’t work out with hosting opportunity as I had to travel.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Again, this is so hard as I have so many accomplished classmates. I think I admire Alina Everett the most. Alina is one of the most responsible people I know while being one of the best at handling people. Alina served as the president of the High-Tech Club and she drove significant change through consistent effort and dedication. She would be up at 3 a.m. making changes to a presentation for the first-year class after she had agreed at the last minute to help lead a Tech Career Work Group. She is always full of energy and ready to get things done. Alina is a great leader who understands how to motivate people and who appreciates the people she leads. She is constantly aware of how her actions and comments affect others around her, and she finds ways to show appreciation whenever she has the chance. Alina also knows how to be firm when she needs to, managing difficult situations without breaking a sweat.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I started college as a biomedical engineer/pre-med student, so I didn’t think about business school. However, at the end of my sophomore year, I realized that medicine and research weren’t for me and I became quite lost. During this time, Akansh Murthy, a friend from MIT, introduced me to careers in management consulting. With his encouragement and help, I took on a business minor and started to pursue a career in consulting, which ultimately led me to business school.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Two items are probably being a part of a start-up and being invited as a guest lecturer back to Johnson or my undergraduate alma mater, Boston University. Ever since I was in college, I have been fascinated by entrepreneurship. I continued learning about entrepreneurship at Johnson, but haven’t yet taken the plunge to join a start-up. In the future, I would like to join a start-up with a great team and a product or service about which I’m passionate. Being invited as a guest lecture is related to my interest in teaching. I always enjoyed teaching and discovered that I was good at when I volunteered to teach middle and school math outside of work. At Johnson, one of the most rewarding experiences was being the VP of education and career workgroup leader. I hope to be successful enough in my career so that I can share my experience with the next generation of engineers or business students.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A funny and fun person who sometimes helps you with your business school problems.


Reading – I read about 3-4 books a week. The last time I checked, I was spending about 24 hours a week on my Kindle.

Hosting Dinner Parties – I try to host at least one dinner party per month, and I work to bring together students from different social circles. Food tourism – I plan all of my vacations around food and drinks.

What made Kevin such an invaluable member of the Class of 2020?

“Kevin, in his roles as a High-Tech Club board member, Tech Career Work Leader, and Teaching Assistant for Designing Data Products has been instrumental in strengthening the tech ecosystem at Johnson. Tech is a key area of strength for us, and Kevin has been an excellent partner, mentor, and role model as we continue to execute on our plan.”

Drew Pascarella
Associate Dean, MBA Programs
Rempe Wilson Distinguished Lecturer of Finance, and Senior Lecturer


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