Hitting the open road – there’s no freedom like it. Just pack up and go where you want. On the road, you can be anyone. No schedules. No obligations. Just embrace the possibilities. That’s what Megumi Takemoto does.
A 2020 ESADE MBA, Takemoto spent three years traveling the globe on her motorcycle. She started on a Kawasaki Super Sherpa, racing past wild kangaroos in the Australian bush. Soon enough, Takemoto was crossing the United States on the mythical Route 66. Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, India, Thailand – been there, done that.
“I have been to every continent including Antarctica, although I left my bike in Argentina,” she tells P&Q.
A WOMAN ON A TOP MEN’S BASEBALL TEAM
That’s just one of Takemoto’s adventures. At 19, she was the first Japanese woman to pitch in the men’s Tokyo Big 6 University Baseball League. Eventually, she became a staff writer for Nikkei, the parent company of The Financial Times, where she interviewed hundreds of CEOs. As an MBA student, she co-founded a venture, e-specks, a real estate crowdfunding platform – all while raising two young children.
That is the kind of record that put her and many other MBA graduates solidly on our MBAs To Watch for 2020. Each year, P&Q reaches out to over 70 top full-time MBA programs to find the most indispensable second-years. This year, P&Q received 242 nominees, which were split between the Best & Brightest MBAs and MBAs To Watch. Overall, the 142 MBAs To Watch hail from programs ranging from Stanford, Wharton, and INSEAD to ESADE, Fordham, and U.C. Irvine. On the MBA To Watch list, women outnumber men by a 77-to-65 margin. Employment-wise, Amazon hired eight MBAs To Watch, with Bain & Company, Deloitte, and IBM each recruiting four.
What makes an MBA To Watch? Call them distinctive and eclectic – and rarely conventional. Their storylines aren’t always perfectly linear and clear. Many are still finding their way. For them, business school sometimes involved a rocky transition, a feeling out process where they gained confidence as time went along. In a nutshell, the MBAs To Watch are the students with the courage to bet on themselves – or, in the words of the University of Maryland’s Vanessa Chang: “When facing tough choices, I always choose the riskier one.”
THE HIGH POTENTIAL MBAs WHO ARE GAINING MOMENTUM
That is a path that Takemoto has also taken. Her achievements – and the pace she sets – made an impression on classmates like Michelle Rojo. “Whenever I feel tired, I think of [Takemoto’s] journey and start to feel inspired and energized,” Rojo tells P&Q. At the same time, Jan Hohberger, associate dean of the ESADE MBA, is equally inspired by Takemoto’s balance and commitment.
“Seeing her zipping around campus on a kick scooter, you cannot help but feel that this is one of the keys to her time management, a drive to succeed that results in innovative solutions to everyday challenges,” Hohberger explains. “You can imagine the work it took to become the first woman baseball player on the men’s team, and how hard she worked to become a successful journalist at the top Japanese newspaper, only to make the leap to the world of business, whilst at the same time being there for her children as they adapt to life in a new country.”
Relentlessly, Takemoto pursues a mission to level stereotypes and squeeze the most from life. Each day, she sets an example, one she hopes will make a difference for her son, Wataru. “Once you have a child, it becomes quite difficult for a professional woman to maintain a work-life balance in the Japanese business environment,” Takemoto notes. “I did not want to continue working thinking that I could have done much more for the company, and I did not want to be with my son thinking that I could have done much more for him. I wanted to show him that his mother always tries to do her best, both at work and as a mother. I wanted to make him proud.”
‘CAVIAR PROGRAMMING ON A PEANUT BUTTER BUDGET’
Like the other MBAs on this year’s list of the MBAs To Watch. Takemoto is a self-starter who was always cooking up new ideas. Take Brigham Young University’s Katie Apker. Over two years, she launched a startup, acquired competitors, and eventually sold her venture…so she could pursue her doctorate. No wonder she is compared to the Energizer Bunny! How about Tierra Evans? The President of Emory University’s Goizueta Real Estate Group, she possesses the rarest of talents…
“Tierra has the innate ability to create Caviar level programming with a peanut butter budget,” observes Irving Williams, the school’s associate director for student affairs.
Like most MBAs To Watch, Evans is an optimist. When it comes to the glass half-full or half-empty argument, the Class of 2020 takes a different tack. They’ll simply grab a different glass…or pour a different drink. More than that, they can walk that fine line: always able to serve as sounding boards and challenge assumptions, all the while making others feel important and valued. That’s a special touch possessed by Rosemary Williamson, a musician and marketer from the University of Toronto.
“Rosemary has the unique ability to meet people where they are at,” notes Neel Joshi, Rotman’s director of student and international experience. “She reserves judgment actively listens, and then follows up with ideas and solutions that come from a genuine place of trying to be helpful.”
In other words, they are difference-makers like the University of Virginia’s Chloe Stegeman. She is considered a rarity by Professor Kimberly Whitler – a student who makes every classroom experience better.
“Chloe emits positivity, caring, and a genuine, supportive community spirit,” Whitler writes. “It is one thing to contribute valuable comments to a case discussion — which she does. It is a whole other thing to make the community richer, more connected, and at peace…When you watch her enter the classroom — and see the love, joy, and admiration that her classmates have for her — you know you are observing one of those rare students that helps build the type of culture we aspire for at Darden.”
These culture builders include students like Washington University’s Franklyn Nnakwue. A practicing physician, he worked to expand access to healthcare for refugees – often in remote areas of Nigeria that were torn apart by the Boko-Haram insurgency. That spirit of service extends to Tory Paez, a Georgetown MBA who dropped a high-profile senior consulting role to enter the U.S. Peace Corps in Costa Rica’s Isla de Chira. Here, she put her marketing mojo to work, creating a tourism collective that “literally put Chira on the map” through platforms ranging from Google Maps to Facebook. Chris DiBiase also worked to keep the peace as a member of the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan. When the Florida MBA returned stateside, he became an instructor at Army Ranger School. Before joining Notre Dame’s MBA program two years ago, John Chao earned a Bronze Star for valor while serving in the U.S. Marines Special Operations.
See pages 4-6 for 142 in-depth profiles of this year’s Best & Brightest MBAs.