The Best & Brightest Executive MBA Grads Of 2020

For many, McDonald’s was the gateway to business. It was the place where they learned to smile during customer meltdowns or stay calm when the milkshake maker crashed. At one time, you would’ve found Jeff Bezos cracking eggs or Rachel McAdams greeting customers beneath the Golden Arches. Still, it just wasn’t a place where many would want to make a career.

That’s what Ofelia Kumpf probably thought. After all, she interviewed at McDonald’s just to sharpen her interview skills. Turns out, they made a deep impression on each other. Kumpf was hired as a management trainee. Over the next 30 years, she climbed the ranks to become a U.S. Field Vice President, a $2.1 billion dollar operation that stretches from Southern California to West Texas. In the process, she became one of the most powerful Latino professionals, most recently ranking #12 on Fortune’s list of the Most Powerful Latinas in the U.S. Her crowning achievement (so far)? Her San Diego market was chosen to launch the McDonald’s All Day Breakfast – a move she had long championed.


Ofelia Kumpf, USC Marshall

These successes didn’t stop Kumpf from returning to school. Already schooled in functions ranging from finance to real estate at McDonald’s, Kumpf joined the Executive MBA program at USC’s Marshall School in 2018. For her, it was a means to tap into the minds of “world-class” faculty, experience different issues through team-based projects, and engage with classmates from dozens of industries. In the end, Kumpf was able to bring back a more diverse, forward-focused perspective to McDonald’s. At the same time, she enriched the MBA experience of her peers.

“Ofelia captivated the class with her deep understanding of how corporate innovations get done,” explains Steven Mednick, associate professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the Marshall School.  “Through her storytelling, it became clear that her success as a corporate entrepreneur and leader at McDonald’s has been rooted in her qualities of integrity, positivity, resilience, vision, courage, passion, and humility. As a result, her class colleagues looked to her for guidance as to how they might pursue corporate entrepreneurship innovations at their companies.”

Kumpf is one of the Executive MBAs honored by Poets&Quants in its 7th annual Best & Brightest Executive MBAs. This year’s list includes 102 graduates from the Class of 2020. Ranging in age from 30 to 59, these EMBAs hail from 52 top business schools, including Wharton, INSEAD, MIT Sloan, and Columbia Business School. These students were selected by administrators and peers alike, honored for their “contributions to the class, academic performance, extracurricular involvement, personal intangibles, and unique personal stories.”


Indeed, you’ll find a class of heavy hitters in this year’s Best & Brightest. Ever laugh during one of those “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercials from Dos Equis? You can thank Adam Kost from the University of Texas, who was part of the brand team that developed this iconic character.  At ABC, Ben Wells didn’t create Rosanne. However, this USC Marshall MBA was the producer who led the marketing of the show’s reboot – one that reached 27.3 million viewers during its premiere. Speaking of big responsibilities, it doesn’t get more high stakes than what Ayotunde Gibbs faced. This Texas Christian EMBA designed the point of sale system used in GameStop’s 3,500 retail stores…which accounts for 90% of the firm’s annual revenue of $5 billion dollars!

Samantha Palmer, Wharton School

Speaking of high pressure and big numbers, the University of North Carolina’s Arnulf Penker was promoted to CEO during business school. He is now responsible for a manufacturer with $500 million dollars in annual revenue! Frantz Saintellemy raised $185 million dollars in funding for his company during his time at the McGill-HEC Montreal Executive MBA program. Then again, the Wharton School’s Samantha Palmer balanced classes with closing the largest acquisition in the history of Amgen…$13.4 billion dollars.

The Best & Brightest EMBAs also feature a strong humanitarian streak. Take Jeffrey S. Jhang from Rutgers Business School. Outside class, he is a medical director at the Center for Clinical Laboratories at the Mount Sinai Health System. With the advent of COVID-19, Jhang – a leading pathologist – is busy developing tests and treatments for patients. He ever appeared on The Today Show in April to discuss his progress. In contrast, the University of Chicago’s Po-yee Lam has been running a social enterprise in Hong Kong to keep vulnerable young women out of the sex trade.

“We helped over 7,000 young girls overcame their life crises and rebuild their lives,” Lam explains. “It took lots of courage to start from the scratch; I learned so much from this experience. It is still challenging to communicate the importance of helping marginalized communities as society holds many stigmas on them.”


Sasha Schechter, Columbia Business School

Not surprisingly, the Class of 2020 includes prodigies who beat the odds and defied expectations. Just look at Georgetown University’s Niki Allen. Homeless for a time growing up, she rose to be the Vice President of HR Technology Transformation at Boeing. When Natasha Rankin was the 17, the NYU Stern grad was already serving as an assistant press secretary for a U.S. Congressional campaign. Impressed? Well, Asif Ilyas, MD skipped college altogether to enter medical school. The IE Business School EMBA is now a surgeon, professor, and researcher who has published over 150 peer-reviewed articles.

What brought such talents back to campus to take a deep dive into business? Ryoun Chung  had noticed that he’d grown increasingly stagnant over his career while his friends “were running a little faster than me.” This inspired him to enroll in the Indiana EMBA program – and take a new job with Amazon. Sasha Schechter, an Emmy Award winner who heads up digital distribution for The WNET Group, echoes Chung. She viewed Columbia Business School as the bridge to go from the proverbial Point A to Point B. At the same time, the University of Minnesota’s Erik K. Erickson was motivated by a healthy bit of fear.

“I had the realization that I did not want to be caught in a job interview at the age of 55 and asked the question, “Why, in all of these years, didn’t you ever consider furthering your education beyond your undergraduate degree?”.


As the Best & Brightest Executive MBAs look back on their two years, most aren’t wondering how they did it. Instead, they’re comforted knowing they’re ready for whatever comes next. And they have a simple piece of advice for professionals considering following in their footsteps.

Go do it.

“There is no reason to hesitate,” writes Southern Methodist University’s Adam Tunks. “These programs are transformative. If you are looking to super-charge your career and change the trajectory, the earlier you make the change, the larger the benefit is over your career.

To access in-depth profiles of this year’s  Best & Brightest Executive MBAs,  CLICK HERE.


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The Best & Brightest EMBAs: Class of 2017

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