Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University
“Both a traveler and homebody who loves electronic music.”
Hometown: Hong Kong, China
Fun Fact About Yourself: I love golden retrievers with wrinkly faces.
Undergraduate School and Major: The University of Chicago, Economics
Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Prudential, HR Lead Summer Associate
Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? In short, Johnson offered a top-tier curriculum that was flexible and customizable. Given my desire to pivot into HR, I was looking to gain depth in people operations, but within the context of the business. The ability to pursue that through Cornell’s dual MBA/MILR degree offered the best of both worlds.
What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? When speaking with Johnson alumni, I couldn’t help but notice the diversity in their stories that were yet threaded together by a consistent tone of humility, integrity, and a curiosity to learn. I was struck by how fondly they recalled their time in Ithaca – the friends and the memories they had made in the program – and how those relationships and experiences continued to define them even after years of graduating.
What club or activity excites you most at this school? Anything that pushes my boundaries and makes me uncomfortable!
What was your initial impression of Cornell Johnson? How did it evolve as the recruiting process continued? A key focus for me throughout the recruiting process was the consistency in messaging. My initial impression of Cornell Johnson was characterized by a full-on MBA experience known for its tight, closely-knit community. My interactions with admissions officers and events offered one side of the story – but one that matched up with the experiences of current students and alums.
Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I launched my own organization in China that offered therapeutic horseback riding lessons for children with disabilities. While the benefits of therapeutic riding are well recognized in the West, China was a very different landscape. At the time, the combination of a young, developing equestrian industry in addition to the stigma toward those with disabilities made it a challenge to secure buy-in from local sponsors. Understanding the demands of the local market and adapting our approach accordingly, identifying common interests across different stakeholders, and continuing to push against the status quo were some of the most important lessons I learned from the experience.
What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Having worked in China’s financial industry for six years in research and consulting roles, I was keen to pivot career-wise into HR and shift geographically to broaden my perspective. I also felt the urge to hit pause and reset – to question my own assumptions, decision-making process, and the lens through which I viewed the world. As a result, the MBA experience is as much an opportunity for personal reflection and development as a career one.
What other MBA programs did you apply to? None.
What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? For me, the challenge throughout the admissions process was veering away from the cookie-cutter answers of why an MBA or why Johnson, and really digging beyond that to understand if it was truly a fit for me personally.
How did you determine your fit at various schools? I applied to Johnson only after starting my graduate studies at the ILR school. I hadn’t originally intended to apply for an MBA. However, the proximity to Sage Hall and unplanned interactions with Johnson’s students drew me into the energy, excitement, and opportunity. As an MILR student, I already had a pathway to taking classes at Johnson. Hearing about the core curriculum, the leadership opportunities, and the immersions convinced me that I wanted the full MBA experience.
What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? Prior to coming to graduate school, I quit my office job in China and traveled to the UK to become a working student at one of the country’s top equestrian centers for six months. It took a full three months for me to ramp up my fitness level for the physical demands of the job, as I worked six-day weeks with the horses through the dreary British winter. Every day was a chance to set another record – to finish my yard duties just a few seconds faster, to lift one extra bale of hay and to come a step closer to perfecting my horse’s movements. It was one of the most challenging shifts I encountered – but one that proved with a clear goal in mind and a good work ethic, nothing is impossible.
What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? Having interned at Prudential this summer, it is a company I have come to deeply respect for two reasons. The first is its empathy toward its employees and customers, particularly in light of the challenges that have arisen over the past months. Second, I respect its embrace of transformative change – as seen by its acquisition of Assurance IQ and shift toward the digital experience for their customers.
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