In Chapel Hill, it is called the “Carolina Way.” Some consider it the legacy of Dean Smith, the Hall of Fame basketball coach who lived by a “Play hard, play smart, play together” philosophy. In reality, the Carolina Way came long before Smith harnessed it into two national championships for Tar Heel nation.
To many, the Carolina Way starts with Southern Hospitality, a warmth and openness where everyone goes out of their way to lend a hand and take care of you. It is framed by courtesy, affection, acceptance, and fairness. More than that, the Carolina Way requires focus – the daily commitment to train and learn, to wean out bad habits, master a role, and strive for excellence. In its essence, the Carolina Way means elevating others, never worrying about the score and always winning the right way – humble, disciplined, together.
“WE ARE HERE FOR ONE ANOTHER”
The Kenan-Flagler Business School embraces this long-proven formula, integrating it with a forward-thinking curriculum steeped in technological disruption, sustainable practice, and industry innovation. The larger university is nicknamed the “university of the people” and its spirit is marked by a “sense of community and belonging,” says Evanne Timberlake, who earned her undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina. That mindset has carried over to the Full-Time MBA program’s Class of 2022, she observes.
“All the classmates I have met so far – virtually – have been supportive and engaging. We are in such an uncertain, unnerving, and unprecedented time with the pandemic changing everyone’s plans. Across all channels in which our class is meeting for the first time and interacting – in some cases states and countries apart from one another – people are connecting to offer support in any way possible. They are hosting virtual meet-and-greets, carrying on conversations to better get to know each other, and planning socially-distanced gatherings. The “we are in this together, and we are here for one another” mentality is why I chose UNC Kenan-Flagler.”
The graduating class will vouch for Timberlake too. Melissa Sieffert, a 2020 Kenan-Flagler MBA, describes her classmates as the “friendliest, humblest, most hard-working and intelligent group of people I have ever had the privilege to be around.” Her classmate, Owen Waits, sums up his graduating class in one word: community.
“I got to know everyone’s name quickly and found a feeling of camaraderie that reminded me of that same feeling that was present in the military. There was no inter-class competition or judgment. Instead, I found a network of supportive peers who genuinely were interested in what I was passionate about and were more than willing to help in any way they could.”
SOME FRIENDLY COMPETITION
More than that, the Carolina Way produces a virtuous cycle where graciousness and generosity become the norm. That was the case for 2020 grad Nishant Motwani. During the recruiting process, he thought the graduate reviews were “too good to be true.” Upon arrival, he was struck by the intensive support he enjoyed from classmates, second-years, faculty, career coaches, and assigned mentors. This dynamic, he says, made his classmates determined to continue that same support system. As a result, the Carolina culture enables students to drop their guard and truly learn from each other. And even have a little more fun along the way.
Exhibit A: Karaoke Night.
“We have a Legacy Cup, where different student sections (what we call “legacies”) within the MBA program compete across a bunch of events throughout the year – Karaoke Night is one of them,” Motwani explains. “Both years, I was one of the singers during the competition and can certainly say that these would be amongst my most memorable nights at UNC Kenan-Flagler. From practicing multiple times a week until celebrating the final performance, we formed this really special bond with each other that words would not do complete justice to. Never in my many years of school and college singing could a group of people make me rap, except for this time around!”
That’s not to say there isn’t some friendly competition within the classes, says Jasmin Hines, another 2020 grad. “Kenan-Flagler has been known for being one of the “nice” MBA programs. Yes, the “Carolina Way” definitely thrives within the business school. However, we are also fierce debaters and competitors, too.”
TAKING LEADERSHIP EARLY
You’d have to be to get into a Top 20 MBA program like Kenan-Flagler. The Class of 2022 is no different. Here, you’ll find students like Di He. At Eli Lilly, she earned the Lilly China 2019 Annual President Award for launching a first-of-its-kind meeting platform for over 2,000 sales reps. Speaking of awards, Xibei Zhang led a team that took home Thermo Fisher’s Global PPI Excellence Award for re-designing a process that helped the firm recover $3 million dollars in bad debt…among other savings. At the same time, Ryan Fleer ran a team that won an innovation competition at Societe Generale by creating a “Hub” for diversity and inclusion resources. Oh, and Fleer was twenty years younger than his reports too.
Then again, Derek Espinosa was part of a team that rolled out Belk’s new order management system…one that produced a $40 million dollar annual cost reduction. Impressed? As an investment strategist, Dan LaSorte managed $190 million dollars in investable assets for 35 accounts including foundations and endowments. Before entering business school, Jackson Keyes worked at Deloitte as a senior management consultant – the kind of job you land after you finish business school!
Of course, some achievements are more intimate in nature. Take Amanda Braun, who spent 11 years in Aspen as a professional ski instructor. In this role, she writes, her performance was measured by requests for private lessons – an area where she ranked among the top 5% of 800 instructors. The role, Braun says, perfectly positions her for success in business school and far beyond.
“I am proud that I developed a large international client network as I utilized my Spanish degree and taught myself Portuguese through self-study and multiple trips to Brazil. I believe I succeeded in this position because I am cross-culturally perceptive, and I understand how to read emotions and motivations from people of all different backgrounds.”
COVID CHANGES CAREER PATHS
Outside their jobs, the class stays plenty busy, Jackson Keyes, for one, manages hip-hip and rap talent. Dan LaSorte hiked 10,000 feet to the top of the Monserrate of Bogota, which overlooks the Colombian capital. Along the same lines, Xibei Zhang has run a half-marathon on the Great Wall of China. Evanne Timberlake has pursued a unique calling. She designs furniture, following in the footsteps of her grandfather who was an American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame inductee.
Sandwiched between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, Chapel Hill is a protype college town filled with energy and tradition – not to mention popular haunts like the Top of the Hill brewery or THE PIT comedy club. Those attractions aren’t what led the Class of 2022 here. For Amanda Braun, the decision, partially stemmed from her ideas being dismissed by upper management – and then being implemented by a competitor.
“This moment made me realize that my skills customizing services and experiences for customers from diverse backgrounds in my roles in hospitality, tourism and recreation had value in the business world. I started to trust in myself, believe that my ideas had worth and that I add value to an enterprise. I decided that an MBA would be the most logical step to give me the skills that I needed to give me the authority to make impact and change at an organizational level.”
In contrast, Ryan Fleer’s decision was hastened by current events. “Coronavirus reared its head during my time at Emigrant and my team was dissolved at the end of May. Faced with this news, I decided to accelerate my timeline and apply to business school for this upcoming fall. Life has a funny way of making choices for you and I realized right now is the optimal time to go to business school. Over the next two years, the workplace is going to change and the classroom will be the best place to discuss these changes, as well as create solutions. When I re-enter the workforce in two years, I will be able implement the solutions formulated at UNC Kenan-Flagler and put them to action.”
A CLASS PROFILE
Many of Fleer’s classmates followed suit. During the 2019-2020 admissions cycle, Kenan-Flagler received 1,903 applications, up 43% from the year before. The bigger number: the class size increased by 92 members to 344 students. This places Kenan-Flagler in the same category, size-wise, as UCLA Anderson (360), Michigan Ross (358), Yale SOM (350), Berkeley Haas (331), and NYU Stern (317).
“It’s definitely one for the books,” explains Danielle Richie, senior associate director of MBA admissions and student recruitment, in a September interview with P&Q. “We increased the size of the class because we had so many strong, quality candidates that we really wanted to build a diverse class out of the increased pool. Some of the innovative things we did were able to attract a larger applicant pool.”
Many applicants took advantage of the opportunity. The Class of 2022 brings a 694 average GMAT to Chapel Hill, down three points over the previous year (though the median GMAT held steady at 700 despite 37% increase in enrollment). GRE scores rose two points to 317, with average undergraduate GPA holding steady at 3.4.
Along with class size, you’ll also find a big change in class composition (courtesy of COVID). Just 8% of the class hails from outside the United States, down from 17% the year before. That said, the percentage of women inched up from 29% to 31%, with underrepresented American minorities holding steady at 12%.
Another big change? Academically, the Class of 2022 is more grounded in Humanities and STEM. This year, 39% of the class majored in Humanities-related fields, up 13% over the Class of 2021. STEM follows a similar pattern, rising from 13% to 21%. Business-related majors still leads the pack, however, with a 40% class share. True to form, Financial Services remained the top industry background at 22% of the class. Healthcare (14%), Technology (12%), Military and Nonprofit (8%), Real Estate (6%), and Consulting (5%) also encompass substantive segments of the class.
Go to Page 2 for an in-depth interview with associate dean Brad Staats.
Go to Page 3 to access a dozen in-depth profiles of the Class of 2022.