Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Zeynep Yekeler, Yale SOM

Zeynep Yekeler

Yale School of Management

“Creative, hardworking, positive, extroverted introvert with a passion for food.”

Hometown: Istanbul, Turkey

Fun Fact About Yourself: I started wheel throwing in college and have not been able to stop ever since! My house is full of colorful plates, mugs, vases and other ceramic objects that I’ve made or collected around the world over the years, which I gift to friends and family when they visit.

Undergraduate School and Major:

Tufts University; BA, double major in Economics and German Language & Literature

Georgetown University, MPP in Public Policy

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Center for Strategic and International Studies, Research Associate

The Yale School of Management is regarded as a purpose-driven program. What is your mission? How will your MBA at Yale SOM help you fulfill that mission? My mission is to become a leader who fosters innovation and balances purpose and profit in the business world. I want to lead the change in the food industry for food products that are healthier, nutritious, delicious, sustainably-grown, responsibly-produced, and accessible. I was drawn to SOM’s proven track record of educating emerging leaders for business and society through innovative programs and exceptional faculty. I was also impressed by its close ties with the School of Forestry, Tsai City and Center for Business and the Environment, where students learn about the intersection of environment, social impact and business innovation. Combined, they are a perfect recipe to fulfill this mission.

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? There were several reasons why I chose SOM:

  • The integrated curriculum approach to teaching the core business skills and interdependent business challenges.
  • The opportunity to practice real-world decision making through the raw case method
  • The Global Network program and the opportunity to develop important cross-cultural skills by working with business students all around the world.
  • Student conferences such as Fempire, which bring together business leaders, activists and policymakers to celebrate successes and discuss challenges in creating a more equitable environment in the workplace.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Smart and humble. The students I have met throughout the admissions process and social events are all very bright and accomplished yet down to earth. It is a truly collaborative and supportive community that I feel lucky to be a part of.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? I look forward to getting involved with the Entrepreneurship, Food, Agribusiness and Beverage and Women in Management clubs. As far as activities, I am excited about the offerings of Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking and hearing from founders as part of the WE@Yale Women Innovators initiative.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My biggest accomplishment was advising policy makers in Congress and the State Department and major companies on pressing and hard-to-navigate foreign policy and economic issues in Turkey and US-Turkey relations, such as the Syrian civil war and the Libya crisis. The role was deeply rewarding in that it gave me the chance to discuss the state of global affairs with many diplomats, politicians, and leading business leaders and mentor young professionals looking to become impactful future leaders.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Although my career at CSIS and living in D.C. was deeply rewarding, I had gotten to a place in my career where I was starting to look for the next opportunity to develop as a leader and see the meaningful impact of my work. Volunteering at farmers markets and at NGOs working on food accessibility and security issues also made me think about where my passion truly lies – and that is helping build food systems that are more nourishing, sustainable and just. An MBA program was the best path to gain exposure to the industry I am passionate about, acquire a broad understanding of business fundamentals and develop leadership skills to make that transition.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Columbia, UC Berkeley Haas, UCLA

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? I would not say that there is one most difficult question, but it was an introspective process overall. It pushed me to think deeply about my personal and professional values, my motivation for an MBA, as well as what my contribution will be to my classmates, future co-workers and my community after graduation.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Researching schools through websites like Poets & Quants and talking to admissions representatives and alumni at school events and MBA fairs gave me a good overall sense of the academic offerings and employment outcomes. However, the crucial part in determining which programs fit my personal and professional goals was visiting campuses to meet the community and taking part in classes and talking to current students in the food industry (shout-out to Jenn and Tiffany!) about their experience.

I took notes of my interactions and what I liked about each school and prioritized those with a diverse student body, collaborative culture and opportunities for mentorship from alumni. At the end, it came down to whether I really saw myself at that school and what kind of lifelong network and camaraderie I wanted to have.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? I grew up in a small suburb and attended the same school from first grade until my high school graduation. As a result, moving abroad for college was an eye-opening experience for me. While navigating a new country and adapting to it was challenging at first, it shaped me into the person that I am today. I have since sought out opportunities to travel and study abroad and made many good friends from all around the world, which is something I look forward to in my MBA studies as well.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? I am a fan of chocolate. While I love trying different brands, the one that I keep going back to is Alter Eco. They source all their products from small-scale farmers and help communities by not only paying above fair-trade prices but also providing targeted assistance on issues such as food security, biodiversity and gender equality. Most importantly, however, they support cocoa farmers’ transition to regenerative agriculture to reverse soil degradation and biodiversity loss that often results from cocoa cultivation. Whether it’s rallying other eco-conscious brands to protect rainforests or transitioning to compostable packaging, they are at the forefront and thus a great case study for MBA students with respect to how companies can address environmental, economic and social issues through the fabric of their business.

What is the most important attribute that you are seeking in an MBA employer? The COVID crisis and the recent social justice movements have once again underlined the important role business plays in our society. Private sector can do a lot of greater good at a scale by dedicating resources to social and environmental change, public health, gender equality and many other worthy causes. We have seen examples of that caring leadership and genuine compassion over the past couple of months. I want to work for a company that cares about its employees, customers, and the wider society, in addition to its stakeholders.


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