Each year at Poets&Quants, we have the pleasure of meeting and getting to know MBAs from all over the world, many of which are doing impactful things. This year was no different. Through our reporting and writing, we were able to feature dozens of fascinating MBA graduates and students who are truly trying to use the degree to make a difference in the world. Some of them were launching companies or nonprofits aimed at helping healthcare workers during a global pandemic. Others have been raising awareness and money to fight racial injustices and police brutality. Still others are raising their own kids from home while completing a full-time MBA and running a business.
This year, we wanted to call attention to 10 of our favorite stories written about MBAs, MBA couples, and groups of MBAs that we see as making a meaningful difference in a turbulent year of pandemic death and economic distress.
Second-year Emory Goizueta MBA Willie Sullivan is one of our staff’s favorite MBAs we’ve come across for many reasons. First, is his unique path to business school. Raised in Jonesboro, Arkansas, Sullivan went to Arkansas State University in his hometown to major in music. A trained opera singer, Sullivan earned a master’s in music from the University of Michigan to study under George Shirley, who was the first Black tenor to perform in a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
“After that, I went out and tried to live that life of being a starving artist. And that lasted all of two years,” Sullivan told us back in November, adding that he decided he wanted to do more with his life and career. “That life wasn’t for me. But also, being an artist is a very isolating experience.”
So Sullivan went back to the University of Michigan to work in a marketing and fundraising role for the University Musical Society, a nonprofit performing arts center associated with the university. And then applied for the full-time MBA program at Emory.
But Sullivan is also one of our favorite MBAs because of why we initially met and spoke with him — being the lead organizer for the student-run John R. Lewis Racial Justice Case Competition, the “first case competition of its kind focusing on the intersection of business and racial inequality.” The competition, named after the late civil rights icon and congressman who represented the congressional district covering most of Atlanta for the past three decades before passing away in July is currently in the process of reviewing submitted applications.
It’s like the Cool Runnings of Israel. After being accepted into the Yale School of Management full-time MBA class of 2021, A.J. (Adam) Edelman deferred to build the first-ever Olympic Israeli bobsled team. A four-time Israeli national champion in the skeleton, Edelman is no stranger to the ice track. But this would be an entirely different challenge.
“And, at first, everything went well: After finding a multi-million-dollar sponsor to fund the next few years of his mission, Edelman told Yale he’d be taking at least two years away from his studies and began recruiting talent for the team,” P&Q contributor Riley Webster wrote in November.
“But in September the deal fell apart. The team went from $5 million in pledged support to nothing, and Edelman was faced with the biggest decision of his life: Let his country down, or liquidate his savings and take on a mountain of debt to fund the team himself.”
He chose to fund the team himself. And now, Edelman is doing just that as they rev up for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
At Poets&Quants, we’re fans of MBAs who take unconventional paths to chase a dream or create a better world. Vanderbilt Owen MBA graduate Vishesh Chachra left a typical MBA path — an associate in the Leverage Acquisition Finance division of Bank of America Merrill Lynch — to pursue a career in … acting.
“For years, Chachra had strategically planned and built a successful business career in investment banking, and later in corporate development, where he was a vice president,” P&Q contributor Gregory Yang wrote last October. “But at age 33, he dropped everything to pursue a career in acting. Now seven years into his Hollywood career, Chachra has appeared in such films and TV shows as VICE, Cobra Kai, Silicon Valley, Criminal Minds, Hawaii Five-O, and most recently, Amazon’s Bulge Bracket series.”
Chachra’s acting interest went all the way back to the eighth grade when he played in his school’s rendition of “Our Town.” But as Chachra went to college at Georgia Tech and then the full-time MBA program at Vanderbilt, he was smitten by the cinematic glamor of Wall Street. Once there, he realized it wasn’t exactly what he’d hoped for.
“We’d get off at midnight,” Chachra recalls. “Go have happy hour at 1 o clock in the morning at some bar in New York and get up and do it all over again. There was no distinguishment between weekends and weekdays.”
After a 2 a.m. conversation with his father over a Scotch, Chachra decided to quit his job on Wall Street and give it a chance in acting. And so far, it’s paid off.