Meet Microsoft’s MBA Class Of 2020

“Growth Mindset” is something you’ll hear often at Microsoft. It wasn’t a term coined by marketing and drilled home by management. Instead, “Growth Mindset” emerged organically at Microsoft. That’s because it evokes what makes the firm so successful: an impulse to ask questions and push boundaries – and a mission “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.”

This “Growth Mindset” is exactly what drew Teni Ayo-Ariyo to Microsoft. A Duke Fuqua MBA, Ayo-Ariyo completed her summer internship in Redmond in human resources strategy. During this time, she found a team committed to helping her develop into a leader and innovator.

“I was encouraged to ask questions, share what I learned, and propose new strategies for my team,” Ayo-Ariyo writes. “At Microsoft, I truly feel like I can safely take risks and fully explore my career interests. From the Aspire program for MBA hires to the HR Rotational Program, I am constantly challenged to expand my scope by leveraging the work of others and taking advantage of numerous learning opportunities offered throughout the company.”


Alina Everett, who earned her MBA at Cornell University last spring before joining Microsoft’s channel management area, likens this “Growth Mindset” to a “Rising tide lifts all boats” approach – a common commitment that empowers team members to bring their very best every day. That starts with fearlessness, explains Verlandy Michel, the MBA recruiter at Microsoft. In a March interview with P&Q, she noted that one of the firm’s strengths is that talent doesn’t get bogged down in worry and finger-pointing when mistakes happen. Instead, they get up, absorb the lessons, and go right back at it.

Alina Everett

“Growth mindset is different from a fixed mindset in that you can think of different ways to do things, Michel notes. “When we think of impact for MBAs, having that growth mindset frees you to take risks and try to take the business in a different direction using the knowledge that you have. Growth mindset is that strong drive for results and influencing for impact…It is not letting something take you off your game.”

How does Microsoft know that an MBA candidate brings this growth mindset to their team? For Michel, it is revealed by what applicants have been doing outside class. “You can see it in people making a difference,” she adds. “A lot of these MBAs are doing amazing things. They are running non-profits and starting businesses. They are doing this for the betterment of our society. One of our pillars is making a difference. They must be invested not only in Microsoft but how to make the world a better place. That makes them a perfect fit for Microsoft.”


Yes, Microsoft MBAs are difference-takers, but they’re not necessarily techies. Before earning her MBA at Georgetown University, Loretta Richardson studied creative writing as an undergrad. Yale SOM’s Cathy Zaragoza, now a services architect, holds an undergraduate degree in History of Art. Joao Pinto, a mechanical engineer by trade, asserts that Microsoft welcomes students from diverse backgrounds and works methodically to boost their technical skills.

“You are not born with all skills,” writes the Duke Fuqua grad. “You learn them. Microsoft provides powerful tools and initiatives for employees to grow.”

This summer, Verlandy Michel expects MBA internships and hiring to remain consistent with the previous year, which ran approximately 90-100 MBAs for internships and 70-80 post-internship MBA hires. These spots are open to all comers, with 2020 MBA hires hailing from underrated gems like the University of Maryland and Howard University.

“What is great about our approach to recruiting, we’re more school-agnostic,” Michel explains “We’re looking beyond the Top 20 and understanding the idea of diversity of thought. To have the true diversity that we are looking for, we need to be looking at everyone. There is such great talent in the MBA market. It’s insane.”


Verlandy Michel

Talent gravitates to excellence: The chance to create, build, and lead – not to mention leave a legacy. And MBAs can find that platform at Microsoft, whose $1.828 trillion dollar market cap makes it the third-most valuable company in the world. The firm has emerged among the most innovative forces in the cloud and artificial intelligence spaces. It owns three-quarters share of the desktop operating systems market, not counting its 90 million subscribers to Xbox Live. With its wide range of solutions – and the talent needed to support billions of consumers worldwide – Microsoft provides a wealth of outlets for MBAs to build memorable and meaningful careers.

“You are able to have so many different careers within one company,” Verlandy Michel adds. “MBAs will have the opportunity to move around. At Microsoft, we’re committed to keeping our talent – you can go from working in finance to working in marketing instead of moving to a different company. Even though we are competing with banking and consulting, there are so many opportunities to do those things at Microsoft too. If you want them, they are there. Even within one discipline, there are so many different aspects to it. For example, with marketing, you have cloud marketing, devices, gaming –There are so many ways to pivot and do something different. That makes us very competitive. There are people who’ve been here 15-20 years. They talk about how they’ve been able to take on so many roles and that’s what keeps them here.”

Starting out, MBAs enjoy plenty of avenues to make an impact. Olu Akande, a 2020 Howard University MBA, started as a product marketing manager. He describes his role as “mak[ing] sure that our products find the right people at the right place and time.” In contrast, Michael Salazar, a Texas A&M MBA who now works in program management, boils his role down to three words: Data and dashboards.

“For some reason, this catchy phrase has stuck in the impressionable mind of my young son,” Salazar writes. “However, I have expanded to share that I primarily support the Security Solution Area with ensuring we have the right data, dashboards, and business insights to strategically meet our objectives in this critical space.”


Joao Pinto helps set prices for Microsoft devices, a role where he must dive deep into data like consumer behavior, sales volume, and pricing trends. In marketing, the University of Rochester’s Joshua West maps out the “buyer journey” and develops a “sales narrative…in the customer’s language.” At the same time, Loretta Richardson has been busy onboarding customers and building their marketing tools.

When we introduce these tools, we must take special care to build trust with the customer, foster transparency, as well as honor the customer’s privacy. So, I also design the governance and communications around data collection to ensure our Marketers handle customer data in a responsible, secure, and compliant way.”

Of course, the Class of 2020 was shouldering big responsibilities long before Microsoft – or business school for that matter! Duke Fuqua’s Olivia Henshaw, a cloud specialist at Microsoft, previously worked in aerospace where she helped a Chinese client develop a medevac jet. At Coca-Cola, Joshua West was responsible for the one of the companies “premier” sales territories – despite being in his mid-20s. Six years ago, Teni Ayo-Ariyo launched SEEDS, a coaching program that supported women pursuing entrepreneurship. For Cathy Zaragoza, Americorps taught her everything she needed to thrive at Microsoft.

“I credit all my professional resilience and scrappiness to those experiences and would not hesitate to tell anyone to spend a couple of years in service. At this point, you could throw anything my way and it still wouldn’t be as challenging as the countless times I had to plan and execute events for 150 people with a team of four and a $1,000 budget, or the times I had to build IKEA furniture in the office on the weekends while also writing federal grant applications to triple our annual operating budget so that we could hire more staff. To this day, colleagues point out how calm I can be when tricky situations arise. It’s all thanks to my 501c3 days.”

Team meeting with management


That’s just one of the great stories from last year’s MBA hiring class. Gabriel Meizner, a Northwestern Kellogg MBA, jokes that his first job was as a “Karate Sensei.” He has something in common with black belt Joao Pinto – “eight-time São Paulo State Champion and three-time 2nd place in Brazil’s National Championship.” Growing up, Alina Everett competed infigure skating, Nordic skiing, downhill skiing, and biathlon” – which rank alongside backpacking as her favorite activities. Instead of outdoor sports, Loretta Richardson found her passion in music.

I grew up a classical lyrical soprano and have been a musician since the age of 12,” she writes. “I love transporting audiences to another world through musical storytelling. I even had the privilege of performing at iconic music venues such as the Disney Concert Hall and Hollywood Bowl! So after work, you can find me attending a voice class, recording a voice-over, or preparing for an open mic night.”

Many MBA hires have been using Microsoft products since they were children. However, most joined the company for reasons beyond loving their solutions. Michael Salazar, for one, admits he had little experience with Microsoft until three years ago. He’d never operated a game console and he’d only used Microsoft’s operating system when he started business school. However, he chose to start his post-MBA career at Microsoft for a specific reason.

“I am an idealist and a dreamer. I believe in the spirit of what Microsoft as a whole is trying to accomplish as a global corporate citizen, and I suppose I saw it as the next right step for me to possibly play a small role and pursue my fascinations that began as a child of success, invention, innovation, and making a global impact for good.”

Go to next page to access 12 in-depth profiles of 2020 MBA hires.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.