2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Zachary White, Rice University (Jones)

Zachary White

Rice University, Jones Graduate School of Business

“Creative, innovative, and hard-working team leader, who strives to better those around me.”

Hometown: Rochester, MI

Fun fact about yourself: I write comedy folk songs based on classical literature (books, plays, and mythology).

Undergraduate School and Degree: Wayne State University, B.S. Chemistry. University of Houston Law Center, Juris Doctorate.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Johnson Law Group, Attorney

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Northwestern Mutual, General

Management and Consulting Summer Associate (remote due to COVID-19)

Where will you be working after graduation? Infosys, Senior Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Jones Student Association, Vice

President; Rice Business Board Fellow at Medical Bridges; Communications Fellow; Career

Development Office Corporate Ambassador; Admissions Ambassador

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud about helping move the needle regarding all matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Rice Business. From directly communicating support with classmates after George Floyd’s murder and helping coordinate a fundraiser for local organizations tackling racial injustice, to working with Rice University deans and promoting a culture of respect within the student body, I am both excited and proud to leave behind a burgeoning culture focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In my previous career as an attorney, I’m most proud of building, leading, and working in teams that helped award my clients upwards of $100 million. The crux of my firm’s practice was to help those who have been injured by large companies, where it would be nearly impossible for my clients to help themselves. While the joy of changing the lives of thousands of clients is a large reason why this is a source of pride, another major component was the personal and professional growth I was able to foster in myself, teammates, and the firm itself. My passion for constantly innovating and bettering the working environment led to my firm implementing several of my initiatives that both increased productivity and morale.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Rice because they showed the greatest interest and ability in helping me meet my business school and post-MBA goals. Additionally, a great fit in terms of culture and community was an important factor in my business school search. With graduation in sight, I can confirm that choosing Rice was unequivocally the right decision for me.  

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Utpal Dholakia because he both challenged me to master the subject matter while also fostering and rewarding creativity in my deliverables. It’s a credit to him that one of my hardest classes is also one of my favorites, and I’m excited to be taking another class taught by him this term.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? You cannot talk about Rice Business without talking about our weekly Party on the Patio (or “Partios”). Partios are an opportunity to network with all full-time business students and faculty in a relaxed and social setting. While Partios have gone virtual since the onset of the pandemic, the student government has done their best to still provide this opportunity in an online setting.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I’d more proactively network with students in the classes above and below mine. The network is invaluable, and I didn’t get to know as many students as I would have liked.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That it’s easy! Rice Business pulls no punches, especially in the first semester, where it sometimes feels like drinking from a fire hose.

What surprised you the most about business school? The lack of uber-competitive classmates. Business school definitely attracts high-achieving, proactive, and opinionated students so it was surprising to me what an inclusive, welcoming, warm, and encouraging environment I found at Rice.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Rice Business is purposeful about building and fostering their unique culture, and I knew having a genuine connection with the school was important for both them and me. Fortunately, even before exploring business school, I had many connections to Rice, namely that my wife and I got married on Rice University’s campus as she is an alum. When I later found myself exploring the possibility of Rice Business, I enjoyed sharing what an important part of my life Rice has already become with the business school’s admissions staff.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Jenna Wenyon. I met Jenna before classes began at one of the many admitted student events. At the onset, she showed herself to be both a lot of fun and supremely focused. This balance made her someone I looked up to and immediately gravitated towards. Throughout our time at business school, Jenna has continually found ways to bring people together – both in person and virtually during the pandemic – as part of her roles as Social Co-Chair on the student government and a leading member of the Beer Club.

In addition to being an extremely active and leading organizer in extracurricular activities, she demonstrated her drive and brilliance by interning at and receiving an offer from Goldman Sachs as an investment banker. If this wasn’t enough for her to be the perfect example of how to balance the professional and social aspects of business school, my admiration for her was cemented when she accomplished much of this while pregnant and now is finishing her last semester as a new mother.  

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? It was extremely disruptive, but Rice did a fantastic job at mitigating the disruption. First, the school was able to successfully transition to full remote learning immediately. Second, they provided a partial pass/fail system by listening to student voices and working to truly understand the disruption in the lives of its business students. Third, they took feedback seriously in working with faculty to adapt to teaching online. Lastly, the school implemented strict safety measures and had three on-campus COVID testing centers to keep everyone safe.  

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My wife. As an attorney, the idea of going back to school was a sensitive one. I already had a doctorate and a good job – why throw it away, lose a paycheck for two years, and go back to school? Yet, from the first time I broached going to business school to follow where my passions were leading me, my wife didn’t hesitate in saying that I should go. She’s been a fervent advocate of this move and has given me endless encouragement throughout classes and recruiting. I would not be here without her continued support.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? The top two items on my professional bucket list are to own my own business and have a lasting impact on my community. Having the opportunity to serve clients as an attorney, sit on the board of a local non-profit, and serve my classmates as a member of the student government has instilled a desire in me to help others and give back to my community. Ultimately, I believe I will have the greatest potential to accomplish that as an entrepreneur, where I can tackle the issues I see first and around me.

What made Zach White such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“When I met Zach White during his first semester at the Jones School, he mentioned how he had been to law school and was on the older end of the age spectrum for his class. So, he wanted to use his experience to enrich the MBA graduate school experience for all of his classmates. And, it wasn’t long before that commitment would be put to the test — by the COVID pandemic, by the social justice surge following George Floyd’s death, and by the politically charged atmosphere fostered by the 2020 election. The times called for servant leadership.

Zach answered the call through both leadership and followership. He used a formal leadership role as part of our Jones Student Association (JSA) to work with the faculty & administration and students to navigate through both the upheaval of the pandemic at the end of his first year (e.g., negotiated pass/fail grade policies to help classmates facing extra struggles), and planning/execution of a fall semester still under the burden of the pandemic. Students felt comfortable (safe) to come to him with issues and confident that they would be heard. Even tougher, he focused on our school culture which was stressed by the distance of the pandemic and strained at times by the raw emotions of social justice and national politics. Particularly impressive was how he personally and effectively addressed cultural incidences directly with individual students, as opposed to passing it off to the administration. This is a challenging, delicate task, which I have seen very few students have the courage to do. In my ALP program (student consulting with local companies), he chose followership over leadership as the way to support his teammates who were seeking more leadership experience. ALP is a high-pressure course and the temptation could have been to take over. But, he patiently “led from behind” through various project bumps and the shift to 100% remote delivery midway through the semester. Thus, teammates learned from their struggles at times, yet the project outcomes were still highly successful.

Our MBA program is designed to be challenging unto itself, but adding on the major societal impacts which Zach’s class has faced made these past two years particularly daunting and unique. Zach’s servant leadership was exactly the style for the times and the bridge needed by both students and the administration. Thus, I highly recommend his inclusion in the 2021 Poets & Quants Best & Brightest MBAs.”

David VanHorn
Professor in the Practice of Operations Management



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