2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Josh Nathan, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Josh Nathan

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

“I’m passionate about social impact and world-changing ideas and excel at eating highly-questionable street food.”

Hometown: Newton, MA

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve traveled to 55 countries to date, and lived in a handful. Most recently, I lived in Liberia, where I worked helping the government improve the quality of its school system through one of west Africa’s first charter school systems.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • A. in English magna cum laude, Amherst College (2010)
  • Ed. in Curriculum and Teaching, Boston University (2012)
  • Juris Doctor, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law (anticipated 2021)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Bridge International Academies, Director of Special Projects

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020?  Social Finance in Boston, Massachusetts.

Social Finance is a nonprofit intermediary that structures social impact bonds and similar “pay-for-success,” outcomes-based financial arrangements between governments, impact investors, and social service providers. My work this past summer sat somewhere between impact consulting, impact investing, and legal contract review. Among other projects, I developed social cost-benefit analysis models for a community college intervention, and also conducted extensive research into future legislation likely to impact income share agreements.

Where will you be working after graduation? I’ll be going back to Social Finance as Associate Director and Staff Attorney.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Honors: Kirkland & Ellis Scholar, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law; Semifinalist, Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition

Leadership roles: Vice President for Professional Development, Net Impact; Admissions Chair and Careers Chair, JD-MBA Association; Student attorney, Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center; Student intern, Edovo; Legal intern; Accenture; Co-President, Kellogg Volleyball Team

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? All year long, fellow 2Y Meghan Scanlon (MBA ’21) and I have worked to create an Interview Preparation Group for students recruiting into careers in social impact. The social impact world is a wide ecosystem, encompassing a number of different careers including impact investing, nonprofit management, social entrepreneurship, impact consulting, government roles, and more. Further, searching for post-MBA roles in social impact is very idiosyncratic – every student’s search is different.

Meghan and I have worked to create meaningful support sessions and materials for students exploring this career realm. Those sessions have provided first-year students with a broad range of tactics, best practices, and contacts that older students have generated in their own past career searches – all supplementing the strong support that Kellogg’s Career Management Center and social impact department already provide (we partner with both groups extensively!). I’m very proud of the materials Meghan and I have created, and the supplemental support we’ve been able to provide to Kellogg’s social impact community. As an ancillary benefit, I’ve also gotten close with a wide swath of Kellogg students interested in this very broad field, and I’m excited to maintain that network and grow it in the years to come.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Before coming to business school, I launched a controversial and transformational charter school network in Liberia, West Africa, working alongside Liberia’s visionary president and minister of education to improve education quality. In our first year of operations, a randomized controlled trial showed that students in our schools had achieved two years of learning in one year of time. That school network continues to this day, serving 68 schools and 25,000 students across Liberia daily.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Kellogg for a simple reason – I absolutely loved the people I met prior to attending. Kellogg’s admissions committee has an uncanny ability to attract a cohort of smart, outgoing and collaborative people. From the moment I was admitted, I was inundated with kind phone calls and emails from students and alumni offering to talk, connect me with others, and share advice. That experience continued as I evaluated which school to attend over successive months, and I began to realize that the Kellogg community appreciated the nontraditional background that I came from. I quickly concluded that these were the people I wanted to be in class with, to learn alongside, and to leverage as my professional network in my future career.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? There have been several contenders, but at the moment my favorite professor is David Besanko. His class on “Public Economics for Business Leaders: Federal Policy” brilliantly brings together microeconomics, policy argumentation, and a diverse array of real-world cases in every class session. The class is a tour de force of extremely rigorous content, high academic expectations, and extraordinary teaching. What is even more impressive, Professor Besanko is deeply invested in the success of his students: he goes out of his way to hold events for his students, brings alumni back on campus to speak, and runs a lecture symposium called “Leading Voices” that reflects a commitment to bringing issues of policy and leadership into the Kellogg community.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Inevitably, Covid-19 interrupted a few of my ‘larger-scale’ traditions – the Kellogg Ski Trip and the Charity Action Ball, and some of the themed weeks at the Global Hub. However, one great tradition that remains is called “Hear My Story” – it’s a recurrent diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative that centers around Kellogg students giving 15-minute monologues sharing personal details about their past, present, and future. Kellogg is known as a social school full of people who care about each other, and I think this tradition exemplifies that caring and outgoing quality by giving a stage to each student to speak their truth.

What is the biggest myth about your school? One big myth surrounding Kellogg is that we’re all consultants – indeed, I assumed this was true before I arrived, and was a bit nervous about how I would fare as a nontraditional student studying strategy and management alongside ex-consultants!

In reality, this isn’t wholly a myth – consulting certainly is among the more well-represented paths, both pre-Kellogg and post-Kellogg. However, Kellogg is comprised of people from all backgrounds, seeking future careers in a variety of different industries. There’s a sizeable group recruiting into technology companies, a large marketing/CPG contingent, a banking crowd, and then a ton of other areas of interest – entrepreneurship, social impact, impact investing, venture capital, and much more.

What surprised you the most about business school? I arrived at business school expecting to be the only person interested in social impact – and, perhaps tied to that expectation, I was also pretty worried that I would be hugely behind in my core classes, given my non-traditional background and liberal arts undergraduate degree. What I quickly discovered, however, was that there were lots of people who were interested in working in social impact, either as an immediate career opportunity or as a long-term aspiration.

Additionally, I discovered that I wasn’t particularly behind due to my non-business undergraduate background. Plus, what I lacked in, say, finance or accounting experience, I made up for in other skills that came in very handy on group projects –like being able to write up case submissions for groups, thanks to my experience as a writer.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I made a real effort in my Kellogg application to connect my past work with both a future long-term career aspiration, as well as a future short-term step to achieving that aspiration. In other words, I tried to paint a full picture of who I am and who I wanted to be, and I also tried to show that while I have lofty long-term goals, I also have a sense of the short-term ways I’ll achieve them. I like to think that this showed Kellogg admissions that I would be able to “fend for myself,” so to speak, in my career search – that I could be successful because I have a vision for where I’m going and how I’ll get there.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? It’s very hard to pick just one person! However, since I can only pick one, Tracey Fetherson certainly stands out to me. She is outgoing, kind, thoughtful, and the consummate professional. She is endlessly involved in the Kellogg world, from her work on the Kellogg Student Association to her efforts in the Education Club, Kellogg Veteran’s Association, and Black Management Association. She has also thought deeply about her career and struggled (as have I) with what makes sense for her next. I deeply appreciate that thoughtfulness and that struggle. Most of all, I can’t wait to work on her team someday, when she’s running the U.S. Department of Education and I come clamoring for a job.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? It was disruptive, for sure, and adjustments were necessary.

In March 2020, I was in the middle of an entrepreneurship project exploring services to support privacy-conscious individuals engaging with social media, and that project definitely took a hit when my team suddenly needed to have all of our work mediated via Zoom calls rather than hours-long whiteboarding sessions. I was also slated to travel to Tanzania in April to conduct market research on the NEST-360 neo-natal technology suite with Professor Kara Palamountain – and alas, that trip had to be called off.

The good news is that, pretty much immediately, the Kellogg community began innovating under this “new normal” context. Over the last year, I’ve seen professors and the administration working incredibly hard to adapt the Kellogg experience to a virtual context – and learning how to do better with each passing day. I’ve been impressed by my professors’ flexibility and ingenuity in restructuring previously-in-person experiences so that they are still possible; I’ve also been impressed by our Deans’ readiness to communicate plans and pivot as needed.

Amongst us students, I think we’ve also learned a lot about how to succeed given the constrains we’re under, finding new ways to collaborate on class projects, enter case competitions, build new companies, network, and “visit” people and places around the world (all things I’ve gotten to do this year). For instance, the two classes I mentioned above – which felt, in March 2020, impossible to complete in a virtual world – are up and running right now, and providing students with very cool opportunities in entrepreneurship and international healthcare, respectively.

Ultimately, being on Zoom all day is not ideal, but it is far better than I had feared; and it has been gratifying to realize that I can still learn, connect, and grow, even from my little desk here in Chicago.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Truthfully, I didn’t consider getting an MBA until well after college. It wasn’t until I was 26 or so, and was finding myself in management roles and increasingly responsible for strategic planning and managing teams, that I considered getting an MBA. In that setting, my old boss and lifelong mentor Mike helpfully pointed out that an MBA would give me the opportunity to be surrounded by, and learn from, a diverse array of people who likely think pretty differently from me. To Mike, MBA programs inculcate a certain skepticism in students – a desire not just to hear florid policy arguments, but to see the underlying numbers and understand the mechanics of a problem or a solution. I remember liking that, and wanting that for myself.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? It’s a long list. Currently at the top are:

  • Founding and running an impact investing firm to structure big, bold bets on financially-sustainable projects that will change lives for the billion or so people on earth who live on less than $2/day
  • Finding a way to keep teaching – I think teaching as an adjunct professor in a community college would be immensely rewarding.

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

“Josh Nathan is that remarkable student who seems to have endless hours and attention to share between coursework, community engagement, student involvement, and career exploration. I’m simply not sure whether he sleeps. Josh was a student in my Social Innovation – Designing for Change class last fall and made an impression on me early with his thoughtful contributions to the course, leadership on the experiential project for the class, and engagement with other students.

I soon learned that Josh’s academic strength was the tip of the iceberg. In this, his final year of school, Josh has worked on the founding team of a social impact startup, has co-led the careers work that supports all the first year students in their summer internship searches in social impact, served as my T.A. for my fall class, and continued his legal work in law clinics and volunteer engagements. A pleasure to work with, Josh takes his dedication to personal growth to heart and continues to stretch himself while at the same time contributing to the community, other students, and the classroom. As he moves on from Kellogg and into a career in social impact financial innovation, Josh will continue to make a name for himself through his diligence, intellect, and dedication to progress for people and communities.”

Megan Kashner
Clincal Professor and Director of Social Impact





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