Leadership is often associated with plotting out strategy and inspiring people to come together. That’s why the best leaders are described as genuine, consistent, and tenacious – a mix of visionary, coach, and diplomat. More than that, real leaders are self-aware. Able to see themselves through another’s eyes, their example answers the foundational question for all leaders…
“Why should someone follow you?”
That question shadows every course and activity at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Here, the Socratic maxim to “Know Thyself” is half the journey – one that’s sometimes grueling and scary but ultimately transformative. Here, everyone is expected to be a leader. That’s because Stanford MBAs bring that something extra. Before Palo Alto, they were the ones who didn’t think like everyone else. Buoyed by passion, they made commitments, took risks, got knocked down, and then came back for more. The Class of 2022 is no different. Their backgrounds and views may be wildly divergent, but they are united by one impulse: They are eager to make a difference.
And a Stanford MBA is designed to show them how. Hence, the program leans heavily on reflection for students whose rich life experience provides plenty of substance.
GETTING TOGETHER FOR ‘TALK’
“The GSB affords its students countless opportunities for introspection,” writes Myrel Iturrey, a VP at an investment firm that targeted late-stage B2B SaaS and FinTech firms. “Prior to coming to the GSB, I found myself in highly structured and competitive professional environments with little time for self-reflection. I thought that the GSB programming would push me to define my interests and goals, as well as my strengths and weaknesses, in order to put myself on the best possible path towards a fulfilling life and career. I have not been disappointed. One of my first assignments at the GSB asked me to write a statement of my core values that would guide me “through my personal life and as a leader of organizations.” I have revisited my responses several times as I selected courses, recruited for summer internships, and considered how to approach my relationships in business school. Internalizing my core values has allowed me to be more thoughtful as I make important decisions at the GSB and beyond.”
TALK is one means to spur this introspection. Each week, you’ll find two GSB students standing up in front of classmates to share their personal story. It is an act that’s both cathartic for the speakers and inspirational for the audience, says Nancy Wenjia Yu, a BCG consultant originally from Shanghai.
“I can’t tell you how surprised, inspired, and grateful I am hearing about such deep and vulnerable life-story sharing from each individual. It takes a great amount of courage and goodwill intention to fully open and disclose yourself to 400 classmates you have just met, but because of the culture of GSB it happens as a tradition every week.”
CHANGING THE WORLD…ONE LIFE AT A TIME
The ‘Touchy Feely’ elective – a GSB staple for over a half century – is another avenue for introspection. A course attended by most Stanford MBAs, it is often likened to group therapy. For 10 weeks, GSB students operate in 12-member T-groups for 3-5 hour weekly sessions. In a variety of exercises, they learn to open up. That means hearing some painful truths about their behavior from classmates. More than that, they learn how to deliver feedback in ways that stirs dialogue without feeding resentment.
For Archana Sohmshetty, an engineer-turned-strategist, learning how to give and receive feedback has been the biggest lesson in her first year at Stanford GSB. “Something you can overhear (maybe far too often) at the GSB is that “feedback is a gift”. No one teaches this in life as explicitly as I’ve seen it taught at Stanford GSB, yet it is perhaps the single most important tool for building high quality relationships, both personal and professional. I still have difficulty accepting or delivering constructive feedback, but it is a skill I aim to further develop and practice after realizing how core of a component it is to being a good leader and mentor to others.”
Tim Brown, a 2020 GSB MBA, describes the school as a “playground for the curious” – a culture that “teaches, rewards, and reinforces kindness, introspection, and active self-improvement.” At its heart, the Stanford GSB mission starts with changing with lives, observes Mollie Viater, a first year who was previously a strategy consultant at Eli Lilly. It is a mission, she adds, that aligns with her own.
“My personal mission is to help others live lives filled with motivators by helping them unlock the gifts that reside within them. I chose the GSB as it provides the best offerings to catalyze my mission. Specifically, the GSB’s programming provides unparalleled experiential-learning opportunities to refine self-understanding; experiment across dimensions of interpersonal dynamics; tackle problems with creativity and a focus on growth; and approach life with intentionality and a reverence for each person’s story.”
HARMONIZING WITH BONO
In the Class of 2022, you’ll find 406 unique stories of long odds, big ideas, and hard work. “There is no cookie-cutter applicant to Stanford GSB,” adds Conor O’Meara, who previously worked in investment and enterprise for the United Nations. “Rather, the GSB rewards and promotes those who are unapologetically themselves: The dreamers and the doers, the unafraid and the unsure. The GSB is a place for those who are willing to push the boat out, embrace differences, and do more than you originally thought was possible.”
O’Meara’s story is certainly eye-catching. He spent two decades training in classical music and opera before embarking on a business career. His claim to fame, he says, was once singing backing vocals for U2. However, his biggest achievement came when he forged partnerships that brought machine learning and behavioral science technology tools to over a 1,000 social entrepreneurs across Ireland. And O’Meara wasn’t alone among GSB first-years in making substantive contributions across the globe. In Zambia, John Foye spearheaded the expansion of his solar energy firm, turning a profit in eight months while bringing affordable energy to 150,000 off-grid households in the process. Nancy Wenjia Yu developed a pharmaceutical policy that was adopted by the Chinese government that ‘reshaped” the country’s distribution regulations. By the same token, Alon Dror earned Israel’s Defense Prize for his work on the country’s advanced defense research.
“We managed to solve a major defense issue using technology previously considered to be science-fiction,” he writes. “This was the climax of three years of work, endless nights of experimenting (sometimes in active war zones), and with seemingly endless failures along the way. Everyone on my team gave everything they had, and for a long time, it seemed unsolvable. Eventually, we made it, directly saving civilians’ and soldiers’ lives. There is no better payoff for me.”
GOLF, TALKS, AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Jacob Blaeser could probably say the same. In Georgia, he was the managing director for Ventures ATL, whose autistic and neurodiverse employees provide a variety of services to clients that require skills like attention to detail. Most recently, Fernanda Sottil De Aguinaga served as a senior strategy manager at Uber Eats. Before that, she launched a venture that provided companionship to the elderly in Latin America. Along the same lines, Myrel Iturrey helped found a national network for female investors.
“As a first-year investment banking analyst, I was frustrated by the lack of senior female representation at my firm,” explains Iturrey, who once judged a startup competition alongside Pitbull. “We decided to create a network tailored towards women in the first decade of their careers in investing in the hopes that the relationships we forged early would continue to propel us throughout our careers. Over the next five years, the Synergist Network evolved from a breakfast club to a 501c3 non-profit organization with more than 500 members, as well as active boards in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston.”
The Class of 2022 has settled in nicely since arriving at the GSB nine months ago. On the lighter side, Michael Oguike, who re-located from Nigeria after working for ExxonMobil, has taken up tennis and golf. Alon Dror once spent three years living in a tiny house mounted on a truck. At Stanford, he bridges divides by holding discussions around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of course, Edwin Qian has been busy with the most Stanford activity of all.
“I co-founded a company with a friend I met at the GSB,” writes the Deloitte consultant. “While there is a tremendous amount of learning and work ahead of us, this symbolizes something more personal for me. I feel that with the support of my friends, mentors, and the Stanford community, I became more willing to take risks and put myself out there.”
QUICK TO MOBILIZE
That’s exactly what Mollie Viater did too. Married to GSB classmate Joe Viater – hence their nickname MoJo – Viater has found ways to stretch herself beyond the classroom. “I have learned how to dance salsa and Bollywood, performed in our annual “GSB Show,” ran my first half-marathon, and invested in understanding world religions and cultures.”
That’s not what Viater expected – and there were plenty of happy surprises awaiting the Class of 2022. Myrel Iturrey, for one, expected classmates who knew exactly who they were and what they planned to do. The reality: many came to “experiment and explore.” That stands in contrast to Edwin Qian’s experience. His take: “It sure feels like everyone knows exactly why they get up in the morning.” Either way, adds Miriam Rollock, it is a class that is quick to mobilize.
“My classmates are impatient in the best possible way. They see opportunities to make things better and don’t wait for others to fix it for them. Whether finding creative ways for members of our class to get to know each other to building products that solve consumer pain points to running nonprofits that address critical societal problems, Stanford MBAs are quick to act.”
Next Page: Interview with Paul Oyer, Senior Associate Dean For Academic Affairs
Page 3: 12 Student Profiles From Class of 2022