2021 MBAs To Watch: Keenan Heyward, University of Rochester (Simon)

Keenan Heyward

University of Rochester, Simon Business School

My goal in life is to create and empower others to create.”

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Fun fact about yourself: As a child, I was super interested in space travel and wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up

Undergraduate School and Degree: Indiana University – BS in Supply Chain Management + Technology Management

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Essendant ($5B office supply wholesaler – acquired by Staples)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? MetLife – Innovation Intern, Global Leadership Development Program

Where will you be working after graduation? Merck – Global Vaccine Strategy

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: VP of Events for Simon Black Student Alliance; Chief Operating Officer for Simon School Venture Fund; Program Lead for P.I.E.C.E.S. (volunteer entrepreneurship teaching program with Rochester City School District); Community Service Outreach Committee for the Simon Consortium

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Co-leading the rebrand of the Simon Black Student Alliance, ultimately culminating in a groundbreaking Black History Month celebration. I was proud to be a part of such a monumental year of progress for SBSA. We not only established a new identity and logo for the club, but we also sought to create a community which focused on uplifting and supporting the Black community of Simon and our allies. All our hard work ultimately culminated in an ambitious month of wall-to-wall programming to celebrate Black History Month. To be able to collaborate with just about every Simon club to educate and celebrate with the Simon community felt like the cherry on top of a legacy building year.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My proudest professional achievement thus far was winning Essendant’s 2016 CEO Impact Award. At the time that I received the award, I was about a year-and-a-half into my career, and was striving to provide value to a company who took a chance on me by inserting a young, inexperienced college recruit into a role which was previously filled by a legendary figure within the department. My mentors believed in my ability and put me in situations which challenged me. By winning this award based on me designing a new pricing and financial modeling tool for a key national sales team, I was glad to be able to repay the confidence that was placed in me.

Why did you choose this business school? The biggest aspect that brought me to Simon was the family atmosphere. At the onset of my business school search, I wanted to find a place where I felt right at home, and Simon became that place for me from the first time I stepped foot on campus. I felt like the entire admissions staff knew me by my first name, and all the fellow applicants I met were warm and engaging. This feeling of community progressed quickly as I began to meet my fellow Simon MLT and Consortium classmates during our pre-MBA conference and recruiting journeys. By the time I reached campus to start my first year, I knew for sure that I had made the right choice.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor thus far was Dean Mitch Lovett. Dean Lovett taught Advanced Marketing Strategy, which was a dynamic class that challenged not just our academic prowess but our ability to lead amongst peers and handle crises. The course was based on a competitive simulation amongst businesses run by teams within the class. This gave me an opportunity to serve as a CEO leading a “real” company through the ups and downs of a tightly competitive market.

What I truly appreciate about Dean Lovett was how he always kept the content of his course on the cutting edge: we had simulated board meetings, M&A negotiations, legislative meetings, and even a mid-crisis surprise TV interview on the “Simon News Network” (shout out to my team, RocStar, for handling everything skillfully!). We even had the chance to coordinate our team’s response to a simulated version of this summer’s racial equity movement. Overall, Dean Lovett’s course felt like a capstone experience in which we got to apply all the skills and knowledge we have acquired thus far at Simon in one fulfilling experience.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Keeping Simon Social (KSS)! KSS was started by the class of 2019 and is a weekly Thursday happy hour sanctioned by the Graduate Business Council, which encourages the entire Simon community to step back from the hustle and bustle of the school week to get to know each other on a deeper level. I got to meet so many great people across the various cohorts and programs that I might not have encountered during the daily grind. The relationships I built within these casual environments will truly last a lifetime.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Put less pressure on myself during the first year. Imposter syndrome is real – I definitely leaned more “poet” than “quant” coming into school, so in the early days, I wish I allowed myself to believe that I was up to the challenge of balancing the school’s quant-heavy curriculum with my recruiting and extracurricular commitments. If you are reading this and are nervous about the challenges you will face during your MBA journey, just know that you belong, you are capable, and you have a support system of fellow classmates who are in your shoes to lean on.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Going to school in Rochester would be a dull experience. OK, so Rochester is not as sexy as a city like New York or San Francisco, but I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed living in Western New York for the last year-and-a-half. The region is historic and beautiful, which helped contribute to a nice quality of life. As a lifelong city dweller, I grew to appreciate the relaxed environment that a city like Rochester offers.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised by how much learning occurs from being amongst and getting to know your peers. It continues to amaze me how talented and driven my classmates are. I know the stigma about MBA students is that we are uber-competitive, but working alongside some of the most capable people I have ever met truly pushed me to be great. If you want to be inspired by your peers on a daily basis, join an MBA program.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Think deeply about who I am, where my passions lie, and what impact I ultimately wanted to make on my family, my community, and the world. As I began my MBA applications, I credit my fiancée with helping me be reflective and vulnerable about what I hope to accomplish in life. With this vision in mind, I was able to clearly articulate how an MBA would help get me where I want to go. When telling your story, depth and clarity are everything.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Chey Savoy. I remember meeting Chey for the first time pre-MBA at the MLT Core Skills seminar in Denver and being amazed by how it seemed like he was already friends with everyone. As I got to know him better over the summer and into the fall, I saw why. He maintains a calm, cool, and collected manner while simultaneously being such an influential figure. He leads by example, and is always willing to foster collaboration and creativity. We worked closely over our two years at Simon as members of the Simon Black Student Alliance board – whenever I had an idea about how we could help take SBSA to the next level, he was always the first person I would want to brainstorm with. In his presence, ideas just come to life.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? The shift to online was quite jarring, but I gave tons of credit to the faculty, staff, and students at Simon for being so flexible on such short notice. We went into what seemed like a regular Spring Break following in-person finals, and returned one week later to Zoom classrooms without skipping a beat.

When looking at this past year, the group I truly feel for are the first years, who never got the chance to build those personal connections that make the MBA such a life-changing experience. Hopefully they will be able to make up for lost time next year!

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college?

My Father was by far my biggest influence for me to pursue business school. Some of my fondest memories growing up were seeing him walk in the door after a business trip in a far-off land and hearing exciting stories from his travels. I always thought to myself, if pursuing business as a career would lead to memorable journeys like the ones my Dad used to take, sign me up!

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. Work Abroad: Some of the richest experiences I have had in my life have come from either traveling or meeting people from other countries and backgrounds. Working abroad would give myself the opportunity to grow as a cross-cultural leader, while giving my family the chance to experience life outside of our comfort zones.
  1. Create An Ecosystem To Support And Grow The Next Generation Of Black And Brown Business And Community Leaders: My parents are both entrepreneurs, so I have seen first-hand how challenging yet fulfilling the entrepreneurship journey is. Additionally, I have been blessed with the opportunity to attend two great institutions, which have opened doors that were beyond my wildest dreams – both personally and professionally. For me, it would be a waste if I did not use my acquired relationships and knowledge to help grow the next generation of business leaders. What a dream it would be for me to help facilitate the creation of a $1B+ Black-owned company.

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

“It has been a pleasure to witness Keenan’s growth during his MBA at the Simon Business School. When I met him, he presented as someone a bit guarded and on the quiet side, but what a transformation and impact he has shown! As he gained confidence, he gained momentum and involvement. He quickly became intentional in leaving a legacy and creating a brand of which both he and our School could be proud.

In his calm, soft spoken way, he is articulate about providing feedback when necessary, leadership and support to those who need it, and passionate about affecting positive change. He has thoughtfully gone from being behind the scenes to playing key roles at Simon and our City’s community. He has been part of the leadership team that has changed the essence of what the Simon Black Student Alliance means to our School. As the VP of Events, he delivered the most focused and varied programming we have ever witnessed in spite of a pandemic and our need to be virtual. He became the Chief Operating Officer for the Simon School Venture Fund, and has humbly stated he never thought this role a possibility for someone with his background. In the spirit of giving back beyond our School’s community, he became involved as Program Lead for P.I.E.C.E.S. (volunteer entrepreneurship teaching program with Rochester City School District), and in the Community Service Outreach Committee for the Simon Consortium.

I see in Keenan the epitome of the leader that reaches back to make sure he is bringing others along with him. I have appreciated the grateful sense of awe he shows when he accomplishes ‘one more thing’. This sense of not taking anything for granted will make him a unique professional who will be aware and able to meet the needs of others as he grows in his career. I have heard him state that he is “standing on the shoulders of giants”, and he remains grounded by reminding himself that in the sight of many he doesn’t have the right to be where he is now. Believing that his current accomplishments are not a given have helped him remain grateful, provide him a sense of duty, and drive him to want to do something meaningful with his access and knowledge.

Keenan is a kind, intelligent, reflective, unassuming, powerhouse, who should never be underestimated. There is no doubt in my mind that he will surpass his goal of helping facilitate the creation of a $1B+ Black-owned company. I believe that Keenan will continue to change the face of business for our black and brown community as he works towards fulfilling his vision of multiplying what he has been given in life.”

L. Janet Mejias
Director, Equity and Inclusion


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