2021 MBAs To Watch: Alexandra Ignatius, Washington University (Olin)

Alexandra (Alex) Ignatius

Washington University in St. Louis, Olin Business School

“A thoughtful strategist who relentlessly pursues the best path forward through data and empathy.”

Hometown: Washington, DC

Fun fact about yourself: My first full-time job after undergrad was as a professional ballet dancer.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Columbia University, Bachelor of Arts in Psychology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school?  Edelman, Senior Account Supervisor

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020?  Walmart, Merchandising Operations, Bentonville, AR (remote internship)

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

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:  Co-President, Olin Women in Business Club; Graduate Fellow and Team Lead, Center for Experiential Learning; Peer Coach to first-year MBAs and Specialized Master’s students.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I led a consulting project to examine the implications of a major NYC-based restaurant group’s decision to eliminate tipping. Our analysis found that while non-tipping narrowed the wage disparity between front and back-of-house staff and improved stability for servers, it had unintended negative consequences for the restaurants’ employees, customers, and owners. Informed by our study’s findings, the restaurant group reinstated tipping and moved to a revenue-sharing model for kitchen employees. Our student team made a lasting impact on a client whose industry was deeply affected by the pandemic. This work also served as the basis for a Harvard Business School case study, which will be taught at both Harvard and Olin this fall.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My most significant professional achievement to date was helping to lead communications strategy around a leading grocery retailer’s expansion into China. The company had built its reputation as the leading discount grocer in Europe and North America. Still, it had to pursue a different value proposition in China—namely, to be the trusted importer. Working in partnership with Alibaba’s Tmall, we hosted a “food fashion show” to launch the retailer into the China market, leveraging well-known fashion designers and media icons in Shanghai to capture attention and drive online sales.

Why did you choose this business school? Attending Olin was transformational. Throughout my two years, I had the opportunity to lead one of the largest graduate student clubs, serve as an advisor across numerous high-profile consulting projects, learn from top professors in their fields, and travel the world with my classmates. In my final semester, I’m working with Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning to build a consulting engagement model that addresses arts organizations’ unique needs—this is the kind of meaningful impact students can make at WashU Olin. Even though the pandemic has been challenging, I made lasting friendships with classmates, faculty and staff that will extend beyond graduation.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Tom Fields teaches Introduction to Accounting as part of the MBA core curriculum. Professor Fields is a rare accounting professor because he transforms a typically dry subject into a forensic investigation of a firm’s crucial operations. He has compassion for his students and believes in doing what brings you joy.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The dean of Olin Business School, Mark Taylor, invites the first years for cocktails at his house in the early weeks of the fall semester. This is a rare opportunity to make a personal connection with the program’s leadership. In addition to his many accomplishments, Dean Taylor is a skilled horologist. At the end of the evening, he gave us a tour of his extensive antique English clock collection!

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? WashU Olin’s MBA program began with the Global Immersion, a formative, six-week experience around the world with our entire cohort. I was determined to prove myself, and I spent more time than I should have studying in my room and prepping cases with my team. In retrospect, I should have seized the opportunity to explore incredible cities like Barcelona and Shanghai and bonded with my cohort outside of the classroom. Little did I know that a few months later, we would all be quarantined!

What is the biggest myth about your school? My biggest concern about choosing WashU Olin was that its small class size would guarantee a small alumni network concentrated in the St. Louis region. Not only has the St. Louis alumni network impressed me, but I’ve also been amazed by the extensive national and international network, which proved invaluable in my internship and full-time recruitment.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised by how quickly the internship recruitment process started. WashU Olin’s MBA program begins in the summer. If you wait until the fall semester kicks off to start looking for internships and case prepping, you’re already behind. I wish I understood that timeline better going into my first semester of business school.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? During the application process, I attended Olin’s Women and Diversity Weekend. It helped me build connections with faculty and staff and better understand culture and fit. I remember sitting at the dean’s table on the last night, and he talked about his love of economics, St. Louis and Shakespeare. I walked away from that weekend feeling like WashU Olin truly saw the value in building a diverse class and wasn’t afraid to be at the forefront of change.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Meera Shah. While pursuing a full course load to graduate with her joint MBA and Master of Healthcare Analytics, Meera has also been on CVS Pharmacy’s COVID-19 vaccination task force. I am in awe of her ability to juggle these competing responsibilities, and I am so proud of the critical role she’s playing to protect the most vulnerable populations and be part of our country’s recovery effort.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? It was an adjustment transitioning to a fully online classroom when COVID suddenly hit in March 2020; both students and professors were unfamiliar with how to translate the in-person experience over Zoom effectively. But when we resumed classes in fall 2020, the university implemented measures to make Zoom feel like a real classroom, and precautions were put in place for optional hybrid learning. Overall, I’ve been impressed with Washington University’s response—they have been cautious and intentional in their decisions. Because of this, the case numbers across campus have remained low throughout the pandemic. As a club leader and a peer coach, it has been a rewarding creative exercise to think about how to create a sense of community and support remotely.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My grandfather inspired me to pursue business. Before his career in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he founded Harbridge House, a management consulting and research firm. He taught me that the foundation of good business is to listen more than you speak and never to assume people think the same way you do.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Serve on the Board of Directors of a creative arts organization and be invited back to WashU Olin to speak on a panel advising other women MBAs.

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

“I have had the opportunity to work with Alex Ignatius on a series of projects and classes throughout her time at WashU Olin. I can say with great confidence that Alex is truly an invaluable member of our community. From the front end of our global immersion, she set a tone of professionalism in her engagement with the MBA cohort. Alex brings both intellectual curiosity and professionalism into the classroom, a style that is infectious to her peers. When Alex speaks up, you know that the framing is thoughtful, deliberate and likely to create value for those around her. This same professionalism came out in my Power and Politics elective class in her second year. In this environment, Alex’s engagement with the material showed a willingness to think hard about how to best move through a world of political coalitions and challenging power dynamics, all the while rooted in a core set of values.

When Alex took a leadership role on a Center for Experiential Learning (CEL) project in the spring of 2020, I was glad to see her paired with the Union Square Hospitality Group team. Her leadership of the team resulted in the client thinking hard about their “tipping included” strategy. Indeed, it was one input into the leadership team’s eventual decision to re-orient their compensation model, a story later covered in the NYT among other outlets. The research that went into this project generated a Harvard Business Review case taught both at HBS and WashU Olin this fall. In the current semester, I have been impressed with the way Alex has acted as a peer coach and advisor to current CEL team leads in her CEL fellowship, a “director” type of role in a student consulting organization in which she is thriving. Alex knows how to walk the very thin line between supporting and empowering her fellow peer leaders and knowing when to step in to take a stronger leading role. Finally, in her final project as a CEL fellow, Alex has helped us think about how we best serve students interested in creative fields. I can confidently say that these recommendations will shape how future cohorts of WashU Olin students (BSBA, SMP and MBAs) will engage in questions of the intersection of arts and business. In short, Alex has been an invaluable member of our class of 2021, and I would be hard-pressed to offer a stronger recommendation!”

Peter Boumgarden, Ph.D.
Koch Family Professor of Practice of Family Enterprise
Director, Koch Family Business Center
Faculty Director, Center for Experiential Learning
Washington University in St. Louis, Olin Business School