2021 MBAs To Watch: Maya Sugarman, USC (Marshall)

Maya Sugarman

University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business

“Former theater actor and professional sweet tooth now channeling creativity and collaborative spirit to drive impact in healthcare.”

Hometown: Seattle, WA

Fun fact about yourself: I spent a season as dog sledding guide apprentice in Northern Maine. I wasn’t very good at it, but sure loved the dogs!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Harvard, BA in Social Studies

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Carmela Ice Cream, Regional Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Optum, Strategy & Operations

Where will you be working after graduation? Optum, Strategy & Operations

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Director, Everyone’s Business Global Case Competition

VP of Events, Marshall Net Impact

VP of Marketing, Leadership & Organization Club

Hack for Hope, Judge’s Choice Winner

Dean’s List

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I hesitantly joined some fellow Net Impact members in competing in the Total Impact Portfolio Challenge, an annual competition which asks students to design and execute investment portfolios that maximize impact across asset classes. Knowing that I was much more of a poet than a quant, I was worried that I wouldn’t have the financial know-how to succeed in the challenge, and was at first intimidated by the material. Still, I knew I wanted to develop those skills and understand how to use business principles to drive impact. My fabulous team and I worked diligently throughout the year, and were thrilled to be named the runners’ up in the competition. It was incredibly satisfying to find success at something that seemed so overwhelming at the beginning! Moreover, the competition opened doors to so many resources and sparked conversations with so many inspiring professionals in the impact space. My team and I became dedicated to providing more resources and programming for students interested in impact investing at Marshall, and I’m particularly proud of the Impact Insights series I designed to give students the opportunity to really dig deep into different ways they could make their careers around impact.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I used to feel somewhat sheepish when I told people I was an actor before coming to business school. While my classmates had been busy with conference calls and board rooms, I had spent most of my time at open calls and in rehearsal rooms. My “survival jobs” eventually propelled me towards an MBA, where I knew I could build the skills to drive impact in a way I wasn’t able to in the arts. Still, I don’t know if I would be able to succeed in business without the skills I learned in theater. Acting is all about connecting with people, making bold choices, being quick to respond to the unexpected, and working with a team to make something inspiring. I am extremely proud of the years I spent onstage, and will carry those lessons with me moving into my business career.

Why did you choose this business school? I attended the USC MBA Women’s Forum in 2019, which was hosted by the Graduate Women In Business. USC Marshall had just been the first top business school to achieve gender parity, and the event spotlighted a remarkable collection of female professors, alumni, and current students. I knew immediately that I could feel at home at USC Marshall, and would be proud to be part of a school so dedicated to creating space for people underrepresented in business.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Dean Suh-Pyng Ku taught the first part of our core Corporate Finance course, and made me pretty nervous at first; she doesn’t hesitate to cold call you. But her true dedication to helping students learn was so clear, and I was a fixture at her office hours as I got the basics down. Dean Ku took the time to review our TIPC approach on multiple occasions, and made me feel empowered to succeed in my finance courses and extracurricular activities.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Because of COVID, our class unfortunately missed out on some of the traditions – but I’m so glad we all got to be part of TAM Day, the beloved field day portion of orientation full of fun activities and challenges. There’s nothing like getting to know your new team and classmates with tug-of-war and egg drops. Still proud to be part of the winning cohort, Core C!

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I wish I had been more confident about my finance skills from the beginning! I shied away from some opportunities like the Student Investment Fund because I figured I could never be good enough — but now I know I have what it takes.

What is the biggest myth about your school? People talk all the time about how powerful the Trojan Network is, and I thought for sure it must be overblown – but the rumors are true! There is something special about being part of the Trojan community, and how much people are willing to go the extra distance to help each other out. It’s essential to the ethos of USC and one of the things that makes it so special.

What surprised you the most about business school? I had the impression that business school was mostly fun and games, but getting back into the swing of being a student is no easy feat! Despite advance warnings, I was definitely taken aback by the intensity of those first few weeks (what we call Term 1 at USC Marshall). Still, we all eventually adjust and focus on making the most of these special two years.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? For someone like me with a non-traditional background, I would definitely recommend doing the work to get clarity for yourself and the admissions office how you want to use your time as an MBA. The time flies by and the recruiting process starts very early; there’s less time than you think to explore different pathways. The admissions office wants to know you’ll be able to take full advantage of your precious time because you’ll be ready to jump in.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I was lucky to have Lawrence Rolle with me in Core C. Lawrence is an MD/MBA student who exudes positive energy and leadership. Without fail, Lawrence asks every guest speaker the same question – “What does leadership mean to you?” It’s so simple, but so evocative, and I’ve carried a number of those responses with me. Lawrence has a terrific sense of humor, and doesn’t sweat the small stuff. His optimism and passion are infectious.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? I was impressed by how well we were able to shift to being online. While we’d all love to be able to see each other in person, we’re all finding ways to connect through Zoom and through active chat groups. It was a bummer to miss out on the beloved USC PRIME travel program; we were all set to go to Thailand. My team loved working with our clients for our class project over the internet, and hope we’ll be able to visit in person.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? When I was trying to figure out what was next, my dad encouraged me to go for an MBA. I had never been someone who was drawn to the corporate world, so hadn’t really considered it. However, he saw my potential for leadership and could tell an MBA would help me fill in the gaps to be able to get there.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I’m looking forward to using my skills to create a measurable improvement in the patient experience in healthcare – but somewhere down the line I hope to have my own dessert empire (or at least small business) that reflects my love of sweets!

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

“Whether it’s promoting an impact investing project, making the case for additional social impact course offerings, or planning the USC Marshall Everyone’s Business Global Case Competition, Maya brings passion, enthusiasm, and a can-do attitude to everything she’s involved with in the USC Marshall community. Maya has such a thoughtful and intentional way of approaching business challenges, and it has been a pleasure working with her this year. She is modest in her description of her “non-traditional background,” and I believe that background has actually served her very well as an MBA student.  Never constrained by conventional ways of thinking or doing, her savvy and insights make for a truly fresh and inspiring way of tackling business problems. I’ve learned so much from her!”

Anne Ziemniak
Assistant Dean and Director
USC Marshall Full-Time MBA Program  





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