MBAs To Watch: Class of 2021

When business schools trumpet their “Star Power,” they’re generally referring to alumni CEOs and famous faculty. Sometimes, you’ll find a celebrity hunched over a laptop and poring over balance sheets like their peers. That was the case at IE Business School with Cristian Arens.

Arens doesn’t fit your MBA celebrity profile: former athletes or entertainers looking to transition careers or commercialize passions. Instead, Arens is a content creator and influencer — a hybrid of educator, entrepreneur, and evangelist. In other words, Arens is a brand. His YouTube channel has attracted 213,000 subscribers and his Invertire Joven podcast ranks among Spotify’s most popular. He has produced courses in areas like real estate investment, stock market fundamentals, and affiliate marketing. On top of that, his book, Money Code: 4 steps to Make Your Money Work, has made two best-seller lists on Amazon.

Cristian Arens, IE Business School


Three years ago, Arens’ vision began to take shape in his native Peru. Here, he noticed that people lacked financial literacy, something that hindered them from controling their lives and ensuring their long-term security. It was an issue that resonated with Arens, who had long dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur. In the end, he become something more: a difference-maker whose videos have been viewed by over 2.5 million people.

“My biggest achievement in my professional career is to be able to do what I love every day and to live my life at the fullest having a positive impact on other people,” he tells Poets&Quants. “When I finished university at the age of 22, I launched a startup, which lasted for a year but then failed (I learned a lot), and so I began to work in a large company in Peru. My “hobby” at that time was making financial education videos. A few years passed and I was able to quit my job to dedicate myself full time to this hobby. And now I continue to pursue this passion.”

This year’s MBAs To Watch are equally passionate about their causes, be it economic development, venture building, or social justice.  Their options were curtailed by COVID. Still, they acted as the community builders who made the best from what was available. Many times, you would’ve found the MBAs To Watch leading from the back, never needing a spotlight — just a purpose. Steady and stout, they were often the unflinching voices of reason and reassurance. Texas A&M’s Azwad Haider personifies what it means to be an MBA to Watch. A Bangladesh-born history buff, Haider earned his classmates’ admiration for his can-do attitude that always placed his classmates’ needs front-and-center.

“Azwad Haider stood out as the rising tide that lifts all boats,” explains Dr. Janet Marcantonio, an executive professor at the Mays Business School. “Within his cohort, he was ubiquitously known for two things: always lending a hand and, as one classmate put it, “his unbelievable ability to look at a problem and quickly develop a creative, coherent, outside-the-box solution that is both actionable and successful.” Noting Azwad’s “active listening superpower” and “genius contributions in class,” another classmate captured the consensus perfectly: “Azwad is crazy intelligent and truly cares about others. If he contributes to his next team the way he contributed to ours, they will be so thankful to have him.”


Maya Sugarman, USC (Marshall)

‘To compile the MBAs To Watch for the Class of 2021, P&Q reached out to over 70 top full-time MBA programs. This year, P&Q received 239 nominations, which were split between the Best & Brightest MBAs and MBAs To Watch. Overall, the 139 MBAs To Watch hail from 68 business schools, including Stanford GSB, Wharton, INSEAD, Chicago Booth, MIT Sloan, and London Business School. This list nearly achieves gender parity, with men outnumbering women by a slim 71-to-68 margin. Non-American students account for 46% of MBAs To Watch, with a quarter of the students holding an advanced degree beyond an MBA. Deloitte hired 9 members from the 2021 list, making it the largest employer of MBAs To Watch. Dell Technologies and Bain & Companies landed another 5 and 4 members of the class, respectively.

Who comprises this year’s MBAs to Watch? Think students from seemingly every background imaginable. Swetha Rajagopal entered USC’s Marshall School after working in a test prep firm, where she headed up content development and training programs. Despite Rajagopal’s education prowess, she may have been at a disadvantage in business school compared to classmate Maya Sugarman’s non-traditional background.

“I used to feel somewhat sheepish when I told people I was an actor before coming to business school,” Sugarman admits. “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…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.”


INSEAD’s Toru Nanami experienced a more traditional business training. He spent five years as an investment banker with Barclays and Morgan Staley before returning to his family’s business: a Japanese green tea trading company that has been in business since 1865. Jennifer Reed Papadopulos also felt the pull of family. She left a consulting gig to return home to help run the financial side of her father’s business.

“For two years, I worked as my father’s right-hand woman,” writes the Babson MBA. “This enabled me to see the business world from a new entrepreneurial perspective.”

Christina Feng, Cambridge Judge

Christina Feng’s perspective is grounded in development. In Afghanistan, the Cambridge University grad was responsible for a $55 million dollar economic development project. Her classmate, Tomas Jauregui, also worked in the non-profit sector, helping entrepreneurs launch and build their ventures through Scaleup Argentina.  Just down A421, you’ll find the University of Oxford’s Sophia Watkins. Before enrolling at Saïd, she launched the Forest Fund, which supported conservation and sustainable entrepreneurship in rural Brazil. At the same time, she co-founded a school that taught language skills to over 100 students in the municipality of Juína.

“My thus far unorthodox career has taught me to value authenticity in all my relationships,” Watkins notes. “It is a precursor to trust, an invaluable currency in complex multicultural contexts. I am proud to trust and be trusted by my local network in Juína, which includes ranch hands, miners, loggers, small-business owners, teachers, and indigenous people—whose perspectives I have come to value and better understand.”

Pages 4-6: 139 profiles of the MBAs To Watch (Class of 2021)

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