Meet The MBA Class Of 2023: Pacesetters With A Purpose

Sibylle George, Harvard Business School

“JACKIE ONASSIS MEETS SCRAPPY-DOO”

The Class of 2023 also isn’t afraid to define themselves on their own terms. Before joining Columbia Business School, Mélanie D’Mello Génin was a featured artist in the soundtrack for Netflix’s i’m thinking of ending things. She describes herself as an “International classical harpist and producer passionate about Immersive technologies, music, and empowering women.” Hilary Clark applies an equally colorful tag to herself: “Strong mind and right hook. Jackie Onassis meets Scrappy-Doo.” At UC Berkeley Haas, Erin Brock seemingly checks all the boxes: “Food justice advocate, leadership nerd, systems change champion…with a healthy addiction to glitter.” And Siva Prasad Kalimuthu’s self-description could apply to just about any MBA candidate from any era…

Siva Prasad Kalimuthu, Emory University (Goizueta)

“[I am] a successful product of failure.” writes the Emory Goizueta first-year.

Make no mistake: This class’ successes overshadow their shortcomings. Before joining NYU Stern, Lance Banks launched a San Francisco comedy festival, Clusterfest, which attracted performers like Tiffany Haddish and Julio Torres. Last year, Columbia Business School’s Kilian Koffi organized the World Bank Group Youth Summit, which attracted 40,000 people from over 150 countries online. 40,000 attendees? That was all in a day’s work for Addie Olsen Rasche. As an undergrad, she co-founded a concert and event venture and taught herself the promotion business. Soon enough, her firm was producing over 150 events per year that ranged up to 40,000 attendees. Her team’s performance was so impressive that it caught the eye of the world’s second-largest live entertainment firm.

“After six years, we were acquired by AEG Presents and became the company’s 16th regional office,” notes the Texas McCombs first-year. “It was rewarding to see our hard work pay off — and to finally have access to the financial and resource support we needed to continue growing our dreams and supporting our people.”

A FUND-RAISER TO REMEMBER

That support comes in many forms. Chris Poldoian cut his teeth in the restaurant industry. The INSEAD MBA was even the youngest person named to Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 Top Beverage Professionals. In 2018, the suicide of Anthony Bourdain spotlighted an issue that dogged Polodian’s industry: mental illness. In response, he co-founded WellWeek, a nonprofit that supplied training to the hospitality industry on combatting anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. Harvard Business School’s Sibylle George also heeded the call to act. Last year, a blast in her native Beirut killed 218 people and injured thousands more. In response, she co-created a disaster relief fund with the hope of raising $70,000.

In the end, the fund attracted $9.2 million dollars for relief!

That’s one of the hallmarks of the Class of 2023: They get results when and where it matters most. HEC Paris’ Zhanara Yessenberlina was tapped to handle IT integration when two of the largest banks in Kazakhstan merged. Like the Start Menu and File Explorer features on Microsoft Windows 11? Thank Sean Oh, who led the cross-disciplinary team that developed them. At SLATA — a Russian grocery chain with over 300 stores — Konstantin Yarin masterminded the company’s long-term strategy…one that is already yielding results.

Carson McReynolds, University of Texas (McCombs)

“After performing marketing research, predicting competition development on a saturated market, and applying financial models my team of 13 implemented the strategy,” explains the UNC Kenan-Flagler first-year.  “Our primary goal was to raise the company’s annual revenue by 150%, achieving $1 billion in five years by attracting 500,000 new customers. Shareholders accepted the strategy and its success resulted in $104 million in the Q1 sales.”

ROWING THE EARTH THREE TIMES OVER

Maybe the most impressive result was notched by Carson McReynolds. A Texas McCombs MBA student, he previously served as the company commander for the U.S. Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk Assault Unit. Over 10 months, his team flew over 3,500 combat hours in Afghanistan. However, protecting the Afghan people wasn’t the achievement he’ll cherish most from his service.

“The biggest accomplishment of my career was being able to bring each one of my 51 teammates back home safe to their loved ones after an extremely dynamic and difficult deployment.”

Back home, the Class of 2023 equally distinguished themselves. In theater, Columbia Business School’s Dana Lerner earned a Tony Award nomination for producing Indecent — her Broadway debut. INSEAD’s Amanda Michel is a former Swiss National Champion in Olympic Weightlifting. By the same token, Shreya Dhital, a Dartmouth Tuck MBA, represented Nepal in swimming at the 2012 Olympics. And how is this for a statistic? Alex Karwoski estimates that he has rowed the circumference of the Earth three times over. Not surprisingly, the Columbia MBA has made the U.S. Olympic rowing team for the past two Olympic games.

GREAT STORIES TO TELL

Rowing can be a grueling sport. So is mountain climbing. Just ask USC Marshall’s Pyrenee Steiner. She has reached the summit of Colorado’s 58 tallest mountains. If mountains aren’t your passion, introduce yourself to Lily Bowdler from the University of Washington. She has climbed all five of the state’s volcanoes. At the same time, Foster Langsdorf notched three consecutive NCAA soccer championships at Stanford. Now a University of Michigan MBA student, Langsdorf can look back and poke fun at his professional career that followed.

“The biggest accomplishment in my career has been playing 67 minutes in Major League Soccer,” he quips. “Albeit a small amount of time to play when spread over 3.5 seasons, it was more than I ever dreamt I would play as someone who walked on the Stanford University Men’s Varsity Soccer team. I now plan to take my talents to the intramural soccer team at Ross. Hopefully, I make the team.”

That sense of humor will come in handy during the core. HEC Paris’ Yann Collins joined the ranks of Sharona Alperin (“My Sharona”) and Pattie Boyd (“Layla”) in having a rock song written about her. Julia Hamilton earned a best presentation award for her undergrad thesis, a vice president role at Goldman Sachs, and a spot in London Business School’s MBA Class of 2023. Despite these accolades, she managed to fail her driving test five different times. And you can bet Novo Manzoor has some great stories to tell his class at Texas McCombs. Here’s a sample…

“I lost my shoes bungee jumping in Nepal and climbed the Tiger’s Nest monastery in Bhutan (3000ft) while fasting for Ramadan.”

ROCK STAR PROFESSORS

Joel Martinez, Duke University (Fuqua)

Looking for more stories? As an undergrad, Jordan Bell hosted Bill Clinton for a campus dinner. Not to be outdone, Duke Fuqua’s Joel Martinez once accompanied Ruth Bader Ginsburg on a trip to The Hague. Yale SOM’s Caitlin Piccirillo-Stosser spent a decade as a competitive Irish Step dancer, while Cornell Johnson’s Gabriella Del Río-Dávila dances ballet…a childhood dream she decided to fulfill three years ago.

And how is this for a sibling rivalry: Wharton’s Natasha Ramanujam has a twin sister…who is starting her MBA at Harvard Business School this fall.

Come break, the Ramanujam sisters can compare plenty of notes. One area that’s popular among MBAs? Faculty!  At Wharton, for example, you’ll find Adam Grant, master teacher and best-selling author. Grant already has a celebrity fan at Wharton: Arie Kouandjio. An All-American lineman who was part of two national champion football teams at Alabama, Kouandijo can’t wait to take his first class from Grant.

“I read his book, Give and Take, about four years ago and it has advised how I view both professional and personal relationships since.”

The same goes for Chisom Uche, who is looking forward to taking a marketing class with the University of Michigan’s Dr. Marcus Collins. “Dr. Collins’s background includes projects such as Budweiser’s “Made In America” music festival, the Brooklyn Nets, and State Farm’s “Cliff Paul” campaign. These experiences are incredible because of how they showcase his ability to see marketing as a way of understanding how culture allows brands to connect with consumers, which I find fascinating.”

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE EXTRACURRICULARS

Clubs and activities are also popular with the Class of 2023. Emory Goizueta holds an annual GALA, as in Goizueta Advanced Leadership Academy in the Virgin Islands. Here, explains Ivan Guerrero, students learn how to sail while experiencing challenges that test their ability to communicate and work as a unit. The same could be said for Goizueta’s acclaimed Leadership’s Reaction Course held at Fort Benning — a differentiator that helped bring Siva Prasad Kalimuthu to Georgia.

Emma Lawler, University of Chicago (Booth)

“The course leverages the programs and facilities meant for US army officer candidates,” he explains. “We often hear people say, “This is a matter of life and death”. But in the army, it’s an actual matter of life and actual death. Leadership and decision-making in such high-risk environments require conviction, accountability, and fortitude.”

So does entrepreneurship. At the University of Chicago, Emma Lawler is gearing up to compete in the New Venture Challenge, where she can test her ideas and snap up some funding for her startup. In contrast, Devika Mathur intends to make a difference and gain non-profit experience through Duke’s Fuqua On Board program. “This program matches MBA students with Durham-area nonprofits to serve as non-voting board members. To me, it represents the ideal intersection of personal growth and driving social impact.”

That said, the Class of 2023 is looking to have fun too. At HEC Paris, Zhanara Yessenberlina can’t wait for the MBAT — aka the “MBA Olympics” — which draws MBAs from two dozen business schools for a weekend of sports competitions and concerts. Natalia Rovira Rodrigues spent years in the tropics, which explains why she is looking forward to “hitting the slopes” at Cornell Johnson’s Ski & Snowboard Club. And what good is business school without some school spirit(s)…as in beer and wine.

“I’m really excited for the Darden School of Brew,” writes the University of Virginia’s Danny Rosa. “I have been a beer aficionado for a while now so I was immediately drawn to one of Darden’s most unique clubs. I’m excited to learn more about the beer making process, understanding the craft beer industry better, and make my own beer. I knew that Charlottesville was a vineyard haven, but I didn’t expect it to be an extensive craft brewery scene as well. The School of Brew actually partners with a local craft brewery to brew some SOB beers at their brewery for public consumption.”

Next Page: Profiles of Incoming MBA Students from 28 Business Schools. 

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