The old adage that failure doesn’t exist because we always learn something from even the worst defeats is a bit simplistic. But it’s undeniably true that what doesn’t work out for us sometimes actually does, only in ways we never anticipated — and perhaps don’t fully appreciate until time heals the wounds.
That’s the crux of Caroline Ling’s experience at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Ling, a dual MBA-MS Environment and Resources student who will graduate this December, became known as the Trash Queen of Stanford for her tireless advocacy of sustainable recycling and waste management practices on campus. Since coming to Stanford in 2019, she became, in her description, obsessed with “exploring scalable solutions to reduce single-use waste in society through entrepreneurial approaches.” And not just once or twice. Earlier this year, working through Stanford’s Startup Garage, Ling took a third crack at pursuing a re-use business concept with fellow GSB students.
Her latest idea was simple and appealing: Ling and her team delivered milk in reusable containers, testing whether consumers wanted the “milkman” back in their lives. Many did. But the business failed, doomed by scalability challenges. And that’s when Ling’s real education began.
THERE IS NO ‘AWAY’
Caroline Ling grew up in Shanghai, China. Early in life she learned a lesson from her grandmother that has stayed with her to this day — and indeed, that became what drives and motivates her.
“My grandparents grew up in the 1930s, which meant that they were very conservation-minded in the way of living,” Ling tells Poets&Quants. “My grandma loved to collect all these jugs and jars and kept reusing them to the point where I said, ‘Why are you doing this grandma? Why don’t we just throw them away?’ And she said to me very early on that there is no ‘away’ — ‘Everything has a home.’ And so that to me has ingrained almost a personal philosophy.
“So from early on I had this idea: Whatever we do, it’s going to have a footprint on the planet, it has a consequence — this thing called karma. We need to take care of the environment we’re living in, that’s all we have.”
It’s easy to see the photo above and think, If this is the kind of guy who gets into GSB, I’ll never make it.
It’s easy to become enamored by the image and, as Faraz himself said, “not see past the spacesuit to the human element.”
I know because not only am I a proponent of higher education as a path to find and bring meaning to one’s life, but I am also an aviation fanatic and mighty supporter of our service men and women. So when Syed Faraz first made contact with Poets&Quants and offered to share information with us about scholarships for Mexican and/or military applicants — read more below — I immediately got lost in his accomplishments as an Air Force aviator. I placed him on a 70,000 foot pedestal — the ceiling of the U-2 in which he sat for this one-of-a-kind selfie op — and thought, of course he got into Stanford!
That said, take him out of his flight suit and this Tillman Scholar and admit to Stanford’s MBA Class of 2023 is more like you than you know.
Everyone who talks with Paul Capon comes away impressed. Even before earning MBA degrees from both Columbia Business School and London Business School in 2013, he was a United States Air Force Academy graduate and Air Force officer for six years, during which he served as a convoy commander for more than 120 convoys in Afghanistan. Post-military and post-MBA, Capon founded impact investment fund LunaCap Ventures, which invests in military-, women-, and minority-owned or -run companies.
A year later, he launched LunaCap Foundation, which assists those of Mexican descent born anywhere in the world or current active military or U.S. Armed Forces veterans with the cost of an MBA education. A deeply personal undertaking, LunaCap’s $200,000 scholarships have been awarded to 10 outstanding recipients at the leading business schools each of the last two years. The 2021 selection process extended through May and final decisions were announced in July.
Inextricably intertwined with Capon’s remarkable professional story is his personal one. It is a fundamentally American and hugely inspiring story. Born Moises Luna Soto in Mexico, he was adopted at 3 months old by a well-to-do family in Connecticut and renamed — hence the moniker of his venture firm and foundation, LunaCap. “It’s opportunity meets potential,” Capon tells Poets&Quants. “It’s bridging the gap between America and Mexico. It doesn’t mean ‘moon capital’!” he adds, laughing.