2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Sam Buck, University of Michigan (Ross)

Sam Buck

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

“An unapologetically optimistic climate activist that’s more comfortable in flip flops than a suit.”

Hometown: Pasadena, CA

Fun fact about yourself: I can hold my breath for three minutes. My goal is to get to five for free diving.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of California, Santa Barbara – BA Psychology, BA Economics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Associate Director, Business School Fund at Stanford Graduate School of Business

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Rare, Center for Behavior and Environment – Arlington, VA

Where will you be working after graduation? Senior Manager of Development at ReFED

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Co-Founder, Michigan Climate Venture
  • Director of Development, Social Venture Fund
  • Co-President, Net Impact @ Ross
  • Board Fellow, Legacy Land Conservancy
  • Detroit Revitalization and Business Consultant, Greenlight Fund
  • Gordon Impact Entrepreneurship Intern – Rare

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? It was co-founding Michigan Climate Venture, the first student-run climate tech investment fund in the country, takes the cake. I truly believe that MCV’s hands-on learning model is the future of business school. We often talk about how we’re a unique investment fund in that we are chasing three types of returns – impact, financial, educational. MCV is designed from the bottom up to create job-ready, multi-disciplinary graduates who can navigate ambiguous situations, work alongside teammates from different backgrounds, and drive decarbonization on the timescale needed. MCV has taught me much more than I ever could have learned locked in a typical classroom.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m a big believer in triple bottom line businesses. I’m exceptionally proud that I was able to help build one as a REDF Farber Fellow for the California Conservation Corps. I helped design a profitable food recovery business that diversified revenue streams, created green jobs for opportunity youth, and reduced carbon emissions from landfilling food.

Why did you choose this business school? I was looking for a school that would let me explore the intersection of business and impact broadly. With its recent launch of the Business + Impact initiative’s +Impact Studio and continued investment in building out impact-related curriculum, Ross always felt like the natural choice. I’m happy to report, it didn’t disappoint! While there’s always more business schools can do to push impact to the forefront, thanks to professors like Andy Hoffman, Ross is at the cutting edge of those conversations. I had the opportunity to dive headfirst into the worlds of impact investing, social impact consulting, philanthropy, and nonprofit management.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Gautam Kaul is more than just my favorite MBA professor; he’s one of my favorite people on planet earth. He’s the closest thing to a Dumbledore-like character you can imagine, and I swear his eyes actually sparkle when he talks about finance.

I had the great fortune of working closely with Professor Kaul through both the Social Venture Fund and Michigan Climate Venture. He believes strongly in letting his students take the wheel, making and learning from their own mistakes. He steps in every now and again to provide gentle guidance and keep the cart from flying off the rails, but prefers to empower students to guide their own learning journeys. As much as I learned for him about finance and investing, I learned much more about life.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I came to business school with the goal of exploring the intersection of business, impact, and sustainability as widely as possible. I accomplished my goal, but often felt stretched too thin. I could have embraced the “work smarter, not harder” adage. I often doubled up on experiences, jumping into multiple social impact consulting projects when one would have given me the exposure I was looking for.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Ross has a well-earned reputation as a “culture school.” That myth held true and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My classmates at Ross were every bit as imposter syndrome-inducing as at other top schools, but the vibe was much lower key. This is just my sense, but people at Ross tend to spend less time trying to impress one another and more time getting to really know each other.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I only applied to a small handful of programs, but I made sure I knew those programs like the back of my hand. I could rattle off the names of professors I wanted to do research with, clubs I hoped to join, and classes I couldn’t wait to take. I didn’t select the schools I applied to based on rankings; I selected them based on fit. I made sure that shone through in my interviews.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Marcus Tenenbaum. There are many reasons to admire Marcus. He’s the kind of person that can take over a room any room he walks into, is a deeply critical thinker, and is unbelievably generous with his time. Couple that with a resume that’s second to none and you have a newly-minted MBA poised to take over the world. He just might! We’ll have to wait and see.

The reason I admire Marcus above all others is his profound ability to focus. While I tend to haphazardly follow my curiosities down rabbit holes, Marcus makes a plan and sticks to it. He will be the first to tell you that he’s not always the smartest person in the room (though he is never far off), but he will without a doubt work harder than anyone to accomplish his goals. His focus and work ethic put him in a class unto himself.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Working as a fundraiser at Stanford GSB has a number of incredible perks. Among them is the ability to audit classes. All of the fun without the homework! I took Laura Arrillaga’s class on Strategic Philanthropy and the rest was history. After completing her course, I immediately started looking for programs where I could dive into the deep end of impact investing, blended finance, social entrepreneurship, and nonprofit management.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

1. Play a major role in increasing philanthropic giving to environmental causes from 3% to 10+%.

2. Establish a norm for companies, nonprofits, and foundations to have behavioral science teams.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? The pandemic has helped me shed my carbon tunnel vision. Yes, we need to be doing everything within our power to urgently reduce carbon emissions, but we can’t forget that there are vulnerable communities with competing needs in the present. My grand slam career is working to reduce emissions while also improving the standard of living for those that need a helping hand to get back on their feet. I’m proud to say that I’m off to a good start. I’m heading to ReFED, where I’ll work to end food loss and waste, reducing the carbon footprint of our food system while improving food security.

What made Sam such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“Sam is one of my all-time favorite students. I had the privilege to get to know him over three years, first as a member of the Social Venture Fund, then as a leader of the same endeavor and, perhaps most significantly, he was instrumental in the design and launch of the Michigan Climate Venture. Over these three years, we became colleagues and close friends. Sam is one of the most thoughtful people I have met with a keen sense of the social issues we confront and a dedication to addressing them. He was of course a great student in the usual sense of the term, but his passion for learning and innate curiosity are both special and unique and not confined to the degrees he was seeking. We spoke regularly about work and also life and I always learned from our conversations. Sam is special and he will go very far in life and, again, not just in the usual ways most of us define success – Sam will make the world a better place.”

Gautam Kaul
Robert G. Rodkey Collegiate Professor of Business Administration and Professor of Finance at Michigan Ross
Faculty Director of the Michigan Venture Fund at U-M


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