2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Branden Karnell, Cornell University (Johnson)

Branden Karnell

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

“Human centered integrator focused on bringing people together and leaving the world a better place.”

Hometown: Levittown, PA

Fun fact about yourself: In my high school and early undergraduate days, I was the drummer in the pop-punk band “In a Daze”.

Undergraduate School and Degree: The University of Pittsburgh – Majors: Finance, General Management (focus in Accounting and Marking); Certificate: Leadership and Ethics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Deloitte Consulting LLP – Strategy and Analytics Manager – Intelligent Automation

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Apple, Cupertino

Where will you be working after graduation? Apple, Program Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:


  • High Tech Club – 2021 President
  • Johnson Admissions Group – Interviewer
  • Johnson Board Fellow
  • Jewish Business Association – Co-VP of Events
  • Big Red Tech Strategy Commercialization Fellow
  • Strategic Product and Marketing Immersion – Mentor
  • Designing Data Products – Teaching Assistant
  • Business Strategy – Teaching Assistant


  • 2022 Fried Fellow: Awarded to five second-year students based on academic excellence and contributions to Johnson.
  • Microsoft Business Innovation Challenge (2020) “Semifinalist”: Selected as one of the top 9 of 150+ teams for designing a tech ecosystem between education, food service, and agriculture to reduce food waste post-pandemic.
  • Salesforce Switch the Pitch Hackathon (2020) “Best Business”: Recognized for best business plan and minimum viable product, creating an education platform that connects schools with substitute teachers.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Leading our High-Tech Club has been the most rewarding experience for me both personally and professionally. During our mostly virtual first year at Johnson, the tech community became my family. We spent so much time together confiding each other, getting ready for corporate briefings, and looking over each other’s resumes and practices cases. This allowed us to develop amazing friendships. The generosity of our second years is what impressed me the most, they gave us so much time, answered panicked late-night calls, and made our class feel connected to Johnson even during such a difficult time.

All of these things are why I love HTC and why I wanted to be a part of bringing that positive culture to this year’s new class. This year in particular, our community has had the chance to work closely together with our administration as we brought in new tech focused faculty to expand opportunities for our students. That strong partnership between the students and faculty makes me even more excited for our future as a program and as a Johnson tech family.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Over my career I have many experiences I am thankful for. The most important is building Flippo, a mobile application and community that connects students together to do simple tasks. In a world before most gig economy businesses existed, my co-founder recognized that college students were constantly in need of help with the little things: food delivery while studying, moving, IT repair, medicine delivery while sick, and so much more. At the same time, he realized that we had a community of students around us who needed a way to make a few extra dollars and who would be willing to help. As he brought me in as his co-founder and COO, I was excited to build our business and team around that idea.

Together, we created Flippo, one of the first companies to come out of the University of Pittsburgh’s College of Business Administration. With the development of the application came the cultivation of a culture that was still quite new: the trust between a two-sided marketplace (those who wanted tasks done and those willing to do them.) We built a team of six that modeled the use of the app to what became a ~1,000-person community, making Flippo synonymous with quality, speed, and, most importantly, community-based trust. We also achieved final round positions in the University of Pittsburgh Big Idea competition two years in a row, giving us funding, and leading to us being featured on Apple’s App Store as a must-have for new college students.

Not long after, we decided to close the business to work on our own endeavors and packaged everything we learned to begin encouraging others at Pitt to take consider entrepreneurship as a career path. We are so proud that the University of Pittsburgh Innovation Institute and the entrepreneurial spirit that we helped create continues to live on and encourage the next generation of founders in the community that we love so much.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Johnson because of its technology ecosystem focused not just in the SC Johnson College of Business, but also across Cornell University in computer science, engineering and at Cornell Tech in New York City. I wanted to be able to learn a holistic view of the industry and our ecosystem has allowed me to do just that. Most importantly though, throughout my application process I heard about Johnson’s community and “pay it forward” culture time and again. The reverence that classmates spoke about each other and stories of mutual support, even during competition, struck me as exactly the type of environment I wanted to be a part of. The reality of that community has been exactly as advertised and I’m grateful to be a small piece of it.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? I love our annual of Diwali event organized by the South Asian Business Club. Seeing the entire MBA class come together to celebrate the culture of so many in our community was amazing. I particularly have enjoyed participating and learning how to dance (fairly terribly) first-hand. This is one of the many ways that our classmates and faculty come together to develop close bonds and it’s something unique to Johnson that I love.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? If I could go back and do it all over again, I would have spaced out my classes more than I initially planned them. My first instinct was to pack as much into the program as I could to get as much value as I could. I’ve realized though that pacing myself would have allowed me to take in more of the content and eased a bit of the workload.

What surprised you the most about business school? It never ceases to amaze me how genuinely close and supportive the community has been since I’ve gotten to business school. With little more than a shared school and a few weeks of knowing each other, I’ve seen first year students stay up all night tweaking each other’s elevator pitches, and second years, who have every reason to put their feet up, meet again and again with new students to prepare them for interviews. Our culture is all about “giving back” and that has continued to surprise and delight me.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? The most important thing that I was advised to do throughout the process is to be honest about myself and my journey. I was so nervous thinking that I had to be perfect to get into business school until a mentor of mine reminded me that if I was perfect I probably wouldn’t want to go to business school in the first place. To anyone looking to apply now: embrace your flaws and try to understand exactly what you are looking to get out of business school, it will make your experience all the better.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Jeremy Mathurin has been a classmate who I have continuously learned from since the moment we stepped on campus last year. He is someone who embodies Johnson’s “give back” attitude to the fullest extent, with his leadership of our Community Impact club just one his many endeavors. What makes him stand out the most though is his ability to make you feel seen and heard in every conversation that you have with him. Whether you are looking to him for advice about a life altering decision or simply asking question about a class, he always knows the best way to put you at ease. He is a leader who I am proud to call my friend.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My father was the biggest influence in my life and the one who convinced me to go for a graduate degree. My laser focus on finance during my undergrad made him continuously push me to broaden my horizons, to see if something new would my interest and make my life fuller. Business school became that chance for me to look out and see more of the possibilities he envisioned for me. When it came to learning, his mantra growing up was always this: “Go for the knowledge and all of the other good things will follow.” I strive to follow his advice every day.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? The first and most imminent goal I had for business school was to transition from my consulting career to one that was closer to my passion in tech. My opportunity to work at Apple has fulfilled that dream in spades and I am so excited to start this summer. My second bucket list item is to work within the tech industry to tackle some of the big conversations that we’re seeing in the news today, most notably data privacy and the unintended consequences of algorithmic content curation. I believe that technology can be the center of the utmost good in the world and I want to be a part of making that good happen in some way.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? The pandemic, paired with some personal loss over the past four years, has had a profound effect on my priorities both personally and professionally. The kind of work that I do has always been important to me as I strive to contribute in areas that are making others’ lives easier or the world a bit better. At the same time though, I’ve realized how important it is to make time for those that I care about. I get to be surrounded by the best family and friends – some of the kindest and highest achieving people I know. With that in mind, it doesn’t matter how successful I may or may not become, it’s the relationships that I build and keep that are important. They are what continue to make life so bright.

What made Branden such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022? “Branden has made an incalculable impact on Johnson, and, in particular, our tech vertical. Branden came here on a mission. He wanted to land a top job in tech, and he wanted to leave Johnson a better place than he found it. He’s two for two. He’s off to Apple this summer, and he, as president of the High-Tech Club and one of my key student partners, has significantly strengthened our capabilities in the tech vertical. By doing so, he has helped open attractive pathways to many of the world’s top tech companies for generations of Johnson students to come.”

Drew Pascarella, Associate Dean for MBA Programs
Rempe Wilson Distinguished Lecturer
Senior Lecturer of Finance
Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management
Cornell SC Johnson College of Business


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