2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Danielle Ma, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Danielle Ma

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

“Always in search of good food and a great story.”

Hometown: Westborough, MA

Fun fact about yourself: Buzzfeed Tasty made a viral video about my partner’s and my long-distance relationship ritual called dinner roulette—ordering surprise dinners for each other and eating together over video chat.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of California, Berkeley, B.A. Integrative Biology, Minor in Education

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I was the Account Director at Fly Communications, a boutique ad agency in New York City that specializes in launch marketing.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? I was a Product Marketing Intern at Xbox within Microsoft. I sat on the Minecraft team specifically, and my summer project was to create a playbook of recommendations for Minecraft’s transition from “games as a product” to “games as a service,” a business model shift we’ve seen in software (SaaS) and other industries. My internship was remote due to COVID, but I had the chance to visit the team in Seattle which was a lot of fun.

Where will you be working after graduation? I loved my internship, so it’s no surprise that I’ll be re-joining the Xbox team as a Product Marking Manager this summer.

While recruiting, I wasn’t specifically targeting the gaming industry (my target was big tech, more broadly), but my experience on the Minecraft team was amazing. The business challenges are interesting and dynamic, the team is brilliant and creative, and the product itself is fun and hugely influential.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Co-President, MMM Student Experience Committee
Interviewer, Student Admissions Committee
Kbud (Kellogg buddy for new admits)
Admissions Ambassador, Women’s Business Association
Engage Dinner Leader (Diversity, equity, and inclusion dinner series)
VP of Marketing, Cork & Screw (Wine Club)
Kellogg Dean’s List, Summer 2020, Spring 2021, and Fall 2021
Second Prize, 2021 KTech Product Management Challenge Case Competition
Finalist, 2021 AbbVie Innovation Challenge Case Competition
Top Team, 2021 Product Management for Tech Companies Capstone
Top Team, 2020 Research Design Build Capstone

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud of my team’s performance in Research Design Build—it’s the first-year capstone class of the MMM program and our first foray into the end-
to-end design thinking process.

One of my goals in coming to business school was to learn and practice human-centered design. I believe it’s the future of business, both a framework for how we should tackle business challenges and an ethos with which I want to lead. But the first time you go through it is tough.

That class was challenging for me, and the design thinking process felt frustratingly vague at times. By the end, I was proud of what we accomplished and excited to be named the top team by both our clients at Southwest Airlines and faculty mentors. Most of all, I’m proud we stuck it out!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When I first started working at NationSwell, a content marketing studio focused on social impact, I was employee #10, and the company was very much in startup mode. I was hired as the first account manager, and my role comprised client relations, project management, and business development. But I quickly realized a critical gap in leadership: as a digital startup, NationSwell lacked a technology lead. This was an issue; our core product was our website and the
content it hosted, so the company couldn’t grow if our technology wasn’t solid —exceptional, even.

Having worked at a digital marketing firm, I had led 40+ website builds and understood the infrastructure NationSwell needed to scale. So, within my first week, I approached executive leadership about the challenges I saw and offered to lead tech operations and strategy in addition to my original role. To avoid overstepping as a new junior hire, I carefully framed the conversation, acknowledging that while senior leadership rightfully focused on creative — our differentiator — we’d benefit from a backend lead. I got the green light and went on to spearhead two product launches and a website rebuild, supporting NationSwell’s growth to $2.5MM+ in revenue and 30 employees.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Kellogg for the MMM dual-degree program, the only one of its kind. MMM graduates earn both an MBA from Kellogg and an M.S. in Design Innovation from the McCormick School of Engineering. I was extremely drawn to its focus on human-centered design and innovation which provides a unique lens through which to experience the traditional business core.

The curriculum is rigorous, and there are more required courses than the typical MBA, but I wanted to challenge myself and put both my left-brain and right-brain muscles to work. Inherent to MMM is also a small-cohort experience within the larger MBA class which helped double-down on the collaborative, supportive community feel that Kellogg is so well known for.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Surely a popular answer, but I’d have to say Dr. Victoria Medvec who teaches Negotiation  at Kellogg. She is a force to be reckoned with, and every class felt like a mini TED talk. I am not a natural negotiator, and I was nervous going into that class because I knew I’d be pushed outside my comfort zone. But Dr. Medvec works really hard to take the fear out of negotiation and generously shares real-world example after real-world example from her own life which provides sticky stories I’ll never forget. She includes a mix of both high-stakes corporate deals (from her work as CEO of Medvec and Associates) and smaller-scale, personal examples like job negotiation. I successfully leveraged Dr. Medvec’s wisdom in my own job negotiation, and I’ll always be grateful for that.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? There are so many great ones, but the Special K Revue stands out as my favorite. It’s a fully student run satirical production that was born in 1980. Each year, dozens of students work hard and dedicate time to volunteer to sing, dance, choreograph, act, direct, write, compose music, etc. — all in service of hilarious, SNL-style sketches that capture Kellogg life in that moment in time. As you can probably imagine, COVID was woven into the last show in a way that was funny,
poignant, and cathartic. The faculty and administration love it too; they come with a healthy sense of humor and willingness to laugh at themselves which is all in the spirit of the show and the school.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have taken more advantage of the Chicago campus. I love cities, and I wish I had put in more effort to get to know Chicago from the food to the comedy to the lakefront. Luckily, I do have one term left upon writing this, and I plan to bid on a downtown campus class to force myself into the city at least once per week! I’m moving to Seattle after graduation, so it feels a bit like my last chance.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Kellogg is solely a marketing/CPG school. I came into Kellogg with interests in tech product management and entrepreneurship. While my journey led me to product marketing, I’ve always been confident in the school’s
ability to set me up for success across functions and sectors.

KTech, Kellogg’s technology club, is one of the largest and fastest growing clubs on campus with some of the best student leadership and resources around. Their help, along with the Career Management Center (CMC), made the big tech recruiting process so much less stressful than it might’ve been otherwise.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose?  Applying to business schools is entirely different than applying to undergrad. Each business school has a distinct personality, and I really tried to understand Kellogg’s personality. I did this for each school I applied to, and I could quickly tell that my own personality was the most naturally aligned to Kellogg’s. This holistic understanding of the school came out in everything I did from the application to the essays to the interview. It’s important to be able to picture yourself at a school, really, and to embody that future-state version of yourself as an applicant.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Feels impossible to choose just one, but Sarah Pinner comes immediately to mind. In addition to being an exceptionally kind, thoughtful, bright, vivacious, and loving friend, she is a badass entrepreneur who started a company while at Kellogg called Beni. In its current form, Beni is a smart browser extension that makes second-hand shopping easy by finding curated alternatives from second-hand marketplaces. It’s brilliant because it does all the work for you, and you don’t have to change how you shop—just navigate to your usual stores, and Beni will find the exact dress you’re looking for, just pre-worn and pre-loved. I cannot adequately underscore how much Sarah’s big-hearted ambition inspires me. She’s on her way to changing the world.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I did not pursue business in college—I was actually a biology major and for a long time thought I would be a doctor. That said, my dad was always very supportive of me going into business and suggested that I switch majors at some point. He could see my natural talents there way before I could. Finally, in my senior year, I fell in love with a social innovation startup based out of New York and, after interning with them remotely, was given the opportunity to work there full-time. In a big leap of faith, I abandoned my MCAT books, moved across the country, and never looked back. My dad was my first phone call when I got into to Kellogg.

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

1, Launch a net-new product, not just a new feature or line extension. To put something completely original out in the world that hasn’t existed before—that’s so exciting to me, and very different than working with an existing product and brand.

2. Launch my own company. I’ve thought quite a bit about social entrepreneurship and have an idea in mind. I’ve also worked in that space before and witnessed the business development hustle, fundraising grind, B Corp certification process, etc. It’s not easy, so I want to be sure and feel ready, which may not be for a while.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? It hasn’t really. If anything, it’s solidified some views I’ve had about work and life, including the separation of those two things. I want to love what I do, and I’ve always been lucky enough to love the jobs I’ve had. I don’t want that to change; a fulfilling career is important to my happiness. That said, the thing I value above all else are people and relationships. Those make life worth living, and many of my people and relationships have absolutely nothing to do with work. The pandemic, with all its scares and uncertainty, has only reinforced that in my mind.

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

“Danielle is an outstanding student leader who epitomizes many of Kellogg’s core values.  Danielle is collaborative at her core, she is purpose-driven and she views success as something that the community achieves together.  Danielle shares her time and talents generously and has been involved in many aspects of the student experience at Kellogg from serving as an Admissions Interviewer and welcoming admitted students through our Kbud program to participating in case competitions and taking on leadership roles in clubs.  Danielle cares deeply about inclusion and has served as an Engage small group leader, facilitating open and honest discussions around DE&I topics. She is also an advocate for student wellness and served as a panelist in our annual “Supporting the Mental Health of Others” workshop.

As one of the Co-chairs of the MMM Student Experience Committee, Danielle has worked tirelessly to build a close and inclusive community amongst her fellow MMMs.  Throughout the pandemic, Danielle strove to keep the MMM cohort connected and to ensure that any concerns her classmates had were raised to the administration.  And as we have returned to more normal levels of in-person activities this year, Danielle has taken the initiative to revive several longstanding MMM traditions, including sponsoring Hoot for the Homeless again this past fall.

Danielle has a positive energy that is engaging and inspiring. This, combined with her creativity, her intellect and her genuine concern for others, will ensure that Danielle continues to be the kind of high-impact, low ego Kellogg leader that will make a difference in her field and in the world more broadly.”

Fran Langewisch
Assistant Dean and Director of Student Life




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