2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Minwei Cao, Cornell University (Johnson)

Minwei Cao

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

“Innovative, relentless, resilient; creativity at core of everything; CPG Consultant -> Adobe Digital Strategist -> aspiring Chief Marketing Officer.”

Hometown: Timonium, Maryland

Fun fact about yourself: Prior to business school, I worked as a full-time consultant and volunteered as a barista. I also taught Chinese to young professionals. I love to challenge myself to go outside my comfort zone and day-to-day lifestyle.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Williams College, double major in Biology and English Literature

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Seurat Group (boutique consulting firm and growth equity fund for CPG brands) – Senior Associate

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Adobe- NYC (remote)

Where will you be working after graduation? Adobe- NYC; MBA Digital Strategy Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Becca Blanco Endowed Scholarship – Given to 1 woman each MBA class who demonstrates exceptional academic abilities and leadership; also Forté Fellow
  • Fried Fellow – Given to 5 people in each graduating class
  • Dean’s List All Semesters – Top 10 % of MBA class
  • Vice President of Education & Tech Treks Lead, High Tech Club – Helped first years who are recruiting for the Tech industry to find their dream jobs through training, practices, mock events, personalized sessions, etc.
  • Health & Wellness Chair, Student Council – Elected by classmates to advocate for student body with regards to health and wellness topics. I led mental health awareness sessions for the school community and implemented new programming such as monthly “Stressbusters” event.
  • Winner – Johnson Annual Integrative Case Competition, led my team to victory at the biggest annual case competition, which was meant to test our ability to integrate knowledge from our core academic cases
  • Producer, Present Value Podcast – I serve as point of contact for and interviewed with Chief Product Officer of Adobe to produce a podcast episode! Episode available on all podcast channels (Spotify, GooglePlay, Apple, etc)
  • Johnson Leadership Fellow – Selected to help the first-year class with core curriculum teamwork experience
  • Johnson Admissions Fellow – Selected to interview and recruit future Johnson students
  • Teaching Assistant for 8 heavy quantitative classes – Includes Core Finance, Core Microeconomics, Designing Data Products, Core Operations, Digital Technology Practicum, Core Strategy, and more
  • Sponsorship Co-Chair, Johnson Women in Technology Conference – Led corporate fundraising and sponsorship efforts for our annual women in technology conference

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am very proud of my ability to challenge myself to excel across multiple areas – learning how to prioritize, work with teams, and keep pushing myself to achieve:

1, Overall academic excellence, which enabled me to be asked to be a Teaching Assistant for 14 quantitative and strategic classes, including Executive MBA classes.

2. Developing more technical skills after coming from zero technical background. I was able to engage in classes like SQL, Machine Learning, Digital Technology Immersion, and to actually understand what the world of high-tech entails, and then able to advise other students on these subjects have been exhilarating. Currently I’m in a Digital Marketing Intensive at the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island with a real startup in New York City to help them create a digital marketing strategy and execute a launch.

3. Leadership through Doing – I was elected to VP of Education for High Tech Club – one of the largest professional clubs on campus with more than 300 members, and serving as a member of Student Council advocating for student health and wellness. It’s been such a humbling and growing experience.

For these accomplishments, I’ve been selected as 1 of 5 Fried Fellows for the graduating class, a fellowship to honor those who demonstrate the highest level of academic excellence and commitment to student leadership.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?

1. Interviewed the Chief Product Officer of Adobe for our school’s Present Value podcast. – This was a dream come true to create intellectual property with one of the smartest and coolest people in the tech world Scott Belsky!

2. Launching a consumer seafood brand from scratch. The line is called Wixter Seafood and they sell premium frozen seafood in a traditionally very commoditized and unbranded category. When I started on this project as a consultant, it was just an idea. Now it’s sold in hundreds of grocery stores across the country, including a Wegmans near you. Check it out below!

3. Being invited to be an extern for Banza- one of the hottest growing CPG brands out there in the clean eating space during business school. They heard about my work in the industry and invited me to be their first MBA intern as a consumer insights strategist and it was so cool to work on real products that are launching – I learned so much.

Why did you choose this business school? I graduated from Williams, a small liberal arts college with only 500 undergrads per class. I really benefitted from that intimate learning community. Everyone was pushed to be a leader. Class size was small, and everyone was expected to wear a hat in their strength area to make it work. The Johnson MBA has half of the student body compared to my undergrad experience. I knew the personal development, intense focus around community and leadership, and individual accountability would be even more amplified. No one can slip under the radar here. Everyone has a chance to discover their professional and personal calling and rise to the occasion.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? There are so many amazing professors who’ve pushed me to develop in skill areas I never thought I had. Professor Andrew Davis, our core Operations professor, made a dry topic engaging, and intellectually stimulating. I also saw the importance of Operations behind all sorts of businesses from little cookie shops to huge cranberry plants.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite tradition is the Johnson Outdoor Experience. It was something our class did not experience as first years because of the pandemic. I had an opportunity to lead it as a Second year and to see the incoming class bond in the great Finger Lakes outdoors doing some really cool team bonding activities like lifting a bucket of water on strings with students blindfolded and not allowed to talk!

Johnson Leadership Fellows was also a unique experience – being a second year that is assigned to a first-year group in their core curriculum experience to help them learn how to work well on academic teams was really important and enlightening leadership training for me.

I wish that I had participated in more MBA trips abroad. During winter break, I had the opportunity to do so with my classmates and I also spent time with family. The tricky thing about business school is trying to find a balance between work and play.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that Johnson is a huge banking school and that you should only come here if you want to pursue a career on Wall Street. That’s only part of the story. Tech and consulting are also top strategic priorities and there are more placements in those industries every year. Attending Johnson allows for a wealth of resources both within the business college and also across the greater Cornell University ecosystem.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised at how much people were dedicated to spending time and connecting with each other via clubs. The strongest social community I found was the High-Tech Club – our tech professional club. The current students and alumni dedicate time to gather outside of talking about work and recruiting, and it’s a great way to spend time with like-minded individuals.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I think I had unique experiences in the intersection of consulting, CPG, marketing, and ventures. My pre-business school experience was really interesting to most people I spoke with during interviews. I worked with big established CPG’s on their long term marketing strategy, but also helped incubate next generation consumer brands that are disrupting the existing industries. When I was recruiting, my previous skillsets seemed also to have given me an edge.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire Ryan Auyeung. His resilience and dedication and passion to everything he does is unbelievable. He’s a big expert in the airlines industry and has given multiple educational lessons both formal and informal to our classmates and other Cornell programs about the business and operations behind aviation. He hosts these incredible 4-course dinners where he gathers people in our program to connect with each other. He is an amazing teammate and wonderful friend.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Definitely my mother. She always told me that as a woman, I should empower myself by giving myself options. Pursuing higher education, especially one in business, would give me the most options and flexibilities in terms of my career and future goals. I really appreciate her pushing me to apply when I wasn’t sure if my English and Biology backgrounds from Williams would be a fit with business school. I’m glad I did.

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

  1. Become a Chief Marketing Officer.
  2. Launch a consumer goods brand.

Both are ambitious and incredibly difficult. But I think I can do it.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? I think the Pandemic taught me more than anything to be flexible and adaptable. You can have a 10-year plan and then something unexpected such as a global pandemic can hit. The important thing is to keep your chin up, assess your available options at every step, and not fixate on the “could’ve beens” or “should’ve beens.” Focus on the here and now, and control what is yours to control and do your best in those.

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

“I met Ms. Cao when she was a student in my core finance class that all entering MBAs take. Studying core finance on Zoom during the pandemic was challenging, but even more difficult was shining in a way that would make you get noticed. And I certainly noticed Ms. Cao: her interactions in class greatly helped pull the class forward. It was not a surprise, therefore, that in the 1st-year MBA capstone Integrative Case competition Ms. Cao’s team won first place. Given her demonstrated abilities, I asked Ms. Cao to be a teaching assistant for core finance in her 2nd year. I saw first-hand what made her such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022: she cares about her fellow students and about their Johnson experience. Her work to support the 1st year students was tireless. Even more so was her dedication to the core experience.  The capstone Integrative Case involves valuing a publicly traded firm and suggesting ways for it to grow. I asked Ms. Cao and another teaching assistant to create and present the valuation model. This was a major undertaking in addition to everything else Ms. Cao was already doing. She was able to deliver a first-rate model that proved invaluable to judging the case. In addition, she provided excellent feedback to the competing teams and to me about judging the case. Her contribution to our capstone case competition was literally critical; we wouldn’t have been able to carry it out without her work and dedication. And this is only one example of what makes Ms. Cao such an invaluable member of the class of 2022.”

Gideon Saar
Dr. Philip and Rosalyn Baron Professor of Management and Professor of Finance

“Minwei Cao has been an invaluable member of the Class of 2022 in so many ways, it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few examples. One of the many hats that Minwei wears is as the Health and Wellness Chair for Johnson’s Student Council. All of Minwei’s time in that role was during the pandemic which made that role even more challenging than it would otherwise have been and yet Minwei rose to the challenge by providing in-person activities to relieve stress. At a time when many have been asked to create distance for good reason, Minwei was able to create closeness to the benefit of some of her classmates who were struggling. She moderated a health and wellness panel for every professional club on campus to ensure that students recruiting for any industry were able to get advice on prioritizing wellness during high stress times.

In another of her leadership roles, Minwei served as the VP of Education for the High-Tech Club. In this position, she created panels, enlisted speakers, and cultivated an increased relationship with Adobe which led to record-breaking attendance at the Adobe corporate briefing. This work has been valuable to the current students at Johnson. Beyond that, it has elevated Johnson’s position in tech recruiting which will create benefits for future Johnson students for years to come.

The reality is that I could write another 10 paragraphs on the impact that Minwei has had on the Johnson Community and on the Class of 2022 and I still wouldn’t cover all the ways she has made an impact. She is quite literally invaluable and while she will be missed tremendously when she graduates, I know that she has left a lasting impact on the faculty, staff, and students at Johnson and so her impact will last far beyond the two years she spent as a student.”

Nicole Pellegrino
Head of MBA Student Services and Head Registrar


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