2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Sodontuya Nerguidavaa, UC-Davis

Sodontuya Nerguidavaa, CFA

University of California, Davis, Graduate School of Management

“A Mongolian nomad, the youngest CFA charter holder, entrepreneur, publisher, former judo wrestler and basketball player.”

Hometown: Khentii, Mongolia, where the emperor Genghis Khan was born.

Fun fact about yourself: I grew up living nomadic lifestyle in Mongolian countryside herding sheep, milking cows, and riding wild horses.

Undergraduate School and Degree: I am a dual degree holder from The University of Finance and Economics (Mongolia) and Asia University (Taiwan). I earned a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Financial Management.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I was the chief operating officer for the Institute of Continuing Education and Research, an educational and research startup I co-founded in Mongolia. We prepare industry professionals for international designation exams and partner with government regulators in increasing professional ethical standards in Mongolian financial markets.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? I interned in the Risk and Compliance department at the global headquarters of Bank of New York Mellon (BNY Mellon) on Wall Street.

Where will you be working after graduation? I will start working as a Vice President in the Risk and Compliance department of Bank of New York Mellon at its global headquarters on Wall Street.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Community Work/ Leadership Roles

  • Finance Director for the UC Davis Graduate School of Management’s Associate Students of Management, a non-profit dedicated to enhance the value of the student experience at UC Davis.
  • Voting member of UCSHIP committee that makes student health insurance decisions of all of the University of California campuses.
  • Volunteer in the Finance Club, coaching UC Davis undergraduates and MBA classmates on preparing for CFA exams.
  • Author of Reflection, an autobiography to inspire young girls.
  • Teaching assistant for the core finance courses.
  • Volunteered for the Lunar New Year planning committee in making it more inclusive.

Honors

  • Women in Leadership & Business Scholarship ($45,000) recipient from the UC Davis Graduate School of Management
  • UC Davis Full-Time MBA Scholarship ($15,000) recipient
  • Finalist for the Stephen G. and Shelley A. Newberry Distinguished Fellowship, recognizing the leadership potential of top MBA students.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  I wrote and published my autobiography in Mongolian after being inspired by Professor Andrew Hargadon’s lecture during his Management of Innovation class in the MBA program. I wanted to share my story in the hope to inspire young girls from developing countries to pursue their dreams and ambitions while courageously tackling and challenging gender barriers and limited financial and educational access.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Through the startup I co-founded in Mongolia, I personally trained over 500 industry professionals for the CFA designation exams, the globally-respected professional designation in finance. By enhancing the knowledge of industry participants and regulators and increasing the standards of ethics, my team has contributed notably to Mongolian developing financial markets.

Why did you choose this business school? UC Davis is ranked 1st in the U.S. for diversity, inclusiveness, and internationalization. As a first-generation to pursue global education and as a female, I wanted to make sure I would feel welcomed and included. A cherry on the cake, coming from a country where it drops to -40 Fahrenheit, I wanted to experience and enjoy sunny California.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? UC Davis Professor Ayako Yasuda is a former Wharton and UC Berkeley faculty member, who worked at Goldman Sachs as earned her Ph.D. from Stanford University. I was transfixed by her lectures and the textbook, Venture Capital and the Finance Innovation, which introduced me to new models and methods in addition to an online tool for practical use of those that she developed. She genuinely cares for her students beyond the classroom.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Soon after the George Floyd murder and Black Live Matter movement, the UC Davis Graduate School organized a 21-week Anti-Racism Challenge to allow our entire community to explore anti-racism as a means to help one another begin to identify and confront the structural and behavioral norms that perpetuate civil injustice and systemic racial inequality. This deep-dive into the history and impact of racism reassured me of UC Davis’ commitment and real actions as one of most inclusive, equitable and diverse universities.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Due to its agricultural research and livestock barns . . . That it smells like cow dung. It is not true.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was most surprised by how genuinely caring the community at the Graduate School of Management really is. Due to the pandemic restrictions, I had to start my program from Mongolia with a 16-hour time difference. When I arrived in the U.S. in October 2020, it was a cultural shock, and I was far behind my peers on academics on Zoom, and I had no friends or relatives in the U.S. However, I received tremendous support from the School’s administration, faculty, my classmates and the teaching assistants. For example, Samantha Brill, one of Poets & Quants 2021 Best & Brightest MBAs and a teaching assistant for our Articulation and Critical Thinking class, voluntarily reached out to me and helped me catch up with my cohort for weeks! Soon enough, I figured helping others to succeed and caring for one another was the most fundamental value of our program.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I was completely genuine in my interviews. I did not try to “hack” the system and was honest in my answers. Once I started the MBA program, Lecturer Sylvia Flatt, in her Organizational Politics class, stressed the importance of being sincere and genuine in building professional relationships and allies. Looking back, by being genuine with the interviewer, I was able to connect with her deeply and it truly gave me an edge.

Which MBA classmate do you admire the most? I admire my MBA classmate Jeff Greenfeld the most. His diverse set of skills never ceases to amaze me. Jeff has a bachelor degree in chemistry from UC Davis. He is a scientist, successful stock investor, professional music artist, and glass artist. While being extremely passionate about ESG investing and technology, he is also an entrepreneur like me. On top of being a brilliant professional in so many different fields, he genuinely respects and cares for international students. I am proud to call him my close friend.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My father. He used to tell me to study in the U.S. and make it big on Wall Street. For a nomadic household from a countryside of Mongolia, it was an astronomical dream. But my father used to encourage me to envision myself being in the U.S. experiencing the true spirit of democracy.

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

  1. Make a positive change in the diversity, equity, and inclusion and impact investing efforts of the communities I will become a part of.
  2. Empower young girls from developing countries to pursue their astronomical career goals regardless of the perceived norms and challenges.

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

“I nominate Sodontuya Nerguidavaa for Poets & Quants Best & Brightest MBAs. With her infectiously positive and generous spirit, Sodoo inspires others to work with her towards a common goal. She is a naturally inclusive leader, one who is not afraid to show humility and vulnerability, and yet also radiates strength and determination. She has a deep sense of serving the public good and paying it forward. I see her leading the next generation as a business leader with a heart and a moral compass, and enthusiastically recommend her for this recognition.

Here are a few examples that exemplify Sodoo: I met Sodoo as a first-year student in our core finance class. Though she already had passed CFA exams before joining the MBA program and was more knowledgeable than many of her classmates about finance, she sometimes did not have the institutional context or knowledge about how things were done in practice. She was completely transparent about what she didn’t know, and was delighted to pick up new knowledge either from me or her other classmates. In the core finance class, Sodoo voluntarily led a study group and gave review sessions for classmates before exams. Again, her attitude was a mix of generosity, friendliness and curiosity. She leads where she has competence in, while maintaining her comfort in showing she doesn’t know everything, and is not afraid to make mistakes.

Another example was when she made a decision about her summer internship. She was offered a position to work in New York at a leading custodian bank in the risk and compliance division.  She sought my advice about whether to take it. She asked all the right questions, and once she did the due diligence, she took it enthusiastically and no doubt delighted everyone she worked with so much so that she is joining them as a Vice President after graduation. She is not overly hung up about the brand or the prestige – she goes for the substance of the opportunity, and builds strong relationships and adds tangible value where she goes.

My final example of her strength is the strong and secure bonds she has with her parents back home in Mongolia. She has traveled two completely different worlds—the world of her parents who did not have the kind of opportunities she has enjoyed, and the new world in the U.S. with exciting education and business opportunities. In the middle of her second year, she published a memoir dedicated to her parents. Her ability to stay connected to the two worlds at the same time enables her to stay grounded, and her ability to translate the two worlds to people around her makes her an effective storyteller. Both are important qualities for a humanistic leader like her.

I’ll be looking forward to watching her growth in the years to come!”

Ayako Yasuda
Ph.D in Economics from Stanford University and Professor of Finance at UC Davis

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