Meet Stanford GSB’s MBA Class Of 2023

When people think of Stanford, they picture creatives and entrepreneurs – the innovators who imagine the possibilities and the risk-takers who seize the opportunities. In many ways, Stanford is a spirit as much as a place. Here, you’re challenged to privately reflect on your experiences and publicly put yourself out there. Feeling uncomfortable and falling short is just part of the process – a leap of faith necessary to achieve excellence and emerge as a difference-maker.

In Palo Alto, Stanford is called “The Farm” – a spacious mix of trees, lawns, and fountains overseen by the campus’ signature clay tile roofs. Call it a safe haven sandwiched between the cross-currents of the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. As a student, you’ll probably bunk next to a future Olympian or astronaut, take a class from a Nobel Prize winner, or jog past a future billionaire along the Dish loop. Around campus, the joke is that someone is starting something somewhere. Sure enough, the alumni roll is dotted with founders of firms like Google, Nike, PayPal, and Hewlett Packard.

You could describe the Stanford community in one word: Optimists. Then again, who wouldn’t be upbeat when the daily weather forecast can be boiled down to two words: Sunny and Breezy. This hopeful view is shared by Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business: an MBA program marked by its embrace of innovation and impact as much as imagination and introspection. Antonella Pallares, an engineer-turned-analyst who joined the GSB last fall, characterizes the Stanford sensation as “The sky is the limit” – a place where you can “dare to do everything we dreamed of.” And that’s the GSB in a nutshell: the school where you go to start things in the middle of the place where all the action is. After two years, Stanford MBAs come away with an incomparable return: the confidence to act and the compassion to serve.

Stanford GSB Classroom. Photo Credit: Elena Zhukova

A FOCUS ON PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

“Since the start of the program there’s one clear difference: dreams just feel bigger and more achievable at Stanford.,” observes Tanvi Nikita Vikas Raje, a classmate of Pallares and most recently a vice president at Rothschild & Company. “The incredible experiences, classmates and guest speakers all just come together in a way that inspires me to be the best version of myself, use the power of intentionality, and expand my horizons. The program has shifted my perspective on risk-taking which in turn has made my dreams much more tangible. Success, whatever that means to you, feels much more achievable at Stanford.”

Brian Aoyama, a 2021 grad, frames the Stanford MBA this way: “I wanted to go to Stanford for business school much more than I wanted to go to business school in general.” In Aoyama’s pre-MBA experience, GSB MBAs were the people he admired, the ones who brought out the best in others. For him, the strength of the program was its commitment to “grow[ing] the whole person” across the key dimensions: analytical skills, self-awareness, and leadership. That may come as a surprise to many, who associate the GSB with venture capital, technology, and entrepreneurship. At the Stanford GSB, the starting point is the leader you want to be and the mission you want to pursue. That means the personal is heavily infused throughout the programming, notes Taleha Aftab, a first-year who once appeared in a popular commercial as a child and later became an investor.

“From the admissions essay of “What matters most to you and why?” to classes such as “Touchy Feely,” we are forced to think about what kind of leaders we want to be and what values we care most about.  It was important for me to be part of a program that would not only allow me to explore my professional interests, but would also provide avenues of personal development and the GSB has not disappointed on that front.”

“A GROWTH MINDSET”

That said, the school’s location is perfect for MBAs looking to become an entrepreneur or work in venture capital and tech. After all, Sand Hill Road is just three miles from campus. “The GSB’s location in Silicon Valley and focus on innovation has provided the perfect ecosystem for me to explore my interest in technology and the various ways it can impact our lives,” Aftab adds. “Whether through classes, clubs or guest/alum engagement, I am always surrounded by incredible ideas, interesting conversations and thoughtful questions.”

…and amazing classmates too. Not only is the Class of 2023 talented, writes Antonella Pallares, but equally committed. “Every person here is striving to achieve a lifelong dream, and it’s inspiring to see the small steps they take every day to turn their dreams into reality. It is a hidden muscle that they all have and use in every activity they engage in, from organizing a 300-people conference to putting together the GSB Show or even a 64-team Beer Pong League tournament. It is this underlying habit of giving 100% every day that will set them all for success in life.”

Along with their work ethic, Laura Calderon attributes the class’s success to their “growth mindset.” “They have published books, founded non-profits and startups, won Olympic medals, and received professional and academic awards,” says the private equity expert from Colombia. “But regardless of their achievements, it’s inspiring to witness how their humility and strong self-awareness allows them to recognize that they still have a lot to learn. They are curious, challenge themselves, question everything, and not satisfied with the status quo. They are eager to learn new things and grow intellectually, professionally, and personally to become the best version of themselves.”

Knight Center, Photo Credit: Elena Zhukova

A CHANCE OF A LIFETIME

That doesn’t count the 17,800 Stanford MBA alumni who operate out of nearly every imaginable industry and region – or the business leaders who come to Palo Alto to speak or interact with Stanford’s world-renowned faculty and researchers.

“Being a part of Stanford GSB has allowed me to build strong and meaningful relationships with many international leaders and alumni who share my common goal of driving impact in Latin America,” adds Pedro Gonzalez, a former professional salsa dancer. “Before, I never imagined that I would have a chance to sit down with David Velez (the founder of Nubank), William Shaw (the co-founder of Viva Air and Ultra Air) or Harold Eder (the CEO of Manuelita) to learn about their career and life journeys and ask them for advice. The strength of the network has really impressed me.”

Gonzalez himself is earning his Master of Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School during his time at the GSB. Before business school, Gonzalez served as an economist in the Economic Development Office in Cali, Colombia – the country’s third-largest city. Here, he helped devise Cali’s first economic development program and allocate$100 million dollars towards areas like sustainability, digital innovation, and business development. Anthony Kayruz, a joint JD-MBA candidate who spent last summer at McKinsey, previously worked as a journalist and producer for NBC. His classmate, Antonella Pallares. is passionate about improving conditions in her home country.

“Throughout my life, I have always been torn between two very strong parts of myself: a drive to challenge and push myself intellectually and the need to help bridge the inequality gap in Mexico,” he admits. “This has always led me down opposite paths, so much so that I used to split my time – from spending my weekends studying, working or volunteering in Mexico’s poorest areas (from garbage landfill communities to prisons).”

MAKING AN IMPACT

Speaking of contrasts, check out Robert DeWitt. The holder of a Master’s in Quantitative Economics, DeWitt started his career in Oregon as a campground manager for “migrant mushroom hunters.  Fast forward seven years and he had become a Reconnaissance Marine and Scout Sniper in the U.S. Marine Corps. In this role, he led the youngest recon team in his unit, a group designed to operate behind enemy lines. Under DeWitt’s leadership, they become one of the top teams – a feat that earned DeWitt the Combat Element Marine of the Year. While DeWitt has zig-zagged from student to soldier, Antonella Pallares has undergone several career transitions.

“I started in marketing at a seed-stage fintech startup, pivoted to public equity investing, then transitioned to private equity focused on QSR, fitness, and hotels. Now, I am immersing myself in crypto and web3 in my first year at Stanford. I’m most proud of how my curiosity has led me to go beyond what was expected from me at every stage and to strive to innovate and improve the places where I developed myself.”

Sowa Imoisili has also enjoyed a colorful post-college ride. After studying Economics and Creative Writing at Northwestern University, Imoisili taught at Hong Kong’s Shue Yan University before moving into consulting to make an impact at Accenture.

“A few years into my career in consulting, I was selected to pilot my company’s new Innovation Explorers program,” she tells P&Q. “I was one of twenty “Explorers” in the Northeast region. Through the position, I was licensed to define the parameters of work for myself, focusing on maximizing impact and value through innovation. In my role, I led Accenture’s innovation strategy for a $53B pharmaceutical client, built a prototype medical device to counteract counterfeit vaccines internationally, and created an emerging technology upskilling learning campaign (which won an internal company award).”

GSB MBA Students. Photo Credit: Elena Zhukova

BEATING THE ODDS IN PAKISTAN

There were several more achievements racked up by the Class of 2023. Working for the Belgian government, Louise Hannecart turned the country from one of the lowest-vaccinated populations to vaccination coverage over 70%. At McKinsey, Nik Nayar co-authored a report on artificial intelligence and automation technology that ranked as the firm’s most-read papers. On top of that, he helped launched a new practice area at McKinsey. Following the same theme, Mohammad Jama helped to “develop and launch” the camera modules that “power” Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 mixed reality device. At seven, Louise White ran an egg business with her sister so she could buy a horse. Twenty years later, she was pursuing an entirely different mission – one that ironically led back to business.

“While working at the Environmental Defense Fund, I worked with an incredible team to advocate for oil & gas methane emission reductions (methane is a really potent greenhouse gas). We made tangible progress in driving good policy and corporate climate action through collaboration across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. This experience showed me first-hand how I can play a role in addressing climate change, and it is ultimately what inspired me to pursue an MBA.”

A Stanford MBA is the culmination of a long and uphill battle for Taleha Aftab. “Coming from a conservative culture, I broke through several barriers to become the first full-time working woman in my family,” she writes. “I rose through the ranks in a predominantly male-dominated corporate environment to become the youngest and the first female Chief of Staff to the CEO at the largest publicly-traded conglomerate in the country.”

Page 2: Q&A with Paul Oyer, Senior Associate Dean For Academic Affairs

Page 3: Profiles of a dozen members of the Class of 2023

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