Meet Washington Olin’s MBA Class Of 2023

New York City, Silicon Valley, Austin. Maybe LA and DC too. That’s where the action is. That’s where you’ll find the best minds and biggest opportunities. At least, that’s what you’ll hear sometimes. The Midwest? It’s cold. There’s nothing to do. Just these rusted cities along fetid rivers, tired and fading fly-overs, their best days long behind them.

What can MBAs find there?

Just about anything – if you head to St. Louis and Washington University’s Olin Business School. Take Olin. Last week, the school jumped from 41st to 19th in the latest full-time MBA ranking from The Economist. Here, Olin notched the 4th-highest survey scores from alumni for Faculty Quality and Program Content. At the same time, Olin’s business program continues to rank among the best for research and undergraduate education. That doesn’t even count Olin finishing 1st in Entrepreneurship for three years running.


One reason for Olin’s success in entrepreneurship is St. Louis itself. The ecosystem has already churned out unicorns like Varsity Tutors (Nerdy), Benson Hill, and Gainsight. It also includes several public-private partnerships, such as Arch Grants and the St. Louis Small Business Empowerment Center, that nurture such startups through funding, work space, training, and competitions. At the same time, several Fortune 500 powerhouses maintain deep footprints in the region, including Emerson Electric, Edward Jones Investments, Monsanto, and Anheuser-Busch. This presence enables startups to tap into area expertise, along with forming potential partnerships in spaces ranging from Agtech to Fintech.

One St. Louis success is the Cortex Innovation Hub. Now celebrating its 20-year anniversary, the hub has housed over 400 companies, creating 15,000 jobs and $2 billion dollars in economic activity. Most recently, it welcomed Wugen, a pharmaceutical firm whose cancer fighting drugs have generated over $200 million in VC funding.  Another is the T-Rex space, Home to 200 companies, it has generated over 4,300 jobs over the past decade, with current and past residents generating over $600 million dollars in annual income.

Lloyd Yates, a ’22 honors grad, credits the successful launch of his venture to the 1-2 punch of the St. Louis community and the Olin MBA program. “The people in STL embrace their own like I’ve never seen and place you in a position to succeed. Here at Olin, I also met my partner and CTO. If it was not for my professors and mentors, I’m afraid we may have missed the bigger picture at hand. Their passion, involvement and contributions to the work that myself and my entrepreneurship classmates are doing is unmatched.”

Student team meets outside class


For the Class of 2023, the thriving business scene isn’t necessarily the best part of the St. Louis experience. Just ask Rick Desloge, who grew up in St. Louis but moved to Brooklyn to pursue a theater career. He describes it as “small town big city.”

“St. Louis has almost all the amenities of a big city: awesome professional sports, great (and free) cultural institutions, and good nightlife. At the same time, running into classmates in the Central West End or the Loop is commonplace and it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes to get anywhere. As a leading contributor to the cultural fabric of St. Louis, Olin Business School does a great job of leveraging its position to easily connect students with local leaders making a global impact on our world.”

There’s plenty to do in St. Louis too. Forget the Arch, Union Station, and Six Flags. For one, the zoo is free. The area is also packed with museums ranging from contemporary vintage art to motorcycles. You’ll find many of these museums in the Class of 2023’s favorite haunt: Forest Park, says Maria Espitia, a project manager from Columbia.

“While St Louis offers a wide range of activities such as a botanical garden, a zoo and museums, among others, Forest Park has been my favorite place since my first visit. It’s popularly known as the heart of St Louis,” she tells P&Q. “I enjoy going to Forest Park to play tennis and take long walks; it helps me get my mind off school while appreciating the beautiful landscape.”


Justin Matthews is equally bullish on St. Louis. An Alabama native accustomed to southern hospitality, he loves how welcoming it is in the Midwest…before gushing over Forest Park like his classmates. “So far, the Midwest has not disappointed me when it comes to the kindness of strangers,” he points out. “A close second favorite is Forest Park; it literally has everything and it’s right down the street from my apartment. I’ve been to the zoo in the park (which is free!), I rode my bike around, and saw The Sound of Music at the Muny Theater in the park.”

And it’s not just the people of St. Louis proper who’ve made an impression on these first-years. They’ve also enjoyed spending time around their classmates as well, adds Stephanie Emmanuelle Mbida, a Northwestern alum and Cameroon native. “In our cohort, we are fortunate to have people who come from all walks of life, from teachers and nonprofit volunteers to former Wall Street brokers and Broadway actors. What makes our strength is our versatility, as we all get to learn from one another’s vastly different experiences and perspectives. Thus, in applying to Olin, it is most important to understand and embrace who you are so that your strengths come through as clearly as is possible.”

The Broadway actor would be Rick Desloge, who most recently starred in the national tour of Jersey Boys. “While I’ve had some highly visible successes working on stage—playing Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, Boq in Wicked, or Quasimodo in Hunchback—the accomplishment I’m most proud of took place behind the scenes. While working in Los Angeles, I produced a benefit performance of The Rocky Horror Show at the historic Fonda Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. In one night, our company raised over $50,000 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and helped countless individuals obtain critically needed services. In spearheading the production, I helped connect some of Broadway’s most talented artists with an exuberant audience of more than 1,000. I’ll never forget the incredible energy of the performance.”

Olin MBAs kick back after class


Desloge isn’t the only member of the Class of 2023 with an artistic background. Derek W. Hawkes was most recently the assistant principal on the second trombone for the Nashville Symphony. However, his biggest achievement, he says, served as great preparation for business school.

“I was on the negotiating committee during my time with the Jacksonville Symphony, which facilitated 35% raises and a lengthier contract for my fellow musicians across a five-year successor collective bargaining agreement. That really changed the perception of the organization at the time, both in the musician community and the North Florida region; it is rather difficult to negotiate such a progressive, landmark agreement in an industry like the performing arts.”

Public service is another theme in abundance with the Class of 2023. Brendan Barry, a University of Missouri grad, served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an infantry office. His best service story: the base was regularly confused by who-was-who, as his twin brother also served in his unit. Lawrence Toomey became a battalion operations officer in the U.S. Army, where he considers his proudest moment to be bringing his 136 soldiers without loss of life. By the same token, Livi Logan-Wood aided in the transition from the Trump to the Biden administration, which ranged from supplying research to executing deliverables.

“At the beginning of 2020, I started working on the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition team, which is a D.C. nonpartisan nonprofit aiming to enhance government effectiveness. Every four years, the Center for Presidential Transition plays a role in supporting the current administration, career federal employees, and opposing transition teams leading up to the election and afterwards. It was an honor to inform such a key process in our democracy during a time filled with critical challenges around COVID-19, election ascertainment, and threats to Congress. I am proud of the work I did specifically advocating for improved policies around political appointee hiring and onboarding to better equip new administrations facing a multitude of challenges from Day 1.”

Meeting outside class


In Cameroon, Stephanie Emmanuelle Mbida was slated to start classes at university after turning 14. However, she decided to bypass school to volunteer for four years on youth issues such as unemployment and homelessness. Canal+, a French channel, even made a documentary about her work – which was noticed at the highest levels of government.

“In my last year there, after extensively touring the country, I wrote a letter to the president of Cameroon, in which I presented him with a summary of my overall observations and proposed a project to help address some of the youth’s biggest concerns,” she tells P&Q. “He read my letter and sent it to five government ministers instructing them to figure out ways to put my suggestion into practice and report to him afterwards.”

This past year, many of the class’ suggestions were taken quite seriously. Brendan Barry, for one, helped a local company produce a go-to-market strategy, while Livi Logan-Wood’s team snagged 3rd place in the Smeal MBA Sustainability Case Competition thanks to their insights on electronic waste. In contrast, Derek W. Hawkes earned points with his classmates by starting the Olin Beer & Mead Society which “creat[ed] opportunities for my colleagues to experience tastings and learn about different nationalities, ingredients, processes and styles of beer and mead.” Those tastings would’ve also come in handy for Susan Luo. Her big achievement?

“Survived my summer semester with all high passes, while taking care of two young kids!”

Next Page: Interview with Mark Taylor

Page 3: Profiles of 10 Olin MBA Students

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