When the cheers die down, where do I go?
When your moment passes, what do I do?
Every athlete asks these questions as their career winds down. When the world grows slower and quieter, they stumble around like everyone else. Still, athletes are poised to make a smoother transition. Away from the spotlight, they’ve toiled away in anonymity. All their lives, they’ve risen early to practice and study, shaking off setbacks and beating back doubts. They know the odds don’t favor them, but dedicate themselves to their vision nonetheless. When the time comes to pursue a different path, they can be comforted by a great truth…
When you make yourself great in one area, you know how to become great in another.
Just ask Michael Hixon. Name sound familiar? He is a two-time Olympic Silver Medalist, who captained the U.S. National Diving Team. He is also a 2022 graduate of the full-time MBA program at the University of Michigan’s Ross School. On the surface, that may sound romantic. Reality is, Hixon spent over 35 hours a week in the pool – on top of classes, recruiting, and extracurriculars – to prepare for the 2021 Olympics. That left little time, he says for anything else.
FROM DIVER TO BANKER
“I’m most proud of how I navigated my transition from diving to business school and used that experience to break into investment banking,” he tells P&Q. “I’ve seen a lot of former Olympians and professional athletes fail to set themselves up for a career after athletics. Michigan facilitated a process for me to discover what I wanted to pursue and how to break in. I did not make it easy for myself or the Career Development Office (training for the Olympics in year one, pushing my summer internship to the fall so I could compete in Tokyo and changing recruiting paths from venture capital to investment banking in year two), but I couldn’t be more excited about where I am headed.”
That destination is RBC Capital Markets, where Hixon began his career as a global business investment banker. In his wake, Hixon left an example of tenacity for future Ross MBAs to copy.
“Many neuroscientists claim that multitasking is a myth, but I doubt they have met Michael Hixon,” observes Imari Love, associate director of Finance at the Ross Career Development Office. “Venture capital summer internships are among the most desired and difficult to obtain but even with classes, and what amounts to a full-time job of diving practice, he found time to secure and work a VC internship after securing his second Olympic medal. It’s even a shorter list of people who are able to earn a full-time offer from a Wall Street investment bank without interning in IB the summer beforehand, but it seems there’s little he can’t accomplish once he sets his mind to it. They say hard work beats talent – but Michael has both. The sky’s the limit.”
McKINSEY AND MICROSOFT LOVE THE MBAS TO WATCH
You could say the same for this year’s 131-member class of MBAs To Watch. To compile the 2022 list, P&Q reached out to 75 top full-time MBA programs. P&Q received 231 nominations, which were split between the Best & Brightest MBAs and MBAs To Watch. In sum, the 2022 MBAs To Watch hail from 70 programs, including the Wharton School, INSEAD, Northwestern Kellogg, and Columbia Business School. True to form, women account for the majority of MBAs To Watch by a 76-to-55 margin. Non-American students make up a nearly identical margin at 74-to-57. McKinsey & Company was the largest consumer of MBAs To Watch talent, hiring 9 graduates. Microsoft added 7 class members, followed by Bain & Company (6), Boston Consulting Group (6), Deloitte (6), Amazon (4), Dell (4), EY Parthenon (4), and Bank of America (3).
Who makes up this year’s MBAs To Watch list? You’ll find them in every corner of their respective programs. They were coaches, mentors, and club leaders who put in the hours and kept their peers motivated and on track. As COVID razed cultures by separating students and canceling popular traditions, the MBAs To Watch weren’t holed up and hiding out. They were reaching out and finding alternatives. They weren’t clamoring for credit – or even anything in return. For that, they earned their peers’ esteem.
At the University of Texas, Ken Wiles – a finance professor – doles out this high praise to Ingrid Zagzebski, President of the Entrepreneurship Club: “Every time I speak with her, I learn something new, and she inspires me to be better.” Dean Vera, assistant dean at Rutgers Business School, dials his praise up a notch for his star pupil: “The highest compliment I can bestow on him is that I wish I could have 50 Evan Gerbinos in every incoming class.” For Sara Wakefield, associate director of student life at Duke University’s Fuqua School, Iboro Ikene personified leadership when she headed up the program’s 65+ student organizations.
“At times, she has had to deliver nuanced, complex, or disappointing information to clubs regarding updates in policies, sometimes bearing the brunt of frustration for decisions she has little to no control over. Where others might shirk from this responsibility, Iboro embraced the opportunity to stretch herself as a leader, recognizing the opportunity for growth in these moments. During these difficult conversations, she draws her classmates in and makes them allies in solving a collective problem together. She validates and empathizes with their concerns, while sharing critical perspectives to help them understand the context behind decisions.”
MAKING LIFE BETTER FOR IMMIGRANTS AND WOMEN
Ikene set the bar and reflected the best of the Fuqua culture. You could say the same about the University of Maryland’s Jordan Friedman. At Marriott International, she was considered such a culture carrier and role model that she was responsible for the training of 100,000 Sheraton associates. By the same token, INSEAD’s Xi Kang spent seven years in foreign service, eventually rising to being the assistant policy officer for the Diplomatic Mission of the European Union to China. However, his biggest achievement, he says, involved cleaning up the visa process as an immigration official by making the matriculation and banking rules clearer…particularly for students.
“I convinced my supervisor to support an initiative I led right before the next student season,” Kang writes. “I translated and explained the confusing rules in layperson language, provided examples on how to meet the rules, and got the message out on social media. Results indicate a 60% decrease of refusals on the same ground, approximately equal to a thousand students who have avoided the dismay of life disruption…It shows how empathy can be the key to resolving conflict and bridging differences.”
Ranjana Chandramouli’s crowning achievement also stemmed from a desire for change fueled by an empathy for those in need. A 2022 Wharton MBA, Chandramouli studied chemical engineering before becoming a team leader at Eli Lilly and Company. Here, she chaired the firm’s fledgling Women’s Engineering Network (WEN), where she mapped a pathway for the Eli Lilly to match the progress at employee resources groups for leading firms.
“Together as a team, we more than doubled our membership, greatly increased the number and type of professional and social events, and worked with HR to create a sustainable way to incorporate new women engineers as members to the group. We created from scratch and sponsored a signature, company-wide event to celebrate the accomplishments of women engineers at our company. While the first year was a huge success and got a lot of support through many levels in the company, what I feel most proud of is that the event continued after my tenure and has grown significantly in size and impact.”
A FUTURE LEGEND?
Impact is exactly what the entrepreneurs among the MBAs To Watch hope to deliver. Take Anou Sewonu, an IMD MBA and Ph.D. in Medical Physics who is building a consulting firm to address MRI safety issues. At the same time, Irewole Akande garnered a Future Texas Business Legend Award from the Texas Business Hall of Fame as an SMU Cox student. The award was recognition for his fast-growing startup, City Health Tech (CHT), a five-year-old firm that uses its Opal platform to provide training on combating diseases to private companies and public institutions. The solution gained greater urgency with the advent of COVID-19, a disease that put Akande on the shelf for several months.
“Once I got better, I threw myself right back into working on my company with a very different mindset—a burning desire to prevent others from experiencing what I had,” he explains. “’Prevention is better than cure’ has a whole new meaning to me. And protecting my community is a vision that now defines me. The future of healthcare is prevention. The future of healthcare is public health. The future of healthcare is technology. Whatever winding path I take, I want to keep building technology to prevent diseases.”
Olivia Qi Zhang covered COVID-19 as part of her beat as the Chief US Correspondent for Beijing’s Caixin Media. While Qi Zhang takes pride in covering issues like American elections and US-Chain trade negotiations, she found her best work came in stories more intimate in scale. “My proudest moment is not when I questioned a high-profile official or went to elite events such as the World Economic Forum, but rather those stories that I wrote through talking to ordinary people to hear their stories and perspectives. Empowering the unheard by giving them a voice was the driver of a lot of my stories.”
“A HAPPY ACCIDENT”
Indeed, the MBAs To Watch boast several cool stories worth reading. As a U.S. Army cadet interning at IBM, Christopher Collar rang the Closing Bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Kristen Koepsell, a University of North Carolina MBA, is a dog trainer whose pups have competed at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and The National Dog Show. Delgernaran Bayar, an education entrepreneur who earned his MBA from the National University of Singapore, started university when he was just 15-years-old –skipping three grades in the process. If you’re seeking star power, Ohio State’s Adina Allen appeared in a Sara Bareilles music video, while Washington University’s Lloyd Yates has collaborated with one of Kevin Hart’s writers on a movie project.
Speaking of arts and entertainment, Cambridge Judge’s Jorge Velasco Azoños is a fire dancer, while Columbia Business School’s Mo Kamaly has appeared in 20 Shakespeare productions. And the University of Maryland’s Antonia Freire was named the best soloist during the 2016 Battle of A Capellas annual competition. That said, Queen’s University’s Brenda Katwesigye Baganzi has summited Mount Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet), while IIM Ahmedabad’s Shubham Dang has “trekked solo to Everest Base Camp (17,600 ft), Kala Patthar Peak (18,500 ft), Ama Dablam Base Camp (15,100 ft).” Not to be outdone, Yehya Siddiqui (McGill University) and S. Jalal Rahman (University of Pittsburgh) have completed over 150 skydives and 30 marathons, respectively.
Pages 3-4: 131 profiles of the MBAs To Watch (Class of 2022)