Meet the MBA Class of 2024: Nikhil Gupta, Stanford GSB

Nikhil Gupta

Stanford Graduate School of Business

“A queer brown Marylander who dances anywhere and anytime and remains outspoken about economic justice.”

Hometown: Bethesda, MD

Fun Fact About Yourself: This year, I will officiate a wedding for the fourth time!

Undergraduate School and Major:

Johns Hopkins University, Bachelor of Arts, International Studies and Economics (double major)

Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Master of Arts, International Economics & International Relations

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Managing Director, Thread, Inc.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of Stanford GSB’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? For me, going to business school was about immersing myself among visionary thinkers. I wanted to engage deeply with people smarter than me who were working to solve interesting, persistent global challenges. Stanford works hard to ensure that those touchpoints are occurring constantly. It’s not just with folks on campus, but with alumni and leaders across sectors who visit through formal speaker series like View from the Top, keystone experiences like Executive Challenges, and endless class visits and guest lectures. What’s most notable isn’t just that they’re coming to campus – it’s how frequently there are opportunities to meet with them in smaller groups or one-on-one. GSB puts a lot of emphasis on intimacy, and in that, creates a culture of deep connection that is already paying dividends.

What has been the most surprising thing that you’ve learned about Stanford GSB so far? I assumed that Stanford would have a very specific, centralized theory of leadership – that you’d be taught a single, proven way to make decisions or lead organizations. But GSB’s strength is in its focus on equipping students with tools, theories, and structures that span teaching methods, sectors, and pedagogies. Individual professors share wildly different perspectives–we’ve literally had professors openly reference and challenge each other’s work in class–and push students to develop their own conclusions. As a result, a lot of your personal leadership development happens outside the classroom when you’re processing and synthesizing your lessons. That decentralized education format is not for everyone. But I think, if you really harness the power of that approach, you can come out with a leadership style and voice that’s perfectly customized to you.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates you’ve met so far? Give an example why this true. One word: hungry. I mean that in all senses of the word. First, my classmates are always ready to bond over a meal, whether it’s cooking in the residences, picnicking around campus, or eating at the next trendy spot. Trust me – these folks can eat. But their hunger extends far beyond food. They’re eager to connect with each other, learn new skills, and build something visionary. You may not pick it up at first – on the surface, most classmates present as pretty laid back and easygoing. But once you get to know them, you’ll uncover a deep motivation to solve the world’s biggest problems in industries ranging from climate change to tech to healthcare to civic engagement. And once my classmates set a goal, they go after it with indefatigable energy. They’re bold, chaotic, a little naive–and completely inspiring.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Before business school, I spent 5 years helping to scale Thread. It is a Baltimore nonprofit that rallies around underperforming youth to achieve statistics-defying goals by connecting them deeply with volunteers across the city for a 10-year period. It was extraordinarily meaningful to build out the core organizational support for volunteers and young people in a way that created direct impact. But I was particularly proud of designing Thread’s COVID response, and adapting our work to meet the moment. At a time when underserved communities were feeling the largest brunt of the pandemic, Thread managed to respond to a more than 1500% increase in resource requests from our community and maintained strong connections that had implications on high school graduation, post-high school completion, and general well-being for our community and broader city.

Describe your biggest accomplishment as an MBA student so far? In 2007, a group of students started a tradition called TALK, where the majority of our class (hundreds of people!) gather in a classroom each week to listen to two classmates share deeply about their lives for 30 minutes each. TALK is raw – folks share things they’ve never shared before and through their vulnerability, deconstruct the dominant norms that are so characteristic of elite institutions. Five of us students have the privilege of coaching our classmates and managing TALK for the two years we’re here. As one of the TALK coaches, I have never been prouder than watching my classmates go on the transformative journey of preparing and delivering their TALK. Each time someone finishes giving their TALK, I feel more connected to them and our class.

What has been the biggest epiphany you’ve gained about yourself or the world since you started your MBA program? Coming from a policy and nonprofit background, it’s easy to feel like you have to take on the whole world at once, or the entirety of a problem, to make a difference. I am spending a lot more time thinking about incrementalism. How do you make a solution slightly more efficient? How do you get your arms around a part of the problem as a gateway toward bigger change? I think this is something that many businesses do well. As long as you don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, there’s lots to be learned from that approach.

What advice would you give to a prospective applicant looking to join the Stanford GSB Class of 2024? First, I’d say go for it – push through any doubt around whether you belong here, because you do. So give it a try! Second, in preparing your application and interview, I’d recommend fighting your instinct to focus on what you think Stanford wants to hear. I treated this application process like a mini-retreat – an opportunity to reflect deeply on the stories, people, and experiences that made me who I am, and the passions and purpose that drive me today. That made it easier for me to tell my story authentically and share my true opinions and perspectives, even when they might be unconventional or controversial. As a result, the application process was much more personally fulfilling, and it had the added benefit of working out.


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