Meet Stanford GSB’s MBA Class Of 2024

When you’re vulnerable, you’re weak. That’s Leadership 101. Being a leader means you keep people at arm’s length, always focused on concrete facts and bottom lines. There’s no room for tearing up or slowing down – just pushing forward and never looking back. When leaders open up, people use it against them. They get stigmatized as soft, so they bottle up their emotions and hide who they are.

That’s just the price of leadership, they reason.

The Stanford Graduate School of Business inverts this traditional view. Here, vulnerability is championed instead of feared. It is a means to connect and communicate, to foster trust and deepen understanding. It is an act of courage and leap of faith, an embrace of optimism over doubt and belonging over decrees. Call it a reflection of confidence and a commitment to growth. At the GSB, vulnerability means you are open, listening, and sharing – always questioning, never assuming, and forever reflecting. That’s because vulnerability is life: understanding your story and acknowledging your faults – and then letting go and moving on.

Stanford leadership means finding comfort with who you are and welcoming others to join you.

‘BECOMING OUR BETTER SELVES’

This vulnerability is practiced class-wide. In fact, this leadership approach is a main reason why top young professionals stream into Palo Alto every fall. That includes Nathan Fewel, a first-year MBA who was previously a US Navy Nuclear Submarine Officer, one of the world’s most intellectually-demanding jobs. More than academics, Fewel viewed Stanford as a place where he could develop “the entire person” – calling it an “opportunity to fortify my strengths, address my weaknesses, and identify my blind spots.” His classmate, Malika Aubakirova, was equally riveted by a leadership philosophy that welcomed vulnerability.

“The GSB curriculum places a strong emphasis on self-awareness and personal development, and encourages students to be open and honest about our weaknesses and areas for improvement,” writes Aubakirova, formerly a senior software engineer for a company acquired by Google Cloud.  “This creates a culture where vulnerability is not only accepted but also encouraged. Personally, that helps build deeper connections with my classmates and develop a more authentic leadership style. Indeed, the GSB community fosters an environment where we can learn from our failures and be vulnerable about our mistakes, which helps us to become better selves.”

Aubakirova also cites two GSB staples for promoting vulnerability: the Interpersonal Dynamics course and TALK. The former, popularly known as “Touchy Feely”, is an elective taken by over three-quarters of the class. A laboratory for developing soft skills, Interpersonal Dynamics is replete with coaching, role playing, and reflection. Here, students experiment with how to better receive and deliver feedback and gain greater awareness of what drives their viewpoints and behaviors. In contrast, TALK is ritual that brings hundreds of students together each Monday. In 30-minute presentations, students speak from the heart about their experiences, values, and hopes – exposing who they are in the deepest and most intimate forum imaginable. Nikhil Gupta describes the speeches as “raw” – where students often share parts of their story that even family and close friends don’t know. It was an event, Andrea Epelbaum writes, that crystallized just how vulnerable that GSB MBAs were willing to be with each other.

“The first time I went, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” admits the former Boston Consulting Group consultant. “I definitely didn’t think that it was possible to feel a strong connection with someone in 20 minutes. Getting to know each other’s childhood stories, families, and challenges has been one of the most enriching experiences at GSB. This would be impossible without having classmates who are so open to stepping out of their comfort zone and being vulnerable.”

MBA students gather outdoors. Photo Credit: Elena Zhukova

LEARNING LEADERSHIP IS A LIFETIME EFFORT

That’s a major departure from “narrow” leadership strengths like being “bold, decisive, and assertive,” says Dara Canavan, who was most recently a senior strategy and initiatives manager at Deliveroo. During his first seven months at the GSB, Canavan has developed an executive presence around being “patient and thoughtful”, recognizing he doesn’t need “the loud voice” to have “influence.” At the same time, Esteban Socarras has been impressed by how well-rounded his classmates are. Not only are they curious and driven, he observes, but also self-aware and kind.

“As impressive as my classmates are, they are equally open to acknowledging when they’re wrong, when they make a mistake, when they’re insecure, or when they’re unsure of their paths moving forward,” explains Socarras, a former content strategy and analysis manager at Netflix. “Seeing my classmates open up about these vulnerabilities everywhere, from coffee chats to the GSB TALK tradition, I’ve gained a new appreciation for what genuine leadership looks like. This growth mindset is infectious.”

That growth just starts at the GSB. Malika Aubakirova admits that she still has a lot to learn about leadership. Since starting business school, she has been exposed to “leadership styles, strategies, and approaches that have been effective.” Now, she is starting to internalize the when, why, and how to deploy what she has been learning.

“So far, I had the opportunity to further develop my own leadership skills through Lead labs, hands-on projects, team assignments, and interactions with peers and faculty,” Aubakirova writes. “However, no matter how much I learn and grow during the MBA program, the journey toward becoming a great leader never truly ends. This is because the world is constantly changing, and the challenges and opportunities that leaders face are always evolving. As a result, I will need to continue to learn, reflect, and adapt my leadership approach throughout [my] career.”

NO FINANCE EXPERIENCE, NO WORRIES

Looking for a powerhouse leader in the Class of 2024? Meet Katie Deal. She joined T. Rowe Price with a Political and Social Thought major. Despite lacking a financial background, Deal was put in charge of public policy coverage of the investments division. Turns out, finance was her calling.

“Over the course of five years, I led the revamp of our policy research process. I took what was summary-based research and turned it into forward-looking, strategic guidance on the legislative, legal, and regulatory events that influenced our portfolio holdings. I analyzed thousands of pages of bill text, provided insights into industry fundamentals across multiple geographies, and built a team to ensure our capacity could serve investors across our global offices.”

Lennart Funke has enjoyed an equally impressive start to his career. At Mercedes Benz, he was accepted into INspire – The Leaders’ Lab, an international leadership program that accepts less than 1% of applicants. Let’s just say Funke capitalized on this opportunity, eventually climbing to being the head of program management at Mercedes pay, the company’s fintech operation.

“[After INspire, I] subsequently became one of the youngest managers at Mercedes-Benz Group. Among the many rotations I did through INspire, one is particularly memorable: I became part of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team for the 2020 season when we won both the Drivers’ & the Constructors’ World Championship.”

MBA Students. Photo Credit: Kelsey Doyle

FROM FUNDING AFRICAN STARTUPS TO DIVERSIFYING NETFLIX’S OFFERINGS

In a business school known for placing students in entrepreneurship and venture capital, Evi Muco stands out. A principal at Partech Partners, he returned to Africa after studying in Canada without any job prospects. Fast forward four years and he had closed $15 million dollars worth of in seed and Series A deals for African tech companies. Dara Canavan’s consulting team saved a national tool hire company from going bankrupt, saving thousands of jobs in the process. When Yukiho Ishigami worked as an economist at the Bank of Japan, she performed research that produced data sets whose availability had been disrupted by the pandemic.

“Despite all the uncertainties and difficulties, I securely released the most accurate preliminary data ever to meet the public needs to grasp the money flow in the macro-financial system. I improved the accuracy of the estimations. For example, I uncovered $150 billion USD liability of households, most used data series, and shared my new methodology in the World Statistics Congress.”

Esteban Socarras joins Stanford GSB after working in film acquisitions in the industry’s most prominent player: Netflix. He also spearheaded DEI tracking efforts around programming and hiring at Netflix. By the same token, Nikhil Gupta worked as the managing director for a Baltimore nonprofit, Thread, which pairs at-risk youth with volunteers for a decade to enhance their academic and personal growth.

“At a time when underserved communities were feeling the largest brunt of the pandemic, Thread managed to respond to a more than 1,500% 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.”

MOMENTUM CONTINUES AT THE GSB

The Class of 2024 has continued this string of successes into the Knight Management Center. Esteban Socarras, for one, landed an internship with Illumination Entertainment, creator of the Despicable Me and Secret Life of Pets franchises. In this role, he has already been applying lessons of his Media Economics and Product Launch courses. Evi Muca claimed 1st place in one of the GSB’s three Executive Challenges, day-long case competitions that include presentations in front of alumni. Malika Aubakirova also beat the odds. Her team landed a spot in Lean Launchpad, another signature course where students build startups with support from entrepreneurs and subject matter experts. Still, the GSB isn’t all academics all the time. Just ask Sandy Uwimana, whose concert-going experiences have included dancing on stage with Lizzo and being “serenaded” by Pentanonix.

“Serving as a Vocal Director for the GSB Show has already been such an impactful experience for me,” she tells P&Q. The GSB Show is a yearly musical that is entirely written, produced, scored and performed by GSB students. Being part of this iconic tradition and being able to tap into my (truthfully quite rusty) vocal skills has been restorative to me. I didn’t realize how much I had missed being part of a creative community. Even just a few weeks in, I know that the GSB Show is going to be a highlight of my two years here. I can’t wait for everyone to see the show in April- it’s going to be mind-blowing!”

Yes, it wouldn’t be the GSB without first-years joining in on TALK. Sure enough, Nathan Fewel was among the first to step onstage in front of his peers. “It was way out of my comfort zone and led to more personal growth than anything else at the GSB for me so far.”

Page 2: Class of 2024 Numbers

Page: 3: Q&A with Associate Dean Paul Oyer

Page 4: Profiles of 12 Members of the Class of 2024

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