2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Calvin Tong, Cornell University (Johnson)

Calvin Tong

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

“Industrious learner who is devoted to promoting inclusion and pursuing the highest standards of professionalism.”

Hometown: Hong Kong

Fun fact about yourself: Shoeshining is one of my favorite hobbies, as it creates a peaceful and reflective atmosphere — and results in beautifully polished leather shoes as well!

Undergraduate School and Degree: The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), mathematics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Hongkong Land, Corporate Finance

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Simon-Kucher & Partners, New York City

Where will you be working after graduation? McKinsey & Co., Summit, New Jersey

Community work and leadership roles in business school:

  • Albert Fried, Jr. Fellow 2022-23 — Awarded to five second-year students based on academic excellence and contributions to Johnson
  • Cornell Emerging Markets Institute Fellow
  • Vice president for international recruiting, Cornell Consulting Club
  • Vice president for allyship (ally representative), Out for Business
  • Vice president of finance, Asia Business Association
  • Diversity Council Corporate Sponsorship Committee
  • Career Work Group Leader (Full Time And Internship)
  • Teaching Assistant, Microeconomics
  • Teaching Assistant, Financial Modeling
  • Teaching Assistant, Management Cases
  • Tutor, Marketing Management
  • Research Assistant, Empirical Finance

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am a keen advocate for diversity and inclusiveness, fostered by my life experience and the overwhelming love and support from the Johnson community when I first came to Ithaca. I organically became a coordinator for various LGBTQ+ events on campus. In addition, I volunteered to work with the Global head of DE&I at the company where I interned over the summer. I shared valuable insights on Johnson’s past initiatives as well as diversity recruiting events. Subsequent to our collaboration, the firm was able to participate in its first National Black Conference and Reaching Out MBA Conference and launched various LGBTQ+ initiatives across different offices in the country. I am proud to radiate Johnson’s value beyond campus and make meaningful strides in the workplace.

As the student leader of internationals in Cornell Consulting Club, I initiated a supportive program called Regional Captains, which connects 66 first-year international students recruiting for consulting with 10 other passionate second-year volunteers — Regional Captains — from different regions. We have organized dozens of recruiting support workshops and events tailored to needs of students from different nations. While recruiting is yet to be fully concluded, it’s delightful to see that most participants of the program have found it helpful and supportive.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I took immense pride in my experience managing a team of 10 people and overseeing the operations of a skyscraper office building in Manila, Philippines, when I was working for a real estate private equity fund manager. During my tenure, I was responsible for the smooth operation of the building and the management of some high-profile tenants, such as the Government Development Fund and the South Korean consulate. That was a lot of firsts for me — first business travel, first time leading a foreign team, etc. The project ran well given the magnanimity and patience of the experienced team members who I had lots of fun working with. From there, I learned that the most effective way to blend into a foreign team is to learn their local language.

Why did you choose this business school? You probably would get the same answer from most of the Johnson students — the people!  Throughout my business school research, I spoke with current students from different schools.  While most of them are charming and dashing, I vibe particularly well with Johnson students, who are all friendly and down-to-earth, yet professional. And my experience proved right. There isn’t much more one could ask for than hanging with like-minded peers in this tight-knit city.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Yi Chen, who teaches the microeconomics core course, demonstrated to me and hundreds of my peers how Cornell is capable of turning difficult, abstract concepts into understandable language. Outside of class, he actively engages with the community by participating in student-organized activities, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and moon appreciation event. He is a great teacher who is able to connect with students.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? My favorite course was Managerial Accounting, taught by Professor Ryan Guggenmos. While one might expect an accounting class to be solely about accounting, this course focused on teaching us how to make rational and sound financial decisions as business leaders. This involved addressing factors that even experienced finance professionals might overlook and covered plenty of heuristics and decision-making biases. Thanks to Professor Guggenmos’ artful discussion-leading skills, the course was highly interactive and engaging.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Looking back, I wish I had taken more opportunities to travel with my MBA classmates. One of the most unforgettable experiences of my MBA journey was the Israel trek during the 2022 spring break, which included around 90 of my classmates. Not only was it a chance to learn about a new culture, but it also helped me forge deeper connections with my peers. If given the chance, I would jump at the opportunity to go on another trek with my classmates, as I believe it would be an excellent way to continue building lasting friendships and expanding my understanding of the world.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Ithaca definitely lives up to its reputation as being “gorges!” In fact, it has been ranked as one of the best college cities in the country. The community is very welcoming; the neighborhood is safe; and there are plenty of opportunities for hiking and skiing. I am truly grateful to live in such a wonderful town and couldn’t ask for more.

What surprised you the most about business school? The comprehensive education on diversity, equity and inclusion was an eye-opening experience for me and perhaps many other international students. The primary motivation for many of us attending business school was to advance our careers and learn the fundamentals of business through classes. However, throughout the program, I gained valuable insights into the challenges faced by marginalized groups and the importance of recognizing privilege. This may be rather basic for many domestic students, given the progressive nature of the U.S. education system, but it was certainly new to me and not something I expected.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I had an edge in the application process because of my passion for the school. Prior to applying to Johnson, I took the time to thoroughly research the school and spoke with more than 10 current students to gain a deeper understanding of the program from different perspectives. This allowed me to articulate why Johnson was the best fit for me and demonstrate the work I had put in for my application, which can be a good indicator of the level of a candidate’s involvement in the community. I believe this factor is highly valued by the admissions committee.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I’m honored to call Matheus Scuta my friend. He is a scholarly, upright and humble person with a breadth of knowledge that is surpassed by very few. Whenever we spend time together, I cherish every conversation because I always learn something new. Matheus is also a dedicated team player who is always willing to lend a hand and offer support. He is a role model to me, and I’m constantly inspired to try and catch up to his level of excellence.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace: I aim to continue my allyship work on LGBTQ+ initiatives in my professional workplace. Harness AI technology to benefit my firm and clients: It is becoming increasingly evident that AI tools are feasible in professional working environments and can improve efficiency. I hope to witness and be a part of this significant revamp.

What made Calvin Tong such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“I met Calvin early in the spring semester of 2022 when we discussed his role as the vice president of allyship for the Out for Business (O4B) club for LGBTQ-identified students. It was clear early on that Calvin was meticulous in the ways he thought about and enacted inclusion.

He embraces allyship and does not simply hold a title of ally. Calvin has been participating the hard self-work that is necessary to understand a community to which one does not belong, and through this learning, Calvin has been able to promote allyship authentically and effectively for not only the LGBTQ+ community, but for other marginalized identities as well.

As I got to know Calvin, I understood that these were values that he lived by beyond being a future business leader and that he really cares deeply about his fellow humans. This especially came through as he showed advocacy for the inclusion of classmates that had experienced microaggressions and through leading the reboot of the Corporate Engagement Committee, which partners with companies to get corporate sponsorship for the affinity groups on the Johnson Diversity Council. I have really appreciated the thoughtfulness and intentionality that Calvin brings to everything he does.”

Derron Borders
Director, Office of Diversity and Inclusion
Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management
Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

“As the Johnson Consulting Club (JCC)’s VP of International Recruiting, Calvin launched an ambitious, new initiative to improve recruiting outcomes for international students. Specifically, Calvin researched, designed, and piloted a “regional captains” program consisting of ten second-year students representing each major international region. After being trained by Calvin, the regional captains organized dozens of events and activities to further enhance the school’s consulting recruiting curriculum. The program was extremely well-received by first year students and the JCC and will be continued going forward. In addition to his leadership in the JCC, Calvin has also improved the academic experience by graciously serving as a Course Assistant. After drafting the syllabus for a new course, I asked Calvin for feedback. He promptly identified several elements with which students might struggle and proposed a range of pedagogical alternatives. During these conversations, I was impressed with Calvin’s ability to both appreciate the course objectives while tactfully speaking on behalf of his fellow students. Overall, I’ve spent dozens of hours working with Calvin and I believe he is one of Johnson’s finest student leaders. He is respected by his peers, generous with his time, and extremely professional. Without a doubt, he has been an invaluable member of the Class of 2023.”

Chris Bordoni
Senior Lecturer of Strategy & Business Economics
Management Consulting Industry Lead
Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management
Cornell SC Johnson College of Business


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