2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Philip “PJ” Thomas, University of Maryland (Smith)

Philip “PJ” Thomas

University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith Business School

“A proud Jamaican who is creative, a visionary, and loves to make people laugh.”

Hometown: Bronx, NY

Fun fact about yourself: I perform stand-up comedy.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Arts from New York University

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? (List Company and Role) Global Citizen, Curtis Fellowship Program Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? The Hershey Company in Hershey, Pennsylvania

Where will you be working after graduation? The Miami Dolphins as an Associate in their Leadership Development Program

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • MBA Association President
  • BMBA 1st Year Board Member
  • MCA 1st Year Board Member
  • University of Maryland Athletics Marketing Intern
  • Community Service Chair for Epsilon Sigma Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my advocacy for my MBA cohorts and being part of the program’s move to become STEM-designated. Since entering the program, I’ve been inspired by the international, dual-degree students in the program who juggle additional classes, part-time work, and extracurricular activities. In my program leadership roles, I was especially driven to advocate for them to the school’s key decision-makers toward the STEM designation, which will bolster their profiles post-graduation. It’s been gratifying to see how the designation has fueled their motivation, especially to get more involved in MBA events and building relationships within the cohort.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In my professional career, I am most proud of navigating a global fellowship program during the COVID pandemic. As the program manager, I was able to adapt the program given the constraints of travel restrictions, pandemic requirements, and overall uncertainty of the future. I was able to secure funding from key stakeholders to implement a more impactful program for the fellows. This included investments in individual community service projects within their communities as well as tools needed for their future success as they transitioned to college.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Maryland because of their supportive community. From the very beginning of my application process, the Maryland faculty and staff were invested in my success. Throughout my time as a first year and now second year student, my advisors and professors reached out to see how things are going. They’ve connected me to various opportunities and introduced me to numerous professionals within their networks. In addition, my classmates have been my biggest cheerleaders to seeing me achieve my dreams.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? My favorite course was Brand Management. Professor Mary Beth Furst’s course was engaging and pushed my views on marketing. Through experiential learning and lively classroom discussions, I learned the ups-and-downs of the life of a brand manager. This course prepared me for my internship at the Hershey Company. I was able to take the skills and experiences learned in this course to make an impact at my summer internship.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite MBA tradition is Diwali Night. Because of the timing of the event, happening early in the fall semester, it is a time when the MBA cohorts and Smith faculty come together for a night of celebration. It’s a great experience to see the Smith community come together to celebrate Indian culture, participate in dance performances, and indulge in delicious Indian food. Diwali Night showcases the true diversity of the Smith community.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have gotten involved earlier. At Smith, you don’t have to hold a leadership position to have an impact. The staff and faculty are continuously trying to create a great program for all students. They give the students the freedom to create new events or advocate for various causes that will enhance the student experience. I encourage all students to get involved early and as often as possible.

What is the biggest myth about your school? (And how was it the same or different than what you experienced) This is a tough question. The biggest myth is everyone is competitive. It’s actually the opposite. Everyone here wants to see everyone do well. The goal is for everyone to attain the best possible score or job. With that said, you can often see students helping each other study for exams or participating in job search groups together.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? The athletics program. There is a genuine love for Maryland’s sports teams on campus. To attend a Maryland sporting event is an unforgettable experience! The Maryland pride can be seen everywhere from car bumper stickers to local shops.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was most surprised by the range of courses offered in business school; there’s a course for almost any topic. I’ve taken classes solely focused on digital marketing to classes focused on A.I. and their impact in future business endeavors. The courses offered really allowed me student to create their own journey to obtaining a MBA degree.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I researched specific courses aligned with my career interests. I then reached out to the professor or students within the courses and asked about their experience. This helped in identifying whether Smith Business School was the right fit for me. It also helped in expressing to admission officers why I wanted to attend Smith.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Haley Vasquez. She’s a go-getter, a hustler, and extremely smart. From the first day of orientation, she was already interviewing for summer internship opportunities! In class, she always contributed to class discussions and asked thoughtful questions that made the class even more interesting. Watching her navigate the career search and schoolwork was motivating and pushed me to be a better student.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? First is to become a General Manager of a professional sports franchise. Second is to create a scholarship foundation for underrepresented students interested in business.

What made P.J. such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“PJ’s strength as a future-focused generous leader has made him an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023. Whether in his role as President of the MBAA or as a team member on a group project, PJ focuses on how he can best serve others by paying close attention to the needs of those around him. He generously advocates for causes that will help those who will come after him. As the President of the MBAA, he was a strong supporter of the STEM designation for the MBA program because he saw how it will improve the graduate experience for international students in the future. I believe his previous experience with Global Citizen’s Curtis Fellowship primed him to look for such opportunities. As program manager, he focused on marketing efforts to grow the fellowship program dedicated to developing professional and leadership skills in college-age South African students. Clearly, his talents as a motivator and visionary supported these students. He applied the same strengths in his teamwork in class. He encouraged and persuaded his teammates to excel in a challenging brand management simulation. His positive outlook and gentle humor–along with a healthy dose of hard work–helped propel the team to success. During his internship as a brand manager at Hershey last summer he leveraged these same leadership characteristics. One of the most challenging skills for a marketer to develop is the ability to get into the mind of the customer and understand their perspective. PJ does this so well because he is attuned to others. He looks for opportunities to lead those around him “Fearlessly Forward” into the future.”

Mary Beth Furst, EdD, MBA
Associate Area Chair and Associate Clinical Professor of Marketing


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