2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Reneé Sewell, Columbia Business School

Reneé Sewell

Columbia Business School

“Passionate beauty-tech strategist, avid traveler, self-taught chef, improving synergy between beauty and technology.”

Hometown: Bronx, NY

Fun fact about yourself: I’m an avid traveler and have visited over 28 countries around the world. I collect cookbooks featuring local cuisine for each country so I can recreate my favorite dishes at home

Undergraduate School and Degree: Boston University, Questrom School of Business, Bachelor of Science in Marketing, Organization Behavior & Information Systems

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Senior Consultant, EY

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? I interned under the prestigious Presidential Management Association Program at Estee Lauder where I optimized eCommerce, social commerce, and metaverse strategies for MAC Cosmetics’ Global Online team.

Where will you be working after graduation? I loved my internship experience, so it’s no surprise that I’ll be rejoining the Estée Lauder, Presidential Management Associate Program this fall!

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Co-Founding President of a new professional club, Columbia Beauty Club (CBC)
  • Co-President, Black Business Students Association (BBSA) during its milestone 50th anniversary year and the centennial celebration of the 1st Black graduate student.
  • BBSA Co-President, 100/50th Columbia Business School Committee Member
  • Peer Advisor Cluster C Lead for Class of 2024
  • Columbia Fellow
  • Forté Fellow

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Co-Founding the Columbia Beauty Club with Ijeoma Chimezie ’23 and launching the inaugural Future of Beauty Summit have been the hallmarks of my CBS experience. After receiving my dream MBA internship from Estee Lauder, I yearned to expand and create additional pathways for the beauty industry at CBS by exposing the depth and intersections within the industry and providing resources for future global beauty leaders. I’ve always been enamored by the beauty industry’s shift towards inclusivity, personalization, and consumer engagement. These became the founding principles of the Beauty Club: innovation, inclusion, and impact. Within the first months of launching, we had over 300+ students register to become a club member! Our inaugural board used this momentum to develop inclusive programming from our Beauty Beyond Borders event to highlight intersectionality within the industry and other affinity groups; career-focused events such as a Beauty Investing and MBA to Beauty Executive panels to showcase emerging careers in beauty; and community-driven brunches before Spring and Fall galas to share exclusive best practices for beauty look books!

The overwhelming support from the administration, classmates, and alumni sparked our inaugural board to defy the odds and build our inaugural Future of Beauty Summit from the ground up. Our iconic keynote speakers and panelists, extensive conference topics on trends proliferating the industry, and intentional networking opportunities created a conference experience that unlocked the lasting potential of the Beauty Club and raised over $15,000 for the club. I have immense gratitude for this experience as it taught me that by capitalizing on the strengths of my team and creating inclusive communities that foster innovation and impact, we can cultivate the beauty we want to see in the world and make a lasting difference in the lives of others.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Many have the misconception that technology transforms the firm itself—no, it transforms the people. During my time in consulting, I diligently created organic touchpoints with technology by transforming organizations’ workforce engagement, experiences, and operations to ensure the successful implementation of new platforms. I received the opportunity to work closely with my practice’s core leadership team in curating a new solution methodology and offering that helps clients avoid common pitfalls in adopting the latest emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Cloud, virtual reality, and robotic process automation. As I was managing a team of eight associates who were 3-5 levels above me, I was challenged in managing the diverse opinions regarding the development of the new offering. By allowing each team member to focus on a particular aspect of the methodology, I was able to create a high-performing state where each member felt empowered in the development of their contributions. This managerial experience was gratifying in allowing me to propel a high-profile business idea from conceptualization to global launch, resulting in over $30 million in sales. I grew a passion for innovation and new product development by stewarding the offering’s brand, developing remarkable product stories in collaterals, and driving client experiences.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Columbia because I knew it would be one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences that would push me out of my comfort zone. The breadth of opportunities across several industries, the caliber of classmates and faculty, and the extensive course offerings would afford me pivotal design-thinking expertise to help beauty firms lead in global digitalization. CBS’s location in one of the epicenters of beauty made it easy for me to attend NYC beauty events and connect with alumni and industry professionals after classes.

Throughout the application process, I was struck by the community at CBS. Numerous current students and alumni went above-and-beyond in not only sharing their experiences but also sharing how I could reimagine my MBA experience. Their conversations illuminated the heartbeat of the CBS community: people who are equally committed to growing personally as they are to supporting others’ growth. It was a community I knew I needed to be engulfed in as I carve a path for myself in BeautyTech.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? (What did it reflect about your business school? I have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of Orientation Week as a Peer Advisor (PA) and Cluster Lead.  Although the majority of my orientation experience was conducted in a hybrid format due to COVID regulations, I was thrilled to welcome new students in the Fall and help them assimilate into the CBS culture at the new Manhattanville campus. As a Peer Advisor, I had the privilege to work with other students and instill the cultural values of inclusivity, engagement, and respect, which are the pillars of our community. Over the course of the week, I witnessed students who started as strangers coming together as one cohesive unit and earning the cluster theme title of “champions.” Being part of the team that enhances the student experience at CBS, through the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) and playing my role as a Peer Advisor, gave me a more profound sense of belonging to the CBS community, and I am incredibly proud of being a student here.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why?

Time passes by swiftly, yet it’s challenging to grasp the true speed of two years until you’re living it. I wish I took more time to capture the exceptional moments – both the highs and lows – and the transformative instances that shaped my journey. I am grateful for the endless opportunities to extend my comfort zone but if I could do it differently, I wished for more opportunities for introspection. Every semester presents an opportunity for growth, and as MBA students, we are engrossed in experiences that often overshadow the importance of reflections. Although business school may seem fleeting, it encourages us to be more mindful and purposeful in our time.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Prior to my enrollment in CBS, I had heard that it was a highly competitive setting, more geared towards students pursuing careers in finance. However, upon meeting my peers, I discovered that they were some of the most cooperative and amiable individuals I had ever encountered. We all share a strong drive and a vested interest in each other’s accomplishments. Although CBS is renowned for its finance program, I have personally found its curriculum and recruitment standing across several industries such as beauty, media, and tech to be quite formidable.

What surprised you the most about business school? My experience at business school has brought out my entrepreneurial spirit. By leading various initiatives and taking classes, I have been able to fuel my insatiable curiosity, love of questioning, and passion for envisioning future possibilities. Before joining CBS, I had heard that business schools – particularly student-led clubs, events, and initiatives – are quite prevalent, but I didn’t realize the extent to which students truly drive most of the campus activities until I arrived. The diversity of professional backgrounds and perspectives has created a stimulating environment that encourages students to identify new ways to enhance the CBS experience. The faculty and administration’s support and assistance are also crucial in making each new initiative a success.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Take the time to get to know CBS – trust me, it’s worth it! CBS takes a deep interest in getting to know you as a candidate and how you would contribute to their community. Just like any MBA program, CBS wants to understand why you believe their program is the right choice for you at this moment. Although there’s no magic formula for getting accepted, the best thing you can do is to think critically about what you want to bring to the CBS community and the kind of person you want to become when you complete the program. Be specific about your unique value proposition for solving the prevalent problems in your short term and long-term MBA goals.

My advice is to understand specifically how CBS can help guide you towards your career and personal aspirations, as opposed to other programs. While I was a part of the Management Leadership for Tomorrow’s MBA Prep Program, we were encouraged to network with current students and alumni who were working in industries or roles we were interested in. I strongly recommend connecting with the CBS community of students and alumni who can share their experiences with you and help you imagine your very own journey at Columbia Business School.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This was a hard question, especially given the caliber of my peers. Feels impossible to choose just one, but Anika Islam comes immediately to mind. Anika has a remarkable ability to step outside her comfort zone, delve into unfamiliar topics, and seek knowledge from others. Her approach to relationships is marked by compassion, empathy, and grace. Anika is always eager to assist others, whether it’s breaking down complicated concepts in core courses or providing interview preparation. She is an influential leader on campus, inspiring others to pursue their passions and reach their full potential. Her enthusiasm for learning and exploring new cultures is simply awe-inspiring and exceeds expectations.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? First, I’m yearning to broaden my horizons by working internationally, with a particular focus on the vibrant and diverse African continent. I’ve always felt a deep sense of connection to the global community, and exploring new cultures and countries fills me with excitement and inspiration. Thanks to my participation in the Chazen Global Institute’s Global Immersion Courses at CBS, I was fortunate enough to immerse myself in East African society and gain invaluable insights into the economic opportunities and long-term growth prospects in Rwanda.

My second major aspiration is to launch my very own fragrance brand. I’ve always had a passion for creating unique, bespoke scents that captivate the senses and transport people to new realms of experience.

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

“Renee Sewell has made remarkable contributions to the CBS community, serving in numerous leadership positions at key moments of the school’s history. These include her role as a peer advisor, her founding and launch of a new student organization – the Columbia Beauty Club — and her contribution as BBSA co-President for the Black Business Students Association (BBSA) during the 50th anniversary of the organization and 100th anniversary of the first Black student enrolled at Columbia Business School, formally known as the 100/50 Celebration.”

Samantha Shapses, Ed.D.
Associate Dean and Dean of Student Affairs 
Columbia Business School


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.