Higher education really is a ticket to anywhere. In Peter Egziabher’s case, it has been a ticket to everywhere.
Egziabher has a bachelor’s in history from Harvard College and a JD from NYU. He’s been a licensed attorney, voting rights advocate, and cybersecurity analyst; partner in a VC firm and law clerk for the NBA; intern with McKinsey and PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Congressional Democratic Caucus. He’s worked on both coasts in the U.S. and around Africa. Living in New York, he teaches Spanish at a community organization in Chinatown and tutors undergraduates in City College.
Later this month, Egziabher will graduate with an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business — and that, he hopes, will prove to be the biggest springboard of all, serving as a catalyst for an entirely new direction in his wide-ranging career: into a role as a creative executive in the film industry. As he ends his B-school journey, Egziabher has taken a big step by beginning a highly exclusive fellowship with the Hollywood Radio & TV Society.
“I’ve had a lot of adventures, put it that way,” he says.
A NEW LAWYER IN A WORLD OF CHALLENGES
Most MBAs from top B-schools find work in consulting, finance, or tech (yes, tech, even in 2023). A few go on to work in media and entertainment. None, so far as we know, has ever followed Peter Egziabher’s path, which involves … well, all of the above, and a lot more.
A native of Los Angeles, from a young age Egziabher wanted to study the law. Fate and opportunity intervened — temporarily. Earning admission to Harvard as an undergrad, he graduated with a BA in history, then followed an opportunity to work in Africa, becoming a consultant in Nairobi, Kenya doing technology, social change, and business strategy work.
But the lure of the law remained, and in 2014, Egziabher returned to school after earning admission to NYU’s School of Law. While there he worked with both the NYU Center for Human Rights and Global Justice and the law school’s Reproductive Justice Clinic; he also briefly served as a law clerk for the National Basketball Association.
A promising legal career seemed imminent. But by the time Egziabher graduated with a JD in 2017, the world had changed significantly.
“I graduated into the Trump administration,” he recalls. “I was slated to be a tax adviser. I studied tax law. I decided to do a fellowship instead to get people registered to vote automatically using software — something that brought together my technological and legal training.”
Egziabher did two fellowships in fact, through Rutgers Law School, where he helped local communities assert their civil rights, and for the Brennan Center for Justice, where he worked with officials, elections administrators, and advocacy groups to enact Automatic Voter Registration in more than 30 states. He helped challenge voter suppression in federal court, and advised agencies on implementing AVR technology.
“I saw that you could actually make an impact,” he says. “It was my first real job, and I saw that you could really make an impact in the world using technical tools and business tools.”
ANOTHER, BIGGER PIVOT
Feeling that he still lacked those business tools — but also contemplating another career change — Egziabher began to mull a return to school to get an MBA.
“I ended up in law school because I had wanted to be a lawyer since I was a kid, and I thought that lawyers can make good business people,” he says. “So I didn’t intend to stay within the law for very long, but I wanted to get the law degree and get the legal training. And I wound up doing civil rights work.
“But after a few years of doing that, I realized that I really was still passionate about history. It was something that I never knew I could turn into a career, because I don’t come from a background where people become historians or intellectuals. So I thought if you have a history degree, you have to go to law school. It’s the only logical outcome. But after living in the world and seeing two different careers, I realized there’s a field called public history that I was really passionate about — that you could be a historian without having to be a professor, which really appealed to me. And public history takes place in museums and libraries and archives, traditionally.
“So I came to Stern thinking I would use an MBA to maybe run museum or run an archive. I actually registered for night classes at CUNY in public history, and I realized, ‘OK, this is right for me. Let me try to figure out what I can do in history.'”
But another pivot was in store.
“By being at Stern and taking classes related to entertainment, I thought, ‘OK, here’s something I can do where I can bring history to the public on a much larger scale than a museum.’ And I can make social change which I’m really excited about, but I can do it through stories and through ideas. I don’t have to go to the courtroom. I don’t have to lobby legislatures like I was at the Brennan Center. I don’t have to do the work in technology that I was doing. I can just focus on storytelling and empowering creators. I’m a former history major with a passion for sharing historical narratives. I’m looking forward to helping audiences better understand themselves and their society.”
Comments or questions about this article? Email us.