Meet the MBA Class of 2024: Sara Ford, University of Michigan (Ross)

Sara Ford

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

“A former nonprofit executive with a passion for football and transforming the way organizations think about profit and purpose.”

Hometown: Manhattan Beach, California

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have performed in both Carnegie Hall (NY) and Disney Hall (CA).

Undergraduate School and Major:

Undergrad: University of Southern California, French Horn Performance

Grad: Indiana University, French Horn Performance

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Free Arts, Executive Director

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of Michigan Ross’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I have always learned best through experience, so Ross’ emphasis on action-based learning was very appealing. The best example of this is the MAP project– dedicating an entire quarter of the first year to a real world consulting project provides an invaluable experience to get hands-on experience while collaborating with your peers. I can’t wait to see what project I end up doing! I also plan to pursue other out of the classroom opportunities, like the student-led investment funds.

What has been your first impression of the Ross MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far. Every Rosser I have connected with has been unique, and yet all of them are motivated to make a positive impact on the world. In addition, they have all been so open and friendly, and they always make time for prospective students which says a lot about how they treat their peers.

Tell us your best Ross story so far. I recently went to a conference with several other first-year Rossers, and I was overcome by how amazing and authentic they all were! I can’t remember the last time I was surrounded by that many people who shared my passion for positive change. It was a surreal moment and made me excited to see what we will do once we get started this fall.

What course, club, or activity excites you the most at Michigan Ross? I am most excited for ‘The Bus’ and gamedays in general. I am a huge NCAA football fan, so I can’t wait to experience the games as a student! I know that relationship building is a key component to success during the MBA program, and college gameday provides a fun opportunity to make those connections that last a lifetime.

When you think of the Michigan Ross MBA program, what is the first word that comes to mind? Why? Community. During the application process, every Ross student, alumni, and staff member I spoke to was open, authentic and generous. I always left those interactions wanting more! I knew that if I were to go to Ross, I would immediately have a group of supporters to help me through my MBA journey. Community is essential to living a fulfilled and balanced life, and Rossers are definitely committed to creating a vibrant community!

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My biggest accomplishment was successfully leading a nonprofit arts organization through the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic began, I was starting my second year as Executive Director and was excited to pursue the strategic plan I had created. Quickly, I had to pivot plans to accommodate for not only the pandemic, but the social unrest that followed George Floyd’s murder. The challenges were endless, from pivoting our programs into the virtual space, to dealing with racism and hate during BLM, to navigating funders shutting down and dwindling financial reserves.

I am extremely proud of what my team accomplished to turn the organization around during difficult times. In the end, I focused on showing up for my team and helping them be the best versions of themselves. I led with empathy and transparency, always willing to have hard conversations while remembering the human component to management.

What is one thing you have recently read, watched, or listened to that you would highly recommend to prospective MBAs? Why? Accountable by Michael O’Leary and Warren Valdmanis. This book is super approachable, even though it is tackling big topics like ‘is capitalism broken?’ or ‘how did we get here?’. It also analyzes our current approaches to CSR and ESG and how we can possibly improve. I believe that profit and purpose can happen simultaneously, and this book has tons of great examples of successes and failures in that space.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? Coming from the nonprofit sector, I have always been envious of the corporate sector’s ability to scale their impact because of greater capital and resources. I realized if I wanted to create real social change, I needed to pivot out of the nonprofit world. I wanted to take what I’ve learned from the nonprofit sector and pursue an impact-oriented career in the for-profit world to make a greater change in the world using an MBA. Short-term, I am pursuing a role at a consulting firm to gain experience in solving problems and exposure to a variety of industries. Long-term, I would like to make a positive impact on the world by transforming the way people lead organizations. I have a keen awareness of the importance of sustainability and social impact and believe that business must be a force for good in the world.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Dartmouth Tuck, Yale SOM, UCLA Anderson, USC Marshall

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Michigan Ross’s MBA program?  Use your grit and know thyself. The MBA application process is a long journey full of ups-and-downs. It’s important to keep your long-term goals in mind in order to stay motivated through the never-ending checklist. I reevaluated my list of schools at the end of each week to make sure I was applying to programs that I was excited about; my rankings kept me centered through the chaos and allowed me to create time for self-reflection, which is key to the application process. Finally, remember to give yourself grace on the hard days and celebrate the small wins.


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