Meet Washington Olin’s MBA Class Of 2024

Go big. Go early. Go global.

That’s the philosophy behind the Global Immersion, the signature experience for MBAs at Washington University’s Olin Business School. Forget the usual week-long excursion overseas during second year.  Instead, Olin turns everything upside down. The Global Immersion kicks off the MBA program in July. Think traveling to four cities across seven weeks – completing projects, meeting with leaders, and sampling the local cuisine. In the process, MBAs are exposed to the concepts they were soon study in the classroom – reflecting a belief that students must experience something before they truly learn it.

I learned about U.S. domestic and foreign policies affecting businesses in Washington, D.C.; consulted for businesses in St. Louis looking to expand into Barcelona; completed a cultural immersion break in Paris; and studied the supply chain environment of startups in Santiago,” explains DaFene Brown, who completed his Global Immersion with the Class of 2024 last summer. My biggest takeaway was understanding the unique struggles that policies and cultures play when companies move to operate when expanding abroad from their home country.”

ADAPT AND CUSTOMIZE

Not surprisingly, the Class of 2024 found deeper value in different parts of the immersion. For Arushi Gupta, the best part was drafting a business plan to help a St. Louis restauranteur enter the Paris market. As part of the exercise, she held a focus group in Paris to gain their insights on everything from location to menu to branding. In Barcelona, Manaswini Bobbu learned the wine industry from start-to-finish: production, pricing, shipping, and selling. However, Jorge Concha remains torn about the highlight of his immersion experience. During the first five days, his classmates went to the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. Here, they attended nearly a dozen talks with “business and political leaders about fields like geopolitics, economic growth, health policy, and immigration.” While they gained a sweeping perspective of global issues, Concha believes return home with his classmate to Chile was “a great gift.”

“We were able to work with local companies and visit great places in my country, which revealed part of our national culture and geographic boundaries.”

Even more, the immersion taught Olin MBAs a key lesson in problem-solving: Every market is distinct and every solution is custom. “My biggest takeaway was just how important adaptation is for international business,” notes Corinne Hibbett. “One of my professors said, “You can’t copy and paste.” Every location is different, and to successfully expand your business, you must be able to recognize those differences and figure out how to adapt your business to best fit in that location.”

Washington University’s Olin Business School

COMING HOME A FAMILY

In some ways, these takeaways pale in comparison to the real benefit of the Global Immersion. Jahana Wazir calls it, “The Real World, MBA Edition” – after the popular MTV show. With the Global Immersion let’s just say there were fewer shouting matches “when people stop being polite and start getting real” – as the Real World tagline goes. Along with gaining a global fluency, the Class of 2024 bonded by being together 24×7 – creating relationships long before orientation and core courses. They crammed together on planes and shared rooms, navigating the winding streets of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter or hitting the luxury shops on Paris’ Avenue des Champs-Élysées. In other words, the Global Immersion sets the foundation, both academically and socially, that propels MBAs right out of the gate at Olin.

“I absolutely loved traveling with my class,” adds Arushi Gupta. “By far, this has been one of the best experiences of my life. We not only understood each other’s perspectives better during the program but also learned about different cultures, people and places. We went together as a class but came back as a family.”

Before connecting with her Olin family, Gupta worked as a producer for the Walt Disney Company. In this role, she made a major impact before she even turned 24! “I spearheaded the creative launch of India’s first teen channel—Disney International HD. As an engineer and the youngest employee in the entire company, I was hesitant to take on the task, but my team believed in me, urging me to trust my gut. Together, we launched the television channel in just one year, making it the #1 channel in 2+ genres!”

Nicolette Horning made her name at the Telluride Ski Resort, ranked by Ski Magazine as one of the top spots for scenery, dining, and lodging. Chances are, it would score high for coffee too thanks to Horning’s effort as a project manager. She renovated and rebranded one of its hotel’s cafes over several months.

“I worked with the GM to create contracts and hired an interior architect, graphic artist, plumbers, builders, electricians and painters,” Horning tells P&Q. “I oversaw the reconstruction of the space while I researched and sourced raw ingredients, created a new menu, hired and onboarded a team of supervisors and baristas, and helped to implement a new point-of-sale system. I consider this to be my biggest career accomplishment since it showcases my innovative spirit and my ability to identify and resolve brand dis-synchrony.”

DRAWN TO SERVICE

Looking for versatility? Meet Dapeng Wang, a former restaurant owner and real estate executive. He also served in the U.S. Army as part of an orthopedic team that treated thousands of American service members. While Wang has already earned a Master’s degree in Accounting, Nashad Carrington holds a law degree. Along with running his own firm, Carrington also oversees development for GRO FARM, which he describes as a “St. Louis-based AgTech company focused on developing climate-smart agriculture solutions for the next generation of producers.” That’s just the start for Carrington…

“I’ve served as a judge, worked for a major sports franchise, helped negotiate mergers and acquisitions valued over $20 million, and drafted policy impacting global data privacy activity, cryptocurrency development, and financial regulation. But by far, the biggest honor, in the midst of the aforementioned, was being asked by Governor J.B. Pritzker of Illinois to serve on the Equity Task Force, helping to analyze and improve the state’s workforce development programs.”

Lei Song earned her law degree at Washington University. Her passion is public interest work and pro bono service – averaging 450 hours a year on the latter. How is this for achievement? After stints at JP Morgan and Accenture in Chile, Jorge Concha moved into investment banking at the Bank in Perú. “

To work in another country is something that I recommend, going out of your comfort zone and learning from other cultures’ ways of doing business,” he tells P&Q. “During my years at Rabobank, we quadrupled the corporate revenues in Perú.”

Olin MBAs enjoying their free time

MAKING A DIFFERENCE ON CAMPUS

The Class of 2024 also became force multipliers when they arrived in Forrest Park. Sometimes, the achievements were modest on the surface, such as DaFene Brown scoring a near perfect score on a marketing management case. For others, it was doing something new and uncomfortable. In the case of Cherise Brookes, that meant entering a pitch competition through the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“I was really nervous as it was my first time pitching my business idea to an audience,” Brookes admits. “However, I killed it! I was one of the four best pitches that received a prize. This experience set the foundation for my startup journey. A small step for any individual but a giant step for a woman from the small nation of Antigua and Barbuda.”

While the Class of 2024 became friends during their Global Immersion that doesn’t mean there still wasn’t a big learning curve – especially nontraditional students learning to keep pace in an entirely unfamiliar discipline or overachievers who previously didn’t need much help.

“My tendency was to take a central role in the few group projects my undergraduate coursework required,” explains Nicolette Horning, an English major. “However, the number of group projects in our first semester necessitated distributed teamwork and helped me learn to trust my peers in team projects. We had to figure out how to best communicate with one another, how to rely on each other, how to divide work appropriately, learn from one another, and how to best utilize our skill sets to produce our best work. When I think about my biggest achievement in the program thus far, it is growing from a habit of individual effort leading to success to being a thoroughgoing team member and facilitator, able to not only lead teams but follow in them.”

Outside of class, Horning is a certified storm-spotter. DeFene Brown competes in Muay Thai, while Jahana Wazir would don a giant cat mascot costume to cheer up pediatric patents at the University of Kentucky’s Children’s Hospital. When you meet Arushi Gupta, her voice might sound a little familiar.

“Sometimes, for fun, I gave professional voiceovers and sang for ads and shows at Disney, Marvel, and National Geographic.”

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS

Olin’s home, St. Louis, has been christened “The Gateway City” It is the spot where Lewis and Clark started their journey westward. Decades later, settlers would fill their wagons here before heading into the great unknown. Since then, the city has experienced the highs-and-lows of the past 100+ years. You’ll even find this legacy on campus. After all, Francis Olympic Field, home to Washington University’s football and soccer teams, hosted the Olympics in 1904.

“I love St. Louis’s layered history,” explains Jahana Wazir. “St. Louis has lived many lives as a city, from hosting the 1904 World’s Fair to 60 years later, losing 70% of its businesses within a decade. The ornate architecture is a reminder of its storied history. Today we see more businesses opening and companies investing in the area committing to the future. St. Louis is a city of perseverance and revitalization. I’d recommend it to anyone!”

Beyond its storied history, Dapeng Wang notes that Olin students can drive anywhere in under 30 minutes – including an international airport with flights to every major America city. DaFene Brown loves the different neighborhoods with “unique vibes” – Central West End, Soulard, and Dutch Town. Cherise Brookes calls St. Louis “super affordable” as Nicolette Horning hails its small-town vibe. Let’s face it: how cool is it to have one of the country’s best zoos in your backyard?

Washington University’s Olin Business School

PLENTY OF OPPORTUNITY

“Forest Park, which is right up against WashU, is one of the most beautiful parks I have ever seen, Horning adds “There are great running paths and cycling paths, and the park also sports a performing arts center, a zoo, an art museum and a history museum alongside its other courts, fields, gardens and fountains.”

Alumni members are equally bullish about Olin’s surroundings. “As if gooey butter cake and Imo’s pizza are not reason enough to love St. Louis, this fair city is rich in history, sports, music, and the arts,” adds Elle Berger, a ’23 grad who joined ExxonMobil after graduation. “Nothing compares to Cardinals baseball on a sunny day or Blues hockey on a chilly winter evening. St. Louis is adventure waiting to happen, from the Arch, snagging free seats at the Muny Amphitheater, strolling the history museum and botanical gardens, to picnics in Turtle Park and jogging Forest Park. The zoo is free and world-class. Within a short walk from campus is the Delmar Loop, which is alive with fun boutiques. There are bars, live music, and a varied smattering of delicious St. Louis food like toasted ravioli from Blueberry Hill and root beer from Fitz’s.”

And lots of opportunities too. After all, St. Louis is home to seven Fortune 500 companies, including Emerson Electric, Edward Jones, and Centene – not to mention a large corporate footprint for Anheuser-Busch, Monsanto, Boeing, and Nestle Purina. The region features an array of resources to support entrepreneurship, including accelerators and collaboration space (T-Rex, Gateway City, and the Cortex District) and funding (Arch Grants and St. Louis Small Business Empowerment Center). In this environment, Washington Olin has created an MBA entrepreneurship program that has finished 1st for four consecutive years in the P&Q ranking.

AN ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET

That includes ranking 2nd in the world for the percentage of startups launched from 2017-2021 according to data collected by P&Q. From 2021-2022, Olin also ranked 2nd and 3rd for the Ratio of Entrepreneurship Mentors Available and the Ratio of MBAs to Entrepreneurship Mentor Hours respectively. 57% of Olin faculty are involved with startups, while 30% of faculty teach entrepreneurship and innovation programming (the latter coming in 2nd-best in the world). In contrast, 100% of Olin MBAs are involved with a startup, with 85% takng a startup-themed elective.

Why has entrepreneurship gained such a following at Olin? Certainly, the local community rallying around it hasn’t hurt. Still, the popularity also stems from being emphasized at the school.  Entrepreneurship is one of the school’s pillars – a point of emphasis that also includes “Values-Based and Data-Driven,” “Global,” and “Experiential.” Beyond simply starting a business, Olin treats entrepreneurship as a way of framing problems and a process of formulating solutions. This approach makes MBAs more valuable regardless of their career path.

“Olin, I find, is an amazing place to get a world-class MBA education preparing you for any career that also values creative and innovative thinkers, explains Doug Villhard, academic director for entrepreneurship, in a 2022 interview with P&Q. “Entrepreneurship can be an occupation — but it’s also a mindset. Not everyone is going to start a company. But everyone can desire a career where they’ll distinguish themselves with strategic thinking. That’s what I most love about our program.”

Next Page: 12 profiles of Washington Olin MBAs

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