2023 MBA To Watch: Michael Manzano, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

Michael Manzano

Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Management

“Proud big brother, incredibly lucky fiancé, mediocre musician, ice cream lover, (hopefully) good person.”

Hometown: Sarasota, FL

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve played the cello since I was 10-years old. It was hard to find time to play while I was in the Army, but I’ve been able to rekindle my passion here at Kellogg.

Undergraduate School and Degree: The United States Military Academy (West Point); B.S. in Comparative Politics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I was a U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Beret) Officer. I was stationed in several cities throughout the United States and deployed to four countries in Central & Southeast Asia.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? I was a Product Manager at Lyra Health in Burlingame, CA

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be joining an operating company within Alpine Investors, a private equity firm, as a part of their “CEO-in-Training” program.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

-Special K!: Band Co-Director

-Kellogg Technology Conference: VP of KTech Conference Speakers

-Engage Diversity Dinner Series: Group Co-Facilitator

-Kellogg Veterans Association: Prospective Students (Admissions) Volunteer

-Kellogg Technology Club: Interview Prep Group Leader

-Kellogg Dean’s List

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The great thing about being part of the Kellogg Veterans Association (KVA) is the frequency in which we can help transitioning military service members take the next steps in their careers. We help with everything from resume and essay review to conversations about why an MBA may or may not be the right fit for them and their families. It always makes me proud when a service member I’ve been helping finds the right school or career path. I’ve enjoyed being able to devote time to helping that community while here at Kellogg and will continue to do so after I graduate.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When my Special Forces team returned to the United States after a seven-month combat deployment to Afghanistan, one of the guys on my team told me I was exactly the leader the team needed on that deployment. He said I communicated my expectations but let the people on my team figure out how to best accomplish the mission without micromanaging. I think leadership is an incredible responsibility and so much of it is figuring out where to best position yourself to serve your organization. I’m proud someone thought I was able to do that during our deployment.

Why did you choose this business school?  I had a great feeling about Kellogg from my very first conversation with a group of students from the Kellogg Veterans Association and from that point forward I knew I would be happy here. Kellogg’s reputation is well-known for being friendly, empathetic, and collaborative – and I’ve found that to be 100% true. Everyone here is brilliant but also incredibly humble and always willing to help. I knew I would find a great education at a lot of schools, so I prioritized a community that could support and challenge me as I transitioned out of the military. I’m happy to say I made the right choice.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? This will come as no surprise to anyone in the Kellogg community, but Professor Jim Lecinski was my favorite MBA professor. I took his legendary Marketing Strategy course specifically because he was teaching it, and I walked away with so much more than helpful marketing knowledge. His passion, deep expertise, and engaging teaching style made every class a blast. It is clear he cares about the success of every one of his students. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as an educator and human being. Plus, he’s also a musician!

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I am happy with the path I took, but I would have leaned into Kellogg’s entrepreneurial resources earlier in my MBA journey. I arrived at business school thinking I wanted to work at a large company after graduation. During my summer internship, I discovered that smaller, growing companies were more exciting to me. I capitalized on this newfound interest during my second year through entrepreneurship-focused classes and activities, but I wish I had started that process sooner. My initial desire to go to a large company was rooted more in what I thought I should do coming out of the military than in what was the best for me personally. Trying a few more things during my first year may have helped me realize that sooner.

What is the biggest myth about your school?

Myth: Other schools offer a stronger entrepreneurship culture.

Reality: Kellogg and Northwestern University have more resources than you can probably take advantage of during your time here. Whether you’re interested in just exploring entrepreneurship or you have an idea you are ready to build, you can find support and resources. Academically, there a menu of entrepreneurship-focused classes from the New Venture series to Launching and Leading Startups to finance classes like Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital. Many of these classes exist to help you test out your venture ideas in the real world with little to no risk and more time than you’d have while working a full-time job. Outside of the classroom, Kellogg’s Zell Fellows Program supports students interested in starting their own venture through the New Venture Track or those who want to purchase a small to medium sized business in the Entrepreneurship through Acquisition (ETA) Track. There are also pitch competitions throughout the year and incubators like The Garage where you have access to additional funding, community, and resources to help build your business. Lastly, the faculty at Kellogg have experience in every aspect of entrepreneurship and are always willing to open their networks to students who ask for support.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? It is extremely walkable. Most people live within walking distance of campus, restaurants, grocery stores, and each other. It is so nice to walk to a friend’s house for dinner or run alongside Lake Michigan. I’ve learned it gets a little bit chilly in Chicago, but a sunny winter walk is always worth putting on the extra jacket.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised at how many experiential learning opportunities I could choose from when selecting my courses. I spent most of my time during the winter quarter interning with a Venture Capital (VC) firm and working on my team’s business venture. It was so helpful to be able to apply the concepts I learned in the classroom to real life business problems. Both pursuits also helped me build meaningful relationships outside of the confines of school. Those are just two examples of countless opportunities available to students while at Kellogg. The hard part is finding the time to do them all.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I put a lot of time and thought into the essays. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the GMAT or GRE and set the essays aside as a last-minute task. As important as the standardized tests are, the output is just a number. It doesn’t tell your story or articulate how you can best contribute to the Kellogg community. The essays gave me a chance to communicate both, and I think those are areas Kellogg truly values. Still study for the GMAT or GRE though!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? It is so hard to pick just one, but Shelby Nakhare tops a lengthy list of wonderful classmates. Shelby and I met because we were both in the same Kellogg orientation group. We quickly became friends and chose to work together on a variety of initiatives while at Kellogg. She’s kind, funny, and someone I have leaned on for support and advice during my time here. I’ve learned so much from her on how to be a more thoughtful and inclusive leader. She is probably the most competitive person I’ve ever met, but she will drop everything to help someone in need. The only thing I don’t like about her is that she’s a New England Patriots fan (Go Miami Dolphins!), but we’ve somehow managed to move past that. I feel very fortunate to have met her here at Kellogg and hope she’ll remain my friend for many years to come.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

 1. It would be a great experience to teach a course or two at an MBA program one day. I have always loved teaching and think it’s such a great way to give back to the community. I’m not sure what the course(s) would focus on, but I would want it to be more operationally focused. I’ve always appreciated the professors who can bridge academic topics with personal operational experience.

2. I would love to lead a company one day. Leadership provides such tremendous opportunities to make meaningful differences in people’s lives. I lived it every day in the military and understand the level of impact a leader can have. I know I have a few things to learn before I get there, but I’m doing everything I can to prepare me for when it comes.

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

“I had the great pleasure of having Michael Manzano as a student in my Personal Leadership Insights class in Spring 2022.

It was immediately evident (and I mean immediate — 10 minutes into the first class) that Michael was going to have an impact on me and the group as a whole. Personal Leadership Insights is a course that asks students to be vulnerable with one another and both honest and challenging with one’s self as they deeply explore who they are, their aspirations for the future, and the implications for how they will lead others.

Michael brought his full authentic self to our classroom. He shared openly and asked thoughtful and powerful questions of himself and his classmates. He was crucial to our ability to quickly create a rich learning environment. Michael values relationships and regularly puts others needs before his own – whether it’s helping a fellow veteran navigate their transition from the military or offering advice to a classmate who’s navigating a similar job search.

Michael has a long future as a people leader. And, when I ask future generations of MBA students to think about their best boss – for some subset of them, Michael will be the person that comes to mind.”

Shana Carroll
Clinical Professor
Associate Chair, Management & Organizations
Co-Director, Leadership Development & Communications Program


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