2023 MBA To Watch: Sean Conley, Columbia Business School

Sean Conley

Columbia Business School

“I am driven by the desire to positively impact as many people as possible.”

Hometown: Tampa, FL

Fun fact about yourself: I love animals! When I was growing up, my mom worked at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. She often helped rehabilitate animals that needed 24-hour care, bringing them home to stay with us for extended periods. We once had a joey (baby kangaroo) named Matilda.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Auburn University – BSBA, Finance (2016)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria – Vice President, Corporate Relationship Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Boston Consulting Group, New York, NY

Where will you be working after graduation? Boston Consulting Group – Consultant (New York, NY)

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Community Work and Leadership

  • Co-President, CBS Follies
  • Cluster Chair, Cluster A’23
  • Cluster Lead, Peer Advisor Program
  • Career Management Center Fellow
  • Course Assistant, Organizational Change

School Awards and Honors

  • Columbia Fellow
  • Kravis Scholar
  • Hubbard Scholar
  • Columbia Alumni Association Scholar
  • Mark Hinkley Willes Scholarship Recipient
  • Dean’s List
  • Above and Beyond Award Recipient – “For promoting respect, integrity, and belonging in the CBS community”

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My most proud, and favorite, achievement has been to serve as Co-President of CBS Follies, an SNL-style sketch comedy group that produces live and recorded content parodying all aspects of b-school life. In many ways, we have the privilege of being the mouthpiece of the student body, actualizing the MBA zeitgeist in comic form. Most of all, we seek to create a safe and open space for CBSers to express themselves creatively – a release from the rigors of business school where we can all be a little bit ridiculous. It is the most fun I have ever had doing anything, probably.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I spent my pre-MBA career in banking. By the time I rode off into the CBS sunset, I was the youngest corporate banker in the country for my firm. However, when I think about what I am truly proud of, I realize it is not strictly “professional.” Outside of work, I was the President of a community service organization focused on social impact and poverty alleviation. Just before my move to NYC, we launched a program that helps to provide free books and mentors to every Title I elementary school in Jacksonville, Florida. I come from very humble beginnings, and growing up, books gave me the courage to dream of a different future – I wanted to share that gift with kids in my home state, and hopefully give them the courage to dream as well.

Why did you choose this business school? Columbia Business School is known to be a globally minded institution, with 50,000 alumni around the world and 51% of its latest enrolled class representing non-US citizenship. When it came to decision time, cultural diversity and international exposure were critical factors in my thought process. I wanted to immerse myself in an environment where I could learn from friends with backgrounds far different from my own, progressing in my journey of allyship and cultural awareness, and furthering my understanding of the future of business in a globalized society.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Todd Jick, hands down. A leading expert in Leadership and Organizational Change, Professor Jick has built some of the most highly demanded courses at CBS (I currently serve as his Course Assistant for Org Change). Every year since 2006, Prof. Jick has welcomed new students during Orientation by facilitating a module on the “Case Method,” and over the same period has not missed a single graduation ceremony. In class, he carries a massive binder filled with the resumes and school profiles of each of his students, meticulously studying them to get to know the entire class. In addition, he is an avid Follies contributor, and makes a traditional appearance in every show we put on. Enough said.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? At Columbia, we have something very special called “CBS Matters,” a tradition that allows students to share their story: what shaped them, what brought them to business school, and why CBS matters to them. Presenting students invite family, friends, faculty, and beyond, and share in whichever manner they wish. I’ve seen crisp PowerPoints, photo-dumps, video content, and stories expressed through song – there is no one-size-fits-all approach. It is personal, intimate, and serves as a powerful reminder that we are not alone and never will be. I will forever cherish the memory of the day I shared mine.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? In the early weeks of my first year, I remember speaking with one of our administrators who asked me, “what do you want your CBS legacy to be?”. I have always been driven by a passion for serving others and, as a student leader, I have sought to give back to this community which has forever changed my life. That said, I wish I had been quicker to realize that we can’t – and shouldn’t – do it all ourselves. Learning to trust and lean on others, and the friendships that develop in the process, is often more rewarding than the end goal in and of itself.

What is the biggest myth about your school? During the application process, I recall reading the myth that CBS has a “highly competitive, cutthroat culture.” From my very first day here, I realized that nothing could be farther from the truth! I have scarcely felt more validated or embraced for who I am than I have at CBS. We are an ambitious bunch, to be sure, but this manifests itself as a deep commitment to supporting others’ goals, celebrating their successes, and cultivating a shared sense of purpose.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? We say Columbia Business School is “at the very center of business,” and with ample justification. Professionally, our proximity to target firms across every industry and robust alumni network in NYC are unparalleled. Moreover, our new Manhattanville campus is stunning, elevating all aspects of the MBA experience – from academics, to recruiting, and community. Plus, living in Manhattan is an absolute blast (I fully subscribe to the belief that New York is the greatest city on earth)!

What surprised you the most about business school? While I fully expected to develop intellectually and professionally at CBS, I cannot adequately articulate the profound impact my classmates have had on my growth as an individual. The entire student body is comprised of the most inspiring and thoughtful people I have ever known. Our time together has permanently evolved the way in which I see the world and the role I will play therein.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I would give this advice to anyone, not just to MBA applicants: be your most genuine and authentic self. Prior to business school, I had resolved that I would not ever compromise on my identity by pretending to be anyone other than me in my true form. In my applications, I was open and vulnerable in sharing the tapestry of life experiences that led me to apply, allowing admissions to catch a glimpse of my humanity and what makes me uniquely, well… me. At the end of the day, CBS aims to build a diverse class of REAL people. Just be you!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Student clubs at CBS are run by Co-Presidents, and it has taken me becoming one to fully appreciate why. My Follies Co-President, Aparna Bagade, with whom I have spent an irrational quantity of hours throughout our MBA tenure, is the classmate whom I most admire – more and more every single day. I have known no one so dynamic, spirited, and grounded. Over these last two years, Aparna has taught me more about leadership than I had learned in all the time preceding business school. She will remain one of my closest friends well beyond our time in Manhattanville.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Last year, I had the opportunity to meet with BCG’s Global Chair, Rich Lesser. I asked him for advice: “If you were in my shoes, graduating from CBS to launch your post-MBA career at BCG, what would your top priorities be, and how would you accomplish them?” His response? First, that green transition and digital transformation will transform every industry around the globe – bar none – over the next 30 years, and that I should pursue as much domain expertise in these areas as possible. Second, that working in one of BCG’s international offices through our Ambassador Program is a life-changing experience, and that I should seek the opportunity to do so. These are my immediate goals, but long-term, I hope to found an EdTech enterprise that revolutionizes curriculum delivery in K-12 classrooms and low-income communities across the country.

What made Sean such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023? “Sean Conley stepped into leadership in the very first weeks of CBS serving as the Chair of his cluster. Since this time, Sean has served as an active member of the community on what some might consider disparate ends, one as a Career Management Fellow, and the other as the Co-President of CBS Follies. Sean has also created programming outside of these leadership positions designed to give back to Columbia, and its surrounding community. These efforts include organizing the first community blood drive to be held on the Manhattanville campus, as well as a coat and warm clothing drive. Sean continues to impress us with his infectious personality and desire to assist in building community whenever possible.”

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

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