MBAs To Watch: Class Of 2023


Indeed, business school is often described as a safety net, a place to test new ideas and stretch boundaries – and learn leadership by practicing it. That was certainly the case for this year’s MBAs To Watch. As MBA Association President for the University of Washington’s Foster School, David Lynch had a hand in organizing over 200 events. The Wharton School’s Nafisa Rawji led  treks to four African nations, while Alexis Allen started the first Black MBA Alumni Association to enhance mentorship and career prep. At Georgia Tech’s Scheller College, Leo Haigh certainly kept himself busy. Teaming up with the school’s famed Jones MBA Career Center, Haigh organized a Tech Trek to Atlanta employers like Microsoft, Honeywell, and American Express. He also headed up the Scheller Golf Committee, producing events that brought classmates together with Scheller alumni and Emory MBA students. Haigh even hosted a podcast, The Intersection, to connected classmates on a deeper level.

“The podcast is an excellent opportunity for me to bring to life the personal and career stories of my classmates, alumni, and faculty,” he tells P&Q. “Episodes I’ve produced have focused on topics including how to be successful in the MBA program, careers advice, and major business topics.”’

Victoria Bush, Yale School of Management

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the MBAs To Watch were often the ones to make evenings and weekends fun. Victoria Bush, for one, ran a Lego Build Championship – the first of its kind at the Yale School of Management. Kasey Kram raised $10,000 for autism research by running the Chicago Marathon with six of his Notre Dame MBA classmates. At Ohio State’s Fisher College, Mike Bagian led his intramural volleyball team – appropriately named the Net Prophets – to a school -wide championship.

“It was fun sharing this experience with classmates and proving that even though we were 10 years older than our competition, we could still keep up with the undergrads,” Bagian says.

Siddhant Pawar took his role as social chair of the Rice Business Student Association seriously. Make no mistake, this was a high-profile gig. After all, it meant organizing the school’s beloved “Partios” – Party on the Patios – “distinctly-themed” gatherings of faculty and students from every program in the business school. Along with his co-chair, he also ran two “Olympics” sporting events, a gala, a holiday party, and a graduation party. To top it off, he also organized a bubble soccer tournament, when classmates played enclosed inside fat, inflated zorb balls.

“We were trailing 0-2 at half time in the first game and decided to unveil tactics that worked well for the kind of personnel we had, effectively ‘bumping’ the opposition out of games and winning the tournament quite convincingly. Assembling a team and winning the tournament while having a lot of fun was immensely satisfying.”


Raafeh Shahid would probably call mountain-climbing fun. The Yale SOM grad has already reached basecamp on five of the highest peaks in Pakistan. In Africa, UCLA Anderson’s Amara Barakat has summitted Mount Kilimanjaro, which reaches over 19,300 feet in height. Mike Bagian is a master of sky and sea: he holds licenses for both skydiving and SCUBA diving. Speaking of the latter, Imperial College’s Chris Holmes took dives for the most unexpected reason.

“I partially got over my fear of sharks by scuba diving with them – Sharks are slightly less scary when you’re under the water.”

Considering Shahriar Asadi’s track record, he’d probably end up as shark chum on a dive. “I’ve been stung by multiple jellyfish, attacked by a pack of coyotes, surrounded by a pack of wolves, and have also experienced a crash landing when the hydraulics of the aircraft failed,” writes the McGill University MBA. “Extreme fortune has allowed me to be writing this at this moment.”

Dezhi Yu, London Business School

Outside business school, the University of Florida’s Alexandrea Perkins played classical piano, while Destinée Mentor-Richards “moonlighted” as a stand-up comic. Leo Haigh gave a tour of the UK Parliament to Bill Gates, with Dezhi Yu doing the same for Stephen Colbert and his son at Colgate University. And how is this for a feel-good story?

When I was a teenager, I got into the sitcom Friends,” writes Nahuel Cabranes, a Brigham Young University MBA. “I started watching it in English with Spanish subtitles, but after some time I realized I was able to understand what the characters were saying without having to read the subtitles. That is how I learned English— through American sitcoms.”


Since then, Cabranes has landed plum finance roles at 3M and Microsoft. Like Cabranes the MBAs To Watch have truly set the bar for young professionals. Columbia Business School’s Sean Conley became the youngest corporate banker at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, which holds over $830 billion dollars in assets. At 27, ESADE’s Florian Burmeister was elevated to BMW’s youngest-ever regional manager, a role that made him responsible for profit-and-loss in 20 nations in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Equally impressive, Himanshu Shekhar Ojha helped to spearhead a merger between AHFL and DHFL Bysys in India. Not only did the merger involve 5,1000 crore in a combined loan portfolio – the equivalent to $51 billion American dollars – but it also required the integration of two very different cultures, processes, demographics and targets, says Warwick Business School MBA.

“Six years following the merger, the merged entity, which used to be a very average performer, continues to grow at a year-on-year rate of 50% in its assets under management (AUM). Prior to the merger it recorded an average rate of growth of only 12% over a five-year period. Big mergers of these kinds are usually facilitated by consulting firms, but in this case I along with my team, designed and executed all the interventions, in totality, individually.”

Texas A&M’s Charanya Krishnan Rao also left her mark in India. For two years straight, she collected awards for producing the most innovation investor education campaigns. In Kenya, Dragana Marinkovic digitized the country’s largest commercial tree planter, connecting 25,000 tree farmers who nurture over 5 million trees. Working in advertising, Doris Lynk used film to start a “global brand reset” for Beats by Dr. Dre.

Melissa Belec, Babson College (Olin)

“The aim [was to] elevate Black voices to amplify the conversation around inequality and racial justice,” explains the NYU Stern grad. “Partnering with Black creators to execute an authentic vision celebrating Black existence, the film highlighted a creative narrative – “You love Black culture, but do you love me?” – and positioned Beats as a new medium for youth to be heard, recognized, and enfranchise our audience.”


In the case of Melissa Belec, it is the journey – the courage to burn the proverbial boats and embrace the unknown – that turned her into a formidable entrepreneur and investor. “Leaving my first corporate job and moving to Silicon Valley fundamentally shaped, and continues to influence, my career and leadership aspirations. Landing in California with no job and no acquaintances, I hustled to build a network and land my dream job. I joined a 30-person start up as a first-time sales rep and cold called 100 potential customers every day – such a humbling experience. By the time I left to pursue my MBA, the company had grown to 200 employees, and I was selling to enterprise customers…I am proud of the courage I had to take the risk and the persistence in chasing my goal.”

For Jennifer Cain, that goal is someday creating a foundation to financially support young adults who suffer from rare cancers.  The University of Tennessee’s Caroline Cate, a trained engineer, also hopes to give back by making the path easier for those who follow in her footsteps. While Taner Bicer looks forward to retiring as a college professor, he plans to deliberately pursue learning through his career.

“As a consultant, I aspire to be able to solve any problem and improve the lives and businesses of my clients,” explains the Arizona State grad ticketed to NTT Data. “To do so I am excited to research and learn new things about any industry, function, and company I work with. This isn’t a perfect “bucket list item” as there is no point at which I can check a box for completion, but where’s the fun in that?”


That’s the part MBAs sometimes forget. The business school experience may sometimes be uncomfortable and draining, but it’s also transformative and – yes – fun.  It is the place to meet energizing people who’ll open new worlds and the time to amass those small victories to build your confidence. You learn and grow, ever shortening the distance between who you are and who you want to be. Even more, according to CEIBS’ Karen Xi Manqi, the campus experience “de-ages” students.

Alec T. Dietsch, Unversity of Rochester (Simon)

“I found the energy and enthusiasm of my MBA classmates very reminiscent of my undergraduate years, which was very endearing. I have heard that even the Executive MBA students rediscover this vibe when they are on campus!”

Maybe the biggest surprise for this year’s graduates? The learning doesn’t stop with business or focus strictly on career paths. “The MBA afforded me two years to reflect on how I’ve lived my life up until now and strategize around the life I want to build for myself moving forward,” explains the University of Rochester’s Alec T. Dietsch. “Where do I want to live? Who do I want to surround myself with? How can I be a better son, brother, friend, and citizen? What aspects of my desired lifestyle are non-negotiable? How should I prioritize my mental health and other non-professional priorities like travel, fitness, and family? My two years in business school served as a critical reset period for me, and I’m thankful for the personal growth opportunities the MBA afforded me.”

If anything, adds Caroline Cate, being an MBA is a great gig that opens doors and builds bonds. Chances are, these graduates – the MBAs to Watch – will soon have students teaching out to them.

“One of the best job titles in the world is “student”,” Cate points out. “There are endless opportunities, whether that be with organizations at your school, internship opportunities, financial assistance for start-ups, or even the ability to call (or LinkedIn message) anyone in the world and hear about their experience, career, or business. I wish I had realized that sooner. To those starting MBA programs, take advantage of that title. Wield it. It’s yours for a short period of time.”

Page 3 MBA Profiles: Alliance Manchester to Michigan State

Page 4 MBA Profiles: University of Minnesota to Yale SOM





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