2024 Best & Brightest MBA: Tess Sussman, UC Davis Graduate School of Management

Tess Sussman

University of California, Davis, Graduate School of Management

“Team player passionate about working to transform systems built to help people.”

Hometown: Needham, Massachusetts

Fun fact about yourself: I am right-handed in everything I do except in basketball, which I play lefty!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Harvard University, BA in Psychology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? The Rivers School: Varsity Girls’ Basketball Coach

Where did you intern during the summer of 2023? Senior Associate, Clarion: A Life Sciences Consultancy, Boston MA.

Where will you be working after graduation? Associate Business Process Architect, Unleashing Leaders, Sacramento CA

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Vice President, Associated Students of Management at the University of California, Davis
  • Ambassador, Director of Communications at the University of California, Davis
  • Project Lead, Integrated Management Capstone Course
  • Teacher, Japanese Agricultural Training Program, The International Center at University of California, Davis
  • Teaching Assistant, Marketing for Technological Enterprises; Managing and Using Information Technology
  • Captain, UC Davis Division 1 Women’s Basketball Team

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  I individually designed and taught an entire 8-week Business Presentation course to 30 international trainees as part of the Japanese Agricultural Training Program at the International Center. I crafted the entire curriculum from scratch and tailored the course to provide the trainees with the skills necessary to construct and deliver a compelling business pitch. The class covered how to create a visually pleasing presentation backed up by hard data as well as key public speaking skills. Witnessing the transformation of my class of 30 non-native English speakers over just eight weeks was more rewarding than I could have imagined. They all developed and elevated real-world business pitches that they plan to present to investor boards in the near future. The tangible impact on my student’s abilities and the prospect of influencing their future success through something I did is something I am still incredibly proud of.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As a consulting project team lead during a 10-week Integrated Management Project capstone experience, I led a team of four peer students to uncover new market opportunities for a patented biotechnology product with five potential use cases. Our team provided the client’s leadership with new potential market entry and partnership opportunities not previously considered, deeply illuminating, and helping to shape the company’s future strategy and positioning. Our final discovery and conversation ware extremely rewarding, and I am incredibly proud of the quality and quantity of research that my team completed in just one 10-week quarter.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose the UC Davis Graduate School of Management (GSM) because of its deep connection to the biotechnology and life sciences industry. I’m passionate about working in healthcare management and UC Davis’ STEM-designated MBA program offered the perfect mix of scientific and business-focused learning opportunities. The GSM is affiliated with UC Davis Health, a nationally recognized medical leader, as well as the business school’s interdisciplinary Biotechnology Industry Immersion program. These provide unmatched opportunities to navigate the biotechnology world, make connections, and open doors to professional opportunities.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Cyrus Aram’s class, Management Information Systems, was the most impactful course I took during my time at UC Davis. In just one quarter, we learned over 30 in-depth frameworks to use to achieve real systemic change in any industry. This course not only equipped me with a completely new perspective on how to approach business challenges, but also widened my ability to look at how a business issue is rooted in the deeper systems surrounding it. We discussed the technical, logistical, quantitative, and human side of implementing change in companies, and it has provided me with a tangible toolkit to start using immediately post-graduation.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? In the winter quarter, our MBA cohorts traditionally host a “Signature Event Gala” to celebrate the year. This event is open invitation to the entirely business school community, and hosted at a top-notch venue in nearby Sacramento, the state’s dynamic state capital. This past years’ theme was Old Hollywood. Seeing many of my classmates and professors dressed up and relaxing for a night is such a fun experience and I looked forward to it each year.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have started asking my classmates more questions about their experiences on day one! I have the pleasure of graduating with some of the most interesting people I have ever met, from all over the world and all different industries. Just two years is not enough time to get to know everyone and listening to the experiences and lessons my classmates have gone through been a huge source of my education while earning my MBA.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about Davis is that there are cows everywhere. Though the campus has deep agricultural roots, UC Davis is one of the most comprehensive top-tier public research universities in the world. Davis is a great college town with a prime location just 20 minutes away from the capital of the fifth largest economy in the world, Sacramento, about an hour and half from the San Francisco Bay Area and about two and half hours from all that Lake Tahoe has to offer. Though the cows are always available for a good therapy session (not to mention horses, alpacas, goats and pigs), they do not run UC Davis as much as outsiders think they do.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Downtown Davis hosts a farmer’s market twice a week, with rows of pitched tents that offer locally grown and made food, thrifted clothes, customized art, and much more. The farmer’s market is a consistent weekend event to explore quality products as well as create a loving and involved Davis community. It is nice to be fueled by locally farmed ingredients as well as support small artists by purchasing unique, handmade products.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised by the enormous range of professional backgrounds people have in business school. When I originally thought of business school, I assumed most people were already working in a finance or business-focused sector. However, my classmates have worked in biotech, food and ag, packaged goods, nonprofits, and so many more. It is interesting to see their different goals and the types of perspectives they bring to business school.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Galih Setiawan truly embodies what I strive to be as a professional who exhibits exceptional and genuine leadership. He truly cares about everyone in our cohort while excelling in both academics and professional settings. He brings a nuanced perspective to every situation while elevating the conversation to new standards. I hope to be as impactful as Galih is both in his career and his everyday life simply by bringing the same high standard and quality that he brings to everything he does.

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

1. I hope to write a book about my experience in business and academia, geared toward leaders with unconventional and non-business-focused backgrounds. The crux of business lies at the heart of psychology, teamwork, and business acumen. I want to utilize all I have learned as an athlete as well as a professional to provide a unique perspective to working in the corporate world.

2. Be fluent in a second language. Though I have learned Spanish in the past, I hope to double the amount of people I can interact with by gaining fluency. This a deeply beneficial skill for me to have professionally, and throughout the process, I’ll gain insight into different cultures and learn much more than just the language.

What made Tess such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2024?

“Every once in a generation, the completely packaged leader stumbles upon my doorstep. I have had the privilege of managing more than 10,000 leaders, managers, supervisors, and individual contributors in a career that has spanned 28 years and five industries. I can smell world-class talent and can anticipate an emerging leader on the verge of greatness. Tess Sussman is such a leader. Cementing herself in my overall top 1% of students in the past 15 years, I have complete confidence Tess Sussman suffices as a world-class MBA graduate in 2024 who will make a dent in the universe.

Tess illustrates authoritative yet compassionate leadership, as shown through her many academic achievements over the time of her MBA career. As Team Lead in her program’s capstone Impact project, she not only navigated team conflict but more importantly guided executive stakeholders through complex strategic decision-making situations. At the end of just 10 weeks, Tess deeply influenced the core strategic timeline of the client through updating the scope and illuminating a path forward through horizon roadmap creation.

As a student, Tess illustrates an enormous capacity for excellent work in short turnaround periods, demonstrating to others what is possible. Tess is a force of nature who integrates an uncanny analytical ability fused with a sense of urgency, follow-through, and attention to detail that is unmatched for someone at her early career status. Tess has a proven ability to grasp complex concepts and apply them to interwoven business challenges to provide systemic insight that can make real change. She pushes herself to the intellectual limit and does the same to the people around her.

As a teaching assistant for my undergraduate courses, Tess enables non-native English-speaking students to present and commits herself personally and professionally to supporting individual student growth. She is truly a servant leader, providing one-on-one time with struggling students and handling over 200 undergraduates while achieving a nearly perfect student rating (i.e. 4.7 out of 5). Tess puts in the work behind the scenes to handle the small details of curriculum planning, grading logistics, and providing feedback, all while delivering mental and emotional support to at-risk students.

Though these qualities are impressive, what separates Tess from the standard MBA is her courage. During a recent rigorous interview process with a leading management consulting firm, a panel of experts (with over 120 years of experience and pedigree) noted Tess is “the most exceptional early career individual we have evaluated in years” and that her “sense of doing the right, hard thing” is what stands out.

She is not afraid to provide thought-provoking insights against the status quo, which effectively challenges existing class curriculums and helps to enhance them through uncovering new applications and design strategies.

And thus, my nomination for her. If she is supported and groomed, Tess will make the difficult decisions about our world’s most challenging problems. She is going to work on solving homelessness, reduce the gaps in mental health access to care, and create a lasting legacy for the UC Davis GSM community.”

Cyrus John Aram
Lecturer, UC Davis Graduate School of Management
CEO, Unleashing Leaders


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