That’s the essence of business. When you see a void, you fill it. When you imagine a possibility, you pursue it. You shorten distances and level obstacles. In the process, you draw people into a larger world that welcomes their talents
BRINGING BASKETBALL TO VIETNAM
For Nga Le, that world was basketball. On the surface, you wouldn’t peg this UC Berkeley Haas first-year MBA as a professional basketball executive. In a game catering to giants, she stands just five feet tall. As Le notes, she is also the “loudest fan on the stand.” That voice — and the brash resolve behind it — spurred a sports revolution in her native Vietnam.
Le had been slowly building the basketball business there for over a decade. Starting with the XLE Group, she helped launch the Saigon Heat, Vietnam’s first pro basketball team. Soon after, she partnered with the NBA to create Vietnam’s Jr. NBA program, which supports young people sharpening their basketball skills. Eventually, Le became the CEO of the Vietnam Basketball League (VBA), where she managed a staff of nearly 30 people — not counting reporting to team owners and a Board of Directors.
“These initiatives have transformed basketball from an unknown sport to the second-most popular team sport in Vietnam (after soccer) in 10 years,” she tells P&Q.
LIVING A LIFE WITHOUT REGRET
Across the Pacific, Adewale Oduye was creating different kinds of opportunities. Before joining USC Marshall’s MBA program this fall, Oduye served as a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles. In this role, he exonerated 10 people who had been wrongfully charged by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. In one case, his tenacity saved one man from potentially spending the next 35 years in prison.
Oduye joined the Class of 2023 to prepare himself for a career in nonprofits and social enterprise. It was a mission, he says, that was steeled by watching the Black Lives Matter movement last summer. “I remember looking outside my office at the Hall of Justice building in downtown Los Angeles and seeing thousands of people protesting George Floyd’s murder. This was during the height of the pandemic—before there was a vaccine. People were risking their lives to protest a grave injustice that occurred. After seeing that, I promised myself to be more vocal when it came to racial injustice.”
Le and Oduye are two talents who personify the spirit of the Class of 2023. Each year, Poets&Quants profiles more than 500 full-time MBA students in its “Meet the Class” series. Now in its 7th year, the series introduces our readers to some of the most promising first-years at the world’s leading business schools, one school at a time. “Meet the Class” also outlines the unique cultures, resources, and benefits at programs ranging from INSEAD to UCLA. The featured students–chosen by their schools for Poets&Quants–also freely share the admission strategies and why they’ve chosen their future alma maters. More than that, these class portraits open a window into the types of students who ultimately populate these schools’ ranks.
Over the past year, many of the students starting their MBA journeys had their lives placed on pause. Some lost their jobs, while others were forced back home. They shouldered bigger workloads and shifted into uncomfortable roles. Often, they slowed down and reflected. That was the case for Sean Oh, a product manager at Microsoft. He describes COVID-19 as the first time he had felt “vulnerable.” Indeed, the past year derailed many of Oh’s plans. In their place, he adds, he gained a curiosity and confidence that’s opened new avenues to him.
“Prior to the pandemic I had assumed that I had my whole life to try new things and focused primarily on developing core competencies and creating the foundation for my career,” writes the MIT Sloan first-year. “The objective was great, but I could feel that mindset subtly transforming into comfort and complacency. Once the pandemic started, I truly understood that “anything can happen,” including the unfortunate. The dreams I had as a kid of starting my own company still existed and I realized that I needed to let go of what I’m comfortable with and be more proactive and a bit brazen to live a life without regret.”
MEET “THE CHOCOLATE LADY”
Oh’s classmate, Justin Mueller, gained a similar appreciation for the bigger picture when COVID started, when he and his wife were stranded in Italy. “Witnessing younger community members deliver groceries to older members and all of the “Andra Tutto Benne” (“Everything will be alright”) signs made by children allowed us to keep our blessings in perspective. I feel that I have become more deliberate in my daily interactions, and it has really enforced my desire to work in an industry like clean energy that is dedicated to improving the world that we live in.”
In high school, Mueller earned notoriety for delivering his student government campaign speech wearing only his boxers. So you can imagine the career this class clown entered after high school. Yes, he became a Nuclear Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy! Not surprisingly, the incoming MBA class features a diverse range of students. Take Harvard Business School’s Jack Heaphy. He describes himself as a “Banker by day, musician by night.” Translation: This Societe Generale investment banker has performed at Carnegie Hall as a pianist. Hilary Clark comes to USC Marshall with a nickname: “The Queen of Chartz.” That’s because she last worked as the managing editor for Bloomberg TV, overseeing a team across the U.S., Europe, and Asia when she was just 25!
Of course, Akua Obenewaa Donkor garnered the best nickname of all: “The Chocolate Lady.” She is the founder and CEO of a chocolate maker in Ghana. While her business is cocoa, her passion is corporate social responsibility. To help area farming communities decrease dropout rates, she has developed an ingenious “I Love To Read” project to pay for books and infrastructure.
“Our fund-raising methods include mounting chocolate sculptures at shopping malls to request for donations,” writes the Indiana Kelley first-year. “In 2018, the project finished the structural facility in one of these schools. I was elated to see the first students that occupied this facility graduate from Junior High school in September 2020. Impacting the cocoa farming communities in Ghana positively always reminds me of how much I enjoy social work and I am proud to say that children in these communities now have better learning opportunities because of me.”
ALEXA? SHOULD I ENROLL AT YALE SOM?
Wharton’s Samuel Bennett decided to make his mark in healthcare. A civilian and military doctor, Bennett has been busy scaling medical technology ventures. Speaking of technology, Georgetown McDonough’s Ameya Deshmukh automated the material handling process at an Indianapolis Adidas factory using Automated Mobile Robots. Impressed? Just wait until you meet Achal Shah, a Yale SOM first year. He led a team that took Amazon’s Alexa AI technology to 14 overseas markets that spanned 8 languages.
“I was in the Alexa AI team [that] had built technology that allowed Alexa to automatically learn from its own mistakes and consequently get better at handling users’ requests,” he explains. “When I joined the team, the technology was operational only in the U.S., and I was tasked with the product/project management for expanding it internationally. Over the next year, I worked with engineering, science, and business partners spread across the world to successfully launch the technology.”
You’ll find the finance industry strongly represented in the Class of 2023. Harvard Business School’s Eduardo Cordova developed investment policies at the Central Reserve Bank of Peru, while classmate Michael Dantas served as an undersecretary in the Brazilian Ministry of Economy. Back in the United States, Jordan Bell worked as an examiner for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco before moving across the Bay to UC Berkeley Haas.
READING THE PRESIDENT’S MAIL
Then again, the quants weren’t alone in taking on big responsibilities at an early age. Exhibit A: HEC Paris’ Lan Phuong Nguyen, who rose to being L’Oréal’s senior e-marketing manager. “I manage[d] the entire e-business of L’Oréal’s full range, including skincare, make-up, haircare, and hair color. I led a multi-function team to operationalize 360° online ecosystem and business marketing across digital, print, and e-commerce media. My team and I strategized a branding plan, product launch initiative, and portfolio positioning to maximize the brand’s exposure. We designed guide-frame and the scorecard for onsite and offsite tracking to maximize sales and return on investment.
Sometimes, class members were exposed to the top leaders in their fields. That was the case for Columbia Business School’s Edward Patterson. A Detroit native, Patterson served as the press secretary to U.S. Senator Chris Murphy. Before that, he found himself a short walk from the leader of the free world.
“At the White House, I worked in the office responsible for facilitating and responding to all incoming correspondence addressed to President Obama, including selecting 10 letters daily for the president to read. Early in my tenure, I came across a powerful letter that a teacher wrote to the president about citizenship and the similarities they shared. I was able to elevate the letter to my director who sent it to the president himself. Upon reading, the president requested that the teacher be invited to the photo line when he visited the teacher’s town. This was one of my proudest moments as a public servant, being able to connect people with their government.”
Page 3: Profiles of 28 MBA candidates from the Class of 2023, including Harvard ,Wharton, INSEAD, Chicago Booth, and more.