Meet the world’s top MBA graduates this year
Poets & Quants have dropped their list of the best and brightest MBAs in the class of 2019, and we can’t help but agree that year after year, it gets more impressive. A case in point is Aruna Sriraman, who has done the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management proud. Interestingly, she doesn’t fit into the conventional stereotype associated with MBA undergrads. Sriraman, who is a gamer-turned designer, has no background in banking or marketing. However, that’s not to say she didn’t make her mark in other ways. Well before she enrolled at Rotman, she helped bring crowd-pleasing Zynga games like Farmville and Mafia Wars to life. Her role involved adding complex twists to simple narratives, making the games what they are today – addictive and insanely popular.
Sriraman’s prowess wasn’t confined to coding alone. Her accomplishments continued even after she got into Rotman, where she led the LGBT and the Gaming Clubs of the class of 2019. She went above and beyond the call of duty and used these platforms to launch a Diversity & Inclusion Case Competition. Bain & Company and the Bank of Montreal backed Sriraman as partners on this project.
Even off the spotlight, Sriraman always threw positivity around like confetti. Neel Joshi, the head of the student and international experience at Rotman, clarified that the MBA student would often help people out over coffee chats and promptly respond to people who struggled to find their identity. Speaking of her work in and out of the center stage, Sriraman says “You are worth being a voice at the table. I explained that I know the feeling of having to speak louder and perform better just to be recognized as an equal. I know that calling out toxic cultures and behaviours will likely come back to bite me. But I have realized that once I earn the respect of my peers, it is truly worth the negative consequences. I will never allow anyone to silence me again.”
Swapping silence for action seems to be the common undercurrent among this year’s brilliant MBAs. Behind each student’s name is a fascinating history of how they’ve made their mark in the field of their choice, broken past barriers, led by example, and inspired those around them to be better versions of themselves. This generation certainly seems to be doing well. And it’s no wonder then, that Poets & Quants received 243 nominations for the Best & Brightest, from 67 of the top MBA programs, including regulars like Stanford, Wharton, and INSEAD, and fledglings like Babson College, McGill, and Wisconsin.
Pitting the very best against one another and judging who makes it to the top isn’t easy. Thankfully, P&Q editorial has three strong criteria to consider – academic and professional achievements, extracurricular activities, and the insightfulness of the candidate’s responses. Between these three aspects, they’ve got pretty much everything covered.
Among this year’s best is Vito Errico, who came to New Haven from the Pentagon, where he was an assistant executive officer to the U.S. Army’s CFO and a special assistant to the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. His classmate Nate Silver has an equally impressive history, although in an entirely different niche. Before enrolling in the MBA program, Silver handled the finances and operations for the Jackalope Theatre Company. He also served as the associate director for the 2015 Tony-nominated play Disgraced. Another student who has made her mark among the Best & Brightest is Naila Kassam, from Ivey Business School, who teaches medicine to physician trainees. And then there is Neethi Johnson, who has proved to be something of a financial whiz. She spearheaded several acquisitions for her family business and transformed the revenue from a mere $5 million a year to a whopping $100 million.
If you’re already impressed, wait a while. There’s more. Charlotte Pekoske from the University of Notre Dame was with the U.S. Coast Guard before she enrolled in the program. She was the Chief of Law Enforcement in the Key West sector, and her team rescued over 8,000 migrants from the waters. Sandhya Ramula boasts of equally great achievement. She started off modestly, leading a team of 20 at Ernst & Young, Bangalore. But she wasn’t one to settle for mediocrity. During her first 18 months there, she went on to tripe the business growth of her function and evolved to lead three teams with 400 full-time employees.
MIT’s Janelle Heslop is another impressive grad on the list. As a consultant on a long-term transformation project, she helped New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection save a colossal $100 million. Louis Williams is also big on the numbers game. A cage fighter outside of his time at IESE Business School, Williams generated £10 million of capital for 20 start-ups. Before earning her MBA at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, Jennifer Bae was responsible for developing a learning program that was rolled out worldwide in her practice. Now, after her graduation, Bae is all set to re-join Deloitte Consulting and do more amazing things.
If you thought their brilliance was limited to their pre-program days, think again. The Best & Brightest continued to shine on campus as well. Take University of Florida’s Chris Salinas. A partially-disabled veteran who played a significant role in building Saudi Arabia’s equivalent of the Coast Guard, Salinas was responsible for bringing General Martin Dempsey, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to her school to give a talk on leadership. At Duke University, Ashley Brown, President of the Black and Latino MBA Association, partnered with the undergrad Black in Business Club and mentored younger peers by offering career guidance. MIT also got its own start, Eilon Shalev, who collaborated with four faculty members to launch a campus-wide Blockchain Lab, where 60 students gained field experience in various areas like software prototyping and AI algorithms. The lab won projects from top firms like the Boston Consulting Group and Fidelity Labs.
Tracing the inspiration that propels the Best & Brightest forward, we find that it mostly comes down to the uplifting role models they look up to. For New York University’s Lia Winograd, this role model is her paternal grandfather, who escaped the Holocaust and immigrated to Columbia. In the decades that followed, he built a factory business that allowed hundreds of Jewish families to thrive. Today, Winograd is an entrepreneur who has developed a popular line of women’s apparel.
Speaking of the inspiration she draws from her ancestry, Winograd explains, “I believe that most of the best entrepreneurs out there have to be immigrants like my grandfather. When you have nothing and you step into a new country, your instinct for survival forces you to be creative and identify market gaps to find a place for yourself. His story inspires me every day, and I know even in the days when I’m financially challenged, I’ll push through and figure out a way to succeed.”
The family seems to be the guiding force behind these highly inspired students. Susi Eckelmann from Georgetown University credits her mother, who set an example for the young girl to live by. When she was in elementary school, her mother returned to grad school, and young Susi watched as her family gathered all the support needed to support her mother’s endeavour, which involved a four-hour commute to class. Those events left a lasting impression on Eckelmann and pushed her to take her education forward. Speaking of this connection, she says, “Education was a gift, and it took sacrifice. Going back to graduate school may have felt disruptive and difficult, but I have an inspiring role model who made it seem possible.”
Marcus Morgan from Dartmouth believes that underneath all this seeming disruption, there’s a great degree of positive transformation. He clarifies, “If any of us leave here the same as when we arrived, we’ve all failed each other.” It won’t ever come to that though, because judging by how most of the Best & Brightest are making radical positive changes in various spheres, there won’t be many who believe they’ve failed.
Medora Brown from Wharton admits to the transformation she’s experienced. “In the first couple months of school, most of my “leadership” involved herding large groups of classmates (i.e., I could shout louder than most people). However, over time, as I have taken on more leadership positions, I have begun to figure out what it means to organize, motivate, and lead by example (and not just by decibel level).”
Geoffrey Calder experienced an epiphany during his time at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He realized that the one truth that cropped up time and time again was this – grit trumps brains. Speaking of his newfound principle, Calder explains, “It has become clear after attending seminars with dozens (maybe hundreds?) of investors, entrepreneurs, and business leaders that what separates the “winners” from the “losers” isn’t intelligence. Rather, it’s passion and perseverance. It isn’t as romantic, but you’d rather be hardworking than smart. Set aggressive goals, seek feedback, practice, and push through adversity!”
Frederick Gifford has learned a different, yet equally valuable, lesson during his time at ESADE. He sums it up in one word: confidence. When asked to elaborate, this is what he ventures, “I’ve always loved ambiguity, but I think I saw certain parts of the business sphere as out of bounds for me. The MBA filled many gaps I had where this might have been true but also shined a light on areas where this probably wasn’t true. It’s been transformative because I feel ready to tackle anything.”
The takeaway seems to be that their years at school-bound to be metamorphic and life-changing. And it also appears equally certain that once they’ve graduated, the Best & Brightest of 2019 are going to light up the world in whatever way they can.