John Byrne Contributor
May 7, 2018
The last thing an entrepreneur wants to hear is, “Reach for the stars.” That is, unless you’re Michael Provenzano. When it came time to pitch an idea in an entrepreneurship class at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, Provenzano eschewed the usual apps and Warby Parker knockoffs by looking to the stars and dreaming big. He founded CubeRover, a high tech firm that, in his words, “aims to commercialize and democratize access to space using low-cost, modular, planetary and lunar rovers.”
Too impractical? Don’t tell that to Provenzano’s peers? Within a month of launching his lunar venture, he had a dozen classmates volunteer to help him. Think that’s enthusiastic? Provenzano also launched a new club at Tepper focused on the space industry: STARS (Students at Tepper for Astronautics, Rockets, and Space). Sure enough, STARS quickly enrolled over 90 members who took Provenzano’s vision to heart. “Michael takes it to an entirely different level with his passion, enthusiasm and, most importantly, his ability to inspire, motivate and lead,” writes Craig S. Markovitz, entrepreneur-in-residence at Tepper’s Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship. “I am not so sure that these students were as passionate about the space industry as they were about working with Michael.”
A Celebration Of Students Who Make A Difference
Compelling. Courageous. Creative. Those aren’t just terms that fit Michael Provenzano. They also apply to the 99 other MBA candidates who comprise Poets&Quants’ Best & Brightest MBAs from the Class of 2018. Now in its fourth year, the Best & Brightest celebrates MBAs whose academic prowess, extracurricular achievements, innate potential, and inspirational life journeys make them standouts in their graduate business schools. They are the leaders who rally; the mentors who champion; the visionaries who awaken; and the volunteers who shoulder the heaviest burdens. Come summer, you’ll find the Best & Brightest formulating new models at McKinsey or perfecting new product lines at Google. Twenty years from now, there’s a strong chance that this class will be transforming the way we work, live, and think.
To compile the year’s Best & Brightest, we reached out to 68 MBA programs, requesting four nominations from each who best personified the spirit of the school and the promise of the graduating class. After reviewing nearly 240 submissions, P&Q’s editorial team selected 52 women and 48 men whose passion and performance represent the best that business offers. They are entrepreneurs, financiers, consultants, and activists who are pushing boundaries and pursuing fairness. They come from legendary programs like Stanford, Wharton, Northwestern, Oxford and INSEAD – as well as stalwarts like Rutgers, Wisconsin, Texas A&M, Arizona State, and U.C.-San Diego. Overall, 33 members were born outside the United States – and another nine served in the armed forces. And they come from every background imaginable.
Take Rodrigo Studart. Before starting at the University of Chicago, he spent six years working for the largest developer of shopping malls in Latin America. At 22, he was managing a $133 million dollar budget. Eventually, he became the youngest manager and partner in the firm. At J.P. Morgan, Yale’s Billy Marks was part of three-person team that developed and ran a global risk prevention program that touched over a quarter-million employees. IMD’s Valeria Cuevas worked at the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations, where she was involved in issues ranging from human rights to terrorism. At the same time, Georgetown’s Erika Studt served as an officer with the United Nations Foundation, a joint effort between the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development to expand contraception to the poorest nations. Then, there is U.C.-Berkeley’s Adrian Williams. When he wasn’t digging up company data or cozying up to the trading desk at Goldman Sachs, he was producing recordings for recording artists.
Impressive credentials, no doubt. That doesn’t even count their colorful personal lives. MIT’s Faye Cheng, for one, is a former competitive ping pong player. You could call the University of Rochester’s Shahbaaz Mubeen Mamadapur a modern day Charles Atlas; he went from a skinny kid to a champion bodybuilder. At a campaign event, Stanford’s Sarah Anne Hinkfuss introduced President Barack Obama…and received a peck on the cheek too. Notre Dame’s Alex Prosperi won a year’s supply of ointment cream on the Price is Right (Yippy!). How is this for an early start in business? In high school, the University of Virginia’s Ilja Orre gave tennis lessons to Nokia’s CEO…and his successor. Then again Nikolaos De Maria’s rite of passage came even earlier; this Cornell MBA began his apprenticeship with UBS when he was just 15!
Their accomplishments didn’t just stop there. Consider the Yale School of Management’s 2018 Class. Taking the lessons she learned from design and behavioral economics, Hosanna Odhner redesigned the school’s bidding system for elective courses – a source of great friction and anxiety among her peers. Christine Chen broke new ground by co-launching PeriodCon. A conference dedicated to menstruation issues, the event drew over 120 attendees and received over 5,000 tampons as part of a drive to support the homeless in New Haven. By the same token, Billy Marks partnered with a classmate to put on a Legal Cannabis Conference. In the process, he created a platform designed to deepen the conversation on how changing laws could foster economic growth and social equality.
For Marks, such events expand the role and impact of business. “[The attendees] found the conversations educational, informative, and inspiring,” he notes. “I want to work in sticky, intersectional spaces, pushing businesses and leaders to have tough conversations and confront the realities of how we can make the world a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable place,” he says. “Hosting this conference was a big step for me in starting toward that mission.”
Making A Difference Through Service
This mission often boils down to one word with the Best & Brightest: Service. Before entering business school, Penn State’s Clayton Cooper founded a free, student-run medical clinic in a rural, cash-strapped region in Pennsylvania. The same is true of Georgetown’s Georgetown’s Erika Studt, a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras whose commercial recycling program provided her community with a sustainable revenue stream to fund a children’s computer lab. On campus, ESADE’s Alicia Dominguez served her classmates by organizing a trek to Zurich, where her classmates were exposed to venture capital, mergers and acquisitions, fintech and asset management – not to mention leaders at firms like Blackrock and Credit Suisse.
“Growing up, my parents told me to do work that makes the world a better place,” she says. “Business was not on my radar. Now that I understand the profound impact business can have on improving lives, I’m dedicated to sharing that knowledge with young people.”
Who are the 100 Best & Brightest MBAs? Where did they study and where will they work? Who were their inspirations and what do they hope to achieve after graduation? Click on the link below to see in-depth profiles of some of the world’s most gifted business students.
John A. Byrne is editor-in-chief of PoetsandQuants.com, the leading website covering business schools. He is also the former executive editor of Businessweek and former EIC of Fast Company.