2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Sam Buck, University of Michigan (Ross)

“A staunchly optimistic climate activist who is more comfortable in flip flops than in a suit.”

Hometown: Pasadena, California

Fun fact about yourself: I can hold my breath for three minutes. My goal is to get to five for apnea.

Undergraduate school and degree: University of California, Santa Barbara – BA in Psychology, BA in Economics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Associate Director, Business School Fund at Stanford Graduate School of Business

Where did you do your internship during the summer of 2021? Rare, Center for Behavior and Environment – ​​Arlington, VA

Where will you work after you graduate? Development Manager at ReFED

Community work and leadership roles in a business school:

  • Co-Founder, Michigan Climate Venture
  • Development Director, Social Venture Fund
  • Co-Chair, Net Impact @ Ross
  • Board Member, Legacy Land Conservancy
  • Detroit Revitalization and Business Consultant, Greenlight Fund
  • Gordon Impact Entrepreneurship Intern – Rare

What academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of while in business school? He co-founded Michigan Climate Venture, the first student-run climate technology investment fund in the country, takes the cake. I truly believe that MCV’s hands-on learning model is the future of business school. We often talk about the fact that we are a unique investment fund in that we seek three types of returns: impact, financial, educational. MCV is designed from the bottom up to create job-ready, multidisciplinary graduates who can navigate ambiguous situations, work alongside teammates from different backgrounds, and drive decarbonization on time. MCV taught me so much more than I could have learned locked in a typical classroom.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m a big proponent of triple bottom line businesses. I am extremely proud to have been able to help build one as a REDF Farber Fellow for the California Conservation Corps. I helped design a profitable food salvage business that diversified revenue streams, created green jobs for youth, and reduced carbon emissions from landfilling food.

Why did you choose this business school? I was looking for a school that would allow me to explore the intersection of business and broader impact. With its recent launch of the Business + Impact initiative’s +Impact Studio and its continued investment in developing an impact-related curriculum, Ross has always felt like the natural choice. I am happy to report, it did not disappoint! While business schools can always do more to put impact first, thanks to professors like Andy Hoffman, Ross is at the forefront of these conversations. I had the opportunity to dive head first into the worlds of impact investing, social impact consulting, philanthropy and nonprofit management.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Gautam Kaul is more than my favorite MBA professor; he’s one of my favorite people on planet earth. He’s the closest Dumbledore-like character you can imagine, and I swear his eyes light up when he talks about finance.

I have been very fortunate to work closely with Professor Kaul through the Social Venture Fund and the Michigan Climate Venture. He strongly believes in letting his students take the wheel, make and learn from their own mistakes. He occasionally steps in to provide gentle guidance and keep the cart from going off the rails, but prefers to empower students to guide their own learning journeys. As much as I learned for him about finance and investing, I learned a whole lot more about life.

Looking back on your MBA experience, what is one thing you would do differently and why? I came to business school with the aim of exploring the intersection of business, impact and sustainability as broadly as possible. I reached my goal, but often felt too stretched. I could have adopted the adage “work smarter, not harder”. I often doubled down on experiences, embarking on multiple social impact consulting projects when just one would have given me the exposure I was looking for.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Ross has a well-deserved reputation as a “school of culture”. This myth was true and I wouldn’t want it any other way. My classmates at Ross were just as inducing impostor syndrome as at other top schools, but the vibe was much weaker. It’s just my feeling, but the people at Ross tend to spend less time trying to impress each other and more time really getting to know each other.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an advantage at your chosen school? I only applied to a small handful of programs, but I made sure I knew these programs like the back of my hand. I could rattle off the names of professors I wanted to do research with, clubs I hoped to join, and classes I was looking forward to taking. I didn’t select the schools I applied to based on rankings; I selected them based on their fit. I made sure that came through in my interviews.

Which MBA classmate do you admire the most? Marcus Tenenbaum. There are many reasons to admire Marcus. He’s the kind of person who can take over a room in any room he walks into, is a deeply critical thinker, and is incredibly generous with his time. Add to that an unrivaled resume and you have a new MBA ready to take on the world. He might! We will have to wait and see.

The reason I admire Marcus more than any other is his deep ability to focus. While I tend to follow my curiosities haphazardly down rabbit holes, Marcus hatches a plan and sticks to it. He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s not always the smartest person in the room (though he’s never far behind), but he’ll undoubtedly work harder than anyone to achieve his goals. His focus and work ethic put him in a class of his own.

Who most influenced your decision to do business in college? Working as a fundraiser at Stanford GSB has a number of amazing benefits. Among them is the ability to audit courses. All the fun without the homework! I took Laura Arrillaga’s course on strategic philanthropy and the rest was history. After completing his course, I immediately started looking for programs where I could dive into the depths of impact investing, blended finance, social entrepreneurship, and nonprofit management.

What are the top two items on your professional to-do list?

1. Play a major role in increasing philanthropic giving to environmental causes from 3% to 10%+.

2. Set a standard for corporations, nonprofits, and foundations to have behavioral science teams.

How has the pandemic changed your outlook on a career? The pandemic has helped me get rid of my carbon tunnel vision. Yes, we must do everything in our power to reduce carbon emissions urgently, but we cannot forget that there are currently vulnerable communities with competing needs. My Grand Slam career is about reducing emissions while improving the standard of living for those who need a helping hand to get back on their feet. I am proud to say that I got off to a good start. I am heading to ReFED, where I will work to end food loss and waste, reducing the carbon footprint of our food system while improving food safety.

What made Sam such a valuable addition to the Class of 2022?

“Sam is one of my favorite students of all time. I had the privilege of knowing him for three years, first as a member of the Social Venture Fund, then as a leader of the same company and , perhaps most importantly, he was instrumental in conceiving and launching the Michigan Climate Venture. Over those three years, we have become close colleagues and friends. Sam is one of the most most thoughtful people I have come across with a keen sense of the social problems we face and a dedication to solving them. He was of course an excellent student in the usual sense of the word, but his passion for learning and his innate curiosity are both special and unique and not limited to the degrees he was aiming for. We talked regularly about work and also about life and I always learned from our conversations. Sam is special and he will go very far in life and, again, not just usual way most of us define success – Sam will make the world a better place.

Gautam Kaoul
Robert G. Rodkey Collegiate Professor of Business Administration and Professor of Finance at Michigan Ross
Faculty Director of the Michigan Venture Fund at UM

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