Leadership is often associated with strategizing and inspiring people to come together. This is why the best leaders are described as genuine, consistent and tenacious – a mixture of visionary, coach and diplomat. More than that, true leaders are self-aware. Able to see themselves through the eyes of others, their example answers the fundamental question for all leaders …
“Why should someone follow you?” “
This question eclipses all of the Stanford Graduate School of Business courses and activities. Here, the Socratic maxim of “Know thyself” is half the journey – a journey that is at times exhausting and frightening, but ultimately transformative. Everyone here is meant to be a leader. That’s because the Stanford MBAs provide that little extra. Before Palo Alto, they were the ones who didn’t think like everyone else. Driven by passion, they made commitments, took risks, got knocked down, then came back for more. The class of 2022 is no different. Their backgrounds and views may be very divergent, but they are united by one impulse: they are eager to make a difference.
And a Stanford MBA is designed to show them how. Therefore, the program relies heavily on reflection for students whose rich life experience provides a lot of substance.
MEET TO ‘TALK’
“The GSB offers its students countless opportunities for introspection,” writes Myrel Iturrey, vice president of an investment firm targeting late stage B2B SaaS and FinTech companies. “Before coming to GSB, I found myself in very structured and competitive professional environments with little time for self-reflection. I thought that GSB programming would push me to define my interests and goals, as well as my strengths and weaknesses, in order to put me on the best possible path to a fulfilling life and career. I was not deceived. One of my first assignments at GSB asked me to write a statement of my core values that would guide me “in my personal life and as a leader of organizations”. I revisited my answers several times as I selected courses, recruited for summer internships, and reflected on how to approach my business school relationships. Internalizing my core values has allowed me to be more reflective as I make important decisions at GSB and beyond.
TALK is a way to stimulate this introspection. Each week you will find two GSB students standing in front of their classmates to share their personal stories. It’s an act that’s both cathartic for speakers and inspiring for audiences, says Nancy Wenjia Yu, BCG consultant from Shanghai.
“I can’t tell you how surprised, inspired and grateful I was to hear about such a deep and vulnerable life story from every individual. It takes a lot of courage and goodwill to fully open up and reveal yourself to the 400 classmates you just met, but due to the culture of GSB this happens as a tradition every week.
CHANGE THE WORLD … ONE LIFE AT A TIME
The “Touchy Feely” option – a staple of the GSB for more than half a century – is another avenue of introspection. A course taken by most Stanford MBAs, it is often compared to group therapy. For 10 weeks, GSB students operate in T groups of 12 members for weekly sessions of 3 to 5 hours. In a variety of exercises, they learn to open up. It means hearing painful truths about their behavior from their classmates. More than that, they learn to provide feedback in a way that generates dialogue without harboring resentment.
For Archana Sohmshetty, engineer turned strategist, learning how to give and take feedback was the biggest lesson of her freshman year at Stanford GSB. “Something you can hear (perhaps far too often) at GSB is that ‘comments are a gift’. No one teaches this in life as explicitly as I have seen him teach at Stanford GSB, but it is perhaps the most important tool for building high quality relationships, both personal and professional. I still have a hard time accepting or providing constructive feedback, but it is a skill that I want to develop and practice more after realizing how essential it is to be a good leader and a good mentor to others. .
Tim Brown, a 2020 GSB MBA, describes the school as a “playground for the curious” – a culture that “teaches, rewards and reinforces kindness, introspection and active self-improvement”. At its heart, Stanford GSB’s mission begins with changing with lives, observes Mollie Viater, a first year who was previously a strategy consultant at Eli Lilly. It’s a mission, she adds, that aligns with hers.
“My personal mission is to help others live motivational lives by helping them unlock the gifts that reside in them. I chose the GSB because it offers the best deals to catalyze my mission. Specifically, GSB programming offers unprecedented experiential learning opportunities to refine self-understanding; experimenting through the dimensions of interpersonal dynamics; tackle problems creatively and focus on growth; and approaching life with intention and respect for each person’s story.
HARMONIZE WITH BONO
In the 2022 class, you’ll find 406 Unique Stories about Long Chances, Big Ideas, and Hard Work. “There is no cookie cutter candidate at Stanford GSB,” adds Conor O’Meara, who previously worked in investment and enterprise for the United Nations. “On the contrary, the GSB rewards and promotes those who are themselves shameless: the dreamers and doers, the fearless and the uncertain. GSB is a place for those who are willing to push the boat, embrace differences, and do more than you initially thought possible. “
O’Meara’s story is certainly eye-catching. He spent two decades training in classical music and opera before embarking on a business career. His claim to fame, he says, was once to sing backing vocals for U2. However, his greatest achievement came when he forged partnerships that brought machine learning and behavioral science technology tools to over 1,000 social entrepreneurs across Ireland. And O’Meara was not the only one of the early years of GSB to make substantial contributions around the world. In Zambia, Jean Foye spearheaded the expansion of his solar energy business, making a profit in eight months while bringing affordable energy to 150,000 off-grid homes. Nancy Wenjia Yu developed a pharmaceutical policy which was adopted by the Chinese government which “reshaped” the country’s distribution regulations. At the same time, Alon Dror won the Israel Defense Prize for his work on the country’s advanced defense research.
“We have succeeded in solving a major defense problem using technology previously considered science fiction,” he writes. “It was the culmination of three years of hard work, endless nights of experimentation (sometimes in active war zones) and seemingly endless failures along the way. Everyone in my team gave their all, and for a long time it seemed unsolvable. In the end, we did it, directly saving the lives of civilians and soldiers. There is no better reward for me.
GOLF, CONFERENCES AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Jacob blaeser could probably say the same. In Georgia, he was the Managing Director of Ventures ATL, whose employees with autism and neurodiverse provide a variety of services to clients that require skills such as attention to detail. More recently, Fernanda Sottil De Aguinaga served as Senior Director of Strategy at Uber Eats. Before that, she started a business that provided companionship to the elderly in Latin America. In the same vein, Myrel Iturrey participated in the creation of a national network of female investors.
“As a freshman investment banking analyst, I was frustrated with the lack of senior female representation in my business,” says Iturrey, who once judged a startup competition alongside Pitbull. “We set out to create a network suitable for women in the first decade of their careers by investing in the hope that the relationships we forged in the beginning would continue to propel us throughout our careers. Over the next five years, the Synergist network grew from a breakfast club to a 501c3 nonprofit with over 500 members, as well as active boards of directors in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston.
The 2022 class has settled down well since joining the GSB nine months ago. On the lighter side, Michel Oguike, who moved from Nigeria after working for ExxonMobil, took up tennis and golf. Alon Dror has already spent three years in a small house mounted on a truck. At Stanford, he bridges the divides by organizing discussions around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of course, Edwin Qian was busy with the most Stanford activity of all.
“I co-founded a company with a friend I met at GSB,” writes the Deloitte consultant. “While there is a tremendous amount of learning and work ahead of us, it symbolizes something more personal to me. I think that with the support of my friends, my mentors, and the Stanford community, I became more willing to take risks and get involved.
QUICK TO MOBILIZE
This is exactly what Mollie Viater did too. Married to her GSB classmate Joe Viater – hence their nickname MoJo – Viater found ways to expand beyond the classroom. “I learned to dance salsa and Bollywood, took part in our annual ‘GSB Show’, ran my first half marathon, and invested in understanding the world’s religions and cultures.
That’s not what Viater expected – and there were plenty of surprises in store for the 2022 class. Myrel Iturrey, for her part, was waiting for classmates who knew exactly who they were and what they were planning to do. The reality: many came to “experiment and explore”. This contrasts with Edwin Qian’s experience. His point of view: “It feels like everyone knows exactly why they get up in the morning. Anyway, adds Myriam Rollock, it is a class which mobilizes quickly.
“My classmates are impatient in the best possible way. They see opportunities to make things better and don’t wait for others to fix them for them. Whether it’s finding creative ways for our class members to get to know each other, creating products that solve consumer issues, or running nonprofits that deal with critical societal issues, Stanford MBAs are quick to act.
Next page: Interview with Paul Oyer, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs
Page 3: 12 student profiles of the 2022 class
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