2020 Best & Brightest: Maia Julianne Kennedy, Wake Forest University

Maia Julianne Kennedy

Wake Forest University School of Business

“I am a multiracial business student passionate about international business, learning new languages, and traveling!”

Fun fact about yourself: Last winter, I road-tripped across Mexico from West to East coast!

Hometown: Winter Park, FL

High School: Huntsville High School

Major: Business and Enterprise Management

Minor: Spanish

Favorite Business Course: Why Business?

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During College:

  • President’s Aide, Wake Forest University Office of the President, 2019-2020
  • Donor Landscape Expansion Team, Fundación Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar in Cartagena, Colombia, 2019
  • Student Body Secretary, Wake Forest University Student Government, 2018-2019
  • First Place Student Competitor for Research in Legal Studies, Academy of Legal Studies in Business Conference, 2018
  • Public Relations Chair, Wake Forest University Student Government, 2016-2018

Where have you interned during your college career?

  • SFW Agency, Research and Development Intern
  • Deloitte Consulting, Human Capital Business Analyst Intern
  • Cámara de Comercio e Industria Salamanca (Salamanca, Spain Chamber of Commerce), New Business Development Intern
  • Wake Forest Review, Digital Deputy Director/Senior Graphic Designer
  • Millennial Action Project, Communications Intern

Where will you be working after graduation? Deloitte Consulting, Business Analyst

What did you enjoy most about your business school? At Wake Forest University School of Business, students are far more than just a number. Our professors are founders of companies, retired entrepreneurs, and revered experts in their fields. Still, they never hesitate to make time to get to know each of their students on a personal level. All of my professors are so excited to share their experiences and have been incredibly supportive as they watch me grow.

In addition to our professors, the career readiness staff at our School of Business is incomparable to any I have yet to meet. They go beyond just preparing me for interviews and are dedicated to helping me identify my best career alignment and geographic placement. Just a call away, I know I can count on them to hype me up before a big meeting or hear a diverse perspective on tough career decisions.

Lastly, our School of Business leaders are probably the most thoughtful and helpful individuals I have met. At many business schools, it would not be common to have one-on-one interactions with your dean besides during admissions and graduation. I am honored to have shared my professional endeavors with Dean Charles Iacovou throughout my college experience. As I leave Wake Forest School of Business as a student and join the inspiring alumni community, I look forward to giving back in any way I can, so that students after me will always know they are far more than just a number. 

What is the biggest lesson you gained from studying business? When I was a high school senior applying to college, I was advised to identify pivotal points in my life and use them to organize and share my story via my application to Wake Forest. These pivotal points were instrumental in making me who I am. To this day, I find myself replaying those moments.

Today, as I look back on my internship experiences and my time at Wake Forest University, I find myself at a similar point of reflection. My first pivotal point in college took place in a class titled “Why Business?”  Professor James Otteson asked our class to share what we thought it meant to be a business professional. Our answers spanned across a variety of topics regarding proper career alignment, healthy team dynamics, effective management techniques, and our definitions of success. While I didn’t know it at the time, this simple and succinct question would come to shape the way I thought about my career from the beginning.

Four years and several work experiences later, I now know that all of us were right and wrong when we shared our naïve and inexperienced thoughts. It is true; If you want to be a successful business professional, one should find proper career alignment, work in a healthy team environment, and use effective management styles. However, it is also so much more. My definition of success has evolved to mean many things over the years. When I first shared that I had chosen to study business, I received mixed reactions. Some exalted me for choosing a career in which I could financially provide for a family. Others criticized me for being ambitious and selfish for studying a career that only aimed to make money for myself. It is easy to be influenced by society and start believing these common misconceptions, but I knew I could make my business experience something more.

My definition of being a successful business professional today is simple. It is caring…for your client, for your team, and for yourself. In caring for your client, you create long-lasting relationships that surpass the scope of work outlined in a contract. In caring for your team, you can foster a community that helps each other succeed. Most importantly, being a successful business professional means caring for your own well-being, happiness, and health so that you are able to share the best part of yourself with others and build them up with you. As a young professional, I try to live my definition of honorable and successful business through my actions in both my professional and personal life. It is my hope that through my actions, others might abandon their misconceptions of business as a selfish way of living and join me in seeing business as an honorable and respectable profession.

What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field? A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Bashar Masri, the founder of Massar International and visionary behind “Rawabi City,” Palestine’s first planned city. I was just beginning my studies in business and was beyond honored to be invited to meet such an accomplished businessman and entrepreneur. He recounted his progress with Rawabi to me, sharing how the city was providing housing for nearly 40,000 people and how job opportunities in the area had grown exponentially in just a couple of years.

These statistics were undoubtedly amazing, yet what left me in awe was Masri’s work ethic. In my timid, 18-year-old voice, I asked him what advice he had for me as I began my career. He replied simply, “Remember that nothing is below you and nothing is above you.” Leaving that luncheon, I reflected on this succinct yet powerful remark. Many of us often believe that by studying a certain career or attending a certain institution, we are limited to a higher level of working class. Yet, what had made Masri and so many of his other international peers so successful was that they realized that offering a helpful hand, mopping the floors and cleaning the bathrooms with their staff was the best for their relationships. To students interested in studying business, I urge you to remember this. There is no honest work that is below you and there is no job out of your limits if you are willing to work. Each day you have a choice. Regardless of where you are, you have the choice whether to complain about your situation, your job, and work or you can dedicate your energy and time to completing the task in front of you with positivity, integrity, and precision.

What has surprised you most about majoring in business? What most surprised me about studying business is its overlap with the humanities! As a business student, it is often common to attend leadership symposiums. Participating in leadership style assessments, panels on managing teams, and discussions on company morale have definitely supplemented my in-class education for the better. Nonetheless, throughout college, I challenged myself to attend some discussions hosted by my humanities counterparts.

A couple of years ago, I attended a conference at Wake Forest titled “The Arts of Leading.” The conference aimed to look at leadership through the lens of the humanities. I attended a series of workshops I never imagined I would be a part of – like dance seminars, creative writing, and art history –was left in awe with the closing remarks. In summation of the conference, an individual from Oxford shared his insights from the workshops. He said it boiled down to Angeles Arrien’s Four-Fold Way of Life: Show Up. Pay Attention. Tell the truth. Don’t get attached to the results. The preceding seminar focused on art in political spaces, so while my colleagues dwelled on its impact in their fields, I could not help but think how the “Four-Fold Way” was great advice for any businessperson.

In the humanities, it is common to study the ways of philosophers, thinkers, and artists, but some of their findings have been integral in shaping my own career in business. To this day, I share Arrien’s “Way of Life” with my fellow business school peers and professors. For those considering studying business, I challenge you to step out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to different ways of study. It might just shape the way you approach business and your career.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of? I am most proud of my work this past summer where I was able to support and empower single, teenage mothers in Cartagena, Colombia. Alongside a small group of young peers at Deloitte, we dedicated the majority of our non-client time working with an organization called Fundación Juan Felipe Gomez Escobar, known as “La Juanfe.” Their main objective: breaking the poverty cycles of marginalized teenage mothers, improving their living conditions, and building a better future for them and for the next generations. My group was tasked with identifying ways to promote and sustain their mission and impact through donor landscape expansion. Months of interviews with multinational corporations put my Spanish skills to use as we had regular conference calls with “La Juanfe’s” founder, Catalina Escobar herself. At the end of the summer, our team went to Colombia to deliver our recommendations and meet the team in Cartagena.

The moment I stepped foot at “La Juanfe,” I was greeted by a 14-year-old mother gleaming with gratitude. She simply said, “Thank you for helping us move forward. My baby deserves the world.” Sitting with this young woman and her child, I gained perspective far beyond the conference calls and whiteboard sessions from my comfortable office in the United States. I found myself asking what made me different than her? How did I come to deserve this life – one where I have the resources and support to pursue my dreams? It became clear that day that it was my destiny to use my business background to inspire change and help others. I realized that, even though I might not be able to physically help on the “front-lines” of the organizations with which I work, the work of business professionals can truly make an impact.

Which classmate do you most admire? I most admire Spencer Schiller, 2018 graduate of Wake Forest University, for his lasting leadership and dedication to his community. As a member of Spencer’s cabinet during his time as student body president, I had the unique opportunity to work directly with this student leader almost every day. Even though he was a senior when I was a sophomore, Spencer had a way of making everyone in our organization feel heard. He focused his presidency on tackling issues that brought our campus together to create a positive collegiate experience for all, regardless of background, color, and political affiliation.

As an aspiring student leader at the time, I respected his genuine positivity in the face of campus controversy and commitment to making Wake Forest a more inclusive community. His authentic leadership style and lasting impact on my peers inspired me to pursue my own campaign as student body secretary the following year. Today, Spencer works at KPMG in New York as an associate with their global group. Although we do not talk as often as we did during his time at Wake Forest, I know Spencer is just a phone call away for career advice or just to catch up. He is still a faithful Demon Deacon, regularly attending our homecoming programs, and is recalled fondly by his younger peers even years after graduating.

 Who would you most want to thank for your success? I would like to extend a special thank you to my former professor and strongest mentor, Professor Matthew Phillips. I took Business Law with Professor Phillips my junior year, but have served as his research assistant since the spring of my freshman year at Wake Forest. Over the years, Professor Phillips has always believed I could go far and beyond what I could imagine myself. By encouraging me to expand my horizons professionally and pursue my own legal research, he did not leave me any room for doubt. Professor Phillips is genuine in his advice and supportive of my accomplishments. Thanks to him, I have felt capable of tackling anything that comes my way professionally. I look forward to graduating and joining him in the professional world and hope that students after me will recognize what a powerful and impactful mentor Professor Phillips is.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Someday, I hope to start my own international company and publish a book. Since my first year at Wake Forest, I have tried to understand the ways business is conducted abroad. My most rewarding experiences have happened when I have listened to and learned from to small business owners outside of the United States. By interning in Salamanca, Spain, working in Cartagena, Colombia, and expanding my professional experience in Veracruz, Mexico, I have come to realize the potential businesses can have on their local economies. For this reason, I hope to break down borders through just and honorable business endeavors and create job opportunities worldwide through international business.

To supplement this effort, I would love to publish a book about perspective. My experiences abroad, have taught me a good deal about relativity. How we perceive and interact with each other often proves vastly different in countries just a plane ride away. This affects how business is conducted too. I want to shed light not only on some technical pieces of international business, but more so on the importance and value of perspective. Reading has taught me to think big, fail forward, and imagine a better tomorrow. I hope that sharing my experiences in a book might have the same effect for the generations after me.

What are your hobbies? On my time away from work and school, you can find me traveling, reading, singing, dancing, or attending concerts! I believe that music is the best way to bring all people together. From reggae to pop and EDM to country, music is an integral part of my daily life.

What made Maia such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Maia Kennedy is a remarkable example to her classmates because of the creative and energetic ways in which creates the most possible value with the skills and experience she has. Maia is easily able to achieve other people’s definitions of success—and regularly does—but she sets her own higher bar. After working as a student assistant for an innovative and globally recognized course on the role of business in society, she sought out opportunities to be involved in research, eventually writing an article on property rights and government processes in Costa Rica and Mexico. She took a deep dive into the complexities of the issue, never seeming to consider that she had taken on a research task many tenured professors would find daunting, and her astounding abilities as a writer and presenter-led to an award for best student paper from the international academy of business law professors.

The qualities that make her an award-winning researcher also make her a critical presence in the class of 2020, where she can be found connecting people across social dividing lines. She earns trust and respect from her colleagues for her unimpeachable integrity, hard work, and generous friendly manner, and leverages that to bring people together and to inspire them to their own successes.”

Professor Matthew Phillips  


“A few words immediately come to mind as I think about Maia’s personality and contributions – proactivity, tenacity, and resilience. Maia consistently steps forward to make a difference, to solve a problem, and to deeply connect long before this might even occur to someone else. This proactive mindset has earned her additional opportunities and achievements in areas far apart from her peers. Maia’s tenacity is also always visible. She balances very diverse roles and jobs on and off-campus. Rather than stepping back when the workload might seem overwhelming, Maia’s tenacity kicks in and she ups her game. She rises to the challenge and exceeds original goals. Maia also uses her deep resilience to reframe and redirect when unforeseen issues or setbacks occur. She moves forward with a resilience that will always be one of her deepest assets and which sets her apart from her peers.”

Professor Sam Beck



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