2021 Best & Brightest Business Major: Markos Christoforou, University of Illinois (Gies)

Markos Christoforou

Gies College of Business, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

“Passionate for change, always have the fire, living on a beach is my only desire.”

Fun fact about yourself: I was born and raised on the island of Cyprus for 13 years of my life!

Hometown: Elk Grove Village, Illinois

High School: Elk Grove High School

Major: Marketing & Information Systems

Minor: N/A

Favorite Business Course: BADM 395: UX Design

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During College:

  • Illinois Business Council
    • IMPACT Day Coordinator
    • Charity Fundraising Chair
    • Internal Engagement Chair
    • New Member Chair
  • Dean’s Student Advisory Board
    • Executive Manager
    • President
  • University of Illinois – Campus Recreation
    • Intramural Referee
    • Intramural Sport Supervisor
  • University of Illinois – Division of Intercollegiate Athletics
    • Marketing Intern – Street Team Member
  • University of Illinois – Gies College of Business
    • Peer Advisor
    • Gies Ambassador
    • Gies Community Launch Coach
  • University of Illinois – Housing Department
    • Resident Advisor for Business Living Learning Community
  • “Squaregles:” Chicago-based start-up
    • Digital Marketing Manager Internship

Where have you interned during your college career?

  1. Gallagher (Sales & Consulting Intern, Summer 2019)
  2. Nielsen (Secured “Commercial Internship Summer 2020” – cancelled due to COVID-19; worked at local Home Depot instead)

Where will you be working after graduation? Upon graduation I will be working as an Application & Program Analyst for Deloitte’s Consulting practice in Chicago, Illinois.

What company do you admire most? Parley for the Oceans – A nonprofit organization dedicated to solving the ocean plastic pollution crisis that our world is currently facing. I’ve followed the work “Parley for the Oceans” has done since 2017 and have been absolutely fascinated by the impact they have made in a number of communities. Parley has grown to also work with companies like Adidas; the plastic they remove from oceans is used by Adidas to make 100% plastic, recyclable products in their “Adidas x Parley” collaboration. I admire their work and wish to be a part of their efforts someday.

Who is your favorite professor? – Professor Vidya Haran (Business Administration

Professor Haran has been a professor with whom I have taken two different courses during my time at Gies. Her enthusiasm for the topics she teaches within the Information Systems cohort, and the passion with which she delivers the content, has never made me think twice about my grade in her courses or how well I will perform. She approaches teaching places students (and our learning) as the top of her priorities which fosters an environment where failure is welcomed if you are willing to try again. This is what education should be all about. If you are a student at Illinois looking for a meaningful classroom experience where your Professor will push you to challenge yourself beyond what you thought was possible, take one of Professor Haran’s courses.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from studying business? Studying business opened my eyes to the multitude of disciplines and functionalities that must simultaneously work together in order to help organizations reach their goals and deliver on the promises they made to their stakeholders; promises that follow a mission and vision that is typically established as a guiding light for the businesses’ future evolution.

Analytical thinking, adopting a creative mindset, harnessing the power of technology, and building brand equity have been at the center of my education these past four years. However, none of these learnings have been the biggest lessons for me. Although it’s been crucial to understand the system development lifecycle – and it has been fascinating to consult with local small businesses – the biggest lesson from my business studies has been realizing that people are the key to unlocking future possibilities. Human capital, individual passion, employee satisfaction, and consumer value should be the principles we focus most on as young business leaders graduating from our universities. Without the power of the people around us, the resiliency of the teams we work with, the leadership of those above us, and the people we serve, there is no technology, financial statement, marketing strategy or supply chain process that will help us move forward. In such a technology-driven world where we are constantly consuming media, content and information, business has taught me that the individuals who make up an organization are the reason for its success. Strong financial statements, a new brand image, and an improved operations process can provide a catalytic effect for change. However, people are the backbone of any business that wishes to move forward dynamically and with purpose.

What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field? My advice is straightforward for those students who are looking to major in a business-related field: understand that the knowledge you obtain from your education is a privilege and something millions of people around the world would love to have access to. So, as a business student, realize that you can nurture the power of your education. You can collaborate meaningfully with your peers and professors in order to work toward and support the betterment of our communities and the entire world. Use your confidence, resilience, inclusiveness, and teamwork skills to contribute to a cause in the future that will positively impact the global community. As business students, we have the capabilities to do so much good, but the decision is ours as to how we will use the privilege of a business education.

What has surprised you most about majoring in business? You can be a catalyst for change if you really have the determination and mindset to do so. This is what has surprised me the most about majoring in business. Coming into my freshman year of college, I knew that business was going to be the field I pursued strictly based on my interests in marketing, branding, and emerging technologies. However, I was not prepared for the gradual understanding that I can be a catalyst for change if I have the desire to be.

It was surprising because students pursuing their undergraduate business careers never seem to recognize just how impactful a business education can be for personal growth and the formation of future aspirations. As business students, I would argue that our learnings and most meaningful experiences do not occur in lectures, labs, and classrooms. They occur at the intersection of hands-on practice, dialogue, debate, conflict, compromise, negotiation and resolutions that stem from our group projects, extracurriculars, and conversations we have outside of our respective cohorts. So, with that being said, I was surprised when it finally dawned on me that business students are incredibly capable of being catalysts for change in their respective fields due to their pursuits inside and outside of the business curriculum they follow.

Looking back over your experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently in business school and why? Looking back at my experience, I would take more risks as a business student at Illinois. Not only are we a part of one of the Top 10 public undergraduate business institutions here at Gies, but we are also placed in an environment where the mistakes we make and the downfalls we face are typically cushioned by the notion that we are college students in pursuit of learning.

In hindsight, I wish I had pursued a crazy idea or brainstormed with friends and classmates about a new concept we wanted to test, and then used the resources at our disposal to try and bring our ideas to fruition. I would have thought to myself as an incoming freshman that the next four years are lending themselves as an opportunity to experiment, create, iterate, and repeat. I would converse with students across campus and try to bring intersectionality between colleges, backgrounds, and majors in order to produce something new. The best learning experience is trial and error exploration; without taking risks in environments where consequences are nearly non-existent, risk-taking in the future becomes incredibly difficult. Chase after your crazy idea and allow the resources you have as a business student to be used as a foundation for fruitful initiatives.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of?

Personal Achievement – I am most proud of spending my undergraduate experience at Illinois dedicated to the idea of mentorship and guidance toward students seeking help and advice as they navigate their college experiences. As I think about this question and reflect on my academic and extracurricular achievements, my proudest moments have been seeing students I have worked with, mentored, led, or crossed paths with achieve their own ideas of success. I have been overcome with the sincere feelings of pride, fulfillment, and gratification time after time as I have watched these same students fuse their academics, passions, and interests into concrete visions for the future. I have also seen mentees of mine reach goals they set for themselves and accomplish tangible results they were once seeking. I am most proud of being a part of multiple journeys where (even in the slightest of ways) I have contributed or partook in a formative experience that has helped pursue a desired aspiration.

Which classmate do you most admire?

Sabrina Dahlen

Major: Finance

Minors: Hoeft Technology & Management, German

Undoubtedly, Sabrina is the classmate that has had the biggest impact on my experience at our university. The dedication, tenacity, and perseverance she possesses in regard to her education and leadership experiences are unparalleled. More than any other person I have met, Sabrina dictates her future and chases after her goals with a desire to achieve them regardless of the obstacles she may face. She does so in a manner that places her relationships with other students, faculty, and staff at the center of her efforts and pushes to break the boundaries of change while constantly challenging the status quo.

From her deep-rooted passions to solving social issues plaguing our communities, all the way to managing and leading the biggest Gies Business course for freshmen (BUS 101), Sabrina exemplifies what it means to embrace responsibilities and lead with empathy, integrity, and utmost respect for those around her. As an out-of-state student from sunny California, she transitioned to the Midwest in order to make Illinois her home. Needless to say, Sabrina made the move to our campus and state seem absolutely effortless. She has been my inspiration for the goals I have set for myself regarding my future.  She has pushed me to expand my horizons and realize that my potential and dreams are larger than I originally thought. Her impact across our campus vast through her involvement in Illinois Business Council, Enactus, the BUS 101 Course Management Team – not to mention holding several internships and jobs and being a Section Leader / TA.

Sabrina also reminds me of what it means to do things with a purpose. She has a clear intent for what she does and never sacrifices her values to accommodate a position or opportunity that veers away from her vision. She cares wholeheartedly about the people she engages with, and the best part is that she is always up for a stroll around the Illinois Quad. Sabrina is the classmate I admire the most because she speaks up when a room is quiet, she raises questions of others, pushes herself academically, and positively affects the people who she comes across.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I would like to thank my father, Elias Christoforou. Dad, thank you for everything. The transition we made to relocate and move to the U.S. in 2013 was a major change and immensely difficult for our entire family, but I know the sacrifices you made for us are immeasurable.

As an immigrant, you entered the U.S. and embarked on a journey to help provide our entire family with the opportunities we were seeking as our airplane landed at O’Hare airport. Both you and mom did everything you could to ensure that your children could pursue their dreams in the “land of opportunity” even if that meant you had to place your own aspirations on hold. I saw you work tirelessly to find a job. Although the process was ruthless at first, you persevered and taught me that the only option in life is to keep fighting. Thank you for showing me how to adopt a warrior mentality; thank you for proving to me that hard work is the only way to achieve your goals; thank you (most importantly) for embodying that family and relationships with the people we love are what get us through life. Without you, dad, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Thank you for always believing me and pushing me to achieve more.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. The first item on my professional bucket list is to work for a company or non-profit that is dedicated to supporting the environment and contributing to a cause that promotes our planet’s restoration. A great example of this is the non-profit organization I mentioned above “Parley for the Oceans.” There are many organizations that strive to perform meaningful work like this; one of my goals is to obtain a position with them and join their mission.
  2. The second item is to eventually speak at a TED conference. I hope to achieve a degree of knowledge and inspiration for a particular topic that enables me to have an “idea worth spreading.” I truly believe that initiatives such as TED conferences are a fascinating way to expose oneself to themes and learnings that typically are not attainable through everyday interactions. One day, I hope to inspire others on a TED stage.

What are your hobbies? My hobbies include a variety of things. Most recently, I have gained an interest in learning more about climate change and sustainability, so I spend time trying to read through books on these topics. I closely follow professional sports (especially soccer and tennis), and I truly enjoy exercising and running. I also love spending time doing outdoor activities such as hiking and swimming. Finally, I spend hours listening to music and creating playlists for myself while also keeping up with my favorite TV shows when I have the chance.

What made Gies College of Business student Markos Christoforou such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“I have been fortunate to have Markos in two of my classes, and he is one of the brightest students I have seen. He was not only an outstanding student academically, but was also always actively engaged in all classroom discussions. His curiosity and passion for the subject was evident in the kind of keen questions he asked, and the answers he gave. When we switched to completely online instruction in Fall 2020 and everyone was trying to get used to it, he stood out in his steadfast performance and engagement, and helped keep the class lively. His enthusiasm was infectious in getting others out of their shells. He always had his camera on, showed up to every class (even though attendance was not required), and was actively participating in class discussions.  What was special about him was his sense of wanting to give back and share what he learned with others. He was one of the students I could count on to guide and mentor future students outside of the class. I directed many of the queries that came from students contemplating taking the course to him, and he answered every email, every question promptly and with patience. Whenever he found material similar to what we had covered in class, he reached out and shared it with me, to relay to and motivate future students. This initiative shows that not only could he take the material from the class and apply it in the ‘real world’, but also that he has a deep sense of gratitude, and is very giving. I can confidently say that he will have a meaningful impact on people, professionally and personally.”

Vidya Haran
Teaching Assistant Professor of Business Administration, Gies College of Business


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.