Most people picture business leaders in form-fitting suits and pulled back hair. It can be hard to imagine a time when they were breaking out dance moves, singing a cappella, or fretting over their futures. Go back to their college years and you’ll find they were no different than today’s students.
Just look at PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, who once rocked out as the guitarist in a band. How about Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman, the founder a ballet appreciation club at Yale? Before Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg turned “Lean In” into a rallying cry, classmates remember her for racing around Harvard in sweat shirts and leggings.
As students, they sparked discussions, spearheaded initiatives, and racked up accolades. They challenged conventions, overcame odds, and built communities. You’ll find this same spirit in Poets&Quants’ top business majors from the Class of 2017. They are a class of catalysts and volunteers, ambassadors and difference-makers who took 100 different paths to the graduation stage.
VIRGINIA STUDENT MASTERS LANGUAGES DESPITE HEARING DIFFICULTIES
Consider Priscilla Hobbs from Brigham Young University. Until her junior year, her work experience was restricted to running machinery on her family’s Idaho farm. “On my résumé I termed my position as operational machinery manager,” she jokes. Some 18 months later, she is preparing to start work at Intel as a financial planner and analyst. Of course, accounting is just Hobbs’ daytime gig. She also minored in ballroom dance, bringing home 18 team awards, including winning the 2015 U.S. and 2016 British Formation championships. For an encore, she plans to earn an MBA at Harvard Business School, before moving into consulting and eventually teaching.
Or, how about the University of Virginia’s Belisa Pang? Born in Argentina and raised mostly in China, Pang had settled on a business career by the time she reached primary school, emboldened by watching a television depiction of a Wharton graduate. Since then, Pang has emerged as a force of nature, a master of five languages — not to mention the violin. She has accomplished all of this despite suffering incurable hearing loss that had sapped 80% of her auditory abilities in her teens. “She is truly a shining example of the human spirit,” writes Danny Steeper, an associate dean at the McIntire School of Commerce.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg in the Class of 2017. Boston College’s Angela Jin, an entrepreneurial wunderkind specializing in fashion, is a finalist for Glamour Magazine’s College Women of the Year Award, which has honored campus women making a “serious impact” for over 60 years. Not to be outdone, Northeastern’s Jeremy Goldstein was named a Forbes 30 Under 30 Scholar in 2016. Think you can manage time and handle pressure? Imagine being USC’s Angela Zhou, who juggled 11 internships during school at firms like Johnson & Johnson, IBM, Microsoft, and Bank America. Oh —and Zhou also presented her nonprofit initiative in front of Bill and Hillary Clinton at a conference too.
Let’s not forget Washington University’s Jessica Lanzberg. She, along with three classmates, founded a candy story on campus that helped spur the launch of two nearby startups. More than that, she gave back by fashioning an ownership structure where upperclassmen would eventually sell their shares to the underclassmen they mentor. How is this for exclusive company? Out of 6,700 students, the University of Florida’s College of Business chose Jade Mulvaney to be the lone student representative in the search for a new dean.
BEST & BRIGHTEST RANGE FROM A “VEGETARIAN BLACK BELT” TO A “CAFFEINE-DEPENDENT LIFE FORM”
What unites these amazing students? In January, Poets&Quants reached out to 55 top undergraduate business programs, asking them to each choose two representatives based on their “academic excellence, extracurricular leadership, personal character, innate potential, striking personal narrative, and overall impact on the program.” In other words, these are the crème-de-la-crème of each school based on the opinion of faculty and administration. Overall, 49 schools participated in our 2nd annual “Best & Brightest,” with Wharton being the lone member of Poets&Quants’ Top 25 Undergraduate Business Programs to decline participation.
Indeed, the class is a potent mix of dreamers and doers, who alternated between leading and serving as well as creating and sustaining. This year’s Best & Brightest come from all walks of life. You’ll find class presidents and homecoming kings alongside all conference athletes, budding entrepreneurs, and scholars with unblemished GPAs. They honed their business acumen from growing up in the family business, watching Shark Tank re-runs, and competing in Model UN. Determined, brimming with optimism, and always on the go, these students were known to all, often reminding professors why they entered teaching in the first place. Some even helped teach classes! During summers, you would have found them interning at Goldman Sachs and Google…not to mention the FBI and DreamWorks. Come graduation, they’ll represent the next great crop of young talent at landmark firms like McKinsey, Bain, JP Morgan, and IBM.
You can expect them to add some flair to their new digs. Don’t mess with Texas? In the least, you should think twice about tangling with the University of Texas’ Katherine Magee, a “vegetarian Black Belt who believes that global citizenship is serious business.” Think accountants are reclusive and frumpy math nerds? Watch out for Maryland’s Sylviane Alexion. “I am inconspicuous but explosive, like a firecracker,” she purrs. Purdue’s Madison Long credits her success to the five P’s: “prayer, people, persistence, passion and pizza.” PwC had better keep the coffee brewing for Rutgers’ Jorge Paneque, who describes himself as a “caffeine-dependent life form.” Beware Southern Methodist University’s mischievous Kohner twins, who dress alike and even share the same class schedule. Laura fesses up that she was the kindergartner who accidentally shut down the southeastern USPS system in 2001. What does her sister Megan have to say about that? “I am the kindergartener who “ratted out” my twin sister.”
Oh, the stories they can tell. Where do you even start with Arizona State’s Spencer William Elliott, a professional skier who went deaf during his sophomore year but managed to run three businesses while earning his degree? The University of Washington’s Ishani Ummat cracks she prefers the view from the bottom after scaling a mountain in the Himalayas. Cornell’s Nabiha Keshwani would probably second that motion after getting stuck on a zipline 10,000 feet in the air. Other members of this year’s Best & Brightest have already had their brushes with fame too. Boston College’s Lauren Wedell once shared a pizza with Taylor Swift, while Purdue’s Riley Owens had his mug plastered on city buses to promote the school. Speaking of fame, you could call the University of Missouri’s Greg Stringfellow a medical miracle. “I fractured my back in 3 places playing football in high school and my X-rays have been used in several medical schools across the country,” he shares. Of course, the class boasts many hidden talents. Arizona State’s Juan Pablo Forno Parra was once a street magician. Come karaoke night, you’ll want to hunker down with Rutgers’ Zoe Makropoulos, who can belt out every song in the 1990’s Disney catalog.
STUDENTS ATTRACTED TO BUSINESS EARLY ON
Many on the list were drawn to business from an early age. In 6th grade, Carnegie Mellon’s Benjamin Chang beamed with pride when his dad hit the stage to collect his award for outstanding sales performance. Around the same time, Lehigh’s John Larson decided to test his mettle in the most humbling business niche: marketing manure. In high school, the University of Richmond’s Cathy Shi took on the big publishers, buying used textbooks and re-selling them at a discount. For Notre Dame’s Benjamin Fouch, the decision to major in business stemmed from current events. “I saw the impact the financial sector had on my small Indiana hometown during the 2008 financial crisis,” he admits.
In the process, many gravitated towards role models who personified their values in business — and beyond. Like many business majors, the University of Missouri’s Katelyn Entzeroth admires Elon Musk for his courage to take risks in the name of transforming industries. Magee credits Sheryl Sandberg with helping her to believe in herself. U.C.-Berkeley’s Angad Singh Padda considers Muhammad Yunus to be a role model for developing a microfinance model that enables Grameen Bank to achieve social good and turn a profit. In an era where branding and diversification are paramount, it should surprise no one that Jay Z has struck a chord with MIllennials. .”Not only is he an amazing rapper,” explains the University of Maryland’s Mimi Verdonk, “he is involved in the restaurant, sports, clothing and beverage industries, while making time to be a family man.”
Not every favorite executive is a household name…unless they’re part of that household. The University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Christine Cavallaro considers her father to be her business role model. “I admire my father the most for keeping his small business running for 30 years through tough economic times,” she explains. “He is constantly innovating and altering his business model to fit that changing consumer needs and economy.”
(To read profiles of the 100 Best & Brightest business majors, go to the third page)
Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.