Brandon Bingham isn’t your “typical” executive MBA student. Just 29, the Arizona State grad doesn’t even hold a bachelor’s degree. What Bingham lacks in academic pedigree, he makes up for in talent. Like a prodigy from a by-gone age, Bingham entered the automotive industry in high school. By 23, he had already been promoted to general sales manager. Now, he serves as the general manager and operating partner for Berkshire Hathaway Automotive’s Cerritos Nissan dealership in Los Angeles, where he is responsible for a $2 billion dollar organization with 210 employees.
With that track record, Bingham was granted a waiver by the dean to join Arizona State’s EMBA Class of 2017. And he didn’t disappoint. “Brandon is the youngest student we have admitted to our EMBA in many years and yet he is a class leader in so many respects,” observes Gerry Keim, EMBA faculty director at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “He facilitates the learning experience for students and faculty. In more than thirty years of teaching EMBAs, I can say he is exceptional for someone so young.”
Bingham isn’t the only wunderkind in Poets&Quants’ “Best & Brightest” Executive MBAs from the 2017 Class. At 18, Wharton’s Todd Wilson started on Wall Street during the go-go 80’s. Eventually, he launched a software company — right when the dot com bubble burst. Bad luck aside, Wilson flourished as his peers floundered, building his startup to the point where it was sold to Microsoft. Now a senior vice president for Clif Bar & Company, Wilson returned to class to face a hurdle that many EMBAs consider more daunting than cutthroat competitors and shifting scopes: mastering core quant concepts. “It had been 30 years since I last took any serious math classes (high school precalculus),” he admits, “so it was a rigorous process to learn the required basics.”
FROM BEING COMATOSE TO EARNING A KELLOGG MBA IN TWO YEARS
Think that’s hard? Try being Oliver Jarrett, who earned his MBA through a joint one-year program between Northwestern Kellogg and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. After brain surgery in 2015, where he spent over two weeks in a coma, Jarrett had to learn how to walk and talk again — not mention read and write. Despite some reservations, the Roche Products director decided to plunge right into business school, which he considered part of his rehab. “As it turns out, my brain is still firing on all cylinders,” he writes. “I now have my confidence back and need to pinch myself every day when I realize my life is no different than before surgery except I have an MBA now.”
Bingham, Wilson, and Jarrett are just three of the standouts in our annual “Best & Brightest” EMBAs, which honors 50 professionals who distinguished themselves through their professional and academic achievements, community and industry service, and ability to create, transform, and overcome the odds. These students are the weekend warriors, who are dissecting cases when their work peers are racing away for long weekends. Short on time and sleep, you’ll find these jet-lagged souls squeezing in their work between flights or during commutes. Pinballing between midnight conference calls, family cookouts, and overseas client meetings, they manage an unforgiving back-and-forth between work, family, and school (among other things). Outside the classroom, people depend on them as bosses, parents, caregivers, and volunteers. Despite the MBA’s exhausting demands, these students are still expected to meet the same high standards as before.
These standards, however, are also what propelled the Best & Brightest EMBAs into senior management —and top EMBA programs. Indeed, this class bears some heavy responsibilities. As a Global Program Head at Novartis, INSEAD’s Andy Bushell helped build a $1.3 billion dollar unit that combats diabetes. Vanderbilt’s Kelly Feist has generated over $1.8 billion dollars in revenue over the past three years for Philips Healthcare as Business Leader for its Patient Care and Monitor Solutions business.
If you want to learn how to make an impact in a Fortune 500 firm, take some notes from New York University’s Renee Vieira. She serves as the Executive Director of Global Organization and Leadership Development at Time Warner. Think that’s pressure? Try being the University of Maryland’s Hon Pak. He was named the U.S. Army’s first Chief Medical Information Officer — and charged with transforming the operations of its $11 billion dollar healthcare system that included 60,000 employees and 36 hospitals!
FORGET DOS EQUIS. THE MOST INTERESTING MAN IN THE WORLD PREFERS RICE
Like Pak, many members of this year’s class have made their impact in the public sector. The University of Oxford’s Juliana Mardon is a Budget Officer with NATO’s Emerging Security Challenges Division, which spans cyber defense, WMD non-proliferation, and counterterrorism. In Afghanistan, New York University’s Ryan Sparks, a Marine Infantry Officer who now works for JP Morgan Chase, trained and led a joint U.S-Afghan unit that defeated the local Taliban, helped with community reconstruction, and reduced opium trafficking. Think that’s impressive? Check out Wharton’s Katie Keegin, a Bain & Company hire who was formerly Deputy Chief of Operations for the U.S. Department of Defense. “During my time at the White House Situation Room,” she writes, “I led teams working 24/7 to assist National Security Council Staff response to crises around the world.”
Although the Class of 2017 may have returned to school later in life, most were quite successful right from the start of their careers. The University of Chicago’s Cynthia Nomsa Pongweni made audit partner at Deloitte at just 29 — a rarity for a woman in South Africa. At 28, Washington University’s Brian Estes became the youngest Vice President in the history of A.G. Edwards & Sons. How about Emory University’s Bill Fagan? The 35 year-old was recently elevated to being the COO of The Aspire Sports Marketing Group. On top of that, the Sports Business Journal, the top publication in the field, named him among its 40 Under 40 for 2017. That came as no surprise considering what he has accomplished. “I was hired as the first employee [in 2009],” he shares. “Since that time, we have built a sustainable business, having hired several hundred employees and servicing over 180 sports teams and properties, generating over $200 Million in revenue for our clients annually.”
It’s not like the Best & Brightest are all work and no play. Take Rice University’s Edward John Kroger. An MD and JD — who now boasts an MBA — Kroger runs a top end law firm catering to health care organizations. When he isn’t serving as a trial lawyer or Sunday school teacher, you’ll find him tooling around Houston on his BMW K1600 motorcycle or lounging on his 32-foot sailboat. You can almost picture Kroger starring in a Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man in the World” commercial. “I don’t always read cases, but when I do I prefer the Jones Graduate School of Business.”
CUTTING OFF MATT DAMON…TO GO MEET WITH THE VICE PRESIDENT
Impressed? Just wait until Columbia Business School’s Geoffrey Pope flashes the Super Bowl ring he won as a rookie with the New York Giants. Not to be outdone, the University of Texas’ Chris Ogbonnaya earned Academic All-American status and a national football championship, along with being voted team captain of the 2013 Cleveland Browns. However, both men would be wise not to trifle with Emory University’s Angela Fusaro, an entrepreneur, medical doctor, and marathoner who also happens to play wide receiver in the Women’s Tackle League.
It is also a class accustomed to being in the spotlight…or around those who are. Sparks, for one, was featured in the HBO documentary, The Battle for Marjah. Wharton’s Lori Wong, a Project Specialist with the Getty Conservation Institute, “share(s) an office” with King Tut when she is working in his tomb. During a production of Grease in California, the University of Maryland’s Jacqueline Manger played Sandy alongside Nicholas Cage’s Kenickie. Oh, and Katie Keegin once cut short a White House briefing with Matt Damon…after receiving a message from Vice President Joe Biden.
The Best & Brightest are also quite cosmopolitan…to say the least. Ever the student, the University of Minnesota’s Gaurang Daftary speaks 8 different languages. Duke’s Philip Thomas plans to visit 100 countries — and has hit 84 so far. However, Thomas would have to tip his hat to the University of Michigan’s Raymond Ip, who once set foot on all seven continents in 100 days. That said, it isn’t easy being a global citizen. Just ask Hon Pak. “Upon immigrating to the United States, I attended an inner city Los Angeles school, where for the first two weeks, the English language that I thought I was learning from classmates turned out to be Spanish curse words.”
NEXT PAGE: THE BEST & BRIGHTEST BY THE NUMBERS
(TO READ IN-DEPTH PROFILES OF THIS YEAR’S 50 BEST & BRIGHTEST EMBAs, GO TO PAGES 3-4)