2018 Best EMBAs: Alexander Steiner, Wharton School

Alexander Steiner 

University of Pennsylvania’s The Wharton School (San Francisco)

“An engineer at heart, with an incessant drive to do things better, faster, stronger.”

Age: 32

Hometown: Munich, Germany

Family Members:

Alexia Rodas (S/O), Rosina Steiner (Mother), Sara Steiner (Sister)

Fun fact about yourself: I’m a universal blood donor (O-), but I am not allowed to donate blood in the U.S. because I lived in Europe for more than 5 years.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Stanford University – B.S. Chemical Engineering

Stanford University – M.S. Chemical Engineering

Where are you currently working? Sutro Biopharma / Senior Director – Business Operations & Strategy

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Fitness enthusiast: cross training, skiing, snowboarding, martial arts – both as a student and teacher.

Academic Awards:

  • Frederick E. Terman Award for Scholastic Achievement in Engineering
  • Michel Boudart Academic Excellence Award
  • Award for Academic Achievement in Chemical Engineering
  • Hoefer Price for Excellence in Undergraduate Writing
  • Channing Robertson Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement
  • Wharton Director’s List
  • Wharton First Year Honors

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Doing quantitative problems has always come relatively easy to me. In fact, I always enjoyed it. Writing on the other hand has always been more of a process for me that I would dread. Hence, I am most proud of all the papers and essays I wrote – in part because of the marks I received, but more so because I learned to enjoy the writing process.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My company, Sutro Biopharma, recently started clinical trials for a novel lymphoma medication. This particular oncology drug constitutes many “firsts” for me: It is the first drug that I worked on to enter the clinic. It is also the first in the world to be made using a novel process I had part in developing. Lastly, it is the first drug that my company has progressed to the clinic.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Nicolaj Siggelkow for not only having a brilliant mind, but also the uncanny ability to communicate so clearly that his thought processes almost appear as if they were your own.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Advanced Corporate Finance. The biggest insight from the course was that, while we often talk about value in business, getting a true sense of value is often very difficult, if not impossible. As a result, many business decisions that are made under the guise of value are often based on other surrogates or approximations that can actually be misleading. Hence, as a business leader, one should constantly be on the lookout of such pitfalls.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? It was my goldilocks program. It was the one program that combined the brand name and academic rigor I wanted, with an executive MBA format. As a bonus, it was also walking distance from my home.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? The fact that you get to hear from people with all kinds of different backgrounds, who can share perspectives and insights on things you never even thought about. It greatly broadens your horizons.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The one big lesson would be that you can’t do it alone. The really big things that are worth doing will always require a strong team. Hence, at work, be it with direct reports or with colleagues, I have become even more mindful of fostering my relationships.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? In the middle of the MBA program I transitioned roles within my company from the scientific side to a strategic and business-focused role. While I was still working myself into the new role, I had to travel to Asia for work and had a finance project, as well as a paper due. I knew that I would only have enough time to really do one of the assignments justice. Luckily, I had a great team for the finance project, which finished and submitted the project with only minor contributions from my side, such that I could focus on the individual paper assignment. I redoubled my efforts for the next finance project to repay my team for all the support I had gotten, and I remain extremely grateful to all the people I had the pleasure of working with over the past two years.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? It is more than just your own abilities that count in being successful in an executive MBA program. Juggling school, work, and personal life will require the understanding and support of your family and co-workers, such that you can be empowered to focus your energies on learning. After the program, you will owe the people around you a debt of gratitude.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That you get rusty after having been out of school for a while and that the math in particular will trip you up. In the end, it was just a matter of a short adjustment period to get used to the added workload. The rest is just like riding a bike: it comes back to you really quick.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Seemingly never having enough time with my classmates to really get to know each and every one of them deeply.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My class was full of incredible people. So rather than naming one person, I like to instead focus on what trait always had me in awe, and that was everyone’s perseverance. Everyone was juggling a lot of work and many responsibilities, and yet, consistently people rose to the challenge.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was about to graduate from my chemical engineering Master’s program. I knew I was not done with my educational journey, and that I needed to combine my focus on science and engineering, with business acumen to ultimately be well equipped for my career journey.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…left feeling like I had not rounded off my education yet, and would either be applying to MBA programs or would be looking to gain more exposure to the business side of things through other means.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To lead a biopharma company that creates cutting-edge, life-saving treatments.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As always ready to help

Favorite book: Stephen King – The Dark Tower

Favorite movie or television show: Breaking Bad

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. See one of the medications I have worked on get FDA approval
  2. Fully restore a 1960s vintage Mercedes Benz 300SL

What made Alexander such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“Alex shared that the Wharton MBA is likely the single most pivotal driver in his future professional development. He started his career completely on the scientific side doing bench work in a biotechnology lab and gradually worked through the ranks to ultimately lead research and drug discovery efforts at his company. He realized that continued career growth in the scientific track would be challenging because the traditional next steps would have been VP of Research and then Chief Scientific Officer, but people holding these positions in the biotechnology industry almost exclusively have PhDs.

Alex had taken a different path and while at Stanford he managed to study for his Master’s co-terminally with his Bachelor’s degree. He started taking Master’s classes in his junior year and then graduated after senior year with both degrees. Feeling a bit like he had gotten his Master’s as a freebie, it also meant that pursuing a PhD immediately following my graduation was not the best use of his time, so he started his career without PhD. As Alex embarked upon his career with a start-up company, he was fortunate that they paid less attention to degrees than the rest of the industry. A move towards the business side of science fed his aspirations to be more involved on the business side and to ultimately lead a company – again, a jump that is tough to do in pharma from science to business.

Alex has managed to exceed expectations professionally, in the academic arena and as a trusted classmate and colleague. Some of the highlights during Alex’s time at Wharton are wrapped around shared experiences with his classmates. Staying connected and building trusted relationships with his small learning team members and classmates was a high priority. Before the San Francisco ‘WEMBA’ students met for the first class meeting in Philadelphia they had connected through a class wide What’s App group chat. Over the past two years, this chat has become a source of both entertainment, information and help. The class is highly active on the chat and discusses all kinds of topics – from business school related to completely arbitrary: exam prep, stock picks, recent M&As, future of block chain, where to celebrate graduation, where to go for dinner, pictures and more pictures of people getting together outside of class, questions and answers about anything!”

Bernadette Birt
Executive Director
Wharton MBA Program for Executives San Francisco

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