100 Best & Brightest Executive MBAs: Class of 2019

Moses deGraft-Johnson works 120 hours a week on average. Don’t believe him? By day this thoracic surgeon serves as the managing director of the Heart & Vascular Institute of North Florida. That’s not his only startup venture. In his native Ghana, deGraft-Johnson runs ten companies, covering sectors like construction, medicine, WiFi, film, spirits, and burgers. If that isn’t enough, he has spent the past two years earning his MBA through the IE Brown Executive MBA program.

“Cardiac Surgeon, entrepreneur, father, husband, and son.” Those are the hats that deGraft-Johnson wears every day – squeezing in school work whenever he can carve out spare moments. Why would an uber-busy physician – whose day starts at 4 a.m. – add business school to the many demands on him? Well, he has grand ambitions that include scaling his businesses – and someday running to be President of Ghana. This bigger picture gave him the strength to stay up that extra hour and complete that extra reading.

IE-Brown’s Moses deGraft-Johnson

“I knew my purpose and objective goal and how the information was relevant to my business and everyday life, which made it bearable unlike medical school,” he explains.

FROM KIWI FARMHAND TO CNN MARKETING DIRECTOR

deGraft is among the 100 members of the Class of 2019 who comprise Poets&Quants5th annual Best & Brightest Executive MBAs – a celebration of spirit, stamina, and success. Like previous years, P&Q reached out to the top-ranked executive MBA programs. This year’s participants stretch from INSEAD to the Wharton School to the University of California-Berkeley. The list features students from 46 business schools, 51 women and 49 men in total. They range in age from 28-56 and hold key roles in companies like Amazon, Google, Halliburton, and PepsiCo. In many cases, these students were chosen by faculty and student bodies themselves. Bottom line: They are the EMBAs who “personify excellence in their programs through their contributions to the class, academic performance, extracurricular involvement, professional achievement, personal intangibles, and unique personal stories.”

These stories often resulted in high profile roles at top global brands. Growing up, Wendy Ho dreamed of leaving Malaysia to make an impact. Her first shot came as a high school senior, where – as a humble exchange student in New Zealand – she milked up to 200 cows a day as a farmhand. Thanks to her parent’s sacrifices, she eventually made it to Florida State to finish her undergraduate degree.

“There I was in my senior year, a starry-eyed student with no family, no money, and no connections in the US – just a dream and a belief in myself,” she recalls. “By day, I took a full load of classes while applying for PR internships and by night I waited tables to pay rent. I remember the joy when I landed an internship with Alexander Ogilvy Public Relations in Atlanta. Fast forward numerous years and several incredible jobs later, I am now a director of marketing for CNN where I get to work with the best in the business every day.”

YALE GOES ‘POP’

That’s just the start. The University of Chicago’s Stephanie Tanous works as the chief of staff to the CEO at Biogen, a Fortune 500 company with 7,800 employees with $12.2 billion dollars in annual revenue. Before enrolling at the University of Cambridge, Jiaqi Nie served as the CEO of Baosteel. The company has since transformed into Baowu – the world’s second-largest steel company with 240,000 employees and $100 billion dollars in revenue annually. Then again, UCLA’s Allison Hill is the latest in a long line of CEOs at A.C. Vronman, California’s largest independent bookseller…one that traces its beginnings to 1894 Pasadena.

Brad Wayman has come a long way too. Long before he was head of U.S. mortgage sales at Citibank, he worked in the White House Office of Political Affairs for President George W. Bush, where he’d don the bunny costume for the Easter Egg Roll. At the Yale School of Management, he partnered with Professor Roger Ibbotson to take his stock simulation game to the market. That wasn’t Wayman’s biggest contribution to this year’s EMBA class. As a first-year, he co-founded POP – short for Panel of Peers – with classmate Jasper Daniel (another 2019 Best & Brightest EMBA). Each class weekend, Yale students would gather to discuss executive-level topics like Fintech and unconscious bias. By graduation, Wayman and Daniel will have facilitated over 30 sessions. That doesn’t mean that POP will stop after the confetti has been swept up.

“[We also held] POP sessions during the 2018 Global Network Week with 8 universities around the globe and 14 international POP sessions scheduled for 2019 Global Network Week,” he explains. “[We] are working with Yale faculty to host an all-day POP summit with alumni and thought leaders from around the world at Yale School of Management in the coming year. The POP sessions are now a staple of the EMBA program, as the class of 2020 have continued the sessions with their cohort.”

PROLIFIC SURGEON AUTHORS 200 PEER-REVIEWED ARTICLES

Cornell University’s Brendan Wyker

The POP program represents a truth about this year’s Best & Brightest: many arrived on campus as decorated teachers and researchers themselves. IESE’s Edurne Benito Antolín, for one, has already taught marketing and digital strategy at several business schools in Spain and Chile. Outside of overseeing Pediatric Otolaryngology at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory University’s Steven Goudy serves as a section editor for academic publications like Annals of Otology and Cleft Palate Journal. How is this for impressive? J. Peter Rubin, who heads the Department of Plastic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, has published 200 peer-reviewed articles, edited four textbooks, and conducted over 500 presentations worldwide. Oh…and this Pitt MBA serves as the plastic surgeon for the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins too!

Speaking of brainpower, Cornell University’s Brendan Wyker has collected seven degrees in his career (so far), including a Ph.D. in Physics. That doesn’t count authoring 27 peer-reviewed academic articles. Why would someone like Wyker bother with business school? For him, Cornell’s EMBA program was a means to bridge scientific discoveries and commercial applications.

“Scientists and engineers may become cynical or frustrated when their technical solutions are not implemented, but without the broader business context they may be answering the wrong questions,” he observes. “Having spent time in both worlds, I hope to be a translator that helps technical teams understand the broader context of their work and helps business leaders see the value of some interesting and really complicated science.”

FROM FISH BOWL TO OCEAN

What connects this year’s Best & Brightest EMBAs? Perhaps the sharpest similarity is that each student shoulders heavy responsibilities outside of class. During her studies at the McGill-HEC Montréal Executive MBA program, Isabel Dansereau was promoted to being the executive director for the Old Port of Montréal Corporation, a site that attracts seven million visitors and features 75 concessions ranging from restaurants to cruises. Michigan State’s Kevin Day heads up technology for Thomson Reuters. In real numbers, that means he manages 400 employees and 100 contractors, not to mention $400 million in deliverables to clients. Before earning three Booz Allen awards for leadership impact, MIT Sloan’s Jennifer Braly was a two-time Officer of the Year in the U.S. Air Force, where she managed 11 facilities used by 65,000 people. Joshua Quantz was also recognized for his service in the U.S. Army…with a Bronze Star. As an Ohio State EMBA student, Quantz balanced school workloads with his role as a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel on a joint staff with the U.S. Air Force, where he served as the Director for Strategic Plans, Policy, and International Affairs.

Matters of life-and-death are often rank among the class’ biggest burdens. That’s what Darden’s Leigh-Ann Webb faces every day as an emergency services doctor in the University of Virginia Health System. For Angel Arnaout, cancer is the

University of Toronto’s Angel Arnaout

unremitting adversary. The University of Toronto MBA oversees breast cancer care in nine hospitals in Canada. In addition, she works as a medical researcher who teaches students to be cancer surgeons. For Arnaout, the EMBA has been an inspiration, leading her to launch the Canadian Association of Breast Surgeons – now 1,000 members strong. At the same time, she has created the country’s first Oncoplastic Breast Surgery course, which has already trained 250 peers on new and advanced surgical techniques. More than an inspiration, the Rotman EMBA has been a life-changer for Arnaout.

“I often joke that before the EMBA I was like a fish in a small aquarium, where there were only limited types of different fish (medicine types) but most importantly they were all swimming in the same direction…round and round they go around the aquarium (our medical world),” she says. “Everything in that aquarium was the world I knew. When I joined EMBA, it was like someone dumped the contents of my aquarium into the ocean. All of a sudden, there are huge octopuses, whales, friendly turtles and of course dangerous sharks …all in a vast limitless space. Not only has my world gotten so much bigger, but so has my opportunities in life…My medical world seems so small now!”

A JAZZ PIANIST EMERGES AS A TOP SURGEON

Of course, the Class of 2019 is defined by far more than their work roles. They are also bicyclists, tap dancers, and triathletes who practice yoga, coach Crossfit, and scuba dive to collect waste from the bottom of the ocean. In his spare time, for example, Curtis Linton runs the Domino Foundation, which he calls a platform for “supporting transracial adoption families with education and social activities.” That’s not the only venture keeping this University of Oxford EMBA busy.

“I am the author and co-author of three best-selling and award-winning books on race and equity in education; I love to paint large-scale abstract oil paintings; and I am a popular home chef with a series of recipes and food media called Curious Table.”

Think Linton is a Renaissance Man? Just wait until you meet New York University’s Bryan Kelly. This surgeon runs the country’s largest sports medicine department…when he isn’t moonlighting as the team physician for the NHL’s New York Rangers. His major in college? Jazz piano! Christopher Kwolek has made the list of “Castle Connolly America’s Top Doctors” for 14 years. That hardly compares to the MIT Sloan grad’s thrill with appearing in ABC’s Save My Life Boston Trauma. Looking for a way to distinguish yourself on an MBA application? Try Devin Baer’s approach. This Northwestern grad made the Guinness Book of World Records by organizing the world’s largest scavenger hunt, with activities ranging from kissing a llama to taking a selfie with the mayor.

To access 100 in-depth profiles of this year’s Best & Brightest EMBAs, go to pages 3-4.