2018 Best EMBAs: Olabayo Allen-Taylor, Cornell University (Johnson)

Olabayo Allen-Taylor

Cornell Executive MBA Americas program, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

An education reform expert with 13 years of experience building and improving operational systems and culture.”

Age: 34

Hometown: Oakland, CA

Family Members: Four sisters: Fonta Allen, B.A. in Graphic Design, University of South Carolina; Nile Taylor, B.A. in Legal Studies and Political Science, University of California, Berkeley; Kamili Allen-Samms, B.S. in Architecture, Howard University; Harley Cheeboro freshman at the University of South Carolina, Upstate. Father, Jessie Douglas Allen Taylor, a published author. Lives in the Bay Area. Mom, Diane Cheesboro, Domestic Violence Counselor. Lives in Orangebug, SC.

Fun fact about yourself: My soccer jersey was retired at my high school after I lead the league in the highest goals scored in the four seasons that the girl’s soccer team existed in the Oakland Unified School District.

Undergraduate School and Degree: B.A. in English, University of California, Berkeley

Where are you currently working? Principal of Aspire College Academy, an elementary school in Oakland, Ca (starting June 2018)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: During my second year of business school, I had the pleasure of becoming a 2018 class agent. As a class agent, I served as a representative of the student body on the Johnson School of Management Advisory Board, and developed a strategy with my co-lead to head our class fundraising campaign efforts.  Adding this leadership role to my full schedule was a challenge, but knowing the impact we could have for future Executive MBA students provided motivation. My co-lead and I set out to reach at least 70 percent participation in donations from our classmates, and so far we have reached 60 percent with more than six months remaining in the campaign.

Outside of business school, I help lead my family’s business (Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, a restaurant and bar which I co-own and formally operated prior to business school) charitable efforts by hosting fundraisers for local schools and organizations and organizing community dinners and lunches to feed the less fortunate.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? One of the core components of the program is to complete a global business project with my team. We chose to work with the start-up, Dattaca Labs, in Reykjavik, Iceland, which was focused in the personal data space. We were tasked with creating a go-to market strategy for Dattaca Labs to enter into the U.S. market. At first glance, the project was outside of my team’s professional expertise. The project seemed impossible to take on. However, after three long months of research, 10,000 miles of traveling, and working with the founders and Icelandic government officials, we were able to deliver a strategy for the company to not only expand in the U.S., but also to expand in Europe. I am very proud of this accomplishment because I took on a challenging project with little background and successfully completed it in partnership with my teammates.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? For the past 13 years, I have been an educational leader in the Oakland Unified School District, the same District that I was educated in from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Early on in my career with community/family engagement and conflict resolution, I helped lay the foundation for the Community Schools model and Restorative Justice framework that exists now in almost every school within the Oakland Unified School District. I am most proud of the impact that I have had in my most recent role as a Dean of Culture and Climate at Claremont Middle School. Claremont was once marred by low test scores, under-enrollment, and teacher/leadership turnover. At one point, the school lost five principals in one year. As a school leader, I instituted a discipline process which reduced incidents of suspension, redesigned and instituted school-wide systems to connect response to intervention efforts, and led a review team to address student attendance. I am a results- driven leader and being able to achieve success when the odds were stacked against me was a major accomplishment.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Andrew Karolyi, Managerial Finance, is my favorite professor because he utilizes a hands-on learning approach with real world examples to help us understand class material. One of our first assignments was to analyze the stock value of a company and state our investment positon to our classmates with the goal of persuading them to agree with our analysis and position. The team that had the most votes won bragging rights for the remainder of the course. We learned how to apply the class material directly and some of us benefited from investment positons determined in our analysis.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Management Simulation, taught by Professors Stephen Sauer and Tom Schryver, was my favorite course. The course was organized to help us apply skills in simulation exercises. Our team was set up to be owners of an actuator business which was competing against other businesses (teams) for market share. The biggest insight I gained about business was beyond the typical focus on the bottom line or avoiding “margin sucking maggots” as one of my professors would say, but more about imploring ethical leadership practices in all aspects of operation. While we were successful in this simulation exercise, the most important factor was how we approached the challenge.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? The Executive MBA Americas program was the most attractive to me because of the teamwork component. As a highly ambitious and high performing individual, I was confident in my ability to take on the challenge of business school, but working successfully within a team with a diverse set of personalities from various professional backgrounds was an area of growth for me. The program offered the right set of support, focus and learning opportunities for me to gain valued experience.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I most enjoyed getting to know myself better. I really stepped outside of my comfort zone and leaned into this experience in a way that allowed me to discover passions and skills that I wasn’t aware of.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education?  When I started business school, I was intentional about mapping out my schedule and compartmentalizing my time so that I stayed present at work, in school, or spending time with family. The one thing that I didn’t make room for was the uncertainties of life. Right before entering midterms in the first quarter, my grandmother passed away. It was an unexpected strategy that took a lot out of me emotionally. Compartmentalizing was not the best strategy in my approach to mapping out my schedule, and this tragedy helped me to realize that I couldn’t plan for everything. In the end, I took my midterm exam for managerial finance the same day that I laid my grandmother to rest. A little planning and going with the flow became my best strategy for juggling work, family and the Executive MBA program.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Think about your strengths and weakness and choose a program that truly fits your needs. Do not, by any means, choose a program based solely on rankings

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret in business school was not taking time to appreciate my growth and accomplishments along the way. The program went by so fast and I regret not seizing the moment to take it all in.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The classmate who I admire the most is Revathi Srinivasan. She is a fierce leader who is unapologetically outspoken. She never second guesses herself and she leads with a steady hand in a way that commands respect. Revathi also makes it a point to mentor and inspire women to step into their own leadership and take on roles in male dominated industries. She is an amazing colleague and a heck of a friend. I really would not have made it through the program without her.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that I lacked the skills needed to get the job that I really wanted.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…a principal of a school, but it would have taken me 10 years to get there because I would have spent most of the time second guessing myself.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate professional goal is to help close the achievement and opportunity gap in public education.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I am a compassionate, caring leader and a great person to have on your team when you want to get things accomplished.

Favorite book: The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath

Favorite movie or television show: Grey’s Anatomy

What are the top two items on your bucket list? 

  1. Run a marathon before the age of 40
  2. Give a speech to a large crowd without saying “umm”.

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

“Ola is one of those people who you meet and get a sense that she can do nearly anything and has the ability and determination to succeed at it. She is a true Cornellian and excels, while lifting those around her. As she furthers her own education, she continues to support others by fully dedicating herself to bettering the educational systems for others in her community. As an educator, an advocate, and an administrator, Ola shares the common mission of promoting broad improvements in U.S. education. During her program, Ola went the extra mile by reaching out to students from other Johnson programs through the recruitment cycles and connecting them to new networks. As a class agent and newly-minted alumna of the Cornell Americas Executive MBA Class of 2018, Ola will continue to set the example that engaging with others matters. As a Cornell alumna, it’s clear that her dedication to her classmates is what sets her apart.”

Kasi A. Dean ‘12

Assistant Director, Student Programs and Campaigns, Alumni Affairs

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business


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