2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Natasha Rankin, New York University (Stern)

Natasha Rankin

New York University, Stern School of Business (New York City)

“Passionate, thoughtful, and intelligent leader transforming organizations and people to achieve excellence and advance missions.”

Age: 47

Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Family Members: Partner: Alexander Hunt & Daughter: Katerina Rankin-Lacchini

Fun fact about yourself: I was the assistant press secretary for a U.S. Congressional campaign when I was 17 years old. It was a volunteer position—and before we had to fill out employment forms. When I told them I was a “junior,” they thought I was a junior in college instead of high school! It’s what led me to Washington, D.C. for university.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Arts, Justice (Pre-Law), American University Washington, D.C.

Where are you currently working? Chief Operating Officer, American Counseling Association

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • 2016 Top Association & Non-Profit Innovator: Recognized by DCA Live as one of 40 top association and nonprofit innovators in the Washington, D.C. area
  • American Society of Association Executives (ASAE): Currently serve on the ASAE Political Action Committee (APAC) (2018-Present); previously served on the CEO Advisory Board (2011-2012)
  • ASAE Foundation: Currently serve on the ASAE Research Innovation Task Force (2019-Present); previously served on the Innovation ForesightWorks Advisory Group (2017-2019), Research Committee (2015-2019), and Development Committee (2013-2014)
  • University of Richmond, School of Professional & Continuing Studies: University of Richmond Customer Experience Advisory Board Member (2019-Present)
  • Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA): Currently serve on the CXPA DC Local Networking Team (2016-Present)
  • Pet Partners: Currently serve on the Public Policy Committee (2017-Present)
  • Formerly served on:
    • Association Foundation Group (AFG) Membership Committee (2011-2013)
    • National Council of Women’s Organizations Executive Committee (2008-2011)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My background is in nonprofit organizations. After graduating with a pre-law degree in the mid-1990s, returning to school – let alone a program with a core curriculum in finance, accounting, and marketing –had me doubting if I had the background needed to succeed. But I grew to love how the subject areas that most intimidated me ultimately enriched and deepened my knowledge and improved my ability to analyze information and make wiser decisions. I even opted into electives that took me far outside my original comfort zone, which resulted in a specialization in marketing.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m most proud of leading my organization through this current coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis. We’re facing a mental health crisis of untold impact, and I work for an organization that advocates for improved access to mental health care and provides support and resources to counselors globally who are on the front lines of working with clients in need of vital services. Because of my expertise in change and crisis management, we were able to pivot and focus our efforts to remove barriers between clients and counselors to meet head on the mental health and wellness crisis.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Helio Fred Garcia is an experienced, passionate, and entertaining professor who engaged us in introspective analysis and charged us with applying hands-on methods for crisis management in fall 2019. His course was a culmination of everything I had hoped to gain with my MBA, most specifically the importance of authentic and compassionate leadership, clarity of vision and communication, and alignment of operations to strategy. Little did I know that Garcia would become a mentor to me as I undertook the biggest challenge of my professional life when leading my own organization through the current pandemic and economic crisis.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I chose NYU Stern because I wanted to surround myself with diversity: diversity of industry, perspective, culture, and technical expertise.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? In my professional position and now 47 years of age, gains in the number of friends one makes in a year frequently can be counted on one hand. Yet in business school, not only had I surrounded myself with over 60 incredibly smart, talented, and ambitious people who offered generosity of time and insight to me professionally, I’ve developed deep, enduring friendships with people who I never would have met had I not joined the NYU Stern Class of January 2020.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Surround yourself with smart people, listen more than you talk, and create an environment for them to contribute –and watch extraordinary things happen.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? For two years, I commuted between D.C. and NYC every other week to attend classes. There was only one day where I thought: I can’t do this.

I was at my annual conference in Atlanta when a family crisis arrived via a phone call while I was rehearsing our award ceremony. I had a Firms & Markets midterm that coming Friday, which I’d not yet been able to study for due to extraordinarily long hours at my conference.

I took in the news, changed my flight to depart immediately after the awards ceremony, told my CEO—“I got to go”—and returned to D.C. to be there for my family. That sleepless night, all I could think is: I can’t do it all: be there for my family, be present at work, and succeed in my classes.

Yet the next morning, my partner and daughter said, “You can’t give up;” my workplace said, “Do what you need to do;” and I received a message from one of my classmates, who happened to be visiting family in Virginia, asking what train I’d be on to NYC, which happened to be the same train. We used the nearly four-hour ride to study for the midterm together. And I passed…as did the thought that “I can’t do this.”

The support I received from my family, workplace, and NYU cohort was instrumental in my ability to survive and thrive.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That it’s too late. It’s never too late to go back to school. I’ve realized that I’m a lifelong learner.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Because I live in Washington, D.C. and so many of my cohort live in the NYC area, I regretted not being able to just spend more “regular” time with my classmates. But what I learned is that you use the time you do have wisely—and especially now, virtual gatherings help span the physical distance.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Jiangfeng Fei, Ph.D., and I met during our orientation week, and I vividly remember us bonding over our nonprofit backgrounds.

What I saw from him was inspiring: his passion for healthcare and technology, his belief in its transformative power, and his desire to give back. I cheered him on as he literally took flight during our two years together. I was in awe when his commute became even more brutal than mine when he was promoted to CEO of his company and had to commute between Beijing and NYC for our classes. And despite this transcontinental commute, he was always there for me and our classmates—and was even awarded high academic honors in our class.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I visited NYU Stern for my site visit and saw how classmates engaged in insightful analysis and discussions with each other and the professor, passionately defending their points of view — and then turn around and head out to the bar for drinks to talk about balancing parenthood, work commitments, and sleep deprivation with graduate school. They were authentic and engaging—and I thought: I’ve found my people.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I have a passion for helping organizations and people recognize “what’s possible,” articulate it, and help others recognize it. As a mission-inspired person, I want to move into a chief executive role in a nonprofit organization where I can bring my business acumen to help a company and its most valuable asset—its people—transform and grow.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? That I’m outspoken, fearless, and seek out the best in people and circumstances.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Become fluent in German, so that when my daughter lives in Austria during her college years, I can visit her and not have to rely on her to translate.
  2. Create a home that is 100% sustainable. We bought a farm just over an hour outside of D.C. about one year into the NYU Stern program and now that I can be here more frequently, we’re making changes to make it more eco-friendly, and it will likely be a lifelong project!

What made Natasha such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Natasha Rankin was one of my favorite students in my Stern 2019 crisis management course (and I had a class of nearly 50 people).

One of the differentiators in a class of bankers, investment analysts, and business executives, is Natasha’s passion for not-for-profits. As an association executive, her passion is directed not in making a profit but in helping associations help their members.

She also exhibited a keen commitment to her current association, the American Counseling Association. Even before COVID-19, the work her association’s members do is critically important. In a COVID-19 world it becomes even more important.

Natasha is a lateral learner who makes connections among apparently disparate ideas, and comes up with a fresh insight. She was able to take cases of corporate leaders and see immediately the applicability in both the association space and the counseling space.

Natasha also has a deep curiosity about the way things are, and we had many deep discussions of disparate topics.

Natasha is multi-dimensional, a delight to have in the classroom, and makes a real difference in the world.”

Professor Helio Fred Garcia


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.