2020 Best & Brightest Executive MBAs

Raye E. Perez, Emory Goizueta


Military veterans are equally represented among the ranks of this year’s Best & Brightest Executive MBAs. Emory University’s Raye E. Perez learned management the hard way: leading 45-man teams across a dozen combat rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Navy SEALS, UCLA’s Lewis Emery oversaw the training and deployment of a 300 member team. Sam Jordan remains active in the U.S. Air Force Reserve as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) who provides support for sexual assault victims in the service. Outside the Air Force, he runs his family business, which was recently named Small Business of the Year by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. For Jordan, the Texas Christian EMBA provided him with the blueprint to adapt to an ever-shifting marketplace.

“TCU’s program truly is where ‘Class starts on Friday, and ROI starts on Monday,’” he writes. “Right as classes concluded, COVID-19 disrupted everything I had been building. I am presently using Dr. Mary Uhl-Bien’s Complexity Leadership Model as my blueprint for pivoting my company from serving large venues to small spaces and individuals. With this model, I am choosing my path forward instead of merely reacting to the latest COVID-19 order.”

Along with doctors and soldiers, you’ll also find teachers among this year’s Best & Brightest. Among them is the University of California-Berkeley’s Sarah Morrill. She works as an elementary and middle school principal in nearby Oakland that serves an underprivileged population. Under Morrill’s leadership, the school has doubled student proficiency in reading and math. One reason: the Haas MMBA has prepared Morrill how to frame data to drive action.

“I wrote down a quote from Professor Davis in our Data and Decisions class early in the term: “Data gets you a seat at the table.” I have successfully lobbied for multiple changes to happen in my organization and believe I was successful because I crafted a strong argument with the quantitative skills I have developed.”


Despite their busy schedules, the Best & Brightest didn’t view themselves as commuters who simply went to class, completed projects, and then went on their merry way. They formed communities and gave back – enjoying the same perks and opportunities as their full-time counterparts. Decio Nascimento, for one, became a teaching assistant for Professor Roger Ibbotson, a legendary finance professor at the Yale School of Management. Notre Dame’s John Robert Foley organized wine tastings for his class…along with a 2-day wine country tour in Chile. In Ithaca, Jack Cheung was part of a team that won the Cornell Shark Tank Competition. After class, his team decided to stay together to take their product to market and build a business!

Dr. Sunil Verma, U.C.-Irvine (Merage)

Of course, the Class of 2020 quickly made an impact with what they learned in class. As a U.C.-Irvine student, Sunil Verma applied data science and benchmarks to identify potential improvements in various clinical programs. Ruy Lozano, assistant fire chief for the Houston Fire Department, also used data analytics to identify future needs within his operation.

“I conducted a study on the Houston Fire Department apparatus spatial allocations with the Rice Data Science lab that not only won the Rice Data Science competition but got presented to the City of Houston’s Homeland Security Public Safety Session,” Lozano writes. “Being able to take what I learned in supply chain and global strategy studies to secure Personal Protective Equipment to protect my firefighters in the peak of the Covid19 pandemic.”


Outside of class, the University of Minnesota’s Erik Erickson plays in a rock-n-roll cover band, while BYU’s Olivia Benson is an “avid knitter” – so much so that she’d sometimes knit in class to help her focus. Purdue’s Sarah Cadlock makes hats in her spare time, a far cry from UCLA’s Pradnya Parulekar, who practices belly dancing.

The Best & Brightest also boasts two Emmy Award winners: Columbia Business School’s Sasha Schechter and Rice University’s Christine Dobbyn. In fact, Schechter joins an impressive list of Columbia grads, one that includes her mother, father, and brother. Speaking of star power, Ohio State’s David Entinghe appeared in 50 national commercials before moving into investments. Of course, it’d be hard to top Sydney Storey. She won a women’s national basketball championship at the University of Tennessee under Coach Pat Summitt. Not surprisingly, Storey turned around and coached a women’s high school basketball team to a state championship before enrolling in the Notre Dame EMBA.

If you’re looking for a witness to history, let’s introduce Washington University’s Jason Carter. “I was in a submerged collision with a Russian submarine 20 miles off the coast of Russia; in the Pentagon for 9/11; in the Far East for the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004; in the Persian Gulf for “shock and awe”; and on the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN for President Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech.”


Speaking of the sea, ESADE’s Sonia Sciampagna was scared of it…at first. After starting out on turtle dives, she eventually moved up to swimming with sharks – and becoming a rescue diver. And what can you say about NYU Stern’s Natasha Rankin? At 17, she was the assistant press secretary for a U.S. congressional candidate! Then again, IE Business School’s Asif Ilyas is a real-life Doogie Howser. He made the jump from high school to medical school and has since operated on athletes from every American professional sports league. Oh, and Ilyas has published over 150 peer-reviewed articles too.

Even students as decorated as Rankin and Ilyas faced tough times in business school. That’s because it is as much an exercise in setting priorities and managing adversity as it is mastering models and deciphering team dynamics. In the Class of 2020, the most successful graduates were the ones who squeezed the most from their time, often eschewing the perfect in favor of pinpointing where they could make the greatest impact.

Tammy Hannah, Michigan State (Broad)

“I learned that the busier I got, the more organized I became and more strategic I was in my decisions and choices,” writes Georgia’s Michele Johnson. “I chose how to best use and divide my time between work, school, and family. I learned to say “no,” which I really had never done.”


For Michigan State’s Tammy Hannah, success requiring juggling – with an understanding of which balls were rubber (eventually bounce back up) and which were glass (never return if dropped). Differentiating the two didn’t always ease the stress, she admits. After one difficult week – overwhelmed by class, stressed about a work situation, and guilt-ridden over missing her daughters’ soccer game – Hannah gained an epiphany about juggling from the most unexpected of sources.

“I’ll never forget my 10-year-old daughter (8 years old at the time), reaching her hand across the dinner table to hold my hand, looking me in the eyes, and saying “Mommy, you are doing a good job. We will have more soccer games! This won’t be forever.” It was at that moment when it struck me that I needed to breathe, be present, and be kind to myself. I reminded myself of my end goal and how the temporary chaos was just that…temporary. Not every ball in the air as part of the juggling act is fragile.”

In the classroom, the Best & Brightest came face-to-face with their knowledge gaps and blind spots. At first, some even admit to feeling out of place…even out of their league. At work, they found themselves overwhelmed as new demands raced in from every angle. Many commuted to weekend classes, with distances ranging from Chicago to Columbus to Beijing to DC. Aside from redeye flights and airport dashes, the Class of 2020 discovered that life doesn’t stop during business school – it actually accelerates.

Go to Pages 4-5 to access 102 in-depth student profiles of this year’s Best & Brightest Executive MBAs

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