2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Justin Ryder Wilson, Yale SOM

Justin Ryder Wilson

Yale School of Management

Age: 35

The measure of my life is the positive impact I have on the lives of others.”

Hometown: Wright City, Oklahoma (I currently live in Celina, Texas, but my true “hometown” will always be Wright City.)

Family Members:

  • Brooklyn Wilson (spouse)
  • Rhett Wilson (5-yr old son)
  • Ryder Wilson (3-yr old son)

Fun fact about yourself: When I was 5 years old, I was riding in the grand entry of the Wright City Rodeo and my hat fell off. I was too small to get back on my horse if I hopped down to get it. There were also dozens of horses around me, so it would have been too dangerous anyway. Before I could figure out what to do, someone had hopped off their horse, scooped up my hat, and sat it on my head—and it turned out to be that year’s Rodeo Queen. She kept her horse near me for the rest of the ride, just in case I needed her help again, and now, 30 years later, I don’t think I’ve felt that cool since. It was the small-town equivalent of riding alongside a movie star.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Oklahoma State University – Physiology

Where are you currently working? Choctaw Global – Director of Strategic Investments

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Since beginning the EMBA program, I have had to make the decision to cut back on some of the extra activities and focus most of my meager free time on my wife and two young boys. Still, I am passionate about mentorship, especially of Choctaw and rural youth, so I have tried to be conscientious in continuing those relationships that I have fostered over the years. Additionally, I am a past winner of the Chahta Spirit Award, an honor bestowed by the Choctaw Nation to employees who demonstrate the Choctaw values in the workplace. Within my studies at Yale, I have been so blessed as to have the opportunity to work on an independent project with my academic hero, Dr. William Goetzmann, to design a study for Native American Tribal asset management practices and structures. This summer, I was a winner of the LPA negotiation competition in the Private Equity course at Oxford Saïd during our Global Network Week. Last, but certainly not least, I was one-third of “Wannabe-Swensens Fiduciary Advisors” along with two of my brilliant classmates, whose returns led the class during our StockTrak elective course with Dr. Goetzmann and Dr. Osman Nalbantoglu. (*As a disclaimer, I should mention that having the highest returns was not necessarily the goal for this course, but we were proud of it nonetheless.).

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I like to tell people that I did not come to business school for any one thing—I needed everything. I came craving the hard skills that I hoped Yale’s academic rigor would provide. I was seeking to grow my leadership capacities such that I might produce a more positive and sustainable impact on business and society and hoping to establish and cultivate relationships with my brilliant classmates and faculty. I promised myself that I would wring as much out of the experience as I possibly could. Despite the challenges wrought by the COVID crisis, I can say with pride that to any extent I have failed in these regards, it has not been due to a lack of effort.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Success, for me, ultimately comes down to whether my efforts are able to translate to some sort of meaningful impact on people’s lives. My career took a circuitous route to arrive in the world of finance, but what truly drove me to discover my passion for investing is that it is the ultimate tool for impact at scale. To that end, I have spent the past four years helping build a private equity portfolio from scratch within the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, of which I am not only an employee but a Tribal Member. We are still in our infancy, but it feels pretty good knowing that our success will directly translate into opportunity for the people I care about the most. In the end, though, I am the most proud of simply knowing that throughout my career I have been able to work alongside incredible people in an effort to heal the sick, provide education and opportunity for those who seek it, and find a modicum of justice for a people who have largely been denied it.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? You might as well ask me to choose my favorite child! The professors at Yale have truly elevated my entire notion of what it means to be a great professor, and I could point to so many who have individually changed my life in some way: Dr. Rick Antle for his humility and warmth (Go Pokes); Dr. Nils Rudi for utterly rewiring my brain; Dr. Roger Ibbotson for showing me that world-changing brilliance doesn’t have to come at the cost of humor or humanity; Dr. Jake Thomas for his patience and kindness; and former dean David Bach for setting a new ideal in my mind for mastery in both career and life, and so many more.

While I am appreciative of all of my professors in one way or another, though, I am especially thankful for Dr. William Goetzmann. His personal kindness to me with the gifts of his time and attention, and the absolute inspiring instruction he provided in his classes have been incalculable in their benefit to my direct knowledge, my confidence in my ability to succeed in finance, and my sense of belonging as a Yalie. I will be forever grateful to him and proud to say I studied with him for a time in my life.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? If one seeks to pursue an EMBA, one has a great array of options that will undoubtedly provide an excellent education. When I first decided to pursue that dream of my own, it wasn’t Yale that I originally sought to attend, but another competitive school in the region. I really only decided to look into the Yale EMBA program at all because I am passionate about institutional asset management and because David Swensen is a Yalie! When I visited, though, what I found was a cultural fit that was so strong I no longer wanted to attend anywhere else. I was shocked at how passionate and mission-driven both the students and faculty at Yale are, and how the mission of “Educating Leaders for Business and Society” is not simply a marketing pitch at the SOM. Instead, it is a creed that is lived through every aspect of the program. After my first visit, the feeling of “home” was undeniable, and I feel so fortunate to have been able to attend.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? I feel as if I learned something applicable to my work in every class I have taken. If I walk away with one lesson, though, it is the power and importance of alignment. There is no definitively right or wrong way to structure a business – no silver bullet that works in every scenario. If you seek to build a truly transformational and sustainable organization, you must seek an alignment of your business activities with all of its various stakeholders, as well as the society that your business lives within, and even those whom you might not think you even affect at all.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education?Before COVID put all of our balancing work and family and education on stark display, I had to avail myself of Yale’s “extended classroom” option in order to attend my sister-in-law’s wedding in Oklahoma City. I found a conference room in the hotel that allowed me to work remotely on Thursday and attend class remotely on Friday. From there, I was rushing up to get my kids ready for bed and getting to the rehearsal dinner in time to give a speech, and then doing class again all day Saturday. After that, I was hurriedly donning my tuxedo, grabbing enough gummy bears to keep my then-4-year-old mollified through the ceremony, and accompanying my stunning wife to a night of dancing and celebrating the new love and new union in our family.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? This is going to be a transformational but gargantuan effort in your life. Be honest with yourself as to what you are seeking and find the school that reflects your true goals. Once you have the right school in mind, make sure that your support system is in place and that you’re on the same page. I simply could not have made it through this program without the support and sacrifice of my wife, Brooklyn. My focus on school and maximizing this opportunity meant that she had to shoulder much more than her fair share of the work of parenting our children and keeping our lives on track. I am eternally grateful for her even being willing to do it.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? It would be that you will not feel like a true part of the university since you are only traveling to campus every other week. Yale goes to great lengths to make every student feel at home and a part of what it means to be a Yalie.

What was your biggest regret in business school? The COVID pandemic robbed so much of the world. While the loss of face time among privileged Ivy Leaguers is at the very bottom of the list of lamentable things at the moment, I regret every solitary moment that I wasn’t able to spend with my classmates that I have come to admire so much.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is one of the more difficult questions anyone could ask me. I could fill this entry several times over with how much I admire almost every single one of my classmates. In fact, the school recently featured a blog post I co-wrote with my #SOMBFF, Jamie Cox, about our friendship and how much we admire each other.  I also have an especially deep admiration and adoration for my first-year learning team, whose bond was strong to begin with, but tempered like steel through the tragic death of our teammate Niko Lockiby. That team includes Chris Allen, the very definition of leadership and integrity; Yauheni Solad, whose brilliance and work ethic are only matched by his heart; Jess Thompson, the single greatest combination of intellect and leadership I have ever known; and Crystal Yates, whose humility and pure wisdom make her quite literally one of my idols.

One classmate whom I have bottomless admiration for, though, is my friend David Rowe. Most of our classmates know him for his pure intelligence, which is so inescapably obvious that I often tell people that he sees the world in slow motion and is just kind enough to be patient as the rest of us catch up. Ultimately, though, what makes me admire a person is not their gifts, but rather, how they choose to apply them. As impressive as his intellect is (and seriously, I cannot overstate how smart this guy is), what makes me hold him in such a high esteem is his selflessness and authenticity, his unwavering sense of justice and virtue, and his unrelenting heart for other people. He is genuinely uncomfortable with praise, and I have never seen him miss an opportunity to shift the spotlight to those around him.

You will never see him as happy as when he has a chance to heap applause on his friends. This translates to his professional life as well, where he works as a neuropsychologist and has dedicated his life to making other people’s lives more manageable. David has overcome incredible personal hardship in his life and would be well justified in having a more cynical perspective. Instead, he is utterly irrepressible in a way that is never chimeric or that paints a false picture of reality. Even at the times I know him to be down or feeling less than positive about himself, he never fails to give me hope. He is universally beloved and admired in our class for his hysterical sense of humor, but moreover, because of how he makes people feel about themselves whenever they have an interaction with him. To that end, I feel better about the world because David is in it, and I am genuinely honored to be able to call him my friend.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? The experience of COVID makes it feel quaint to say now, but I did not want to sacrifice any academic rigor or any of the life-changing relationships that a top-ranked MBA experience entail.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Practically speaking, I want to work in private equity and ultimately head an institutional asset management shop. I am interested in both sides of the GP/LP relationship and would like to spend some time building both skillsets. My long-term goal is to use finance to make a positive and sustainable impact on the lives of the people in my orbit. That may include managing assets for my Tribe or allocating for one of my beloved universities, a sustainability oriented private equity fund, or even an entrepreneurial venture of my own. I hope to use the skills I have acquired in my time at Yale to provide more gainful and meaningful employment that is fair to both workers and shareholders and that provides a modicum of economic and environmental justice. But honestly, I do not typically think about my long-term goals in practical terms, because I have found that it makes me myopic and over-focused on some specific role rather than the big picture.

Most of all, I just want to be able to show my two boys that life is not about work; work is about what you hope to achieve with your life. I hope that they are able to look at the life of their father and be proud of what he was able to accomplish given the circumstances he was born: he was able to rise from poverty, attend one of the most storied institutions of higher learning in the world, and used the privilege provided him through that experience to extend a greater opportunity for others. I want them to know that the world is what they make of it, and moreover, that if we hope to see a society that is more just and fair and free, that we have no real choice but to do what is within our means to make it so.

What made Justin such an invaluable addition to the class of 2021?

“Students like Justin Wilson make teaching in the Yale SOM EMBA a deeply rewarding experience. He is the quintessential SOM MBA – motivated by mission and purpose, eager to learn and to apply that knowledge to important issues, enthusiastic about the range of perspectives that comprise an MBA. He is a high-performance student, a terrific teammate, and a remarkably modest, grounded person. I worked closely with Justin on his independent study project to develop a plan for sharing experiences and best practices among Native American Tribal asset managers. I’ve learned immensely from him about this hugely important concern. As a member of the Choctaw tribe, and as a result of his self-driven study, he is uniquely placed to make a valuable contribution to tribal mission-based deployment of capital. Throughout the course of the pandemic shut-down, Justin has been a welcome, positive force. His energy transcends Zoom barriers. He has made EMBA teaching not only rewarding but fun.”

William Goetzmann
Edwin J. Beinecke Professor of Finance and Management Studies & Director of the International Center for Finance

Yale School of Management

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