2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Janet Cao, New York University (Stern)

Janet Cao

New York University, Stern School of Business (Washington, DC)

Age: 35

“Empathetic, driven risk taker who sees the fun and optimism in nearly everything.”

Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama

Family Members: Xu Cao (dad), Liming Zhang (mom), David Cao (brother)

Fun fact about yourself: I occasionally eat dessert before the entrée.   

Undergraduate School and Degree:  University of Southern California, B.A. Cinema-Television

Where are you currently working? Medenos, Chief Business Officer

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Co-Founder and Member of FEMBA@Stern
USC Trustee Full Merit Scholarship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Along with other women in the NY and DC cohorts, I co-founded FEMBA@Stern, which is a professional women’s network for students and alumni of the Executive MBA program at Stern. We’ve done some in-person and virtual events, and almost 100 of us are on a WhatsApp group where we exchange information on job openings, books we’re reading, etc. The group is a great way to stay connected and be supported, for what I hope will last a very long time.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I started a company in the consumers goods sector in my 20s, without much prior business experience. I am proud of how fearlessly I pursued the growth of that company, probably out of sheer naiveté and idealism. I made good decisions and even more mistakes. From that endeavor, I’ve learned life lessons that will shape the rest of my life.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? It was Stern’s reputation and the network it could create for me in DC and NYC. I had spent my entire adult life on the West Coast and wanted to develop a professional network on the East Coast. Stern offered a great way to do so while being new to the DC area.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Risk can be prudently and logically calculated to achieve optimal outcomes. I have a higher risk tolerance than most and veer toward being idealistic; many of my previous decisions were driven more by ‘instinct’ than calculated reason. This MBA program showed me how to quantitatively analyze risk, choice, and potential outcomes to make better business decisions.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I had a huge work deadline a few days after the New Year, which coincided with a big microeconomics final assignment. All spare minutes that I had over the holiday week I used for school and work. I let my professor know ahead of time as well, and he granted me an extension. I feel that planning ahead and giving a well-reasoned heads-up to the professors are the key to making this work.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Know exactly why you are doing the program and what you want at the end of it. “The degree” should not be the goal, because that is a given. What do you want to learn? What do you want to achieve? What relationships do you want to build? These are questions to fully consider before starting the program.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? “It’s too late” and “there’s not enough time.” It’s never too late for anything, and you have time for everything you value in life. Some of my classmates were great inspirations; they were juggling kids, relationships, and career promotions and pivots, on top of school – and did it all with a sense of enthusiasm.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? David Fein. He is an example of someone who has achieved great success in both his personal and professional life. He has both high IQ and EQ but is also kind, humble, and very hard-working. He gave me the best leadership advice and lives by this: “Give out all the credit and take all the blame.” The people in your life take note, and that is how you gain trust and influence.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I wanted to be a part of an in-person cohort with people who had equal or more professional experience than me. I ruled out completely an online program, and the part-time programs didn’t allow the same quality of relationship-building because students are not part of the same cohort. I am very happy with my decision because I have met many driven, supportive friends who will be in my life for a very long time.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Be a part of a high-impact organization that takes a product fully to market, as a founding or early-stage member. That may come from my current endeavor in biotech, or that may transform into something else. I gravitate toward smaller, agile organizations that focus on meaningful impact. We spend so much of our time at work, and I’d like my time to make a difference.

What made Janet such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“From day one, Janet has brought energy, optimism, and levity to the Executive MBA program in Washington, DC. In fact, she spearheaded a meet-up at the Washington monument to get together with her cohort before the program even kicked off. Whether it’s our team’s interactions with her, or seeing her established rapport with peers, Janet is able to bring people together and has helped create a tight-knit community in the EMBA DC program. This is evidenced by her commitment to creating allyship for our female identifying students in the program, as co-founder of the FEMBA group, and her work creating a student interest group for entrepreneurs. Janet is driven and intellectually curious, and we look forward to hearing about her successes in the biotech and entrepreneurship space and beyond.”

Neha Singha
Assistant Dean, Executive Programs


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