The Best & Brightest Executive MBAs Of 2021

You wouldn’t think Dr. David Brindley would have time for business school. Dividing his time between Boston and Oxford, Brindley is the COO for Rational Vaccines, a firm leading the fight against herpes simplex viruses. That’s just the start. He has founded two medical companies and spearheaded two IPOs. Outside business, he teaches Engineering in Medicine at Harvard Medical School and has already authored over 100 peer-reviewed publications and 10 book chapters.

…and he is only 31 years old!

Brindley is one of the 102 graduates being honored in P&Q’s 7th annual Best & Brightest Executive MBAs. Hailing from 49 MBA programs — including Wharton, INSEAD, Chicago Booth, and MIT Sloan —the Best & Brightest honors Class of 2021 members who “personify excellence” through “their contributions to the class, academic performance, extracurricular involvement, professional achievement, and personal intangibles.” They range in age from 27-56, and work as physicians, business owners, and cybersecurity experts. You’ll find the Best & Brightest on the leading edge of artificial intelligence as much as the front lines against COVID-19.

What type of leader is Brindley? Just four years ago, the chairman of a near-bankrupt healthcare technology firm tapped Brindley to save its R&D operation. The results would make an MBA case study on successful turnarounds. “When I inherited the R&D group as Chief Scientific Officer, the 50-person organization had a valuation—based on purely cash invested to date — of approximately $45m,” he tells P&Q. “18 months later, I led the R&D group to achieve three FDA-approved medical devices that formed the basis of an IPO yielding a market cap of approx. $350m. Today, the organization counts over 250 people and the medical devices are saving patient lives.”

David Brindley


So why would Brindley spend 14 months in the HEC Paris Executive MBA program?

For him, the reason is embedded in HEC Paris’ motto: Apprendre à oser (“The more you know, the more you dare.”). “I wanted a challenge that lies beyond the written content of the EMBA programme: I wanted to immerse myself in an unfamiliar cultural environment, with like-minded people who were willing to take a risk on a new environment to challenge and better themselves, and most importantly, their fellow classmates.”

Like the other graduates named to our Best & Brightest, the doctor possesses a zeal for life and a compulsion to grow. That drives them to take the lead and bring people together. They’ve fought and fallen, but they remain committed to making a difference. In the classroom, these students summon the courage to ask the questions and share the experiences that bring a sigh of relief from their peers. More than that, the Best & Brightest follow a apprendre à oser mindset. To IESE’s Linus Haferkemper, that means stretching out of comfortable patterns. Wharton’s Michael Greer takes it a step further. To him, MBA success doesn’t just come from embracing the new and uncertain. He found business school to be an exercise in endurance.

“The best advice that I received prior to beginning the program was that you will have to juggle work, family, and school and at any given time, you will be failing at one,” Greer observes. “The key is to keep the balls in the air and not fail at any one thing for too long.”


That wasn’t easy for the Class of 2021. Like EMBAs before, they had to contend with evolving roles and fussy children — and the sudden emergencies that come with both. As the class pinballed between roles, they also contended with a pandemic that forced most to learn and lead online (when they weren’t busy tutoring their children at home). As a result, the Best & Brightest leaned on their peers more than ever. That meant EMBAs were doing more than “checking a box” to get their degree, explains the University of Maryland’s Jessica Zeiser.

Justin Ryder Wilson, Yale School of Management

“My experience is quite the contrary – this cohort is filled with engaging, insightful, and extremely talented individuals. In some ways, I have learned as much from them as I have from the formal program and I cannot thank them enough for that.”

Who are this year’s Best & Brightest EMBAs? Think of them as the rare people you meet — and never forget. Take Duke Fuqua’s Aatif M. Husain, the Doogie Howser of this year’s class. The Duke Fuqua EMBA graduated from medical school when he was 21…and didn’t return to business school until 30 years later. In between, he became an epileptologist, neurologist, and sleep medicine specialist — not to mention a past president of the American Clinical Neurophysiology Society and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology. In contrast, Justin Ryder Wilson came to the Yale School of Management from Texas, where he heads strategic investments for the Choctaw Nation.

“What truly drove me to discover my passion for investing is that it is the ultimate tool for impact at scale,” Ryder Wilson writes. “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.”


Ryder Wilson himself is a past recipient of the Chahta Spirit Award, given by the Choctaw Nation to employees who personify its values in the workplace. He is just one of the heavily decorated Best & Brightest EMBAs. While studying at Cambridge Judge, Christie Marr was awarded the Sigma Prize for “outstanding national contribution to mathematics support over an extended period.” The award will nicely complement Marr’s doctorate in Theoretical Computer Science and three master’s degrees. Let’s just say Marr, who is the deputy director at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences, has already applied her MBA learnings in developing a product.

Christie Marr, Cambridge Judge

“I am proud of having dusted off my coding skills to build a prototype web-based mathematics home tutor app.  It uses an algorithm-based approach to mimic the dialogue between tutor and tutee.”

Before enrolling at MIT Sloan, Kevin D. Johnson authored a business best-seller: The Entrepreneur Mind: 100 Essential Beliefs, Characteristics, and Habits of Elite Entrepreneurs. Make no mistake: Johnson knows his stuff.  His media company has landed contracts as large as $40 million dollars! Arizona State’s Mukund Vasudevan, a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering, holds four patents in safe water treatment technology that’s used in the nuclear power industry. In the United Arab Emirates, Omar Zaafrani, a senior VP of communications and brand, helped transform the image of one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies.

“At the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), I built a communications and brand function that helped drive an enterprise-wide transformation program,” he writes. “This also included a proactive and transparent communications and repositioning program that helped reshape ADNOC’s reputation and brand. Over the past five years, ADNOC’s brand equity has grown by over 150%, making it the most valuable brand in the UAE and the second most valuable in the Middle East, according to Brand Finance.”

Pages 4-5: 102 profiles of this year’s Best & Brightest Executive MBA grads.

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