They were the most coveted team members for group projects, the protégés of esteemed professors, the presidents of the finance club, the targets of every corporate recruiter who visited campus. Everyone remembers the smartest students in their MBA class. And everyone wonders what ever happened to them … until now.
Bloomberg Businessweek has tracked down five of the top students from the MBA Class of 1991 to find out where they ended up, and if success in B-school led to success in the working world. They each credit what they learned at B-school as extremely important to the discovery of their future careers, which doesn’t come as a surprise to Dave Wilson, president and chief executive officer of the Graduate Management Admission Council and a 1965 MBA grad from University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. "An MBA opens the door," Wilson says. "When you get in there, it gives you a sense of perspective, a balance, a world view that is often different from what you would have had before you took the degree."
This holds true for these high-achieving members of the MBA Class of 1991. Here are their stories:
Then: MIT Sloan School of Management Class of 1991, Seley Scholar, the most distinguished of Sloan’s achievement awards honoring outstanding leadership, professional promise, high academic achievement, and contributions to the school
Now: CEO, Education Dynamics
Tom Anderson graduated from Dartmouth in 1984 with a math degree and a plan to go into medicine. But after speaking to some doctors who expressed regret with their career choices due to the HMO mess that characterized the 1980s, Anderson changed his mind. He took a job teaching high school math for a few years and then joined Paine Webber as a stockbroker. He spent three years at the firm, and in that time he found himself drawn to asset management. But to make the job switch, he was going to need an MBA.
Anderson went out on a limb and applied to only one school: Sloan. "Fortunately I got in," he says. "I went there expecting to go into asset management, but one of the great things about the top business schools is that you get incredible exposure to a bunch of different companies and different fields in different professions."
After earning his MBA, Anderson signed on at McKinsey & Co. He worked there for the next decade, moving up the corporate ladder and eventually becoming a partner. He left McKinsey and joined Capital One, where he successfully ran, then sold, one of its medical lending businesses. Then, after taking on a similar role at three other businesses, Anderson gained a reputation as a star CEO in the private equity world.
Anderson now fuels a passion for education as the CEO of Education Dynamics, which aims to help adult learners find the right schools and the right degree. "Sloan was a life-changing experience for me on many dimensions," he says. "If I could have figured out how to get paid and do that my whole life, I would have been a permanent student."
Then: University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School Class of 1991, Valedictorian
Now: Co-founder, Real Change Strategies
Martha Blue’s career began in fixed income sales and trading at Goldman Sachs after she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in December 1986 with an accounting degree from the Wharton School. She stayed at Goldman for two years before deciding it wasn’t for her.
Blue took a six-month break in Florence, Italy, then returned stateside with a plan to earn her MBA. After spending a weekend in Chapel Hill, N.C., she knew that UNC’s Kenan-Flagler School of Business was her MBA destination. "The school had so much energy and so many people dedicated to making it a world-class program," Blue says. "It was the most realistic preparation for a work environment you could get at a business school."
Upon graduating from Kenan-Flagler, Blue spent four years at McKinsey & Co., while trying to decide which industry she could bear spending the next 20 years of her life in. She ultimately settled on the nonprofit sector. After working for a conservation group for a year, she founded Blue Consulting in 1996, which served a mix of for-profit and nonprofit clients. Then, in 2007, she co-founded Real Change Strategies, which only serves nonprofit organizations.
Two decades later, Blue says her MBA was "crucial" to her career development. "It gave me a broad view that I would not otherwise have gotten," she says.
Then: Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business Class of 1991, Valedictorian
Now: Founder, Bellwood Capital
South African by birth, Peter Ebell earned an engineering degree in 1986 from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He served in the navy for two years after graduation and then found a job at Johannesburg Consolidated Investments, focused on the gold and platinum mining industry.
After a year and a half, Ebell began to wonder what it would take to move up the corporate ladder into a "top job." It was quickly evident he needed a strong background in finance to get those kinds of positions, so he decided to enroll in a one-year full-time MBA program at Southern Methodist. While there, he became especially impressed with the finance program, specifically the training in derivatives.
Once he obtained his MBA, Ebell returned to South Africa and became an equity analyst, eventually convincing the higher-ups at his firm that derivatives were something important to get involved in. Four years ago he moved back to the U.S. and is now in the process of seeding his own hedge fund, Bellwood Capital, in Massachusetts. "I’m very happy with my career path as it’s turned out," Ebell says. "I wouldn’t say I learned a lot at Cox. It indicated to me where my interests lay, effectively, and because of that I was able to develop those interests."
Then: UCLA Anderson School of Management Class of 1991, Edward W. Carter Fellow, awarded to the top 2 percent of each full-time graduating class at Anderson
Now: CEO, Neuraltus Pharmaceuticals
Andrew Grengos graduated from MIT in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering only to find that he didn’t think it would make for an interesting career. He worked for Morgan Stanley for two years before deciding he needed to be more well-rounded, having never taken a business or economics class in his undergraduate studies.
The Australia native looked at graduate schools on the West Coast and settled on Anderson after hearing about its strong finance program. "I truly had these big functional expertise blank spots," Grengos says. "Knowing those blank spots and filling them, I absolutely think it was very helpful to me."
After paying for his MBA completely out of pocket, Grengos spent more than six years working for McKinsey & Co., before moving into the biotech industry. He served as the chief business officer and head of corporate strategy for companies such as Chiron, Dynavax Technologies (DVAX), and Amgen (AMGN), before he decided he was ready to try his hand at running a company. He chose Neuraltus Pharmaceuticals based on its work in the neurodegenerative disease space, an area of interest to him because of his father’s bout with Alzheimer’s. "I thought there’d be some good karma spending a chunk of my career working in a place that was trying to help people like my father," he says.
Then: Georgia Institute of Technology MBA Class of 1991, Student of the Year
Now: Director, PricewaterhouseCoopers
Scott Moyer graduated from University of California, Riverside in 1987 with a degree in administrative studies, a "fairly generic degree," he says, that lacked specificity.
After working for an engineer for a short while, Moyer followed his fiancée to Atlanta and enrolled in Georgia Tech’s full-time MBA program in 1989. He tested out of three of his core MBA courses and was able to take electives with the second-year MBAs. "Many of the (second-year students) were seriously trying to get into a full-time job," Moyer says. "I figured out early on that if I could get straight A’s my first quarter, that would get me an internship." And he did, with former Big Five accounting firm Arthur Andersen.
Moyer graduated with his MBA and CPA in 1991 and was hired full-time at Arthur Andersen. He worked there for four years before deciding he wanted to do more consulting work. He later worked with Coca-Cola (KO) and Siemens One (SI), where he became chief financial officer in 2001.
A recovering serial CFO, Moyer now works as a director at PricewaterhouseCoopers overseeing consulting projects. "I wouldn’t be anywhere if I hadn’t gone back to get an MBA," Moyer says. "I was drifting in the wind trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and going to Tech made it very easy for me to focus on an area of expertise."