5 Inspiring People Who Changed The World After Business School | Top Universities

5 Inspiring People Who Changed The World After Business School

By Laura Bridgestock

Updated March 5, 2021 Updated March 5, 2021

Sponsored by the Kogod School of Business

Ever wondered what it takes to change the world? Well, apparently, the answer is a business degree. A study published by HBR found that almost a third of the top 100 names on the Fortune 500 list have a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.

Along with degrees in engineering, MBAs are the most commonly held qualifications by the world’s biggest earners, people who are at the forefront of new innovations and world-changing ideas.

While it’s entirely possible to climb up the ladder of success without a degree from a top-ranked business school, it can certainly help. Here are five extraordinary men and women who went to business school and made profound lasting changes to the world. Think you can follow in their footsteps?

Sheryl Sandberg

Photo taken by cellanr in April 2013

Primarily known for her work with Google and Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg graduated from Harvard Business School in 1995, after a brief stint as research assistant at the World Bank, where she worked on healthcare projects in India tackling AIDS, leprosy and blindness. This experience inspired her to attend business school.

Writing for Newsweek in 2008, Sandberg said: “During my first trip to India, I was taken on a tour of a village leprosy home, where I saw people in conditions that I would not have thought possible. I promised myself that going forward, I would work only on things that really mattered. That's why I ended up in business school. I realized that I needed a better understanding of how organizations work—and don't work—to create real change.

“I wasn't crazy about business. In fact, I never thought I would work at a for-profit company. But learning how to harness the power of large organizations appealed to me.”

After her MBA, she worked as chief of staff for the secretary of the Treasury department under President Bill Clinton, and then joined Google as their vice president of global online sales and operations. In 2007, she became Facebook's chief operating officer.

Carlos Carrazana

Image copyright American University

Carlos Carrazana is the chief operating officer and executive vice president at Save the Children. He started working at the nonprofit in 2012 after spending four years working to eradicate pediatric HIV infections and pediatric AIDS at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Carrazana actually began his career in banking, serving as vice president for Latin American and African programs at First Union Bank and relationship manager and senior corporate officer at Riggs National Bank. Pivoting to a career in global development in 1999, Carrazana told the Latin Post in 2015: “In my mid-thirties, I realized I wanted to do something totally different”.

Carrazana used the knowledge and transferable skills he gained as part of his MBA at American University’s Kogod School of Business to make a lasting impact. In 2016, Save the Children worked in 120 countries, reaching 157 million children, including more than 56 million directly.

Lisa Leslie

Photo taken by Angela George, 2010

The four-time Olympic gold medal winner and two time women’s NBA champion was the first woman to slam-dunk in WNBA history and the first to score 6,000 career points. Not satisfied with her domination in the sporting world, Lisa Leslie began taking business classes in the off-season of 2006. Three years later, when she retired at the age of 37, she also obtained an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

Her desire to become a businesswoman goes back to the very start of her career when she first began earning significant sums of money. She told a reporter: “I thought, 'I need to go back to school and figure out more of a business perspective of what I'm doing and how I should invest my money.'"

Off the basketball court, Lisa Leslie has been working as a sports commentator for NBC, ABC and Fox Sports Net since obtaining her MBA and is also a part-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks. Today, she is worth US$5 million.

Tim Cook

Photo taken by Valery Marchive, January 2009

After graduating from Duke University with an MBA in 1988, Tim Cook worked at Intelligent Electronics for a while and later became Vice President for Corporate Materials at Compaq. However, he left the company for Apple in 1998, after Steve Jobs offered him the role of chief operating officer. Apple was a struggling company at the time and, in his commencement speech at Auburn University, Cook stressed that in leaving Compaq for Apple, he took a leap of faith.

He said: “Any purely rational consideration of cost and benefits lined up in Compaq's favor, and the people who knew me best advised me to stay at Compaq...No more than five minutes into my initial interview with Steve, I wanted to throw caution and logic to the wind and join Apple. My intuition already knew that joining Apple was a once in a lifetime opportunity to work for the creative genius, and to be on the executive team that could resurrect a great American company." This goal has been well and truly achieved. In 2017, Apple came third on the Fortune 500 list, with profits nearing the US$45,700 million mark.

Mary T. Barra

Public domain, 2014

It’s hard not to feel inspired by the rags to riches success story of Mary T. Barra, the Michigan-born daughter of a bookkeeper and a machinist who worked her way to the top of a Fortune 500 company. Barra joined General Motors at the age of 18 and held a variety of roles in the company while pursuing a degree in engineering from Kettering University (then known as the General Motors Institute) and an MBA from Stanford University under a General Motors fellowship.

Believe it or not, being the first female CEO of General Motors, a business worth US$58.22 billion, is the least of her accomplishments: she pushed GM to develop the Chevy Bolt EV, the first electric car to achieve a range of 200 miles. What does she see as her next challenge? Driverless cars.

How will you make a mark on the world like these five famous faces? A degree from the Kogod School of Business at the American University could give you the business training and contacts you need to realize your dreams.

This article was originally published in April 2018 . It was last updated in March 2021

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