Tag: Alumni



Suzana Deng

Part of a series of Q&As with Olin alumni. Today we hear from Suzana Deng, BSBA ’17. Suzana is an eCommerce Analyst at Nestle, the world’s largest food and beverage company.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

I am an eCommerce Analyst at Nestle, helping to grow and optimize the online channel for the world’s largest food and beverage company. This includes evaluating marketing activations, identifying opportunities in organic search/share of voice, and analyzing business performance. All while trying to resist the freshly baked Toll House cookies. My Olin education has provided me with a foundational understanding of business and opened the door to many exciting opportunities.

What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

I first discovered my love of marketing in Professor Sawhill’s Principles of Marketing class, and it was reinforced later when I took his Marketing Strategy course. A defining moment was when Professor Sawhill held up a box of Cheerios and said they’re just little oat circles that taste like cardboard – the added value comes from the emotional connection the brand evokes in customers. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by brand management and hope to make it a part of my career someday.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

I’ve been back on campus recruiting for Jet and also have several people from Olin on my team at work – best of all, I met my boyfriend at WashU (we were both marketing/operation supply chain management majors at Olin) and we’ve been experiencing East Coast life together.

Why is business education important?

Business education gives you a very holistic understanding of how organizations effectively leverage their strengths and resources to meet their objectives – whether it’s a corporation or non-profit – so it’s a great base for any career path.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

As a student it was never fun to hear, but I can confirm that networking / forming connections is extremely important to have a successful career. In the workplace, be sure you’re building and maintaining good relationships every day – you never know when these can come in handy. In addition, be a resource to others when you can – it’s all about give and take.




The St. Louis Business Journal released its 2019 “30 Under 30” list featuring five Olin alumni: Daphne Benzaquen, Breona Butler, Brian Chao, Joseph McDonald and Phillip Sangokoya. Here’s a summary with links to each honoree’s full write-up on the Business Journal website.

Daphne Benzaquen, PMBA ’17, at 29 years old is the creative designer and CEO of daph., a lifestyle brand in which high-quality baby alpaca fur and llama leather pieces are created and 20% of sales are donated to Peruvian and St. Louis communities. In addition to daph., Benzaquen founded The Chomp blog and Daphne Benzaquen Consulting. She also serves as community director of ThriveCo.

Breona Butler, PMBA ’18, at 27 years old is an IT portfolio manager at Keefe Commissary Network. Butler pursued her MBA to bridge the gap between business and technology. Through her ability to understand business and technology, she has helped reduce her department’s costs by 15%.

Brian Chao, BSBA ’12, MBA ’13, at 29 years old is the chief financial officer at the Starkloff Disability Institute. Prior to accepting this position, Chao had been a passionate supporter of the Institute. Through his position at Starkloff Disability Institute, Chao has helped to raise more the $1 million in a year for the first time.

Joseph McDonald, EN ’15, MBA ’15, at 27 years old is the co-founder and COO at Epharmix, a digital health care company. Epharmix, which McDonald launched following graduating WashU, “simplifies proactive patient engagement for providers, payers and employers.”

Phillip Sangokoya, BSBA ’11, at 29 years old is the specialty finance relationship manager and the assistant vice president of U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation. In three months, Sangokoya has “underwritten and/or closed over $10 million in investments to organizations advancing social impact, small business growth and real estate.” In addition, he also is the co-founder of BRAND of St. Louis.




A news release from MERS/Goodwill, republished here.

Julie Zuick, St. Louis, MBA ’09, is following in her grandfather’s footsteps in serving the MERS/Goodwill board of directors.

Zuick, who was elected to serve on the 2019 board of directors, recently learned that her grandfather, Philip Isserman, acted as MERS chairman of the board of directors from the late 1960s to the early 1970s.

“As a longtime supporter of Goodwill, I’m proud to serve alongside a phenomenal group of people as we help the organization continue to grow and serve the community,” Zuick said.

MERS Goodwill changes lives through the power of work. Its vision is a community where each individual has the opportunity to learn, work, and achieve their greatest potential. Annually serving more than 40,000 individuals, the non-profit agency operates in 75 locations serving 89 counties in the bi-state area. Revenues from 42 Goodwill stores assist with funding MERS Goodwill job training and employment services.

“I’m glad Julie has joined our board,” said David Kutchback, president and CEO of MERS Goodwill. “Her high energy and strong experience will be an asset to the organization.”

As a board member, Zuick plans to use her background in marketing, strategic planning and retail to help fulfill the mission of MERS Missouri Goodwill, “Changing lives through the power of work.” MERS Missouri Goodwill provides a variety of programs and services to help support this mission.

“In both my personal and professional life, I am passionate about employing people to the top of their ability,” Zuick said. “As an executive recruiter, I help people reach their potential daily and our clients recruit the best talent.”

Zuick is a senior consultant for the Clayton-based executive search firm Grant Cooper. She joined the organization following a successful career in brand and general management for Fortune 500 companies. Zuick earned her MBA from Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis and a BS in advertising from the University of Texas at Austin.




Part of a series of Q&As with Olin BSBA alumni. Today we hear from Laira Torres-Ruiz, BSBA ’17. Laira works for Guggenheim Partners in New York City as an investment banking analyst.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

I’m an investment banker at Guggenheim Partners, mainly working on Retail M&A transactions. Olin gave me access to the most inquisitive and inspiring people – from distinguished professors to fellow peers – whose perspective, mentorship and encouragement helped me find the intersection of my passions and abilities in financial services. Finance is broader and more applicable than I could’ve ever imagined. I owe my interest in the field (and success in recruiting into it) to those that took the time to share their perspective and give me much needed advice.

What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

Staci Thomas – without a doubt (so much that the BSBA 2017 class gave her the teaching award at Commencement). We spend so much of our undergraduate years focusing on aggregating skills that we lose perspective on how these form part of a greater story – be it a week-long project, a client relationship, a personal brand or a career. Staci’s Management Communication helps students gain invaluable managerial perspectives, transforming us from experts in skills to well-rounded business strategists (that also have hard skills as part of their toolkit). She also does this in the most engaging of ways too. I still remember one of the projects was pitching a product I really disliked and receiving peer feedback on it. Those skills – thinking quickly on my feet, adapting to an audience, articulating a message concisely, speaking confidently – are the ones that have really made a difference in my career.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

I’m thankful that I’ve kept in touch with those that made WashU so special. Olin does community very well, and that does not end after graduation. Alumni keep the spirit of collaboration alive, engaging with both the network and the University itself. I know I can call on any of my fellow alumni for advice or a referral. For example, fellow alumni guided me through the private equity recruiting process, which helped me succeed in securing my next position at Thomas H. Lee Partners in Boston. We also have a commitment to giving back to the school, which I live out by donating to scholarships and prioritizing campus recruiting for Guggenheim.

Why is business education important?

Someone once told me that “business is the art of getting things done”. While that’s too simple to capture the true relevance and importance of an undergraduate business education, I like what it’s conveying. Business education provides a framework to organize, tackle and solve problems. It’s more than financial modeling and marketing plans: it’s also communication skills, leading efficient meetings and a basic professional skillset. Some of my classmates went to less traditional fields like teaching and non-profit; they’re building thriving careers, part of which they to their business foundation. Many of my peers from other academic divisions regret not having been more exposed to business, but none of my Olin classmates has regretted being fully immersed in the experience.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

WashU is a safe place, so take more risks. Sign up for classes that will actually teach you something new (they’re often harder and not required). Go for that internship with notoriously challenging interviews (the worst thing they can say is no). Pick up a minor just because it’s interesting. Study abroad. Run for a position. Not everything has to have a “resume purpose”, so don’t get caught up with what others tell you you’re supposed to be doing. It’s often the most well-rounded and open-minded people that get ahead. Pass-fail is always an option, but going back in time isn’t.




Lori Lee

In her commencement address to WashU Olin’s graduate students on May 17, 2019, Lori Lee described herself as a small-town Missouri woman who aspired to join a Big Six accounting firm, marry and have kids. But Lee’s story took a few unexpected turns, leading her to a global leadership position in one of the world’s largest firms.

Through it all, she told the graduates, her values have guided her. They provided the North Star, the context for every data-driven decision. They formed the basis for everything worth fighting for.

Lori Lee addressing graduate students at Commencement on May 17, 2019.

“At the core of all the calculations, at the heart of everything we do as business leaders are our values,” said Lee, BSBA ’88, MBA ’89. “It’s more important than ever to know what you’re willing to fight for. The issues are challenging businesses like never before. With social media today, molehills can become mountains in an instant—and how you respond in that split second makes all the difference.”

Today, Lee is CEO of AT&T Latin America and global marketing officer for AT&T Inc. She credits WashU Olin and former Dean Robert Virgil for working closely with her and providing the support that got her through business school. She rose through the ranks at several companies before an unexpected move to Texas in 1997 opened an opportunity for her at Southwestern Bell, which later became part of AT&T.

That move illustrated Lee’s first tip to the graduates that afternoon: Embrace every change as an unforeseen opportunity. “How you embrace change will be the difference between your success or failure,” Lee said, leading to her second tip: Anything worth having requires initiative.

See Lori Lee’s address at Commencement, May 17, 2019.

She spent the most time on that third tip, however—the one about knowing your values. Later that afternoon, Lee said that’s important because most decisions are not momentous forks in the road.

“Rarely is it neat and tidy,” she said. “You need to think through these things in advance. You find yourself in a moment when you have to make a decision. If you don’t have a sense of values for your company or for yourself, you aren’t prepared.”

That preparation is particularly important in her career today as the leader of AT&T’s Latin American operation, where the values of a different culture may not align with those of the US-based corporation where she works. “We talk about that all the time,” she said. And in a fast-paced world fueled by social media and heightened social awareness, it’s important for companies to know what they value and what their employees value so they can take a stand when it’s appropriate.

“Does this issue affect our values or our employee base? If so, perhaps it’s appropriate to take a stand,” Lee said, recalling the 2016 shooting in AT&T’s hometown that killed five police officers and wounded nine others. “My CEO has stepped out on a few issues. One that is most known is Black Lives Matter, diversity and valuing diversity. Our employees were shaken by the Dallas shooting and wondered what we were going to do.”

Lee, a member of Olin’s National Council, values the opportunity to stay connected with the university and Olin, staying current with higher education issues through her participation in WashU’s College Prep Program, which is supported by AT&T.

“Stand up, speak up and don’t be afraid to rock the boat,” Lee told the graduates in mid-May. “Embrace change. Take initiative. And be really clear on your values. Do these things and you’ll be steps ahead of me when I sat where you are today.”




Part of a series of Q&As with Olin Alumni. Today we hear from Justin Wexler, BSBA ’15. Justin is combining his finance and marketing skills in his role as the Director of Corporate Development at AnchorFree.

What are you doing for work now, and how did your Olin education impact your career?

I’ve spent the last 4 years in venture capital (first at Technology Crossover Ventures then at WndrCo). I am now the Director of Corporate Development at AnchorFree (WndrCo’s largest portfolio company). In my career, both finance and marketing skills have been critically important. Finance is important for analyzing deals and marketing is just as important as I’m often promoting my firm to entrepreneurs (in order to get them excited about receiving investment from us). Olin Business School’s 4 year undergrad program allowed me to major in finance and marketing; the fact that I was a business school student from the first day of freshman year led to me being well-prepared for working in business by the time I graduated from Wash U.

What Olin course, ‘defining moment’ or faculty influenced your life most, and why?

I remember a course on branding that I still think about all the time. In most cases, branding is really what differentiates a product or service from being a commodity. It’s why you spend so much on sneakers or pick a particular pair of earphones. Ever since that course, I’ve made it a point to develop my own personal brand and reputation. Without that, I don’t think I would have been recruited for my first, second, or third roles out of college. Olin taught me the importance of making a lasting impact on anyone I meet because you never know when you’ll run into that person again.

How do you stay engaged with Olin or your Olin classmates and friends?

There are lots of great alumni events in San Francisco! It’s an awesome way to stay connected with the Olin community while being on the West Coast.

Why is business education important?

I really believe that a business education is relevant for really anything in life. Even if you plan on grad school or something outside of traditional “business,” understanding the principles of accounting, finance, and marketing are all important skills that really every adult should possess.

Looking back, what advice would you give current Olin students?

Get very involved in student groups on campus. When I was a sophomore, I started a public speaking club on campus. It was just me when it started out… but eventually grew to over 300 students. That experience really helped hone my leadership skills and my passion for entrepreneurship. Student groups are a great way to “practice” because in a few years, the stakes will be much higher in the “real world.”