Reilly Dowd is among the 100 MBA graduates featured in Poets&Quants’ Best & Brightest MBAs from the Class of 2020.
Reilly Dowd is among the 100 MBA graduates featured in Poets&Quants’ Best & Brightest MBAs from the Class of 2020. courtesy University of Oxford

Reilly Dowd doesn't fit the profile of an MBA student. Certainly, you won't find many MBAs who've coordinated a family's escape from Syria.

A former Obama White House and CNN intern, Dowd isn't looking to retire early off banking bonuses or take a consulting off-ramp into the C-suite. She is a filmmaker, not a financier. Her Dreams of Daraa, a full-length documentary, follows Hanadi and her three daughters from Syrian refugees to asylum-seekers in Germany. The film is a testament to the corruption and war crimes Hanadi personally witnessed.

Dowd finished her film while completing her MBA at the University of Oxford. It wasn't an easy balance. She managed a $500K budget and a 40-person team, including an Emmy-award-winning editor, an Oscar-nominated executive producer, and a Grammy-winning music composer. In the mornings, Dowd would read business cases, followed by afternoons in class, and evenings working with her film team eight hours away in California. In the process, she landed a deal with iTVs, which will bring her work to over 200 million Americans through PBS.

The 100 Best & Brightest New MBAs

Reilly Dowd is among the 100 MBA graduates featured in Poets&Quants' Best & Brightest MBAs from the Class of 2020. Now in its sixth year, the Best & Brightest celebrates MBAs based on academic and professional excellence and extracurricular leadership. This year's list includes business school students from 60 top global programs, including Stanford, Wharton, INSEAD, MIT, University of Chicago, Northwestern, Columbia, and the London Business School. Overall, the list includes an even 50-50 split between men and women, with 38 members hailing from outside the United States.

In addition, McKinsey was the largest consumer of Best & Brightest talent, hiring nine members from this year's class.

Among this year's Best & Brightest, you'll find Columbia Business School's Zachary Lopez. Now a Goldman Sachs investment researcher, Lopez previously worked as an engineer, helping to design the Predator Drone's advanced cockpit. He is joined on the list by Evan Wright, a former U.S. National Kickboxing champion who operated an inclusion-driven boarding school before joining U.C.-Berkeley's MBA Class of 2021. At New York City's Metropolitan Opera, INSEAD's Jiwon Kang managed the training program and concert production for 14 emerging opera stars.

At the same time, Christopher Lee Owen served as a regional leader in the Amazon for the U.S. Peace Corps. "In general, I had no idea what I was doing," he admits. "So I mostly just listened, which was made easier by the fact that for the first six months of my service I couldn't speak Spanish. This resulted in endless laughter and countless friendships."

Far-Ranging Impact, On- and Off-Campus

The Class of 2020 made an impact beyond their companies and communities. Before joining ESADE, Angeliki Malizou produced a study that led the European Union to maintain its commitment to its energy-efficient product policy. In contrast, Francisco Mil?n relied on strength in numbers to drive change. He designed a media campaign to protect whistleblowers in EU nations, garnering 150,000 signatures and endorsements from 69 members of the EU Parliament before the policy's passage.

The Class of 2020 also shined when they arrived on campus. At U.C.-Berkeley, Ezgi Karaagac worked alongside administration to earn the school a STEM designation, enabling international graduates to stay in the country longer. Anisha Mocherla was tabbed to serve on the Wharton School's Dean Search Committee. Think that's a heavy burden? Meet HEC Paris' Oliver Chen. He ran MBAT, an Olympics-style competition that draws 1,500 athletes annually. You'll even find some members of the Best & Brightest who helped develop classes themselves. That was the case with the University of Minnesota's Amy Hromatka, a General Mills hire whose legacy will be a packaged goods elective run in the spring.

Their larger legacy, however, is how they will be remembered by their classmates. For many of the Best & Brightest, that means making any organization better than they found it and not shying away from tackling the big problems. As her big moment approaches, Oxford's Reilly Dowd hopes her classmates remember her in more personal terms, as "Someone who gave more than she took, listened more than she talked, and laughed--a lot."