Stanford is renowned for talking up its beyond-the-classroom life: there’s a near-infinite social scene, a blinding number of career events, and just about every resource in the Bay Area homed in on just a few square miles. Amid constant travel and a Google calendar that most closely resembles your grandma’s quilt, some perspective-altering classes often get overlooked. Everyone has an opinion, and we can’t all take the same stuff, but these two professors were absolutely top-of-the-line in my book.
From the day we met, I knew I was talking to an intellectual Lamborghini. In the classroom, Alyssa moves fast, but not because she wants to talk past you; her words just trail her mind by a country mile. And she wants to get to the good stuff. The first few times you’re in her class, you may feel like an eight-year-old running after a school bus that’s not slowing down any time soon. But after day one, you realize you better have done the work beforehand—actually thought about the cases—and showed up with meaningful ideas.
A lot of very good teachers will take their time outlining the parameters of the pre-read, fielding questions, and setting things up at the beginning of a lecture. Not Alyssa. In five minutes flat, she’s flown around the room, pulling in a half-dozen perspectives to get everyone on the same page. Her goal is to spend the lion’s share of time thinking together and talking strategy.
Dynamics of the Global Wine Industry is great because it’s truly dynamic – Alyssa knows everyone in the room, where to bring in their expertise, and where to challenge them. Every other week, I’d field the no-look, line-drive, “Ben, how would this play in politics?” or “What’s the meaning of this [insert random regulation I just scrambled to learn about]?” We all had something to bring to the table, but Alyssa went a step further and brought in a creative slate of experts from across the wine industry too.
Plenty of professors bring in guests and leave it to them as that day’s resident smart person entrepreneur with a handful of unrelatable “war stories.” From the wine intelligentsia and lifelong practitioners to experts in design, supply chain, and a host of market niches, Alyssa leveraged their perspectives in a way that could actually help us build on what we knew. She integrated each individual and their strategic intuition at precisely the right moment to give us an idea of how this industry came to be, and where it was headed. The compounding interest of effort over the quarter created a learning curve that’s really hard to make happen in such a short time frame. The genius in her approach is that preparation, deep thinking, and meaningful contribution were simply expected. It was never said directly, but if you showed up any other way, it just would not make sense to anyone why you were there. What better way to get a bunch of over-achieving, hyper-self-aware Stanfordites to meet the bar than by perpetually raising it? The catch: it was completely worth it.
I should maybe also mention there was a wine tasting each week to start things off, and that we got our own glasses (which I totally didn’t drop one night at my place and definitely didn’t have to re-order). In the end, the learning curve was powerful, but the time flew by and you knew that you were going to have fun each time. And I’ve naturally focused here on some of what makes her a great professor—the energy, wit, experience, and on-the-fly intellectual horsepower—I couldn’t help smiling sometimes because I knew I was lucky to be in the same room as someone who’s the best mentor you could ask for behind the scenes.
Glenn couldn’t be more different—he’s the house craft to Alyssa’s fine wine. With a longtime career editing at the New York Times, Glenn brings a perspective most kids at b-school didn’t know they needed. Before I even got to Stanford, his was the course I wanted to take more than any. Thankfully, I got to do much more than that before even stepping foot in the classroom with him, as we got to know each working together on GSB’s by-students-for-students paper, Nondisclosure. We joked, went on a few hikes, and put together some great issues to help the student body bring out its best in writing.
I enrolled in "Winning Writing" in my last quarter at GSB – and it was one of the best decisions I made during my time there. Glenn has a way of delivering side-splitting humor without batting an eye, and what sometimes felt like an unintentional stand-up routine paralleled a crash course in the principles of standout writing. To boot, he’s completely tapped into the latest gossip percolating across campus and often knew more than we did about the ins and outs of the student body. His methods remain forever unknown—and no one was off-limits.
To me though, the best of Glenn is much more than comedy. Each class he calls out some of his favorite pieces that we’d pre-written in preparation for that day, and he rewarded our work by featuring it for everyone to read. As someone who has aspirations in the writing world, when Glenn showed one particular piece I’d put together (coincidentally after a pretty long week) and I got such wonderful feedback from not only him and the class, but another seasoned writer who was our guest that day, it left a small, but powerful mark for me to believe in myself as someone who might one day have a future in words. The trust I have in Glenn—and that many others found soon after meeting him—is grounded not just in his being such a kind, generous individual, but that he’s an objective, truth-bearing master of his craft. When he gives you the thumbs up, you know he means it—and that counts for everything.
Beyond the Classroom
The secret I learned almost by accident is that GSB offers a rare opportunity to really get to know the people you hope to emulate. Over a few short years, Alyssa and Glenn have evolved into true role models for me. It may turn out that my own life will be a mix of the sorts of things they’ve done, and ultimately may look quite different from either of theirs. But they’ve helped me cement core values and broaden my horizons exponentially—and they’ve shown me that even someone I look up to with such admiration might take the time to form a real, lasting relationship that feels as much like genuine friendship as it does mentorship. Getting into a place like GSB is a wonderful thing; meeting people like Glenn and Alyssa is another altogether.
To learn more about the MBA program at Stanford, message Ben here.