“You come here to get involved in new interests, new ideas, new things that are important.”

A summer session at Choate Rosemary Hall became a "life-changing" event for Mina Kazanlieva when she was admitted to the high school full-time, and moved from Bulgaria to the United States.

"The schoolwork was challenging, and it was hard to be apart from my family," says Mina, but the experience was also greatly rewarding. Mina's economics team reached the finals in a Federal Reserve competition, and she enjoyed playing volleyball on the varsity team. She was admitted to Princeton University, where she studied economics, and in another "miracle" she was reunited with her family, who won the lottery for US green cards and also moved to Princeton, NJ.

Mina's interest in investing led her to Goldman Sachs, where she worked in the health care sector, and Centerbridge Partners, where she oversaw investments in diverse companies, including some in distressed situations. "We were value investors and were active throughout the economic cycle."

Leadership made personal

For Mina, getting an MBA was driven by both professional and personal motivations. "When you evaluate investments," she says, "financials and contracts are critical. But they're only a part of what you should bring to the table. I wanted a better grasp of other critical success factors such as operations, innovation, and talent management. I wanted to become a more well-rounded businessperson."

On the personal side, Mina wanted to be part of the special community she saw at HBS. "People here are passionate about diverse ideas and causes. You come here to get involved in new interests, new ideas, new things that are important."

Professor Robert Kaplan's Authentic Leadership Development class, for example, impressed Mina with its focus on "integrating work with personal life and empowering others. We had to write a statement on the purpose of our leadership and create a ‘personal leadership development plan.' The course helped us determine what we want to achieve and gave us a tool kit for how to go about it.

"A big surprise to me has been the Entrepreneurship and Global Capitalism class with Professor Jeffrey Jones," Mina says. "We put ourselves in the shoes of prominent business leaders from the 19th century until today. One of the takeaways was that entrepreneurs build not only businesses, but also communities. We examined our own responsibilities."

Beyond the campus

After an IXP in Silicon Valley in Mina's RC year, she interned at Anheuser-Busch InBev "to see a corporation from the inside, how things actually get made and sold." In her EC year, she participated in the China IXP with Professor Elizabeth Koll.

"HBS is special," Mina explains, "because it's more than the campus, the faculty, and the students. It also includes the visiting speakers, who generously share lessons from their experiences, the companies from our real-life case studies, and the broader alumni community, who serve as mentors, role models, and links to the wider world beyond HBS. The school is a dynamic and open place, where people find others with shared passions. In the end, you come out with a clear vision of where you want to go and how you could get there."

Mina plans on returning to Centerbridge after graduation, and her long-term vision incorporates the community ethos she finds at HBS. "I'm interested not only in helping companies grow and get better returns from our investors, but also in helping women advance in finance and business. Additionally, I'd like to help middle-class investors, like my parents, understand and participate in sophisticated investment options currently available only to institutions and high net worth individuals."