While Allen Yang certainly has the intellectual chops to tackle big ideas, he's always had a hunger for the tangible and the practical—for hands-on reality. "In college, I studied economics," Allen says. "But it was all theoretical. I wanted to see how economics works in the real world. Business school seemed like a logical choice."
Accepted in his senior year through what is now called the 2+2 Program, Allen garnered a few years of required work experience before matriculating at HBS. He worked in investment banking in New York City, took on a strategy assignment for PepsiCo's foodservice division, and became a product engineer at a start-up, Yipit, an online aggregator of daily deal services such as Groupon and LivingSocial.
"Being accepted to HBS gave me the courage to try new things," says Allen. Investment banking proved closest to his previous economics studies. But PepsiCo drew him into an entirely new world—consumer packaged goods—and Yipit gave him the unusual opportunity to learn how to code.
Capturing what's great about business
HBS expanded Allen's opportunities for hands-on exploration. In Field II, his team traveled to Johannesburg where they helped their host, a South African home products company, develop new soap product ideas that would appeal to its core base, middle- and lower-income South Africans.
"That's what was so interesting about our assignment," Allen says. "We got to see what Johannesburg is really like for most people who live there. On our first day, we got a tour of the downtown city and of one of the townships, where we spent hours interviewing families. We asked about where they shopped, where they got water, what life was like every day—it was so far removed from what any of us experienced before, the totality of what it’s like to live in an impoverished state."
"But you quickly realize that the experience is not what you expect. Everyone we met had cell phones; all of them had monthly data plans. People would walk two kilometers every day to get water—yet they’re all connected to the Internet through their phones. It spoke to the power of technology. The trip was a very sobering experience, but it left me feeling very optimistic about what was possible. It captures what’s great about business: the potential to apply technology to solve problems."
Inspired by technology's potential, Allen fulfilled his summer internship at Google, in product management, where he will return full time after graduation. "I'm in the rare group of graduates who is returning to an industry, technology, that doesn't really require an MBA," says Allen. "But there's a lot to be said about this unique environment in which you learn from such a large range of expertise and experiences—it broadens horizons. That's what brought me to HBS, and that's exactly what happened for me. Even if you don't think you need it, the MBA can be a very powerful experience."