Ellen Liu, MBA'19

“Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone, either in your career or another part of your life. Try a new industry or function or city or country.” — Ellen Liu, MBA ’19

June 12, 2024

Energy industry executive Ellen Liu graduated from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business after deferring her enrollment for four years, during which time she worked as an investment banker.

“The longer you can defer, the more you’ll get out of GSB because you’ll have more experiences to talk about,” says Liu, senior director of investor relations for Talen Energy in Houston, Texas. “Pursuing an MBA is one of the rare occasions where there’s no rush. You don’t need to be the youngest person in your class. There’s no pride in that. If you’re too inexperienced, you’ll get less out of it.”


About Ellen


Yardley, Pennsylvania


MBA, Stanford Graduate School of Business (2019)

Rice University, BA, Mathematical Economic Analysis & Statistics (2013)

Professional Experience

Senior Director Investor Relations, Talen Energy

Director of Finance and Corporate Development, Talen Energy

Vice President, Energy Investment Banking, Jeffries LLC

Current Profile

Ellen on LinkedIn

Do you have advice for those considering deferral?

Have a game plan for what you intend to do with the extra time you’ve bought yourself. Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone, either in your career or another part of your life. Try a new industry or function or city or country. Don’t just use it to do what you’ve been doing.

What initially drew you to Stanford GSB?

Stanford GSB attracts creative minds who approach careers and define success in unexpected ways, and in a subconscious way that’s what attracted me. I was sick of being told that something should be done just because that’s the way things are done. Stanford’s application questions and student opportunities made me realize it was the right choice. It emphasizes being an authentic leader and embracing your vulnerability, and emotional intelligence.

Why did you decide to take a leadership role with the Women in Management (WIM) club?

I started my career in an industry with very few women in leadership positions. So, I didn’t really learn what being a good female leader meant until I got to Stanford. I wanted to give back to the community and help others in similar positions. My first year in WIM was formative because it was the first time I saw how powerful women could work together successfully versus the old way of thinking that there’s only room for one woman at the top. Stanford taught me how to be a better career feminist.

Have your experiences since then made you more or less hopeful about the future of women in corporate management?

More hopeful. I feel lucky to be at Talen, where the management team has done a good job promoting women. I work with women who are in the upper senior levels of management. These women are great colleagues, teammates, and friends. I’ve seen what powerful leaders they can be and how they want me to be the strongest leader I can be. I’d be naïve to say there aren’t still roadblocks to women becoming CEOs in male-dominated industries, but it’s a lot easier to get there if you know how to play the game.

When did you know an MBA was something you wanted to pursue?

My family immigrated from China, and they don’t have a deep understanding of American culture and the different paths to success. When I said I wanted to do finance, they said, “OK, the next step to finance is you go to investment banking, then you go to private equity, then you go to business school. So, Ellen, the minute you go to college, start thinking three steps ahead.” That was what spurred me to apply to the deferred MBA program because my dad said, “Why wait? Lock it in.” I’m very happy I did, but my reasons for applying for the MBA and my reasons for going four years later were slightly different.

I applied to GSB because that’s the thing you did to achieve business success in America. But I ultimately went because I wanted to get some experience outside of Houston, Texas. I wanted to get exposure to an international group of truly elite thinkers, both professors and students. And then, being very honest, I wanted to come out of the closet.

Tell us more.

Mostly it was about my family. They are a core pillar of my identity. I only had two: family and work. I didn’t have time for friends, or a relationship, or hobbies. So, if I was going to shake one very critical pillar in my life, doing so while I still lived very close to them was absolutely daunting. So going to GSB, starting to develop a pillar of friends, many of whom were in the queer community, made me feel much less alone. It wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have two years at Stanford to get comfortable with who I was and how I was going to come out. If you’re going to write a declaration of independence from your parents, the more time you have to craft it, the better.

What about your professional goals?

I went into GSB thinking I wanted to be an investor, not really knowing what kind of investor that was. Hedge fund? Private equity? I came out of GSB pretty convinced I didn’t want to do investing. That left kind of a hole: What do I want to do? Stanford didn’t necessarily give me the answer, but it gave me the tools to interrogate myself and figure that out.

How’d you spend your deferral time?

I spent all four years in investment banking. My thinking was twofold. One, I wanted to make enough money to pay for business school out of pocket, with no loans. And I did. Two, I viewed investment banking at the time as the quickest way to advance my career and learn a ton about finance. But if I were to do it over again, I’d do it a little differently.


I’d have taken two of my four deferral years to do anything different. Investment banking gives you a very narrow sliver of the world. It’s how to do deals, it’s finance heavy, in my case it was all oil and gas. I could have taken that opportunity at a young point in my career to pivot into another industry like healthcare or consumer or try out another function like private equity.

Did you learn anything about yourself during that deferral that affirmed your decision to go to business school?

From a career aspect, I got a position at my bank that involved staffing out projects for a lot of my juniors. That was a signal that the bank believed I was a capable leader. I started to understand that my superpower could be relating to and connecting with people. Stanford is good at honing that skill in a very genuine way.

Any particular faculty members you found influential during your time in the program?

A faculty member taught a tax class that shaped how I think about personal finance and taxes. We talked through questions like the buy vs. rent decision, and the economics of marriage, the economics of having children, and it reshaped the way I think about the finances of my adult life.

Anyone else?

I took a management strategy class. The professor had me do a role play in front of the class where I was a CEO getting bombarded by calls. “Hey, this is your supplier and you’re ten days behind on paying me.” “Hey, this is HR. There’s an employee who has been accused of harassment.” “Hey, this is your wife. Your kid is sick.” It starkly illustrated for me the leadership skills I needed to work on, and how to delegate better. I just love active lessons like that, and I carry that one with me to this day.

Is there a single most valuable lesson from GSB that impacts your decision making at Talen?

To get people’s buy-in when you need their help or when you need their team to do something, show them the big picture early on. People need to know what they’re aiming for.

Are you still involved with GSB as an alum?

I engage with the Pride community and have helped with the annual Pride Alumni Party and with the Pride Ladies’ Brunch every year since I graduated. I’m also involved with a Diverse Alumni Group pilot program. Lastly, I occasionally will speak on panels about diverse alumni, about my experience being queer at GSB.

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