Hanna Tian, MBA ’19, took a chance when she arrived at Stanford. An investment professional accustomed to approaching her work with an analytical, predictive mindset, Tian opted to follow her multidisciplinary interests rather than set specific career goals.
As a result, her time at Stanford GSB was anything but predictable.
Focusing on cutting-edge research in financial technology, Tian participated in a series of projects she never anticipated: a collaboration with a Stanford finance professor culminating in a presentation at a major international economic summit; the publication of groundbreaking research in the new field of opportunity zones; and an independent study project that found Tian and her classmate David Chung interviewing multiple business leaders — including Charles Schwab and Yahoo cofounder Jerry Yang.
“Following my curiosities led to fascinating projects,” Tian says. “Once I made my passions known, so many professors, classmates, and mentors helped me realize them.”
Raised in China, Japan, and Canada, Tian was first encouraged to develop multidisciplinary interests by an inspirational grandmother who is one of the earliest electrical engineers in modern China and a dedicated athlete. Tian graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University with a BSE in operations research and financial engineering. She worked as an investment banking analyst in New York before joining Boston-based hedge fund Bracebridge Capital in 2014. Her work prior to business school was mostly analytical and stand-alone. She arrived at Stanford GSB eager to learn team-building and leadership skills in Silicon Valley.
What Tian didn’t bring with her were predetermined expectations.
“I came to Stanford GSB with an open mind,” she says. “I have a diverse set of interests, ranging from financial infrastructure to fashion to public policy. There’s no set formula for any of this, but I enjoyed having conversations with professors or lecturers to learn what they’re working on. So many opportunities came about because I took an interest in talking to them.”
Among those opportunities:
- A research collaboration with Darrell Duffie, the Dean Witter Distinguished Professor of Finance, on a presentation to the G30 on central bank digital currency. Tian was asked to collaborate on this project after meeting with Duffie, one of her professors, to inquire about his current research. Their work was presented in 2018 at the Federal Reserve in New York to central bankers from around the world.
- A published paper written in collaboration with Rebecca Lester, assistant professor of accounting, and classmate Cody Evans. While working on an idea for an investing startup, Tian and Evans encountered information on opportunity zones, a sleeper provision in 2018’s $1.6 trillion tax cut allowing investors to receive big tax savings by reinvesting cash from previous capital gains into low-income neighborhoods. Tian and Evans discussed the program with several faculty members and were invited by Lester to collaborate on a project examining the new and largely unstudied incentive.
- Writing a Stanford GSB case study for the Real Estate Investment course, examining the redevelopment by Ellis Partners of an obsolete manufacturing facility in Emeryville, California — which eventually became the headquarters for Clif Bar — during the 2007-08 financial crisis. Tian initially asked lecturer Christopher Mahowald for advice on her start-up, and ended up collaborating with both Mahowald and Stanford GSB alumna and Ellis Partners cofounder Melinda Ellis Evers on the case study.
- An independent study project examining the rise of intangible assets in corporate investments. Tian and classmate David Chung reached out to business leaders for their perspectives on this mega trend. People they interviewed included Stanford alums Charles Schwab, Jerry Yang of Yahoo, and Geoff Yang of Redpoint Ventures; JetBlue Chairman Joel C. Peterson, the Robert L. Joss Adjunct Professor of Management; and lecturer Jeff Immelt, former chairman and CEO of General Electric.
“What’s amazing is that business leaders want to talk to Stanford students; they were pretty receptive,” Tian says. “It taught me to not be afraid to mesh academic projects with real-world operators. It was a really nice process of chatting about innovative ideas.”
As Tian prepares to join a Boston-based investment firm, her advice to Stanford GSB students is simple.
“Know what you want to try, but keep an open mind, and explore new ideas,” she says. “A lot of the things I ended up doing are not the things I knew existed coming in.”
She adds, “I keep hearing people say your path won’t be linear, and having done these projects, I don’t think mine will be.”
Photos by Kiefer Hickman