Jason Bornstein, MBA ’18: Learning to Lead

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Jason Bornstein, MBA ’18: Learning to Lead

An MBA student with a background in marketing makes the transition to venture capital investing.
January 26, 2018
While coaching first-year MBA students as an Arbuckle Leadership Fellow, Jason Bornstein is figuring out how to help mentees learn to solve their own problems.| Kiefer Hickman

A question can lead to some interesting places.

That idea is simple enough. But it’s one of the most important lessons that Arbuckle Leadership Fellow Jason Bornstein, MBA ’18, has learned at Stanford Graduate School of Business: Don’t tell; ask.

“My instinct is to give advice, but I’ve found that there’s an art to asking the questions that help people open up and find solutions from within,” he says. “In the Fellows program, we’re learning that the people you’re interacting with are whole people. They’re creative. They know themselves best.”

Bornstein grew up in the St. Louis suburbs among owners of family businesses, doctors, and lawyers; he didn’t know anyone with an MBA. “I had a very narrow view of what career opportunities existed,” he says.

Broader Horizons

However, while attending Northwestern University, Bornstein met people who had earned MBAs from top programs, getting a taste of the professional opportunities that such programs could unlock. After earning his undergraduate degree in communications in 2009, he applied to Stanford GSB, but he didn’t get in.

At the start of the MBA program, you won’t know exactly what you’ll look like at the end, and that’s the beauty of being here.
Jason Bornstein

In 2012, he joined the marketing department at menswear retailer Bonobos, working his way up under co-founder and CEO Andy Dunn, MBA ’07. After four years, thinking of potentially founding his own e-commerce brand someday, he wanted to learn more about venture capital investing and to develop the leadership skills that an MBA could provide.

With solid work experience under his belt, he once again targeted Stanford GSB.

“I had met more people who had gone to Stanford GSB, and I understood more about the experience and what was so special about it,” Bornstein says.

Dunn and other alumni spoke of acquiring a combination of personal and professional skills — undergoing incalculable transformations that to Bornstein seemed almost magical. “That was exciting,” he says. “There was something about the unknown.”

He applied again, and the second time was the charm. Once at Stanford GSB, Bornstein immersed himself in finance courses. He also made a beeline for the leadership training that had so attracted him — including the Initiative for Leadership Education and Development, or I-LEAD, the host of the Arbuckle mentorship program. In the process, he engaged in the self-discovery that makes for better leaders.

A Study in Leadership Styles

Bornstein says that while he’s drawn to people who lead through charisma, like Bonobos’ Dunn, he discovered that being process-oriented is another way of motivating people.

That was a critical insight, and a key to Bornstein’s development as a leader.

“I learned I don’t need to change who I am to be an effective leader,” he adds.

Upon graduation, Bornstein will take other lessons to his job at Forerunner Ventures in San Francisco, where he is currently interning. He’s worked hard while making the tough transition from marketing to the highly competitive world of venture capital investing, but he’s also had time to reflect.

“What I wish I had known is, you can do it,” he says. “You can come from a nontraditional background. You can apply more than once to get in. You can transition from a marketing role to an investing role. You can discover why people will follow you and how to become an effective leader.

“At the start of the MBA program, you won’t know exactly what you’ll look like at the end,” he says, “and that’s the beauty of being here.”

— Jeremy Markovich

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