When he started working in the oil and gas industry four years ago, Amit Pinjani considered fuel merely a commodity, not a political tool.
Now in his second year at Brandeis International Business School (IBS), Pinjani has come to understand the extent to which oil politics tie nations together as strategic, and sometimes awkward, allies. Similarly, Pinjani has learned, oil politics can split nations apart and spur regional instability.
A native of Pakistan, Pinjani also has come to see that a country like his own, strategically located and with a high rate of illiteracy, can fall victim to these unstable geopolitical oil games.
Pinjani finishes at Brandeis in May, and upon returning to Pakistan this summer, he plans not only to pick up his career once again in the oil and gas sector, this time with a new understanding of its global importance, but he is equally committed to teaching finance, economics and business part time in a local public university.
"Education is extremely important for a country to improve, and the basic lack we have in Pakistan is education," said Pinjani, 27, a Fulbright scholar. "If we can do something to give back, that's the right thing to do."
Pinjani came to Brandeis IBS with a broad background in finance and economics. He worked as an analyst in the investment-banking group for Citigroup in Karachi, and before that, he worked as a graduate assistant, analyzing investments for Eni Pakistan, an oil and gas exploration company.
Eni is where Pinjani got his foothold in the fuel industry, although at the time, he thought only about bottom-line value. Now, Pinjani asks complex questions about the future of oil, challenges the way governments are handling the issue of peak oil -- the point in time when the planet reaches its maximum potential for petroleum production, after which oil supplies slide to depletion -- and wonders about the future of alternative fuels.
"I never thought about peak oil. We always knew that oil reserves were limited, but I didn't know the extent of it," he said.
Pinjani's broader understanding of the oil and gas sector started last summer during an energy and environmental politics class that he took last year at Harvard University.
"I had a lot of curiosity about how oil will play in the global world in the future," Pinjani said. "It also became clear to me that the developed world needs to take the lead on alternative fuels."
When he is not studying, Pinjani travels. Traveling through the United States, Pinjani said, has helped him understand another underlying element of national and regional stability.
"You have freedom of everything that you want to do in the U.S. There is a lot of opportunity here in the U.S. that you don't find in other parts of the world," he said. "When we talk about growth and stability of regions and countries, it is clear that we need to give freedom and equality to people."
The pursuit of the Master of Business Administration is not without its share of struggle, sacrifice and second-guesses. For two years -- sometimes longer -- MBA students forfeit free time as they struggle to meet rigorous academic demands, while often at the same time juggling the equally pressing demands of career and family.
The 10 men and women on the following pages are no different. Some have made careers as serial entrepreneurs. Others laid the foundations for non-business-centric careers before deciding that a grounding in business would enrich their vocations. And all have distinguished themselves over the course of their studies -- by academic performance, extracurricular activities and how they plan to apply their newly acquired business acumen once they graduate.
But something else distinguishes our 2008 MBA All-Stars. For many of them, the road to the Boston area's top business schools was a rocky one. Some of them had childhoods marked by chaos and upheaval as their governments crumbled around them. Others grew up knowing only poverty, tragic loss and backbreaking work. For these folks, a thirst for knowledge, a yearning for something better in life and the crucial support of friends and mentors made all the difference. Seven of the 10 came from other countries to attend school in Boston.
Go to any of the business schools around town and you'll probably find hundreds of equally compelling stories from people who overcame formidable obstacles in pursuit of the MBA. It would be impossible to distinguish all of the deserving men and women who are receiving their MBAs this year. On the next few pages, we present 10 individuals who represent the best that the area's MBA programs have to offer.