Meet the Presidents: The Harbus Interviews Incoming SA Leaders Sarah Arora and Jordan Strebeck

by on March 25th, 2013

Elsa Sze, a Harbus contributor, recently sat down with the newly elected SA Co-Presidents, Jordan Strebeck and Sarah Arora, to chat about life, leadership, and community.

Elsa: How did you two decide to team up?

Jordan: We had both been encouraged to run by some of our classmates, and shortly after the candidate information meeting, we had a great conversation about our visions for next year and how we view leadership. We realized how much we have in common and that it would be a great fit.

Sarah: Technically my roommate, Mhoire, was the “matchmaker.” Mhoire works closely with Jordan as his section’s Leadership & Value representative, and we were together at McKinsey. She introduced us at the beginning of the year, and we realized we were both from New Mexico.

Jordan: There are like 4 people from New Mexico at HBS, so we there was an instant kinship, and started making jokes about green chili.

Sarah: 98% of green chili in this country is consumed in New Mexico. The other two percent in Texas.

Elsa: And you guys consumed all the green chili in HBS?

Jordan: Well, I actually haven’t found any green chili at HBS.

Elsa: Will green chili be in your SA agenda next year?

Sarah: (laughs) Yes! Absolutely.

Elsa: What is it like to be a celebrity now?

Sarah: Jordan has always been a celebrity.

Jordan: (laughs) No, no, we are not celebrities at all.

Elsa: Did professors come by to congratulate you?

Jordan: I actually don’t think any of my professors know.

Sarah: Oh that’s funny, because I feel like most of my professors know.

Elsa: So, Sarah is the real celebrity.

Sarah: Nah. Just trying to keep up with Jordan.

Elsa: How do you define yourself as a leader?

Jordan: I have been inspired by a guy named Matt Bumstead, a small businessman in West Texas. I heard him one time say that the best leaders are people with dirty hands surrounded by people with clean feet. The reason I love that quote is, it may sound a little cheesy, but the idea is that a real leader is the one who serves those around them. Somebody that washes people’s feet is a picture of this incredibly menial task, and it’s a powerful image. I have a lot of room for improvement, but I try to lead by serving and lead by example.

Sarah: Andrew Carnegie wrote an epitaph for himself which read: “Here lies one who knew how to get around him men who were cleverer than himself.” I’ve always loved that! Jordan and I both feel strongly about the fact that we are never going to have all the answers. We are going to try our best, set an example, but what we really want is a strong team that we can rally around and empower. Jordan and I have a lot of energy and passion for building communities, and we are excited to bring the same energy and passion to our positions as SA Co-Presidents.

Elsa: What changes should we expect to see next year?

Jordan: A lot of what Laura and Kunal have done is behind the scenes and part of our goal is to continue that, alongside the administration. Hopefully you will see tangible things like more affordable event prices and more accessible dining hours – the dining hall in Spangler right now (9PM), for instance, should be bustling.

Sarah: “Bustling” is the perfect word to describe the output of the initiatives we have in mind.  We want to bring more events to campus and to make those events cheaper and more accessible for students.

Elsa: Going back to your campaign, I remember seeing folks walking around wearing giant signs of your names. Who came up with the idea?

Jordan: (laughs) That was something I did that when I ran for student body president in high school.

Sarah: We basically just picked the four most handsome guys in our sections and gave them signs. A guy in my section, Pat, who used to be a mascot in undergrad responded within 30 seconds, saying, “this is what I was born to do.”

Jordan: People went above and beyond to help- it was kind of crazy.

Sarah: One of the amazing things about our campaign was the incredibly zealous people who came out of the woodwork to support us, something I never expected. It was really fun.

Elsa: There were two questions you didn’t provide specific answers to in the independent virtual forum during your campaign. Here’s your second chance. First question, which of the priorities you proposed is least likely to happen?

Jordan: Given the number of parties involved, extending dining hours is probably not going to be easy. Not everything is in our court, but we are hopeful and cautiously optimistic.

Elsa: Second question, what is the biggest challenge faced by women in HBS?

Sarah: The biggest challenge is getting men involved in the conversation. It’s such a tricky topic that naturally makes a lot of men uncomfortable. What women need is honesty from men about how we are perceived, what they think the challenges are, and what they think the solutions should be. Whenever we talk about this in my section, it tends to be a female-dominated conversation. The case we read about women MBAs suggests that a goal of business schools in the 1950s was to provide women with not only the necessary technical skills but also with the skills of behavior so that they can be intentional about the way they’re perceived. I feel like I need those skills! And I think sometimes men are in the best position to give that advice.

Elsa: What are those perceptions?

Sarah: It’s hard to generalize, but from what I’ve heard from female colleagues, one of the hardest things for women to figure out is how to be assertive without being perceived negatively. The classic double bind.

Jordan: I have worked with a lot of strong, amazing women. My wife is a very successful businesswoman. I have worked with both women and men who are assertive in both positive and negative ways. As far as the broader conversation goes, I think the key is getting to know people who are different from you. Until you know what motivates people and what makes them tick, it’s really hard to have that authentic conversation.

Elsa: What did you say in your 10-year reflection for LEAD?

Sarah: The most interesting revelation was not the content, but the order in which I wrote the memoir. The first thing I wrote was about my community and my family, and then secondarily, my profession. Although I’ve been blessed to come from a career-oriented family, what makes me truly happy is being involved with my temple, my family. What that means is that I need a career which gives me immense independence and flexibility to enable this life to fit together.

Jordan: The interesting thing to me was the importance I found myself placing on my identity. I know in my head that I don’t want my identity to be derived from my career but it’s a hard instinct to fight. Jesus said what good is it for a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul – and I find myself thinking about what good it would be if I became the most successful businessman in the world but I wasn’t a good husband, good father, member of my community and true to my faith?

Elsa: Jordan, tell us about your son.

Jordan: His name is Cooper Ames. We named him after both of our paternal grandmothers. He will be two at the end of this month. He’s the best. He brightens any room he is in- he’s a goof ball and the cutest, chubbiest little kid. He loves green beans, carrots, and blueberries. It is amazing to watch him grow up and learn new things. It is an incredibly humbling responsibility- raising a child – I am so thankful for Brittany, she’s the best mom a kid could ask for.

Sarah: And Elsa, I’m not sure if you’ve met this kid, but he is a total heartbreaker. We’re going to have some major problems in a few years.

Elsa: Sarah, when are we going to hear you sing?

Sarah: (laughs) You will have to come to my apartment in the morning to hear my roommates and me singing along to Nicki Minaj. I don’t consider myself in Nicki’s realm, but one can aspire. Singing has been a really big part of my life. Singing is my “what-could-have-been” path – I can’t watch Glee without saying to myself, I could be one of those kids! Ah, the road not taken…

Elsa: Tell me about your guilty pleasure.

Sarah: I do watch the Bachelor. And I sometimes strategize around what I would do if I were a girl on the show. Example: never cry on the first date!

Elsa: Jordan, agree or disagree?

Jordan: No comment.

Elsa: Dating advice from an SA Co-President: don’t cry on your first date.

Jordan: I have two guilty pleasures. One, my wife makes the best oatmeal cookies in the world and I can legitimately eat a dozen at a time. Second, I also… I do every now and then… enjoy a little Taylor Swift.

Elsa: So when we have karaoke night at the Grille, you’re on the docket for Love Story?

Jordan: (laughs) Yes, of course.

Elsa: Would you prefer to be invincible or invisible?

Jordan: I don’t know. I think I would rather be able to fly.

Elsa: That wasn’t the question. But I will take that for an answer.

Sarah: Neither! Invincible sounds terrible. I want to keep evolving, and if you’re not capable of being hurt, you can’t grow!

Elsa: Do you prefer Coca-Cola or Pepsi?

Jordan: Dr. Pepper, and yes I can tell the difference. It’s a part of who I am- I love Dr. Pepper!
Sarah: I like a little half and half. Ok fine, I come from a family of doctors, so I don’t drink soda. I would not be able to tell the difference.

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