When Pradeep Ambrose, PhD ’20, MBA ’21, signed up for the One-Year MBA at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, the world had not yet heard of COVID-19, and in the academic world, virology was nearly a dead field of study.
As it happened, Ambrose’s PhD was precisely in the study of RNA viruses. At the time, most of his classmates in the Physiology, Biophysics and Systems Biology program at Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences were switching to studying cancer to further their career prospects. Ambrose, however, had a long-standing interest in investment management, so he enrolled in business school in the summer of 2020 through the Lee Family Scholarship. He loved the MBA experience and found a true knack for investing as a portfolio manager in the Cayuga Fund in the Parker Center for Investment Research.
Then, just after graduation, his MBA network unexpectedly led him to an experience that was larger than life.
An unexpected call from an MBA classmate
A few months after Ambrose had graduated from business school, Ambrose received a message one evening from his classmate Danielle Boris, MBA 21. The country of Bermuda was in dire need of help, she texted. COVID-19 cases were surging, and they were short of qualified support. Bermuda’s leader, Premier E. David Burt, had issued an emergency call for help. She asked if he could help.
Ambrose’s skillset, fortuitously, turned out exactly to be what Bermuda needed.
Rescuing the lab and reporting to Bermuda’s leaders
Ambrose hopped on a flight to Bermuda the very next day, September 21, 2021. That evening, he went to the lab, a sky-blue, one-story structure that, before the pandemic, had been a post office. There, he met Carika Weldon, director of the Bermuda Molecular Diagnostics & Research Laboratory, science advisor to Bermuda’s government, and the one PhD on the island in charge of running all COVID-19 tests for the whole island’s population.
Her main task each day was to determine who was positive and who was negative. Because of the surge in infections, an increasingly large backlog of tests had emerged.
Weldon, who also had government-related duties, began transferring lab responsibilities to Ambrose. He put in long hours to clear the backlog. A week into his stay, Weldon passed all government responsibilities to Ambrose as well, so that she could take a much-needed break. Suddenly, Ambrose found himself reporting to the government of Bermuda.
Putting MBA skills to work
Ambrose stayed in Bermuda for one month, until the surge subsided. His days consisted of working in the lab, joining cabinet meetings via Zoom, and speaking with the premier via phone or text. At first, Ambrose was astonished at the weight of his responsibility and authority and of the regular communications he was having with a world leader, but soon it simply became part of everyday life.
For Ambrose, the management and leadership skills he picked up in his MBA program at Johnson became essential to managing an entire lab and taking charge of the country’s COVID-19 testing. Each new day, Ambrose drew on his reserves of knowledge to navigate new obstacles and dilemmas.
When the surge subsided and Ambrose was preparing to leave Bermuda, the premier invited him to his office and thanked him with a letter of appreciation. In it was written: “You are a great friend to Bermuda, and we thank you again for all that you have done.”
Ongoing collaboration between Weill Cornell and Bermuda.
After his return to the U.S., Ambrose helped to set up a collaboration among Weill Cornell, the Government of Bermuda, and the New York Genome Center to study the development of the COVID virus on the island. He has also agreed to be on call when more surges occur on the island.
Like everyone else, Ambrose enriches himself through first-hand experience. But some rewards are unique to him: a fist bump from the premier of a country, for one, along with the picture that come to mind whenever he thinks back on his first professional experience out of school: palm trees, pink sand, calm ocean waves, and a lab in a sky-blue post-office building.
Susan Hu is the center coordinator for the Parker Center for Investment Research.
Read more about Pradeep Ambrose on the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business news site.