Universities educate people and set them on the path to achieving their goals and dreams. That is why we are so excited to share these stories with you. They capture the amazing spirit, talent and determination of the Maryland Smith community, and show some of the incredible accomplishments our graduates have achieved. They inspire the next generation of leaders.
These are just a few of the 66,000+ alums worldwide who began their journey to success at Maryland Smith. With so many stories to share, we’ll be changing the featured profiles here periodically.
Marguerita (Rita) Cheng ’93 knows what it means to find success on her own terms.
Early in her career, she was working at a large firm, when her sales manager expressed a concern. He said she spent too much time listening to clients.
“He led me to believe that being empathetic and patient was a liability,” she said. “I was devastated when he told me that I was a lousy financial planner.” How could that be, she thought, when she was the one coaching other advisors on things like options strategies?
Instead of changing her personality, Cheng pushed back – and found success. She became the president of the Financial Planning Association of the National Capital Area and served on the Financial Planning Association National Board of Directors. Now, she manages the wealth of individuals and families at the firm she co-founded, Blue Ocean Global Wealth in Gaithersburg, Md.
I just thought of something to share (it may be interesting). As I mentioned, I love being a CFP professional because First and foremost I love helping people feel financially confident, empowered & resilient. What I didn’t do a good job articulating is that I actually have the opportunity to apply my coursework every day. Entrepreneurship, strategy, marketing, finance & accounting. Management & leadership as well. I’m a lifelong learner and believe I developed a strong foundation at the Smith School. My proudest moment as an undergraduate was being awarded the Mext scholarship.
I can draw upon all of my course work and apply what I learned every day!
Creator, Innovator, Trailblaizer
Entrepreneurs beat long odds when they launch a company and sell it to investors. Jason Cohen ‘96 has done it several times.
After graduating from Maryland Smith, Cohen pursued his passion for food and co-founded Mamma Says Biscotti, which he sold in 2005 after partnering with Kellogg’s.
He then went on to co-create the brand Sensible Portions Veggie Straws, which has become one of the country’s largest snack brands. In addition, he has been a strategic partner to many national brands, such as SkinnyPop, Chef's Cut, Mrs Thinsters, Core Water, OWYN Protein, and From The Ground Up Snacks.
These days, Cohen takes time to share his startup expertise with the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship.
He tells students, "You might not succeed at everything you try, and that’s OK. You only fail if you don't learn a way to do things better the next time."
Influencer, Motivational Leader, Visionary
From the earliest days of her professional life, working as a business analyst for JPMorgan Chase, Sherika Ekpo, MBA ’09, has kept one goal in mind: to ascend in her career, making a difference in every step.
She’s doing just that.
Her career has taken her from the offices of JPMorgan, to the offices of the federal government, to Alphabet’s Googleplex, where she was the global diversity and inclusion lead for the AI division. Today, she is the chief diversity and inclusion officer at tech firm Anaplan, a role that appeals to her for its variety and human impact. “We can create better workplaces. We can create better environments for people,” she says.
Ekpo still is ascending that ladder, aiming for a rung that says “CEO” on it. “I continue to draw a road map for myself, finding jobs and experiences that will help me reach my ultimate goal.”
Challenger, Entrepreneur, Motivational Leader
Göran Espelund, MBA ’87, had options as a Fulbright Scholar from Sweden. He received offers from five U.S. programs, but he chose Maryland Smith for its close-knit community and proximity to Washington, D.C.
It was “life-changing,” he says.
Now back in Sweden, Espelund works as an active owner and board member of Lannebo Fonder, one of the country's largest independent fund managers, which he co-founded in 2000. Lannebo is an active equity management firm that helps clients beat the market while staying true to the principles of responsible investment.
“Traditional metrics come from accounting. We know our income statements and our balance sheets. But we don’t have the same kind of metrics yet for measuring environmental, social and governance impact.”
But those tools are coming. Espelund, still engaged at Smith as a donor and member of the Board of Advisors, says the rising generation will drive the demand. “They are the solution,” he says.
Through his work with Blueprint Baltimore, the Charm City native oversees a $140-million project to renovate Baltimore’s Amtrak and regional train station.
"I grew up fascinated by financial services and realized that there were structural barriers to the equal distribution of capital across communities," says Grant, who was named to Forbes magazine’s “30 Under 30 in Finance.” "Learning about those issues made me more and more interested in helping others overcome financial obstacles."
Grant says economic potential is everywhere; you just have to look for it. And, he says, he’s just getting started. He is looking to deploy up to $3 billion in development capital in the next decade, in Baltimore and across the country.
“You can expect to see me continuing to scale my work with the hope that it reaches more people in the future than today.”
Entrepreneur, Investor, Philanthropist
Robert G. Hisaoka ’79 believes building a strong business begins with building a strong team through great communication and measuring performance.
Over the span of his career, he’s done just that.
Hisaoka started out as a C.P.A. and rose to “manager” in record time at a large, local public accounting firm. He then entered the retail automotive business, operating and co-owning some of the country’s largest, most successful auto dealerships. Today, he is chairman and CEO of RGH Capital, which invests in disruptive companies. He is also a partner in automotive dealerships and related entities. Hisaoka sits on a number of business and nonprofit boards. He is an active philanthropist, whose gifts to Maryland Smith and its Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship continue to inspire future business leaders and startup founders.
“I believe in giving back to provide opportunities for others and care for those in need.”
Entrepreneur, Founder, Visonary
Kevin Plank knows what it means to be a game-changer. He transformed the world of sports apparel when he launched Under Armour in 1996.
He built on the company’s successes, expanding it into one of the world’s leading innovators, marketers and distributors of branded performance apparel, footwear and accessories.
Plank served as chief executive officer and chairman of the board from 1996 to 2019. He was elevated to Under Armour’s executive chairman and brand chief in January 2020.
In 2012, Plank launched an investment company, Sagamore Ventures, to revitalize areas of Baltimore City with holdings in commercial real estate, hospitality, food and beverage, and venture capital. The company has a major equity stake in the Port Covington redevelopment in South Baltimore, a sprawling mixed-use project with offices, homes, retail spaces, parks and boat launches. The company’s investment holdings also include Plank’s whisky distillery, Sagamore Spirit.
Entrepreneur, Innovator, Mentor
David Quattrone, MBA ’05, learned as an entrepreneur out of college that while the first try isn’t always the best, it does offer important lessons.
“One of the biggest things I took away from it is that you grab the opportunities that present themselves,” says Quattrone, co-founder and chief technology officer of Cvent Inc. “I’d say we barely broke even, maybe even lost a little money during that first venture. But through it, we learned what kind of skills we needed to build up over time.”
He and his wife, Robyn, also an entrepreneur, help fund Maryland Smith’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship and its annual Pitch Dingman competition, which allows students to compete for non-dilutive seed funding.
“Hearing how people can get those lessons and experiences to use on their own adventures or create change within their spaces is rewarding and makes me excited for the future.”
Inspirer, Magician, Motivational Leader
Sometimes, you find a job that just fits who you are. For David Rosenstein, that kind of job came along early – starting at LinkedIn right after graduation from Maryland Smith.
After operating his own LinkedIn consultancy to help students with their profiles, his new sales role helps businesses leverage LinkedIn's technology.
At Maryland Smith, Rosenstein was known for his natural networking abilities, marketing talent, and energy. He was selected from a nationwide pool as the American Marketing Association’s 2020 Student Marketer of the Year, and was involved in College Park Scholars and the QUEST Honors Program.
He interned at LinkedIn, and shared his networking tips with student groups. His first piece of advice? Know your worth. Identify your key strengths, he’d tell students, and find companies where those skills are heavily valued.
“You’re better than you believe,” he says. “You have more skills and abilities than you think.”
Thought Leader, Challenger, Expert
After more than two decades leading development initiatives, Margo Thomas, MS ’91, has one major goal – conquering economic gender disparity around the world.
Thomas, founder and president of the Women’s Economic Imperative, is focused on creating initiatives that promote economic opportunities to empower women and underrepresented groups around the world.
She brings a wealth of experience to the job, including stints at the International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group, and the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment.
Thomas says her time in Maryland Smith’s Business Master’s program impacted her understanding of management at the corporate level and positively shaped her approach to nurturing talent and driving change.
“As I reflect on my career, the work I did at the Smith School provided me with core skills that shaped the arc of my career in a very real way,” she says.
Ali von Paris
Entrepreneur, Founder, Game-Changer
To love what you do and to be in a position to help others is a privilege, says Ali von Paris ’12, and it’s something she doesn’t take for granted.
Founder and CEO of the Maryland-based Route One Apparel, von Paris stepped up to support others during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through sales of masks and fanny packs, she donated over 200,000 facemasks to first responders and frontline workers.
Von Paris launched Route One Apparel while still a Smith student, designing T-shirts from her dorm room. Now, her startup is an iconic Maryland brand, specializing in state pride apparel and accessories worn by everyone – from students to political leaders to sports figures.
“Starting Route One back in college, I feel like I’ve never really had a real job because I’m doing something I’ve always enjoyed,” she says. “When you can do that, it never feels like work.”