Rutgers Business School senior Michelle Li (front row, fifth from right) stands with other members of Beta Gamma Sigma.

The essence of a leader: Insights from the president of Beta Gamma Sigma

What defines true leadership? For Michelle Li, the current president of Beta Gamma Sigma (BGS) at Rutgers Business School, the answer comes easily: “Leadership is not just a title. It’s a behavior shown through your actions.” This invaluable wisdom, imparted by her mentor, has become her guiding principle as she leads BGS.

Li’s journey with BGS began when she was invited to join the international honor society in her sophomore year – a testament to her academic excellence, as membership is exclusively extended to the top 10% of students in their class.

Li wasted no time in demonstrating her leadership skills. In her junior year, she stepped into the shoes of BGS’ director of marketing.

Rutgers Business School student Michelle Li
Michelle Li

Simultaneously, she took on the same role with two other student organizations she’s involved with – the Road to Silicon V/alley and Women BUILD (Business Undergraduates in Leadership Development).

Her leadership style is all about being a good listener.

“I think that’s something so crucial in a leader – somebody who is willing to sit down, take a step back, not just act as somebody who jumps in. It’s the willingness to listen to other people, take their feedback into consideration, and put it into action,” she said.

This quality has fostered a sense of cooperation among her team, creating a dynamic where everyone feels valued and heard.

Li says what has helped her build confidence as a leader is understanding the difference between being “nice” versus “kind.”

“Nice people tend to seek validation from others, while kind people do it to seek validation internally,” she explained. “Distinguishing that difference has helped me get to the position I’m in now.”

It’s that kind of poise and centeredness that has caught the attention of others.

“Michelle’s cool disposition, strong determination, and sheer intelligence set her aside from others. She is the epitome of calm, cool, and collected,” said Donna Brancato, a senior program coordinator at Rutgers Business School and Li’s BGS advisor. “She is an empathetic individual who cares about her team and the future of Beta Gamma Sigma.”

Within the four months of her tenure as BGS’s president, Li has helped create the 2023-2024 BGS budget and successfully rallied all seven executive board members to volunteer during the multi-day Innovations in Undergraduate and Graduate Business Education Conference, which attracts business school deans from across the country and offered the students a chance to network with faculty and academic leaders. 

Currently, Li and Brancato are working together to achieve Highest Honors for the BGS chapter at Rutgers, the most prestigious accolade it can earn. In 2018 and 2019, Rutgers Business School came close, receiving the international honor society's Silver Outstanding Chapter Award. “When we tell people about BGS, they always say, “I’ve heard about it. Is it a sorority or a fraternity?” Li said.

These comments inspire her.

“The fact that people question what Beta Gamma Sigma is means we have to get our name out there,” the graduating senior said. “That’s where I’ve been dedicating a lot of my time – to make sure we can set it up for the next team after us.”

Spoken like a kind leader.

- Elise McIntosh


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