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Meet the Michigan Ross Alums Featured in Forbes' 30 Under 30 Class of 2024

Headshots of the 2 alums featured in the story

Two Ross School of Business alums, Komal Sankla, BBA ’17, and Sikander “Sonny” Khan, BBA ’20, were featured on the highly prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 list for 2024.

30 Under 30 is a collection of lists published by Forbes magazine naming the most notable people under the age of 30 in around 20 industries, including art and style, healthcare, science, finance, media, and more. The list has been updated yearly with new changemakers since 2011 and has included names like Canva Co-Founder and CEO Melanie Perkins, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, musician Miley Cyrus, and professional athlete LeBron James.

On the 2024 list, Sankla was honored with a spot in the finance category and Khan with a spot in marketing and advertising. The two have each made incredible waves in their early career so far, with Sankla leading billion-dollar deals for alternative asset management company Blackstone Inc. and Khan innovating with artificial intelligence technology at Microsoft Corp. while raising money for people affected by the water crisis in Pakistan.

Below, learn more about Sankla and Khan and their incredible career paths since their time at Michigan Ross.

Komal smiles, wearing a black shirt and standing in front of a white backgroundKomal Sankla, BBA ’17

Komal Sankla is a principal on Blackstone's real estate debt strategies team and has helped originate and close nearly $8 billion across about 40 deals in commercial real estate since she joined the team in 2017. She is proud to hold a seat on Blackstone’s Real Estate Inclusion Council and is passionate about paving the way for other future investors to break into the industry.

You were recognized on Forbes’ iconic 30 Under 30 list. What does it mean to you? 
The coolest part about being in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 is being recognized in a publication that my parents understand the gravity of. My parents immigrated to the United States to give our family better opportunities, and this achievement is only possible because they persevered through the hardships of starting a new life in a foreign country. Over the years, I've sent them articles of press on my deals, and they're always supportive and proud, but they are not as familiar with real estate specific publications. But seeing their daughter in Forbes, which is a world-recognized publication… They know what 30 Under 30 is and how much it means, so that was the coolest part about being recognized, just my parents being really proud of me. I still recall all of the not-so-simple ways that I had to figure out my career and what I was going to do to end up being recognized in this way. Ending up at a company that supports me and has amplified me is really cool.

Are there any lessons from your time at Michigan Ross that have helped you get where you are today? 
100%. When I think about the number one thing that has made me successful at Blackstone and in my career, it’s knowing how to present yourself to people. As in, what is your personal brand, and what is your communication style? I built a lot of confidence in myself and in communication at Michigan Ross. With the clubs that you're in and the classes that you're taking, you are doing many different projects and getting comfortable presenting them. A lot of those things made me a more extroverted, communicative person, and, I think, also made me very competitive, honestly. I was always a competitive person, but when you get to Michigan Ross, you're surrounded by these really hardworking, smart, driven people, so it definitely drives you to do your best. I definitely reflect on my time at Ross and know that I learned a lot in that space from my classes and peers.

What is your proudest career accomplishment so far?
When I was in college, people would come to campus to drop in on clubs or classes and speak about what they do in their careers. And I was always so impressed by the people who said, “I work at this company that manages these billions of dollars, and my job is to help make decisions on how we invest that money.” I always wondered, would anyone ever trust me to run a deal or make a judgment call? When I got an early promotion to my principal role at Blackstone, it clicked for me that I now sit in one of those seats. My job is to go out and make deals happen. It has been incredible to get that vote of confidence from this business and this platform, for them to say, “Yes, you are capable of being in front of the investment committee and explaining what your ideas are and why you think a deal is good or not.” I'm proud that I was able to get to this place. I've had so many mentors, managers, and people in this business and outside of it who have helped me along the way. But I'm pretty proud to say that I'm 28 years old and work at Blackstone as a principal. 

What challenges have you had to face or overcome in your career?
I think when I first started, I was afraid to be myself. I think I toned myself down when I started my career because I was the only brown woman in many male-dominated meetings, and frankly, that’s intimidating at 22 years old when you’re starting your first job. I didn't want to put myself in situations where it was so obvious that I was different. But what I've learned and really benefited from is that I work somewhere where it really is a meritocracy. If you have a good idea and you share it, or you just prove yourself through hard work, people will create space for you, and they'll open doors for you. It was not easy, though, and it took me some time to own my confidence and voice. I don't want other women to be deterred from Wall Street or finance because it has historically been a male-dominated field. What I wish I had, as someone entering the industry, is someone to just be direct with me about this environment and how they navigated it. I’m hoping to play that role for others. 

As someone so accomplished so early in your career, what’s next for you?
Where do you want to be in a few years? I'd like to say that I've come through this period of dislocation, of how COVID-19 affected the world, of high interest rates, and the geopolitical backdrop of this investment environment. I hope I'll look back and say that I came out as a better investor because I learned a lot. I've been at Blackstone for almost seven years now, too, and now I'm in a seat where I get to take the lead on deals. And so, for me, another thing I'm really excited about is continuing to build the part of my investment career where I'm running point on things and trying to develop and build business for us and just continue to develop into that role.

How have you grown in your career as an investor since starting at Blackstone?
At Blackstone, you join the desk, and you're immediately working on live deals where we could potentially make an investment. I remember just feeling like, one, this is really cool, and two, I'm freaking out. What if I do something wrong? But now that I've been here, I know we treat investing like a team sport. There should never be a scenario where any one person feels like they were singled out or made a mistake. We learn together and have an amazing apprenticeship model of teaching. I went from feeling like, "How could I possibly be the person that's running this analysis or having to do this?" to realizing that there's a reason we're set up the way we are. We hire the right people who want to work hard and learn a lot, and they're genuinely interested in real estate and real estate investing, and we turn them into investors. Knowing that mindset really helped build my confidence, too.

What’s it like to be a female leader in this field, and what advice do you have for other young women who want to follow in your footsteps and pursue careers in finance?
There are not a lot of women from minority backgrounds in real estate finance, so I'm proud to be part of that cohort and proud to represent a company like Blackstone. I highly encourage young women to consider this field. It's incredibly rewarding and challenging every day. For me, it's been the right mix of combining people and relationship-building skills with analytics. My advice to young women early in their careers would be the same advice I give all of our new analysts every year. First, stay curious and always be a sponge. Second, be intentional with the personal brand and voice you want to bring to the table. Third, walk into every meeting prepared to share your view.  

Sikander "Sonny" smiles in a white shirt with the name of his project, Paani, on it. He stands in front of a tree or bush outsideSikander “Sonny” Khan, BBA ’20

Sikander “Sonny” Khan is a product marketing manager at Microsoft, where he is responsible for the Copilot app, an AI-powered chat assistant that helps users with various tasks and queries. He’s worked at Microsoft since 2020 and loves being part of a company that shares his values of empowerment, diversity, and social responsibility. Khan is passionate about leveraging AI technology to enhance human capabilities and solve real-world problems. His ultimate goal is to help make generational products like Copilot that will empower millions of users across the globe.

You were recognized on Forbes’ iconic 30 Under 30 list. What does it mean to you?
Being on Forbes' 30 Under 30 list is a great honor and a validation of the impact I have been able to create through my work and passion. I am humbled to be among such inspiring and talented individuals who are making a difference in their fields and in the world. This recognition also motivates me to continue pursuing excellence and innovation in everything I do. As a first-generation college graduate from a low-income family, I am proud to represent my community and show that anything is possible with hard work, dedication, and a vision.

Are there any lessons from your time at Michigan Ross that have helped you get where you are today?
Ross was a transformative experience for me, where I learned not only the fundamentals of business but also the skills and mindset to be a leader and a changemaker. I benefited from the many resources and opportunities that U-M offered, such as the friendly alumni network and career events that introduced me to Microsoft. One of the most influential people I met at U-M was Erin Allett, who helped me craft my personal story and highlight my strengths and achievements for my interviews.

What is your proudest career accomplishment so far?
My proudest career accomplishment so far is launching the Microsoft Copilot app in December 2023 and seeing it featured in our Super Bowl ad in February 2024. It was a thrilling and rewarding moment to witness the culmination of months of hard work and collaboration with my team and to see the positive feedback from the users. I am also proud of the social impact that Copilot can have across so many meaningful use cases.

What challenges have you had to face or overcome in your career?
One of the biggest challenges I faced in my career was starting and growing in a remote work environment due to the pandemic. I had to adapt to new ways of communicating and collaborating with my coworkers and managers and learn the ropes of my job without the usual in-person, face-to-face interactions and feedback. Beyond that, starting your first full-time job comes with learning about and improving your strengths and weaknesses as a marketer and a leader.

I learned a lot from the projects and tasks I was assigned and sought feedback and mentorship from my peers and seniors. This helped me discover what I was most passionate about with product strategy and where I could add the most value to my team and the company.

As someone so accomplished so early in your career, what’s next for you? Where do you want to be in a few years?
My main goal for the next few years is to keep learning and growing as a marketer and a leader. I want to explore new domains and industries that AI is taking us to and apply my skills and knowledge to create innovative and impactful solutions. At the same time, I am always looking for new challenges and opportunities to expand my horizons and make a positive difference in the world.

You founded the Paani Project while still a student at U-M. Can you tell us about how that project got started, what its goals are, and where it stands today?
Paani Project was born out of a personal connection and a desire to help. I grew up hearing stories from my parents about the water crisis in Pakistan and how it affected their lives and the lives of millions of others. I wanted to do something about it and found a way to channel my passion and skills through entrepreneurship. I started the Paani Project with a few friends at U-M with the simple goal of providing clean water to rural communities in Pakistan. We began with bake sales and fundraisers on campus and gradually expanded our reach and impact with the help of social media, partnerships, and donations.

Today, the Paani Project is a global non-profit organization that has completed over 20,000 projects, including building wells, installing solar panels, supporting local clinics, constructing schools, and empowering women and children. We have raised over $6 million and helped over a million people in Pakistan. Our vision is to create a world where everyone has access to clean water and basic human rights.

When I reflect on my drive for community service, I'm reminded of the late great Muhammad Ali's words: 'The service you do for others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.' As someone who shares the same faith as Muhammad Ali, being Muslim, these values are not just personal convictions but align with our faith's emphasis on serving humanity. It's a shared commitment that has a profound impact on how I approach community service. Moving forward, I will stick to my dedication to driving impactful change and leveraging my resources to uplift those in need.

What makes marketing such a powerful tool for change and action, in your opinion?
Marketing is a powerful tool for change and action because it allows us to tell stories that resonate with people and inspire them to take action. Stories can connect us with our emotions, values, and identities and motivate us to support causes that we care about. For example, with my nonprofit, Paani, I realized that we have a major young Muslim audience, and they rarely see positive representations of themselves in the media.

So, I decided to create a video that featured celebrities from their childhood shows wishing them a happy Ramadan and highlighting a call to action around the importance of clean water access in Pakistan. This video went viral and generated a lot of attention, $100,000 in donations, and support for Paani. It also made our audience feel happy, included, and empowered. I think marketing is a great way to show people that they matter and that they can make a difference in the world.