Saturday, May 25, 2024

2024 Best & Brightest MBA: Erica P. Santana, IE Business School

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“I’m a passionate being, constantly seeking growth through challenges and exposure to my unknown world.”

Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico

Fun fact about yourself: Around the time when Snapchat launched in 2011, I opened an account with the username partysnaps. As the app became popular, I received multiple offers to buy the username. I did not accept (out of pride).

Undergraduate School and Degree: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, Data Science Supervisor

Where did you intern during the summer of 2023? MEET – Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow, Jerusalem, Israel

Where will you be working after graduation? To be determined

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Class Representative

Fulbright Scholar

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my tenure as class representative during the second term of the MBA. Together with my fellow class reps and the IMBA program management, we worked to implement multiple initiatives that incorporated student feedback in the learning environment. I am proud of the environment that we created together, where all ideas were considered. Even more, we continued to improve the (already excellent) international MBA program at IE in many ways. For example, we implemented a proposal to allow students to self-select their workgroups for the concentrations period as to drive learnings from the process and its outcomes. My leadership role in all of this allowed me the opportunity to influence others by acting upon change.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? After completing my undergraduate degree at MIT, I took the unconventional decision of returning home to Puerto Rico despite its economic challenges. I wanted to play a role in the island’s development. I started working in the technology division at Banco Popular, the island’s main financial institution, with the task of demonstrating the impact that data science and AI technologies could have within the corporation. Just two years later, I was promoted to supervisor of the newly created AI unit. This is not common for a person my age; in fact, I was one of the youngest leaders in the organization. I’m particularly proud of this because it not only reflects on my performance, but also opened the door for other young talent working in tech to return to Puerto Rico. It also meant bridging the gap for female leaders in both technology and banking.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose to attend IE Business School for its student body diversity. Coming from an undergraduate school focused on engineering in the US with mainly national students, I was motivated by the cultural and professional background diversity at IE. I know that such diversity is essential for my growth journey as a transformational business leader because my career path will require self-awareness, empathy, and humility when working with others.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Jorge Fernández Vidal, our Business Strategy professor, was my favorite of all. Not only does he have an extensive academic background, but he is a highly regarded professional. He has an assertive teaching style that encourages students to think critically during case discussions. As the course develops, he poses questions that help us approach cases in a holistic way. By the end of the course, we had a complete framework that could be used to approach any business strategy situation.

However, it was a conversation outside of class that made me admire Professor Jorge Fernández Vidal. He told me that when looking for a professional opportunity it is of utmost importance, over every other factor, to seek a team of people that are not only good at what they do but are also good people. I used to regard extremely successful people as being individuals who were mainly performance-driven, particularly men. Through this conversation and his advice, I identified with his humanity and our shared values. Now, I look at the bigger picture – and model my own idea of who I want to be as a professional in the same way.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Business, Government & Sustainability was my favorite course of the program – for the way it prompted me to question my values and principles. The course focuses on the analysis of corporate market and non-market strategies considering political and social pressures. The professor, Benjamin Barber, would challenge any position we took in class, getting us to analyze and evaluate our own beliefs and conceptions – the importance being that these will ultimately influence our decisions as business leaders. The course also motivated me to concentrate my degree in Sustainability and further develop the skills to manage the nonmarket business environment through successful integrated corporate strategies.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? What would I change? I would invite every professor I had for a coffee chat. At IE, most of our professors are leaders in their industries with ample experience and also a willingness to help students in their professional discovery. This is a unique opportunity to gain insight into the market and feedback on the pathway we are designing for ourselves.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was most surprised by how outgoing and relatable people are at business school despite their achievements and qualifications. At IE, no one takes themselves overly seriously and as a cohort we made sure to have lots of fun.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I’m going to respond like your stereotypical MBA student and ignore the premise of the question. Choosing only one classmate does not do justice to the pivotal role people have had in my MBA experience. Marcela Mesa, one of my core term teammates, is genuinely empathetic and thoughtful. During our time working together, she helped me work on my empathy through active feedback and coaching, always from a place of kindness. Fernando Pelaez, also one of my core term teammates, is a strong analytical and critical thinker who would push everyone to think beyond what’s apparent or naturally concluded. Moreover, he would do it in a graceful way inspiring those around him to strive for excellence. Finally, Cristobal Arentsen, my fellow class representative, is a purpose-driven, energetic leader that welcomes challenges with a positive attitude and is constantly looking for ways to get out of his comfort zone. During our time as class representatives, his example motivated me to get things done and to view even the most difficult of situations through a positive lens, always focused on the learnings and growth opportunities. I’m lucky to share this experience with them and many other peers and friends.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? First, I want to take the leap and build something of my own, that is deliberate and purposeful. Second, I want to go back to Puerto Rico and contribute to the expansion and strengthening of the tech and entrepreneurial ecosystems.

What made Erica such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2024?

“Erica is one of the brightest students I have taught in the last 10 years. Her kind and gentle appearance hides an incredibly analytical mind. She adds a lot of value to any class discussion by getting to the core of the case issues. She handles complexity with grace and is able to communicate intricate thoughts in a pithy and effective way.

Outside of class, she is very thoughtful about her career, about the impact she wants to have and about the environment she wants to be part of. I am sure any company will be lucky to have her! Plus, she has a great deal of AI experience, even before AI was even a thing!”

Jorge Fernandez Vidal
Adjunct Professor of Strategy
IE Business School


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