2015 Best MBAs: Katie Benintende

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Katie Benintende


University of California – Berkeley, Haas School of Business

How is this for impact? In two years, Katie Benintende has helped female enrollment grow to 43 percent at Haas – a record at Haas and currently the highest percentage of women in top MBA programs. And the growth occurred as many rival business schools have been aggressively courting qualified women for their own programs. As co-chair of the MBA orientation program, Benintende was entrusted with orienting students to Haas’ unique culture, responsibilities, and heritage. In addition, she served as chair of the school’s Global Social Venture Competition Conference and vice president of academics for Net Impact. She is a true leader who tackles the tough jobs and brings people together.

Age: 30

Hometown: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Undergraduate School: Carnegie Mellon University

Undergraduate Degree: Materials Science & Engineering

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Johnson & Johnson, Customer Development Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2014? Nest Labs, Palo Alto CA

Where will you be working after graduation?Nest Labs, Global Supply Manager

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I decided I wanted a new challenge but I wasn’t sure what my path would be. I was in a highly responsible position, managing a $100 million+ P&L, and I wanted to be able to develop my big-picture strategy skills. For me, these two years have been all about asking the difficult questions that you don’t get to spend time on when you’re working 9 to 5.”

“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…a really experienced K-Y and Band-Aid saleswoman.”

What are your long-term professional goals? I feel very fortunate that I was able to grow up overseas and learn about new cultures every day. This experience has shaped my aspirations in my professional and personal life. I hope to take a global role in the near future, with the ultimate goal of one day leading the operations for a Fortune 100 company. We need more women in C-suite roles, especially in the COO spot. I hope to one day be in a position to shatter that glass ceiling!

Favorite Courses: Power & Politics, The Business Case for Investing in Women, Strategy

Which academic or professional achievements are you most proud of? As a woman, I knew I would be in the minority at business school, but the reason I chose Haas was its strong culture of diversity and inclusion. So I was surprised to find that my first-year MBA class was only 29% women—down from 32% the year before. I quickly learned that my female classmates were the most impressive, driven group of women I’d ever been around, and that they all noticed the gender imbalance too. A group of us, both men and women, got together with the mission of making Berkeley-Haas a leader in gender equality…

We were supported by all parts of Haas. From faculty to program and admissions staff to our new female Senior Assistant Dean and COO Jo Mackness to Dean Rich Lyons, we found that everyone was committed to improving our gender balance. In particular, we found an incredible champion and role model in Assistant Professor Kellie McElhaney, who teaches the Business Case for Investing in Women. Kellie helped us design an independent study, run research, and focus on what we could do to help make Haas a leader in gender equality.

We started by doing everything we could to increase the number of women in the Class of 2016. We asked prominent female alums and faculty to make special calls to our admits; we held events; and we asked our classmates to tell admits why Haas was the perfect place for men and women. I think we made enough noise to send a message that Haas lives up to its reputation for inclusion. After all that work, we were hoping to have an impact. Still, we were all stunned to learn that the incoming Class of 2016 exceeded all our expectations, with a record 43% women!

Who would you most want to thank for your success (and why)? Without question, I attribute a big part of my success to my dad. He started his career in the auto industry when he was 17 as an operator on the assembly line. After decades of hard work, he is now an executive at Ford. My siblings and I saw how dedicated he was to Ford, but also how much everyone loved to be around him—his co-workers, his bosses, Ford dealers, our friends and family. He taught us that personal and professional success comes from the strength of the relationships we build and foster. I try to emulate his approachable, friendly, yet driven work style, and I hope that I can be even remotely as successful as he has been in his 40+ year career.

Why did you choose this business school? I remember being at Days at Haas (admit weekend), and the professor who was leading a mock class said, “you made it to a top business school and I’m sure you have options, but come here because you feel like you belong in our culture.” What makes Haas such a unique and special place is our community. Our full-time class is small, only 250 students, and is made up of people who are diverse in ethnicity, race, gender, nationality, and thought, but who share common values and a drive to make a difference in the world. The school is guided by four Defining Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself. This creates a distinct culture that you’ll find nowhere else. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to create such close relationships with so many of my classmates and look forward to seeing all the ways they will change the world.

What did you enjoy most about business school? I’ve met fascinating people from all over the world, and am impressed by their talents and ambitions every day. These two years flown by so quickly, but I can already tell the relationships I’ve created here are going to last.

What is your most memorable moment from business school?  As a co-chair of the Class of 2016’s orientation week, one of my responsibilities was to recruit speakers to inspire the incoming class. I had been in the CPG/retail business and had followed Gap CFO Sabrina Simmons’ career for many years. I knew she was a Haas alumna and I was beyond excited to ask her to speak. Then, Dean Lyons asked if I would want to interview her in front of 300+ students, faculty, and staff. Getting to meet and interview such a powerful role model of mine was fantastic, but even more exciting was introducing Sabrina to the record-breaking class of 43% women—especially since she had been one of the alums we [had] asked to reach out to our admits! It was a proud and humbling moment I’ll never forget.

Fun fact about yourself: I ran on an ultra-marathon relay team from the Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf in high school.

Favorite book: Catcher in the Rye

Favorite movie: Bridesmaids

Favorite musical performer: Ellie Goulding

Favorite television show: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Favorite vacation spot: Dubai – I love getting to go home and lay on the beach for a week!

What are your hobbies? Swimming, running, snowboarding, surfing, hiking, event planning (ok…party planning), and getting too involved in my younger sister’s life!

What made Katie such an invaluable addition to the class of 2015?

I first worked with Katie when she was a 1st-year student, part of a group that had come together of their own accord to strengthen gender balance at Haas. I was impressed with her thoughtfulness​, ​assertiveness​, and ​passion, and really appreciated and admired the group’s determination to drive change…

Katie really stood out for her leadership as one of the co-chairs of our MBA Orientation week. She served as a culture lead, exemplifying the Haas defining principles both in her actions and the deliberate programming throughout the week. She questioned the status quo in developing the programming, thoughtfully evaluating each experience during orientation to identify how the Defining Principles could be integrated and brought to life for our new students. She consistently exercised influence beyond authority in leading her peers, and went beyond herself in taking on greater responsibilities to ensure that everything was accomplished successfully, and with excellence. She never asked for recognition, or complained about the added responsibility. She was always humble and able to build consensus within the group and in partnering with the administration…

She excelled in all aspects of the co-chair role. She relied extensively on her strong creative problem-solving skills to deal with unexpected changes, adversity and challenges. She re-framed and re-focused the budget when issues arose enabling us to add meaningful components to the week and maximize the funds available. She did all of this while maintaining a strong academic record and completing a demanding internship. Her clear focus and positive energy never flagged, and she continues to serve as a role model for the class she helped integrate into our community…”

– Stephanie Fujii, assistant dean, FTMBA Program and Admissions

Best of 2015

The Story: Class of 2015: The World’s Best & Brightest MBAs

The Complete List: The 50 Most Exceptional MBAs of 2015


Katie Benintende: Making A Difference At UC-Berkeley’s Haas School

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