2017 Best MBAs: Laura Gonzalez, University of Florida (Hough)

Laura Gonzalez

University of Florida, Hough Graduate School of Business

Determined Colombian woman who fuels herself with challenge until she achieves her goals.”

Age: 24

Hometown: Cali, Colombia (born and raised) –  West Palm Beach, FL

Fun fact about yourself: When working as a scientist at 19 years old, I was part of a group of five scientists in a Protein Research Lab that discovered a first-time recombinant protein to cure osteoarthritis. Currently, no drugs have been developed to treat the disease, just to alleviate the pain, which makes this drug one of a kind. The drug is in the process of FDA approval.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Palm Beach State College (AS Biotechnology), Palm Beach State College (BAS Business Management – Healthcare Concentration)

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Cytonics Corporation as an associate scientist and marketing coordinator until I left the company to start my own business: Petite Perfect Fit, LLC.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? Johnson & Johnson Consumer Healthcare, Fort Washington, PA.

Where will you be working after graduation? Johnson & Johnson Consumer Healthcare, Fort Washington, PA.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

VP of Sustainability and Communications – Gator MBA Gear (Student run organization) (2015 – 2016)

VP of Marketing – Big Data Club (2015 – 2016)

Admission Ambassador for Incoming MBA Students – (2015 – 2017)

VP of Sales and Marketing – Gator MBA Gear (2016 – 2017)

Student Career Coach for MBA Students – (2016 – 2017)

Initiated the International Student Support Group for UF MBA (2016 – 2017)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I have two academic achievements I am proud of. 1) I initiated the UF MBA international students support group in 2016. I organized and led a focus group where I learned all the challenges international students go through when immigrating to the US. Having experienced these challenges first-hand eight years ago when I immigrated to the US, I realized the importance of helping international students with their transition to the US culture. This support group required initial approval from the MBA office. I created an informational booklet, a buddy pairing program with current MBA students, and quarterly lunch check-in meetings. The international students this year are much more involved with activities and the UF MBA family. It is very rewarding to have been a part of this initiative and to help UF MBA program and students achieve their goals.

2) I initiated, managed, and led the improvement and launch of a new e-commerce website for Gator MBA Gear as VP of Sales and Marketing. This website is one of the main sources of funding for all the professional development activities of the full-time UF MBA program. It had been initiated in 2009 and the website was outdated. I knew improving this website was going to be critical for the success of our business. I secured the initial capital, hired an international firm to develop it (very inexpensively!), managed the execution of functionality and content, and created a marketing plan for launch. The site was launched early January of 2017 and in only one month we achieved a 20% increase in revenues compared to last year. I am proud to leave my mark on the Gator MBA Gear business and to contribute to the sustainability of the professional development activities at UF MBA.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Starting my own business has been one my proudest professional moments. Having grown up in a family of entrepreneurs, starting my own business was always one of my life goals. At 21 years old, I had the opportunity to start Petite Perfect Fit, an online retailer selling high-end clothing for petite women. I was responsible for securing the initial capital, developing the business plan and brand strategy, recruiting a team of employees and consultants, sourcing the products, and overseeing the business operations.

I always knew starting a business would be challenging, but it was even more challenging given the fact I was also finishing my last year of college. The experiences I learned through the process are and will always be extremely valuable to me. I was challenged to learn how to capitalize on my strengths and improve my weaknesses. I learned how to manage a team of people who helped me bring the concept to life. I traveled internationally to trade shows and built relationships with international companies. Most importantly, it gave me the foundation to start business school on the right foot. I ran the company for a little less than two years until I decided to sell it and come back to school to get my MBA. This experience has definitely been the most challenging two years of my life, but the amount of learning and experiences have been very rewarding.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I have two favorite professors.

1) Dr. Timothy Halloran. He has extensive expertise in the brand management field, and he made sure to bring that experience to the lectures, which made the class much more interesting. He utilized innovative ways of learning to make the class more engaging. His classes felt more like a conversation between all of the us.

2) Dr. James Parrino. He is highly knowledgeable in the finance world, and coming from a non-finance background his lectures were very interesting, challenging, and very insightful. He makes sure to combine stories from his personal experience with each lecture and finds innovative ways to initiate conversations in class.

Why did you choose this business school? UF was the school that stood out the most for me and had everything I was looking for. The ROI is higher than the other schools I was considering, especially after the scholarship I received. Also, the small class cohorts allowed for a personalized experience with professors and program staff, with tailored treatment to each individual. Lastly, career placement at UF is extraordinary, and it ended up being beyond what I had expected.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Three main things I enjoyed the most about business school:

1) Professional Development: UF does a very good job at creating extracurricular activities such as meeting other business leaders, case competitions, taking leadership roles, professional talks, and other similar initiatives, in addition to the experiences and concepts learned in the classroom.

2) Personal Development: I can honestly say I am not the same person who started business school in 2015. Getting an MBA changed my life. Learning about my strengths and weaknesses, going through challenges such as an internship process with a top 500 company, pushing myself to be a part of leadership roles, and learning from the diverse pull of experiences that my classmates brought to the table made me a better person, and a better leader.

3) Friendships for Life: The small class size at UF made it very easy to see my classmates almost every day, either in the hallway or at some event. One of the most enjoyable experiences has been building a network with all of them and knowing that those friendships will last for a lifetime.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Three pieces of advice:

1) UF values leadership more than anything else and has plenty of opportunities for you to take initiative for leadership roles. Make sure to mention all the leadership experiences you have had during the interview, not only professionally but even in your personal life. Having the human factor is also very important for our program.

2) Try to find alumni from the program who can answer any of the questions you may have ahead of time. Taking advantage of the knowledge they have is an incredible opportunity to make sure you will be attending a program that suits your needs. Do not be afraid to ask any questions. You will be surprised how helpful everyone is and how much they are willing to help prospective candidates through the process.

3) Create a plan of where you want to be in the next five years. Make sure to do enough research assessing the industries where you would like to work, and the kind of roles you would like to have (finance, marketing, strategy, real state, etc). UF has the best talent to help you land your dream job, but half of accomplishing this goal comes from the amount of preparation and research you dedicate to the process. Come ready with questions to the career services team about how they can better assist you with job hunting since it is one of the main goals of coming back to business school.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The myth is that the quality of professional development and leadership opportunities are not as good at UF as at some other schools due to our small class sizes. This is not true. I can personally say the quality of expertise offered, preparation, and networking opportunities are incredible at UF and very comparable to other top business schools. Having smaller class sizes allows you to be even more involved. A big part of success comes from the individual, but if you give it your best, you can become very successful as a UF MBA.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is a very hard question since they all have different experiences that I admire on an individual basis. However, if I had to pick one I would pick Cecilia Cao. I admire her perseverance in getting what she wants, and her initiative to accomplish goals and projects without anyone pushing her to do it. Also, I admire her ability to want to help classmates by providing her expertise, experience, and personal knowledge.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when… I was a year into running my start-up business and realized I wanted to have more experience and expertise.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…working for a biotechnology company in marketing until I had the time and the initial capital to start another business related to healthcare.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? Bringing more diversity into the classroom. In this day and age, diversity is critical for business success. Bringing different perspectives and experiences to the table makes for deeper conversations, and insightful learning. But more than bringing more diversity into the classroom I would make sure these students are actively participating and becoming a part of the network (which might be harder to do for diversity / international students).

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I have always had a main goal of running a business where I can make a difference in the life of people and creating a powerful brand. By joining the corporate world and building my experience as an executive, I will effectively develop expertise in a wide variety of functional areas. If and when I retire from the corporate world, I would be interested in starting a small business once again.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My parents, brother and my boyfriend. They have been incredibly supportive through this journey and have always believed in me and encouraged me to achieve my dreams. I would also like to thank Jason Rife from UF for the time spent with me helping land the job of my dreams. His expertise, advice, and preparation support were a critical part of my development.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A charismatic leader willing to offer help and support to others when needed, and eager to accomplish all personal and professional goals.

Favorite book: Hard to choose. I have always loved the Harry Potter saga but currently Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, and quiet by Susan Cain.

Favorite movie or television show: Forrest Gump, Life is Beautiful, and Titanic.

Favorite musical performer: Hard question. I like the majority of music genres but for this question I will say Marc Anthony and Adele.

Favorite vacation spot: Any Caribbean Beach.

Hobbies? Family time, traveling, spending time at the beach, learning new languages, cooking, and yoga.

What made Laura such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“Laura Gonzalez has added value to the UF MBA program in a variety of areas. First, she brought her skills as an entrepreneur to bear when she took on a leadership role with Gator MBA Gear, a student-run company that markets and sells UF MBA-themed merchandise.  Laura spearheaded an overhaul of the company’s e-commerce site that helped drive record-setting growth and set new standards for that organization’s lead marketing role.

She also gave back more directly to her peers as the Founder of the International Student Support Group. Laura identified an opportunity to improve the experiences of her classmates who were living in the U.S. for the first time. On her own initiative she created a vision, aligned stakeholders, and designed and implemented a program that helped international students better acclimate to life in Gainesville.

Laura came into the program with a laser focus on a brand management role and worked tirelessly to land her top-choice internship with Johnson & Johnson. Her successful performance during her summer with J&J led to a full-time offer, so she has been able to spend a substantial amount of time in her role as a Student Career Coach helping other students to successfully prepare for their internship interviews. Many of her mentees have already been successful securing marketing internships, a testament to her coaching abilities.

Laura has truly left a legacy that will last well after she graduates.”

Craig Petrus
Executive Director, Business Career Services

DON’T MISS: THE COMPLETE HONOR ROLL: BEST & BRIGHTEST MBAS OF 2017