2018 Best MBAs: Barbara Calvi, HEC Paris

Barbara Calvi

HEC Paris

A restless explorer, in search of new learning challenges, and a committed, reliable performer.”

Age: 30

Hometown: Vicenza, Italy

Fun fact about yourself: During the first night of our MBA integration weekend, I remained locked in the bathroom because of an old, broken door, and I could not get out until the next morning since I did not want to wake people up shouting for help, not to be impolite. It was a long night sleeping on the cold floor, and everyone laughed about it during the rest of the weekend!

Undergraduate School and Degree: I completed both my Bachelor’s Degree in International Economics and Management, and my Master of Science in Economics and Social Sciences, at Bocconi University in Milan. I also did exchange programs at HEC Montréal and Carlos III University of Madrid.

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? I worked as a Financial and Private Sector Development Consultant for the World Bank, for almost 4 years, based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It was a very enriching experience both professionally and personally, broadening my views after I had started my career spending about 2 years in the strategy consulting industry in Europe.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? I did not intern during the summer of 2017 since our break was too short compared to what my targeted companies were looking for. However, I am currently doing a 4-month, full-time fieldwork in Société Générale Consulting, in Paris, instead of elective exams for the last term of the MBA, as I want to complement my academic program with hands-on experience in the financial sector.

Where will you be working after graduation? I am exploring two options at present: either remain in Paris with Société Générale Consulting, shall I be offered a permanent contract after the fieldwork, or return to the World Bank but this time as part of their global Young Professionals Program in Washington, DC, for which I have successfully completed the selection process. I believe the second option would allow me to capitalize my previous experience in the organization as well as the new knowledge and leadership skills obtained through the MBA, and have a faster career progression, with extensive international exposure, which I really like.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: During the MBA, I have been President of the Africa Club, and Treasurer of the Net Impact Club. Being in charge of organizing original and relevant events that would help my MBA peers acquire and share knowledge on my topics of interest, and network with business representatives from those industries, was an important source of motivation and allowed me to meet colleagues from different intakes and business schools. It also helped me strengthen my people’s management skills.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am particularly proud of two achievements. First, it is having completed my specialization in Finance with full marks, since strengthening my understanding of financial concepts and practical applications was one of my main MBA objectives. Second would be having led our HEC running team to victory in the cross-country competition in the 2017 MBA Tournament hosted on our campus, as I had put a lot of energy into training and motivating my teammates.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Having been brave enough to embrace risk and challenge myself, which positioned me on a constant, steep learning path. This happened when I decided to leave a permanent employment in consulting in Spain to go on a temporary, 3-month contract with the World Bank in Tanzania (which I then managed to convert into full-time), and then again when I left the World Bank to start my MBA – a project I had been keeping in the pocket for years.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Patrick Legland, with whom I did both the Corporate Finance course in our Core-2 term, and the Advanced Corporate Finance course during my specialization term. I greatly appreciated his teaching style, linking theory and practice as much as possible – a winning point in an MBA program. He based all of his classes on actual cases he had worked on, sharing with students the most important models and tools used in real life when analyzing the financial situation of a company – tools that I am expecting to rely upon again in my future jobs.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose HEC Paris for the variety of the MBA student profiles, the availability of an internationally recognized specialization in Finance, and the limited size of the class, which allowed me (like I was hoping) to establish very strong relationships with most of my classmates that I hope will be long-lasting, and not to cluster into a small group, as often happens when intakes are very large like in other business schools.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Put yourself at stake! Most of the value added of an MBA comes from your classmates and the way you decide to interact with them. It is essential that you are open to exchange, seek advice, but also criticism, from the people around you, and that you use it constructively to grow through the program and become a stronger person.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That it is too French. HEC Paris is certainly a great French brand, and the MBA program also benefits from the reputation of the undergraduate school. However, professors were very much international, as was my class, with less than 10% French students. Moreover, the proximity of other European business schools made it very easy to connect, including through student clubs, to MBA peers in other countries thus creating an extremely diversified personal and professional network.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Not having been able to organize a business field trip for the Africa Club that I was presiding. I had planned to try and bring some of our Club members on a field visit to an African country, to help them better understand the local entrepreneurial reality and get inspired by opportunities to work in the continent. Unfortunately, budget and time constraints did not make it possible.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I greatly admire W. H. Extremely shy and barely talking at the beginning, largely due to her stuttering problem related to a youth trauma, she gradually found the strength to open up, forcing herself to speak in public, intervene more often during lessons, and take the lead in organizing social events. She rapidly turned into a charismatic person, who, thanks to her extremely bright mind, brought huge value to the class. She is the most surprising transformation I have witnessed in my intake.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I believe it was my parents, although indirectly. While I already had a Master of Science in economics before the MBA, I felt the need to solidify my managerial and accounting skills. This is because I am an only child of two independent professionals, and although I decided to work in an industry different from theirs, I would like one day to feel confident enough to set up my own business activity.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…less self-confident in my skills and the unique value of my experience. Going to business school at 30 years old forces you to do some serious introspective analysis, and gives you an opportunity to reshape your personal value proposition building on your past life and integrating your new capabilities. This increased awareness helps you become a more effective salesman of yourself when you re-approach the market.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? In our specific case, I would make part of the MBA curriculum take place in Paris. Being located in the Jouy en Josas campus is certainly good to establish close relationships with classmates and focus on studying; however, being more often in Paris would facilitate professional networking through, for instance, company visits and participation to business fairs, which are important for MBAs.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Number 1 is a backpacking trip to South America, covering at least Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. I have been wishing to visit those countries for years. Number 2 is to start learning Portuguese (I can already read it, and I would now like to learn how to speak it properly), since I am really passionate about languages as a means to better understand foreign cultures. Having many Brazilian classmates in the MBA motivated me even more.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A smart and determined woman and a reliable friend, always on the front line to motivate and help her peers.

What is your favorite movie about business? Inside job”, by Charles Ferguson. I believe it is a great snapshot on the main triggers of the global financial crisis, and it clearly highlights how short-termism and bad ethics translated into a long-lasting damage to most world economies and people.

What would your theme song be? Wish you were here” by Pink Floyd. First, it is because my career took me far from many people I love over the past years, and I often miss them, family and close friends, especially in moments of weakness. Second, because one sentence in the song says: “And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”. I feel it fits me well, since I left a small town in Italy at the age of 18, where I could have easily taken a role in either of my parents’ business activities, to try an unpredictable, international career by my own.

Favorite vacation spot: Zanzibar (in particular Jambiani village, on the East coast). I used to go there often when I lived in Tanzania. It is a magical spot where the low tides during half of the day give the impression you can walk in the shallow, turquoise water until reaching the horizon, while local women silently collect seaweeds around you.

Hobbies? Running is my great stress reliever and main hobby since I was young (I used to practice athletics at competitive levels). In 2017, I ran the Paris-Versailles 16 km. I am also a passionate salsa dancer and was part of a dancing group in Tanzania. It is an activity that allows to meet diverse people and break social barriers.

What made Barbara such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

Barbara joined the HEC Paris MBA with a very international profile, having lived and worked in 10 countries pre-MBA including: Italy, Spain, Tanzania, Senegal, Uganda, Burundi, Congo DRC, Macau, United States and Canada. Barbara thus has a deep understanding of and vast experience working in multicultural environments in large organizations. She started her career in strategy consulting, later moving into finance for international development with the World Bank. For her, an MBA was a way to reconnect with the business world, strengthen her management skills, and dive deeper into financial concepts through her specialization in Finance, to ultimately move towards a role related to sustainable investing.

Barbara is known amongst her classmates as a leader with a passion for making a difference and for her experiences in Africa. She is highly active and engaged in several activities and events on and off campus and was elected President of the MBA Africa Club while also holding a leadership position in the Net Impact Club. In both Clubs, her mandate is to share knowledge and contacts through the organization of speaker and networking events, to make her classmates aware of the business and entrepreneurship opportunities in developing nations. Barbara also led the athletics women team during the 2017 edition of the sports tournament MBAT, where she and her peers won the 1st place in the cross-country run, and other 3 medals in track runs.

Despite the fact that she has been living around the world, Barbara is proud of her Italian heritage and was actively involved in planning the Italian cultural week where the team hosted senior executives from Italian corporations and also diplomatic guests.

Top of her class, Barbara is known to professionals as analytical and strategic but she also has an artistic side, she loves photography, speaks four languages fluently and is a trained dancer – she showed off her salsa skills at the most recent HEC Paris MBA talent show.”

Nidia Reati

Career and Corporate Development Manager 

Career Center, HEC Paris


“Barbara Cali has been one my students in the MBA 2018 Advanced Corporate Finance Class.

Barbara proved to be very talented, highly motivated and extremely rigorous. Her participation to the class was great. On regular occasions, she shared with the class some very interesting thought and comments. She seemed as well to be widely appreciated by the rest of the class.

I strongly recommend her.”

Patrick Legland

Affiliate Professor – Finance Department

HEC Paris


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