Meet London Business School’s MBA Class Of 2020

Gabriela M. Kestler

London Business School

Tiny, yet mighty Guatemalan, passionate about exploring the link between business and global social development.”

Hometown: Guatemala City, Guatemala

Fun Fact About Yourself: I’m left-handed, with all the associated quirks included. My Myers-Briggs personality type is INTJ, which comprises only 0.8% of the world’s female population

Undergraduate School and Major: Universidad Francisco Marroquin Guatemala, BA in Political Science and International Commerce (double major)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Kellogg Company, Senior Finance Head Central America & Caribbean

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: It’s hard to pinpoint something that can qualify as just my own accomplishment, because I have always worked in companies where teamwork is everything. Rarely is anything the result of just one person’s work, and one of the things I’m most proud of is my ability to lead, both formally and informally, multidisciplinary teams in addressing complex business issues. However, I am especially proud of recently earning a K Value Award at Kellogg for spearheading the financial plan that drove a complete business turnaround for our single biggest customer, shifting a five year consecutive negative growth trend to a high single digit growth in less than nine months.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why?  Multifaceted! When joining LBS, you can throw all your previous misconceptions of what MBA students are like out the window. From day one, I’ve been thrilled to be amidst a truly diverse community of the most outstanding individuals from every background imaginable. On any given day, we can be discussing Apple’s most recent valuation one minute, switch over to sharing our perspectives on classical violin concertos, make a small detour to set up a next day friendly soccer match, and then wrap the conversation up with witty recommendations of London’s best pubs. For most of us, the spirit of genuine friendship combined with an unparalleled sense of humility to enable and learn from others has already been a transformative experience, and we haven’t even formally begun our academic program!

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? Coming from such a small country, I wanted an MBA that could give me a sense of all the possibilities the world has to offer – and provided the tools to experience them first hand. LBS’s flexible curriculum enables you to do just that, providing a strong combination of business fundamentals, and unbelievable array of academic electives, and a challenging set of real world experiences that range from interning at the world’s most prestigious financial firms to advising budding entrepreneurs in developing nations. LBS can be a microscope giving you world class expertise on a field you already love, or a telescope opening your mind up to ideas and opportunities you never knew existed.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? LBS has over 70 student-run clubs, so there’s something for everyone to look forward to, but my personal favorite is the Women In Business Club. The momentum that the discussion on gender equality in the workplace has gained in recent years has empowered so many amazing female professionals to take on unprecedented roles in business, both as decision makers and role models. I would love to be involved in an organization that actively seeks to advance that empowerment, promotes a new perspective on how we do business, and redefines the future of our and new generations to come.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Although I was having a great career progression, I felt I needed new tools to truly pursue my interest in socially responsible business. My experience at work was definitely helping me grow my business acumen, but it lacked the focus and resources to truly develop my idea of helping global corporations enable community development. In addition, I lacked a formal business education in my undergraduate experience and wanted to strengthen this area of my development before scaling to a regional management position. Finally, I felt I had rounded out my personal and professional profile in order to be a suitable candidate for the kind of programs I wanted to apply to, making this an ideal moment to take the big leap.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? Working in corporate commercial finance, numbers are always a big part of my day-to-day, so I started off with a tried and true cash flow forecast, and researched ROI’s that related program cost to post MBA average salary expectations. However, although the hard numbers checked out for themselves, I felt the exposure to new ideas, people, and career opportunities that LBS offers was certainly not something I was going to be exposed to in any other environment, and that was a critical factor in my decision. To me, my MBA is an investment in all the possibilities I can come across during these two years, more than just a tradeoff between program cost and expected future income. Some of the most transformative things we can experience can’t be measured in currency; their outcome is equally, if not more, valuable to our lives.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? UVA Darden, Oxford Saïd, Harvard Business School

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I did abundant research over the course of two years just to determine the schools I wanted to apply to. From the beginning, I knew I was only going to make such a significant investment of both time and money for an outstanding program. Reviewing three-year rankings from various sources (P&Q being one of them) was one of my first filters. I selected the top 10 programs from the US, Europe, and Asia, as I wanted to have a culturally diverse experience from my Latin American upbringing. Furthermore, I reviewed the school’s online resources, program brochures, and student and alumni blogs to have an idea about costs, program duration, core values, key differentiators, class composition, and student career placement.

After selecting a final group of 10 programs, I reached out to student representatives, alumni, and recruitment professionals at several companies I’d like to be a part of, to get their perspectives on what day-to-day life was like and the particular focus of each program. I selected then five final programs to which I was going to apply to but decided against a program in Asia because of language barriers that would difficult my husband’s professional placement. Finally, the interview and networking with other applicants was what made me decide on LBS. I instantly felt like it was a community where I felt both challenged and empowered, and that it could enable me to explore different paths to fulfill my long-term career goals.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? I think I am one of the few people who can set an exact date for this question. On July 23, 2008, I experienced first-hand one of the many destructive effects of chronic poverty and institutional collapse in developing nations: my father, who is my personal hero to this day, was killed in an armed robbery on the doorstep of our family home. “Common violence” is the term that was used in all official documents, and it pains me to understand that in many communities, stories like my own are indeed common.

It’s not surprising that this was the defining moment of my life, but it wasn’t defining just for the reasons you’d believe. To have had my entire world collapse at the age of 19 brought about many hardships, both emotional and financial. However, it also gave me the opportunity to find interior strength, resilience, discipline and gratitude in ways I certainly would not have experienced otherwise. Navigating this difficult journey has also given me absolute certainty that we are masters of our own destiny. Regardless of how hopeless our current situation may seem, there is an absolute truth that cannot be taken from us: the power of individual choice. I did not choose to have my family torn apart by senseless violence: that is just something that happened. However, I always knew I could choose the attitude with which I faced all subsequent challenges, and that my future would be the direct result of the decisions made by me alone. I am not a product of my circumstances, although I was certainly molded by them. I stand where I am today because of an unwavering resolve to accomplish my goals, and a rock solid belief in the absence of limits for those brave enough to question them.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I plan to gain experience in the field of strategy consulting, hopefully focused on governmental and economic policy, as well as entrepreneurial development. In the long term, my professional aspiration is to launch my own consulting venture focused on the particular needs of developing nations, aiding both private entrepreneurs and government organizations in the development of business models that enable both private economic growth and societal advancements.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Still learning, breaking stereotypes as a female professional with a beautiful family, most likely gearing up to accelerate the ideation process behind my own business venture. However, I expect LBS to be a defining experience in every sense and am completely open to the lessons and adjustments that may arise as a result. Regardless of the way I choose to pursue my long-term goals, I am certain I will continue to focus on the role of business as a catalyst for change in developing societies, hopefully contributing as an entrepreneur, advisor and even a professor.

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