Meet Cornell Johnson’s MBA Class Of 2020

Delia Hughes

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

I am enthusiastic and passionate with a love of travel, fitness, nature, and cheese.”

Hometown: Eastchester, NY

Fun Fact About Yourself: I studied abroad in Parma, Italy for six months learning how to make Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Undergraduate School and Major: Cornell University, Food Science Major

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Atalanta Corporation (largest privately-owned food importer in the U.S.), Business Development Manager

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far:  The biggest accomplishment in my career has been to develop a new program for a national retailer which eventually drove a 150 percent sales and profit increase. I worked as a business development manager for a food importer managing $25M and was responsible for negotiating costs, setting prices, growing sales and profit, managing brand development, and implementing marketing promotions. The Belgian cheese brand which I represented had experienced stagnant growth and in response our team’s challenge was to create a seasonal concept of distinctive cheeses. We developed the logistics chain for these new items for distribution and successfully sold the concept to the retailer. The project tested my innovative and creative skills, my financial skills, and my project management and communication skills.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Collaborative. My classmates have been extremely helpful in answering questions and sharing experiences. I was not expecting this open environment and the apparent eagerness to help! It will be a refreshing environment to live in and I believe we will become true teammates, rather than simply classmates. This collaborative nature will help us succeed in whatever we choose to pursue.

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? The inviting community was the key factor that led me to choose Johnson. The Johnson community has a welcoming nature and attending Destination Johnson program was an amazing experience. All of the professors and current students could not be more gracious with their time and attention. I was introduced to many fellow entrepreneurs and to entrepreneurial alumni via email. Everyone took the extra effort to network and it was a wonderful feeling. I also wanted a school where I could develop life-long relationships. Being able to access Cornell University and take courses across six different colleges was a huge factor in my decision. I plan to launch my food company while pursuing an MBA. Being able to access and work with professors and students from the Food Science department, Agriculture school, and Engineering College will be a huge asset for my company.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? My focus at Johnson will be on entrepreneurship, as I aspire to start my own food venture or lead a food company. I look forward to becoming involved in the entrepreneurial community and forming meaningful relationships with my peers. Seeking out a leadership role in the E Club (entrepreneurship club) to help build the entrepreneurship community is a serious interest. I also want to get involved in BR Venture Fund to assist small businesses and learn what it takes to successfully acquire investors.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I decided to pursue an MBA to acquire the tools and knowledge to transition from executing strategy to formulating strategy. Ultimately, I want to be at the executive level or in an entrepreneurial role within the food industry, where I can lead a team propelled by my vision. One of my areas of focus is to further develop core accounting and finance skills. Since I have been involved in the food industry, I hope to use my MBA to gain exposure to other industries, such as technology, to enable me to think broadly and find cross industry opportunities. An MBA, coupled with my acquired skills, industry relationships, and proven creativity, will provide the necessary foundation to reach my long-term goal.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? An MBA is a significant financial investment and something I thought a lot about when deciding whether to do a full-time or a part-time program. I realize I am going to need assistance with developing my business; whether it is sourcing capital, determining sell price or finding efficiencies in logistics. As I grow the business, being able to access the resources of experts and professors will be invaluable.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Stern, Baruch Zicklin, Anderson, Darden, Columbia

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Three factors I reviewed when choosing MBA programs were the strength of the entrepreneurship program, a strong dedication to building core business skills, and the alumni network. I determined fit at various schools by taking time to speak with students. Since entrepreneurship is a main focus, I contacted the entrepreneurship society/club at each school and spoke with professors or program coordinators to obtain information about the course offerings, clubs, trips, etc. Taking the initiative to schedule conversations with students and professors definitely made a huge impact in determining personal fit.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? My defining moment was right after I graduated from college when my product development team of five won first place at the International Food Technology Student Association Disney Competition. The competition was a national competition and our task was to create a Disney movie-themed food item targeted for children ages five-to-ten years old. My team was a mix of undergrad and graduate students and we came up with our product “Finding Dory”. The product was a gummy-based snack which contained one serving of fruit. We completed a business plan, built the product from initial concept, and created real samples to give to industry professionals. Our team came up with a concept by analyzing the market gap for children and created the scale-up process, then developed packaging, costing, and marketing strategy to launch the item. Winning first place in this competition was a defining moment and fueled my entrepreneurial desire. It gave me confidence and inspired me to launch my own food product company.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? My goal is to launch my business during my MBA. If the company is progressing, I will plan to work for my company after I graduate. Most likely my time will be in the consumer division with obtaining capital, going on sales calls and building the brand. If that doesn’t work out, I see myself working for a successful food start-up in a leadership strategy role.

Where do you see yourself in five years? In five years, I see myself running my own food company and taking the business to the next level to include brand extensions and new product launches.

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