Valentina Toll Villagra
Harvard Business School and Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Strong-willed, serial planner, caring, soccer fan, devoted volunteer, tech lover, dreamer, dancing enthusiast, challenge seeker
Hometown: Yerba Buena, Tucuman, Argentina
Fun Fact About Yourself: I’m a huge fan of the Argentinean national soccer team and never miss a chance to paint my face light blue and white and go watch them play.
Undergraduate School and Major: Boston University, B.S. in Mechanical Engineering
Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Amazon, Startup Project Manager (Operations Engineering, Customer Fulfillment)
Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Completing 10 Amazon warehouse openings (from design to operations) totaling over 1.5 million square feet of industrial space in 15 months.
What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Inspirational. Each person at HBS has a unique story. Every day I’m amazed at the level of commitment people have to making a positive impact in the world. Our first-year sections represent a wide range of professional and personal experiences, and each conversation is a learning opportunity. From private equity to education, I feel like I now understand the perspectives of people coming from industries that seemed so distant to me working in tech. Seeing the world through so many different lenses helps me develop a more comprehensive action plan when it comes to business decisions.
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? I would say the case method.
In engineering, I was used to passively sitting in a classroom to absorb the knowledge lectured by professors. I would start to understand in class, then attend discussion sections, and finally do the homework on the topic. It was black and white – you either got the right answer or you didn’t. This was very effective in helping us develop a problem-solving mind set, but in a very exact science. I see business, on the other hand, more like an art where personal judgment plays a huge role. The case method is quite the opposite of what I was used to. A lot of the reading happens while you prepare for class. A lot of the learning happens in class listening to and interacting with other students. It’s a very active learning environment, where all students are engaged and helping advance the conversation with their expertise or personal experiences.
Engineering experiments can be replicated and, under the same environment, would always produce the same result. Business decisions can’t necessarily be applied from one scenario to the next. In line with this, in cases there’s (usually) no right or wrong – just the guidance on what to consider when making the choice that’s right for your particular situation in your particular context.
What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Startup Bootcamp! We’ll be taking an extended version of this program during winter break as part of one of the MS/MBA classes (Technology Venture Immersion). The program is like an accelerated incubator that walks you through the steps of starting your own company – from market definition through prototyping to capital funding.
What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Having worked in big tech, I wanted to transition into entrepreneurship. I felt an MBA would complement my technical skills with knowledge in important business areas such as finance and marketing. I wanted to learn to have a strategic vision and understand the forces that model the business world. I want to avoid the common mistake among STEM majors of starting a company around a cool technology that nobody is willing to adopt or pay for. I picked the MS/MBA program to deepen my technical skills as well.
How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? I looked at what I would get out of it inside and outside of the classroom. I considered both the educational experience, through the case method in this case, and the access to other opportunities such as after-class programs, speaker series, and alumni connections among others.
What other MBA programs did you apply to? Just HBS
How did you determine your fit at various schools? HBS was my only choice. I did my undergraduate degree in Boston and while here toured HBS and participated in a class visit. I connected with the Women’s Student Association (WSA) through the admissions office and came on campus for a small group lunch, where I had the chance to talk to current students and get their perspective on the experience.
What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? When I was 18, I made the final round of a Junior Achievement (nonprofit organization) competition in my home country, Argentina. It was an on-stage debate after a week of activities around entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and work readiness. I was standing with four other candidates in front of an audience of around 650 people. And I didn’t feel I was doing particularly well. Right before the end, the judges asked if anyone had anything else to say. Despite being nervous, tired, and honestly scared of what people would say, I decided to raise my hand and address a previous question I felt wasn’t answered in a way that represented my point of view. That answered helped me place first, leading me to a series of subsequent competitions, programs, and events that opened up an incredible number of opportunities. Fast forward seven years from that split second when I made the decision to take a chance and speak, and I enrolled at HBS.
I’m not sure how it shaped who I am, but it definitely shaped how my life turned out. Since then, when in doubt, I just take a deep breath and go for it.
What do you plan to do after you graduate? I’d like to transition into entrepreneurship or join a very early stage tech startup. I enjoy working in projects with a broad scope, where I can do very different things depending on the day. I like not having a set routine, and, interestingly enough, I love chaos. I find it exciting and motivational, giving me a reason to work hard.