Meet Notre Dame Mendoza’s MBA Class Of 2020

Peter Zanca

University of Notre Dame, Mendoza College of Business

“My two favorite things: making my son laugh and working with a new data set.”

Hometown: Memphis, TN

Fun Fact About Yourself: In my one year of playing collegiate basketball, I racked up an impressive stat line: one point on 0 for 2 shooting and 1 for 4 on free throws. So yeah, I’m pretty good.

Undergraduate School and Major: Rhodes College, BA in Political Science

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Accenture, Manager

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: With three days notice and no prior coding experience, I taught myself Visual Basic and developed a tool that enabled college counselors at a national network of charter schools to track over $10 million worth of financial aid packages for over 3,000 students.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Authentic. Each person I’ve met seems genuinely comfortable in his or her own skin, which allows us to cut past any posturing and get to know each other. It also helps in fostering an open, supportive community. When people bring their authentic selves to school, it’s easier to find ways to help one another.

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 Notre Dame network.  In my conversations with current students and alums, it became clear the reach and potency of the Notre Dame network far surpassed that of any other school I considered. In asking one prominent alumnus what advice he’d offer for cold-emailing other notable alums, his response was simple: “Put ‘Notre Dame’ in the subject line. Nine times out of ten, you’ll get a response. People want to help.” I want to be a part of a community where people pay it forward to those who come after them. In the years ahead, I hope I can be of assistance to Mendoza students of the future.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? As a student in Mendoza’s MBA/MS in Business Analytics dual-degree program, I’m eager to get involved with the Business Analytics Club. Data continues to play an increasingly larger role in our lives, so I’m excited to get hands-on with what’s new and emerging in the world of analytics, whether it’s through engaging with guest speakers from industry or learning new analytics tools and methods.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Over dinner one night, a friend shared that he’d been promoted into his “dream job” as creative director for a major university. His accomplishment made me realized that one’s “dream job” isn’t inherently beyond one’s reach and that my job in federal consulting – great as it was – was far from my dream of working in the sports industry.  So my wife, who was six months pregnant at the time, and I agreed to chase that dream, and I started the application process for business school. I just made her promise that she wouldn’t go into labor until after I finished the GMAT.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? Knowing I wanted to make a career pivot, I felt returning to school full-time would facilitate a smoother transition into a new industry than trying to break in cold. After looking at profiles of analytics professionals in sports, it became clear an MBA wasn’t the only path to success, but it was the path that would offer the most versatile combination of quantitative and leadership learnings to promote success in a variety of different roles.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech, MIT, Northwestern, Penn

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I built an analytical model that scored each school based on a seven weighted factors: (1) the program’s fit for my academic needs (i.e. analytics coursework, dual degrees); (2) strength of career opportunities (i.e. on-campus recruiting, average starting salaries); (3) strength of the alumni network; (4) the net cost given tuition, scholarships, cost of living, etc.;  (5) class size; (6) geographic location; and (7) miscellaneous items like quality of facilities. I found it difficult to measure or even estimate a score for each school’s culture, so in the end, I just tried to talk to as many current or recent students as possible to see whether we connected.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? After living in Washington, DC for seven years, my wife and I were offered the opportunity to buy a friend’s home for a very reasonable price (for DC). While we both had great jobs with great organizations and loved our lives in the District, we ultimately agreed DC wasn’t the right place for our family long term. I also recognized that I wouldn’t find lasting fulfillment in my current job. Staying in DC would mean settling for what I knew and for what was comfortable. Business school emerged as a pathway to reinvigorate my career and set it on a more fulfilling path, pursuing my ambition to work in sports.  In making the decision to leave a great job and pursue a dream with no guarantee of success, I found that I am someone willing to take a risk and bet on myself.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I plan to pivot into the sports industry, employing my analytical skills to help leagues and teams elicit new insights and opportunities from their data while putting my consulting experience to use by helping those organizations understand and manage the changes necessary to capitalize on their newly discovered opportunities.

Where do you see yourself in five years? I see myself as an executive in a major sports organization’s front office or league office, probably with “analytics” in the job title.  And of course, I’ll be responding to any emails with “Notre Dame” in the subject line.



Comments or questions about this article? Email us.