2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Benedetta Piva, Penn State (Smeal)

Benedetta Piva

Penn State University, Smeal College of Business

A self-starter who isn’t afraid to take action to create impact and legacy.”

Hometown: Vicenza, Italy

Fun fact about yourself: In 2014 I wanted to found a technology startup, but did not have enough resources. So I build from the ground up an organization called TEDxVicenza in which I lead a team of 25 people to bring the best innovative ideas from around the world to Northern Italy and organize events with 1,000+ attendees. Now I have many ideas and a great network to foster them!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, B.S. and M.S. in Economics and Management

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? OTB Group (leading apparel and luxury group), Group Business Controller

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Deloitte Consulting, Summer Associate

Where will you be working after graduation? Deloitte Consulting, Senior Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Project Leader, Penn State Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM)
  • VP of Corporate Relations, MBA Association (MBAA)
  • VP of Finance, Supply Chain Management Association (SCMA)
  • Member of the Smeal Sustainability Committee
  • Susan and Alex Goldberg MBA Fellowship Recipient
  • Michael Ryan Phillips Memorial MBA Scholarship recipient in recognition of community achievements (through peer nomination)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the direct impact I had on the Smeal MBA community as the VP of Corporate Relations for the MBA Association (MBAA). The MBAA is the largest and most active association at Smeal, counting almost 90% of MBAs as members. I played a key role in training, mentoring, and preparing students for their recruitment journey. Specifically, I increased the number of trainings (including over 70 mock interviews) and company-sponsored events (+30% events involving the alumni network), strengthened the mentoring component of the association, and further built on the association’s existing collaboration with the Employer Relations Office. I found it incredibly rewarding to directly impact many of my classmates’ career success. Every email, budget review, corporate request, and late-night problem-solving session was worth it.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of the multi-million-dollar impact I had in my previous job by finding unexplored ways to reduce operational expenses. I started with an initial hypothesis on untapped opportunities in multiple cost categories that I noted by observing trends in data. Despite some skepticism from the senior management, I remained persistent, kept digging into the details, collected feedback from a wide variety of stakeholders, and revisited my assumptions along the way. My findings on cost control strategies got to the board of directors and ultimately contributed to free up resources for strategic future investments. I am thankful for the incredible guidance of my manager and the vital support of my colleagues. All this helped me to stretch the boundaries of what I believed I could do and opened up doors to exciting new challenges.

What was your favorite MBA Course? I have two. One is “Power and Influence” taught by Professor Vilmos Misangyi. This course is based on the understanding that power and influence are key mechanisms by which things get done, and that effective leadership depends upon understanding power and welding it. Power is often abused in corporations, especially when personal or political goals overshadow organizational ones. This course has taught me how to be an astute and effective leader, who knows how to anticipate power moves of others to pivot them to drive organizational change and professional success.

The other course is “Supply Chain Modelling” taught by Professor Saurabh Bansal. This course has introduced me to the exciting world of mathematical modeling, a scientific approach to managerial decision-making which applies quantitative optimization methods to difficult and unstructured problems faced by managers. I will definitely look for opportunities to apply these models in my career!

Why did you choose this business school? Penn State had the three things I wanted most in an MBA program: a supportive community, a huge alumni network, and an excellent placement record. I don’t particularly like small towns, but State College has its own flavor and will always have a special place in my heart.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program?

Two things.

First, show your unique personality through your application. What makes you stand out? Think carefully. Take some time to reflect on who you are, what motivates you, and why you made the decisions and what are the pivotal moments that have led your life thus far. Try to connect the dots. Be yourself. Use the application process as an opportunity to ask yourself hard questions. It’s hard, really hard. But it will pay off along your MBA journey as you will enter the program already with a much better understanding of where you want to go from there. Business schools, as well as the recruiters who hire from them, want to get to know the genuine you, not your impression of what you think they are looking for.

Second, reach out to Smeal MBA alumni and current students. In my opinion, that’s the best way to ensure that you will end up in the right school for yourself, the one that is the best fit for you and that will allow you to express your full potentials. From my personal experience, speaking with someone who has been through the program and can be straightforward with you, is the best way to ensure you’re making the right choice.

What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish I would have known how fast the two years fly! I realize that an opportunity like the one I had during my MBA to focus full-time on my personal and professional growth will not come again anytime soon. One piece of advice: don’t put yourself in a position to look back and say, “I wish I had done…” Take advantage of all the resources that the MBA offers you: courses, workshops, conference, etc. Get to know your classmates and find out who they know. Learn as much as you can, both in and out of the classroom.

What is the biggest myth about your school? It is a supply chain school. While it is certainly true that Smeal has a strong supply chain curriculum, it also offers many other world-class courses, especially in strategy and corporate finance.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? Absolutely transformative. The critical thinking approach that I have developed over the course of my MBA is definitely the most visible transformation I have ever experienced. I can safely say that I have gained invaluable skills and meaningful connections that will change the course of my career. It is as if you see the world a bit blurry and then you put on a pair of glasses. You don’t see the difference until you try it.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Michael Crawford, as well as all the MBA students (and significant others) who are parents or caregivers. While I fight every day to fit everything in my schedule, I admire people like him who are able to do as much as I do while also being there for their families!

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I owe my decision to pursue an MBA to my father. He actively supported me throughout the application process, as he does on many other occasions. He has been incredibly influential to me throughout my life. He is an accomplished businessman who built and rebuilt his career so many times, always looking forward to the next challenge. Seeing how hard my father works and the pride and heart he puts in anything he does is something that has inspired me from a very young age. He constantly serves as an example for me to push myself, own each decision, and pursue the best opportunities for myself. He was able to see the true value that an MBA could offer, especially to someone like me who is determined to pursue a career based on challenging the status quo.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean?

MECE: Mutually Exclusive Collectively Exhaustive. An example of a MECE arrangement is categorizing people by age group: no one can appear in more than one category. Instead, categorizing people by their hobbies is not MECE, as one can have more than one hobby.

It might sound a very trivial, but it really comes in handy when you’re trying to structure a problem and break it down into parts in a clear and logical way. You will be surprised by how simple and useful it is!

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…probably in Italy pursuing my career in finance and growing my TEDx organization to create even more impact within the local community through technology and social innovation, or off to a new country for a completely different challenge!”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? If I do a simple Net Present Value (NPV) calculation to estimate my human capital over the course of my career until retirement, the worth of my MBA would be $2M more than my career without it, given that I was admitted with a scholarship. This estimation does even not include the intangible gains I got from an intellectual standpoint.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Start a tech company
  2. Make enough money with the first item to fund a cause that I want to support

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d like my peers to remember me as an energetic, thoughtful, and reliable friend who was always there to cheer for their successes and to help, even just with a word of encouragement!

Hobbies? Traveling, going out with new and old friends, studying at coffee shops, trying out the best-rated restaurant nearly anywhere I go, shopping with my mom (rigorously in Italy), annoying my cat while she’s sleeping.

What made Benedetta such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“Given that Benedetta came to Penn State from Venice, Italy, I think it somewhat fitting to say she brought a spirit of la dolce vita to the Smeal MBA program during her two years with us. While not fluent in Italian, I believe loosely translated la dolce vita means the good life, or one who lives life to its fullest. This appropriately describes Benedetta, a class leader who could always be counted on to contribute in community activities, and frequently took on key leadership roles in MBA clubs, case competitions, professional development exercises, mentoring processes, and social events. And it is not just the long list of what Benedetta accomplished at Smeal; more importantly is the positive, can-do attitude she infused into her various efforts. My team and I frequently worked with her in her role as VP of Corporate Relations for the MBA Association, and we were so impressed by her intelligence, resourcefulness, and infectious team spirit. There is a saying that one can put co-workers into two basic buckets: those you have to work with, or those you want to work with. Benedetta is definitely somebody one wants to work with, and because of all of the wonderful traits she possesses, she is bound to go far in her career and life!”

Paul Poissant
Director, MBA & MOL Employer Relations        

DON’T MISS: POETS&QUANTS’ HONOR ROLL OF THE WORLD’S 100 BEST & BRIGHTEST MBAs GRADUATES IN THE CLASS OF 2019