2019 MBAs To Watch: Jennifer Villa, Stanford GSB

Jennifer Villa

Stanford Graduate School of Business

“A hybrid 50% engineer, 50% business person, but who delights 100% in making people laugh.”

Hometown: Miami, FL

Fun fact about yourself: Starting in high school, I began building fighting robots as a hobby. My team and I have even competed on the ABC’s Battlebots reboot.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Duke University, Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering (BSE) in Biomedical Engineering (BME) & Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Intel Corporation, CPU Performance Engineer

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Determined AI, San Francisco, California as a Product Management Intern.

Where will you be working after graduation? Still undecided

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: MBA Tech and Comms Committee, Siebel Scholar

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud of the LOWKeynote talk I developed and gave. It’s sort of like a mini-TED talk. Not only was I proud to see how my public speaking skills improved as I practiced, I also cared deeply about the topic which I chose, namely promoting diversity in engineering.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I co-led an effort to develop a more robust power estimation model that helped us deliver a next-generation chip that was both faster and more power efficient. To achieve this, I drove collaboration among three separate teams and made improvements to our existing toolchain.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Rob Siegel. A GSB alum and now lecturer, he treats his students as if they were his own children. In class, he’ll call you out for being late or having a nonsensical argument. Outside of it, he doesn’t hesitate to help in any way he can. When I told him I was interested in pursuing an independent study on the autonomous vehicle industry, even though I had no prior connection to the space, not only did he sponsor my proposal, he also introduced me to several high profile industry insiders.

What was your favorite MBA Course  Interpersonal Dynamics (“Touchy Feely”). I realize this choice is highly unoriginal for a Stanford GSB student, but people rave about the class because it is indeed exceptional. My biggest takeaway, as someone who shies away from confrontation, is that delivering critical feedback thoughtfully and respectfully can actually help build trust.

Why did you choose this business school? Given that I want to work in the technology sector, there was no better place to choose than a school at the heart of Silicon Valley. Beyond this, I felt Stanford’s program uniquely encouraged personal development and introspection.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be genuine. The GSB’s “What matters most to you and why?” essay will cause you to do some serious soul searching – it certainly did for me. But make sure to talk about what you actually care about rather than what you think the admissions committee wants to hear.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That everyone who goes there wants to be an entrepreneur. Many students are interested in starting their own companies, while others come in with plans to do so and change their minds as they learn more about what that entails. However, there are a significant number of other students who choose other paths, post-graduation. While I haven’t ruled out starting my own business, I personally don’t yet feel ready.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? Coming in as an engineer, I was so worried that I’d be the odd one out among all these “cool” business types, especially from finance and consulting. However, once I got to school, I realized that the average GSB student is incredibly nerdy – I played more board games than ever before and was introduced to a new Harry Potter-themed podcast that I adore. Furthermore, whether or not I connected with another classmate had no bearing on their prior career. I found myself with friends from all backgrounds.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? Business school has opened my eyes to career possibilities that I didn’t even know existed before. I came to GSB from engineering knowing that I wanted a change without knowing exactly what. Now, I still wouldn’t say I figured it out, but I’ve got a few new working hypotheses that I’m excited to go test out in the real world. Beyond this, GSB’s emphasis on personal development has helped me strengthen many personal relationships, especially by helping me engage in difficult conversations.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Kirin Sinha. She somehow managed to juggle the GSB with founding her own AR game company, Illumix, which she’s still working on today. Not only is she a talented business person, but she is also a fantastic technical mind, with mathematics degrees from MIT and Cambridge. Lastly, she’s worked on a topic that’s very close to my heart: she founded her own non-profit to help girls develop a passion for math through dance.

What is your favorite movie about business? Personally not a big movie buff, but if I had to choose I’d say Jerry Maguire. It does a great job of taking you through the emotional roller coaster that anyone trying to start their own company experiences.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? AAP: Academic Adjustment Period. A time where clubs can’t contact you because you’re getting settled in at the GSB. While I agree that getting to the GSB is a significant change to most people’s lifestyles, I think the academic component of it is probably the least relevant, especially given the GSB’s grade non-disclosure policy.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…probably still working in the technology industry, though I likely would switch roles to engineering management. Many engineers shudder at people problems. While I still love a good technical challenge, I also enjoy tackling organizational ones.”

What are the top two items on your bucket list? (1) Travel to China – it is a country with a fascinating history that is going to have a significant role in the world economy and politics going forward; (2) Do something fun with my Raspberry Pi – its been sitting on my dresser for a year now and is waiting to be put to use in some fun around-the-house project

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As someone who was always excited about exploring new ideas and challenges, as well as someone who always made time for the most important people in her life.

Hobbies? Golfing, reading (lots of science fiction), and trying new restaurants.

Are you a friend of Jennifer? Leave a note to congratulate her. 


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