2019 MBAs To Watch: Cara Ann Laviola, Ohio State (Fisher)

Cara Ann Laviola

Ohio State University Fisher College of Business

An eternal optimist with an unshakeable belief in people, who inspires others to imagine more.”

Hometown: New Albany, Ohio

Fun fact about yourself: During my undergraduate career, I wrote a thesis on a forgotten 19th-century American poet, Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt.

Undergraduate School and Degree: The Ohio State University

  • Bachelor of Science with honors in Business Administration
  • Bachelor of Arts with honors in English

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Nationwide, Copywriter and Marketing Specialist

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Cardinal Health in Dublin, Ohio

Where will you be working after graduation? I am very excited to be returning to Cardinal Health, where I will be working in a product marketing role

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: 

  • Forté Fellow
  • University Graduate Fellow
  • Director of Community Outreach for the Fisher Graduate Women in Business organization
  • Vice President of Community Outreach and Volunteer Impact for FisherServes, an organization focused on consulting for nonprofit organizations in the Columbus area
  • Fisher Board Fellow for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
  • Selected to represent Fisher at the 26th Annual Fisher Invitational Case Competition, sponsored by the National Center for the Middle Market
  • Team Captain and First Place Winner at the 2019 Illinois Gies MBA Strategy Case Competition
  • Team Lead for the New Directions Career Center consulting project
  • Organizational Lead for the 2019 Fisher Internal Case Competition and the 2019 Fisher Invitational Case Competition
  • Organizational Lead for Fisher’s February Diversity Reflection Practices

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The achievement that I’m most proud during business school is completing an international consulting project in Sukadana, Borneo, Indonesia. This experience threw myself and 6 of my fellow MBA colleagues into a world that was completely different than anything we had ever experienced, where 95% humidity was the norm, air conditioning was scarce, and spending five hours on a small speedboat to reach the remote village was better than the 18 hours it would have taken by car. Despite the challenges we faced, we provided tangible solutions that helped put a small, rural hospital on the path towards a more financially sustainable future. But I consider this project an achievement for more reasons than one: After seeing the deforestation of Borneo, I also gained an appreciation and passion for sustainability — a passion I plan to foster in my future business roles.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The professional achievement I’m most proud of is activating a development program for a creative marketing department of more than 80 individuals. The goal of creating this program was to build trust, confidence, and relationships among the associates in my department by providing opportunities for spontaneous creativity, inspirational excursions, and presentations that celebrated individual passions. I’m most proud of this achievement because it succeeded in its goal of raising engagement levels. It is a program that survived even after I left the company to pursue my full-time MBA. It’s an achievement that demonstrates who I want to be as a leader: someone who brings out the best in her people.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor was John Barker, who taught my Services Marketing course (a Saturday class, three sessions, eight hours each). Professor Barker made eight hours feel like two: his teaching style was incredibly engaging, and being a former C-suite level executive himself, he brought a level of professional insight and expertise that brought the course material to life.

What was your favorite MBA Course? Despite some class nights turning into mornings, my favorite MBA course was Intopia, a business simulation course where myself and three of my colleagues ran our own company in the world that was “Intopia.” This class was not only the perfect general management training, but it also taught me how critical team dynamics and creativity were in ensuring all aspects of success. As the “CEO” of my company, I had to keep track of my team’s engagement and push myself to have the difficult conversations. The result? My team came together and defined what success meant for us. We became as creative in figuring out the best ways to work together as we did in solving our business challenges.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Fisher because it has a small college feel combined with an endless amount of resources provided by one of the largest research institutions in the country. And with only 90 students per class, I had the opportunity to know the majority of my classmates on a personal level, which made my learning experience that much more meaningful.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? The best advice I could give is to demonstrate empathy, a value for diverse ideas, and an openness to the unexpected. At Fisher, you’ll learn so much more than marketing, finance, and strategy, and I encourage you to be open to that experience.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University is an institution that is known to have all the resources and networks you need to transform your career. While this idea is not a myth, it is a myth that your career transformation at Fisher will occur without effort. It is up to us as Fisher MBAs to take initiative and harness the resources that are available to us in order to create the future that we want. I can say that my experience was more worthwhile because I sought out resources and jumped at opportunities when they presented themselves. I did not succumb to the myth that change would happen without me spurring it on.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish I’d been more understanding of the idea that each person who pursues an MBA does so for different reasons and at different points in their life, and thus are more or less open to change. It’s as if we’ve all been on a highway, and we each took the exit that led us to the MBA program. Some of us had been on the highway longer than others; some decided to take the exit for nourishment (knowledge, career resources), for rest (to recharge and reset), or for an exciting change of scenery (gaining access to Columbus and the network of companies). We all made it to the MBA, but the paths that got us here are incredibly diverse, and these paths drive our motivations. I believe that having this understanding earlier on would have helped me to be more understanding of my peers, more realistic about expectations I placed on myself and others, and perhaps more helpful when my peers came to me for advice.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you?

I came to business school for a multitude of reasons. The two most important factors were as follows:

  1. I felt that personal development was missing in my life. The manager and mentor who drove me to focus on my own development had left the company for other opportunities, and I was feeling adrift.
  2. I wanted to improve my ability to gain buy-in amongst my colleagues.

When I look back over these two years, I’ve gained so much more than what I came to achieve. I’ve led countless initiatives, visited Asia not once but twice, and developed relationships that I hope to have for the rest of my life. I’ve learned to apply marketing and segmentation practices to my own life when it comes to gaining buy-in, understanding that if I try to please everyone I’ll end up serving no one. I’ve learned a new language: the language of business that I will continue to use as a way to connect with people and break down barriers. Through my classes in coaching and leadership, I’ve learned how to develop my own reflective practice so that personal development can continue to be a focus in my life. I’ve found that sustainability is a passion I want to pursue.

And the best part? This transformation is only just beginning. The MBA was the perfect catalyst for me to continue to evolve as my career progresses.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Mwelwa Kostrick. To me, Mel is superwoman. Her comments in class always seemed to be poignant and relatable. She was, and is, incredibly generous with her time, all while balancing her family life — in the middle of her MBA career, she even brought another beautiful baby girl into the world. If this wasn’t inspirational enough, Mel also received an offer to work at an amazing organization after graduation. Mel’s strength, humility, and commitment to values are traits I aspire to emulate and are more than worthy of my admiration.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My dad most influenced me to pursue business. He continues to demonstrate to me even today that if you are a person with a strong work ethic, a commitment to caring for employees, and a refusal to play office politics, you can have a meaningful career. My dad taught me the importance of understanding the language, dialects, and accents of business because even though it’s a complicated language, it’s one that connects the world.

What is your favorite movie about business? My favorite movie about business is The Big Short, as it is the perfect reflection of why the 2007/2008 financial crisis occurred: greed, selfishness, and a focus on making more and more money. The movie reminds us that, as MBA graduates, we need to lead with our moral centers and remain steadfast in our belief that we’re in business for a purpose: to help make this world a better place.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? I would say the goofiest “term” in the MBA is “It depends….” To quote Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, every framework and every best practice we learned were “more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…still making progress in my previous career, but limited in my perspective. The MBA experience has given me opportunities I could never have imagined two years ago. I’ve grown in my understanding of the language of business, my ability to target my messaging, and in my persuasive skills. To return to the metaphor of the highway, if I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be a quarter mile back from where I would want to be.”

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 were to calculate the value of my MBA education, I would have to think of it in terms of opportunity cost. To pursue my full-time MBA, I gave up two years of an income that was more or less guaranteed. I gave up my time with my family and friends in pursuit of studying and extracurricular activities. If I were to sum up that cost, it would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, on top of the cost of attendance. When I think about what I gained from the experience (an opportunity at a company I’m excited about, a more reflective, interpersonal development journey, meaningful friendships), I would say the experience was more than worth the cost.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. To help the citizens of our world by helping a company to implement an impactful sustainability policy
  2. To return to Indonesia with my fiancé

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? When my peers see my name in the news in 10 or 20 years and see that I’m running my own organization, I hope that my name invokes in them a sense of trust and that they remember a compassionate individual who believed in the best in people and was unwilling to compromise her moral vision.

Hobbies? Right now, my biggest hobby is planning my September wedding, but normally I love reading science fiction and historical fiction, writing poetry, attending live music events, traveling to new places, and meeting interesting and peculiar people.

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

“To begin, Cara is a very gifted student. She is one of the most driven students in her cohort and is known to go out of her way and put in the extra effort to set herself and her teammates apart. This is evident in both academics and her success in case competitions. Not only does Cara espouse these values herself, but she is also a vocal advocate of students taking the reins of their own future and pushing themselves to take full advantages of the opportunities around them.

Beyond this, Cara has worked extensively with student organizations and faculty to improve the student experience through coordination of diversity events, case competitions, and community outreach.  For example, Cara is passionate about diversity and has worked to set up diversity training events, including a speaker series, to help her fellow students understand and address these issues.

Cara is not only a successful student, but she has also worked hard to be an agent of change and improvement at Fisher.  She is undoubtedly one of Fisher’s Best and Brightest.”

Roger Bailey

Co-director of the FTMBA program

Are you a friend of Cara Ann? Leave a comment to congratulate her.