2019 MBAs To Watch: Odelia Lao, Vanderbilt University (Owen)

Odelia Lao

Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University

Driven by passion, everything I do means something. If I’m in, I’m in 100%.”

Hometown: San Francisco, CA

Fun fact about yourself: When I traveled to Memphis to watch my hometown basketball team, the Golden State Warriors, play in the playoffs, I ended up having dinner in the same restaurant as some of the members on the team. I ended up getting a picture with Steph Curry and getting my bill covered by someone from the team! (I’m not disclosing who in case he doesn’t want that to be shared with the public.)

Undergraduate School and Degree: UC Berkeley, B.S. Business Administration

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? New York & Company, Product Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Nestle; Solon, OH

Where will you be working after graduation? Undecided

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • VP of Career Development, Owen Marketing Association
  • Peer Coach, Career Management Center

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  This year, the Owen Marketing Association (OMA) board and I rebranded the association to include more career preparation and planning support. As the VP of Career Development, I planned the Marketing Symposium, which did not occur when I was a first-year. The purpose of the Marketing Symposium is to teach students about various marketing opportunities while connecting alumni to Owen. I reached out to get alumni in various marketing functions from companies like American Airlines, Google, and a local Nashville company called Ambition. During this symposium, we had panels and interactive case workshops so students could learn firsthand from alumni who have been in the industry.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In my professional career, I am most proud of launching the Eva Mendes Collection for New York & Company, a women’s apparel retailer. In the four years that I worked there, I helped grow the line from a $10 million business to over $50 million and the most profitable line in the company.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Kelly Goldsmith has revitalized my passion for marketing. I remember randomly walking by her office before I was enrolled in her class and knocking on her door to chat – she immediately welcomed me with open arms. I have now been in two of her classes – Quantitative Analytics for Marketing, which she has made as exciting as possible, and Marketing Strategy, which has pushed me to think both strategically and creatively. Beyond being an energetic and impactful professor, Kelly cares about her students. She has a busy schedule, but she always finds a way to make time for students who need help or just want to talk.

What was your favorite MBA Course My favorite MBA Course has been Negotiations with Tim Vogus. Though the class was a lot of work, I loved how experiential it was. Before I attended business school, I believed in compromise – I had to give something up in order to gain something. However, by conducting actual negotiations with various classmates, I learned first-hand that we can maximize profits for both parties, without having to give up what matters to us most.

Why did you choose this business school? It’s a cliché, but I chose Owen because of its tight-knit community, both internally and externally. When I was trying to decide which b-school to go to, I thought about which school had students who I would want to be potential business partners with, but more importantly, which school had students who would become my friends forever. Externally, I thought Owen’s greatest strength was its strong alumni base. I wanted to go to a school with alumni who would go the extra yard to guide me however they could. Looking back, about 90% of alumni I contacted responded back and gave me their time. It was with alumni help that I was able to attain my summer internship.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Take the time to talk to a current student or better yet, come to Owen and visit! Owen has a very special culture in which we all truly rely on our community to learn and grow. Come and see if you get along with the current students and get inspired by the faculty. If you’re going to be part of the community, make sure you like it!

What is the biggest myth about your school? Many of my friends from home think that Nashville is in the middle of nowhere. However, Owen’s location in Nashville is part of what makes it so special. Nashville is a vibrant city, filled with a bustling entertainment industry, entrepreneurship, and lots of growth (100 people move here every day). Though I miss the convenience of a big city, Nashville has given me the perfect two years of my MBA to gain new perspectives and focus on myself, while still having fun.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish I had known how much opportunity there was to make a difference. Owen is a fairly young business school, with lots of opportunities for students to take initiative and create positive impact. If you decide you want to start a club, you can do so. If you want to create new events or bring in new speakers, you plan them and gain support from the school. If you want to work on an independent study project, you can find your own client or ask a professor for any possibilities. Owen is not a school where you have to work with what you have – you can make it what you want.

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 given me new perspectives. Before coming to Owen, I thought that I had met a lot of people since I had lived in multiple big cities with diverse communities. However, living in a smaller city that is less diverse has given me a new perspective. I’ve met a lot of people who I’ve never gotten to know before – veterans with rich personalities and great leadership abilities; people who have no desire of ever living in big cities; and extremely intelligent international classmates who have done things like build highways as undergrads and run for office. Despite all these differences, we have all come together to be a collaborative, not cutthroat community.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Cally Biagini. Cally is the President of the Women’s Business Association and also been a great ally for organizations like the Owen Black Student Association. Before coming to Owen, she worked at E&J Gallo and post-Owen, she will be joining Deloitte Consulting in Strategy & Operations. Cally often asks insightful questions in class and produces great work – she was head TA for Microeconomics. More importantly, she is also a wonderful friend who sees the best in people and tries her best to understand others’ intentions, even if they differ from her opinions.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My dad has been my #1 cheerleader for pursuing an MBA. He always told me I could be anything I wanted to be so that one day, I would buy him an airplane (that has still yet to happen). Even when I thought I didn’t need an MBA, he continued to encourage me to consider it. One night, I had a dream. In it, I finally said, “I’m going to get my MBA” and my dad responded, “Okay, you better start studying for the GMAT.” And the rest is history.

What is your favorite movie about business? I’m blanking on movies right now, but I’ve been catching up on the TV series Suits. Though Suits is more about law than business, it involves a lot of wealthy corporations. However, in one of the later seasons, it shows one of the main characters striving to work on public benefit instead. This show has taught me that while it is possible to conduct corporate social responsibility, we still need to be realistic. We don’t necessarily need to play dirty, but we need to be prepared for the other competitors to play dirty, so we need to be realistic and ready to deflect others who may be as philanthropic.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? For some reason, all I can think of is HOP – Human and Organizational Performance. We’re so used to saying HOP in school, but we forget that organizations outside don’t know what HOP stands for.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…doing the same thing I was doing before I started school. My life would have been stagnant.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? Though I would have preferred not to have paid for my MBA education, the experiences and opportunities I have gained have been priceless. After undergrad, I kept searching for “brand management” jobs, but get kept getting passed up for those opportunities. As soon as I put “MBA” on my resume, I immediately started getting interviews and opportunities from companies that I had been eyeing for years. Beyond my career, the relationships I’ve cultivated with my classmates, alumni, faculty, and staff have been priceless. I learned to live somewhere outside my comfort zone and truly pushed me to grow with the help of this community.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Travel to Thailand
  2. Write a book

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me as a positive and encouraging friend who helped make their MBA experience more enjoyable.

Hobbies? Traveling, eating, taking walks in the park, barre and brunch, Instagram

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

“Odelia was one of the first students I spoke with the summer before school started her first year. At that point, she had already been accepted into JumpStart’s Brand Management Event. I realized then how dedicated and hardworking Odelia was, and the next two years proved that to be true.

But what impressed me even more than her success in every aspect of recruiting was her ability to inspire, coach and motivate the students around her. Selected as a peer coach to incoming first years, Odelia became a rock to many of them. Time after time, I would hear them talk about how valuable her guidance was, and how she was always there for them with not only the right tactical advice, but also a warmth and empathy that made a huge difference in their experience at Owen.”

Amanda Fend
Senior Associate Director, Career Management Center

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