Meet The Michigan Ross MBA Class Of 2021

Deb Xavier

Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

“A problem-solver, tech enthusiast and idealist. I’m ambitious and passionate about women empowerment and digital transformation.”

Hometown: Porto Alegre, RS – Brazil

Fun Fact About Yourself: I once traveled by bus with a chicken (full disclosure: another’s passenger chicken). That wouldn’t be so strange if I were in the Brazilian rural zone, but I was going from Atlanta to New York! When I found out that Michele Obama has also traveled with a chicken while on a bus in Kenya I felt a bit better.

Undergraduate School and Major: Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, International Relations

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Itau Unibanco, Digital Business Senior Analyst

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: As a former impact entrepreneur, I had a women’s empowerment business that’s very rewarding because I had the opportunity to work with companies like Google, Facebook, Dell, and with the government – I even gave a speech at a women’s prison in Brazil once! After five years of working full time on my company, it had become a side project and I sold it to Spotify last May. It was a great exit because not only it was a recognition of my work, but also because Spotify has the resources to impact more women and that’s my end goal.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? They’re welcoming and collaborative. During my application process, that was the decisive factor to apply to Ross: the feeling of belonging. As a non-traditional MBA candidate, and a single mother, the collaborative and inclusive community was more than I could ever expect. Right from the beginning of my interactions, I knew I would have friends for life.

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? Deciding on only one factor is almost impossible since Ross is the total package! Given my professional aspirations to work either in tech or digital strategy consulting, Ross was the right program for me because it’s highly renowned in both fields and I knew I would have the resources, the alumni network, and the career services to support me on my next move. So I can say the key factor was how Ross faculty, classes, and community are essential for me to reach my goals and become the impactful leader I aspire to be.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Definitely, I look most forward to have an active role in the Michigan Business Women Club. Besides that, I also want to join the Tech and Consulting clubs, for professional purposes, and the Wine, BRASA (Brazilian Students Club,) and Outdoor clubs because an MBA is not just about classes and recruiting, right?

And MAP, of course! I consider it an incredible opportunity to practice what I will learn during the semester and to improve my abilities and skills in the real professional world.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? Besides the “How are you gonna pay for it?” that friends and family kept asking, the most challenging question, as cheesy as it may sound, was the one I kept asking myself: “Is my non-traditional background a weakness or a strength?”

Given my unconventional work and study path, age, and gender – not to mention being an international applicant who is also a single mother – my fear was that my profile was too much outside the box to be considered appealing to business schools. However, my admissions consultant, Ricardo Betti, was supportive and reassured me it was possible, helping me shape my story in the best way possible while being true to myself and highlighting the best aspects of it. It paid off!

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? After being an entrepreneur for years, it was challenging when I went back to the workforce. The first job offers I received weren’t what I expected (in terms of functions and compensation), so I realized I needed some more formal education in order to catalyze my professional advancement. Soon after I received two great positions. However, I still had the constant feeling that I could achieve more and have more impact. This, paired with the opportunity to study abroad and give my daughter an international experience, made my decision to pursue an MBA a natural next step.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Besides Michigan Ross, I applied Wharton Lauder, Cornell, Duke, MIT and HBS.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I attended various online events, an MBA fair, talked to current and former students (a special thanks to BRASA Club, Nathalia, Caio and Guiherme!), researched the curriculum, and read online reviews, posts, and articles. The programs I did apply to were very different than the ones I thought about applying in the beginning of the process almost a year ago. That’s because the more I knew about schools, the better I could understand their values, and purpose – and what really mattered to me. Each program had a different appeal; some were the culture, others related to the facilities or location. As I mentioned previously, Ross was the first choice as it had everything I was looking for during my MBA, including the college town that would provide an excellent immersive experience. Knowing how the students and alumni were decisive to determine fit, I hope to be a Ross Student Ambassador and help others the same way I was helped.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? It was when I became pregnant at 15 while studying in a military school. Up until a few years ago, my professional and personal path wasn’t intentional, it was the product of my circumstances. Balancing work and study as a single (very!) young mother was remarkably difficult and lonely, even though I had more help and support than teenage moms normally do. I’m very privileged to have had teachers who didn’t mind that I brought my daughter to classes, bosses who understood that I needed a flexible schedule, and, of course, my friends and family who were always there for me to give a ride, help me move, or stay with my daughter during business trips. There are not enough words to describe the “I made it” feeling that I got when I was accepted to Ross. Seventeen years ago, my challenge was to finish high school. Now, here I am, ready for this next chapter of my life with my daughter, Tathiana, and our cat, Amora. I’m aware the MBA is just the beginning of the journey, but somehow I believe I’m now ready to reach my full potential.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? I see myself in a high leadership position in digital transformation. More than a specific job title, I aspire to be an impactful and inspiring leader – among many other women leaders. Ten years ago, I would never even imagine myself here, so I hope to be positively surprised by life again, not by chance but because I’ll be ready to take the opportunities that will come my way.

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