Meet Harvard Business School’s MBA Class Of 2021

Cydni Williams

Harvard Business School

“Creative seeking to harness technology to strengthen communities by investing in diverse entrepreneurs.”

Hometown: Brooklyn, New York

Fun Fact About Yourself: I spent my last birthday solo backpacking across Thailand focused on learning local cooking techniques and lifestyles.

Undergraduate School and Major: State University of New York at Oswego: B.A. Visual Arts & B.S. Marketing

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Facebook, Global Marketing Manager

What was your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: The biggest accomplishment in my career was at Facebook. Within three months of starting, I was given the responsibility of working with a small team to pilot and scale a marketing program that fueled the deployment of a global sales business. Initially, we were a small agile team that functioned as a start-up within the company. As we saw success, we grew into a large global team and overcame challenges collaborating across seven business functions throughout Latin America, Europe, Asia, and North America. Ultimately our team received a Power of Partnership Award from the Senior VP, awarded to less than 5% of the company.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Transparent: It amazes me how transparent my classmates are in sharing, not only in the classroom, but also about their goals, aspirations, and experiences that have shaped their identities. For example, I’ve found it easy to study with different groups outside of my section or openly partner on or share business ideas.

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? The fast-paced style of the case method is attractive because it challenges our current approach to solving business problems. After analyzing a case individually, and considering the data provided, it is common to take a stance on how you’d resolve the issue as a manager. However, typically there is a student with expertise in the class who knows the industry or has faced the challenge personally. Hearing this expert perspective, and having to defend your point of view or switch sides in the moment, builds confidence and adds nuance to how we approach problems.

Aside from your classmates and cases, 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? The key factor that guided my choice to attend Harvard Business School was the design of the experience and its ability to push me out of my comfort zone. HBS is unique in that all classes are with your section and maximizing learning depends heavily on understanding the skills of those around you.

What was the most surprising thing you discovered about Harvard Business School during the application process? The biggest surprise in the application process was how deeply admissions wanted to get to know me. While the application form focused on pulling out the highlights of my career, the freeform essay truly gives us the freedom to add color to our profile. This process allowed me to provide a glimpse into who I am as a person and how I’d contribute a unique perspective and skillset to my class.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I am looking forward to participating in the Africa Business Club and the annual Africa Business Club conference. There is so much social and infrastructural discovery taking place within Africa, making it attractive to me as a hub for the future of technology.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? The most challenging question I was asked during the admissions process was, “What would you change about your current company?” This question forced me to be objective, think on my feet, and view myself as a consultant to my company. It was especially challenging to not take a defensive stance during a time when the brand was experiencing negative media attention.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? After six years in the technology industry, I noticed many of the largest technology companies lack diverse founders and leaders. Having achieved success on diverse teams, I understand the value unique life experiences can bring to the table. Yet, I found it disheartening that most founders and leaders in large technology companies lack diversity. An MBA will help facilitate my transition into venture capital where I can help diversify the types of businesses that are given the mentorship and resources needed to succeed.  

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied to Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania and Stanford Business School

How did you determine your fit at various schools? First, networking was a huge part of how I determined my fit at various schools. As a “career switcher” from Marketing to Venture Capital, a key consideration was if, historically, a profile similar to mine made a successful transition. Sourcing and speaking with current students made it clear that not only was the transition possible but there were opportunities for mentorship from alumni and current students.

Second, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. I went to a small undergraduate institution so a larger class size appealed to me along with curricula that included experimental/interactive learning models.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? My defining moment was in undergrad when I realized the unique impact a creative mindset can have on the business development process. Raised in a creative household, I’d always been surrounded by and involved with visual arts. This exposure led me to seek a dual degree in the arts and in business. It was clear there was a lack of full-time opportunities for art students, which prompted me to work with my peers to develop a business that provided discounted branding and visual design services to small businesses while building the portfolios of art students. This business satisfies the needs of students and businesses which taught me: 1) The value of giving various functions a seat at the table and 2) How to leverage creativity to improve a business’ trajectory.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? In ten years, I see myself as a successful mentor and investor in tech ventures with diverse teams that have moonshot goals. Ideally, these companies would seek to improve the lives of others or how humans connect and relate with one another.