2020 MBAs To Watch: Maria de Oca, IESE Business School

Maria de Oca

IESE Business School

“Ocean dweller on land searching for creative ways to make businesses more sustainable and socially responsible.”

Hometown: Pamplona, Spain

Fun fact about yourself: I spent 5 months living on boats navigating across the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Arctic Oceans, as part of research teams working to understand the effects of climate change in the ocean.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Duke University – Ph.D. Marine Science and Conservation, University of California San Diego (UCSD) – MAS Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, University of Navarra – BS Biology.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? University of Vigo in Spain, managing a research project funded by the European Commission that measured the effects of climate change on the fishing industry around the world. In this experience, I realized that my work in academia was not having the daily measurable impact I wanted it to have but that in fishing companies of the private sector I could probably make it happen. In order to get there, I knew I needed to broaden my network and build my skill tool box, and the best way to do so was via an MBA.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? The Coca-Cola Company bottler for North and West Africa, in their Public Affairs and Communications team. My project on arrival was to design the business plan for a 10-year sustainable packaging project in Morocco with the purpose of expanding the plastic recycling infrastructure in the country. I worked with executives of the company in Morocco and in Spain to evaluate its proposed ~3-million-euro-capex investment. This project’s success led to a second project in which I designed a 3-year strategic plan for sustainable beverage primary packaging (plastic bottles and aluminum cans) in five African countries, working across all departments of the company. This experience crystallized my idea of a professional career in corporate social responsibility and it renewed my zeal and commitment to continue working on business solutions for environmental problems. It also was my opportunity to apply all that I had learned in the first year of my IESE MBA. During our first year, we were continuously pushed to our limits and in this process, one can lose sight of the personal transformation taking place. Over the summer, I found myself approaching and solving problems in a completely new way and I enjoyed it tremendously! De Oca, IESE

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be working in a CSR role in a large multinational company, making responsible business practices an integral part of the company’s business model.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: As a 1st-year director of the Responsible Business Club and with the club’s sponsorship team I contributed to bringing in the funding necessary for the Doing Good, Doing Well Conference (Europe’s largest student-organized conference on responsible business). Also, I was a team member of the Barcelona Technology Transfer Group (BTTG), a group at IESE that works with science and tech start-ups to scale up their efforts with business insight. My BTTG experience made me realize the importance of background diversity for the MBA community. Scientific backgrounds in MBA programs have a lot to add to the pool, especially when they interact g with science and tech entrepreneurs. They can bridge the communication gap between the two, connecting scientific discoveries with business models that create and capture value. In my second year, I volunteered in student initiatives at the Indian School of Business (ISB). Since my return to IESE for my final semester, I am a member of several focus groups working to enhance the program experience for future MBAs.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My MBA exchange program at the Indian School of Business (ISB) was a fantastic experience. I arrived in India with the goal of learning all I could about doing business in emerging economies and thought that the best way to do so would be through classwork, professional experience, and exploring the country through travel. I arrived early so I could experience the country first by myself and I went on a two-week road trip and backpacking trip to Ladakh. Not having anyone to rely on and pushing myself out of my comfort zone allowed me to soak up the new reality around me fully, as I navigated and tackled all situations by myself and made new friends along the way from all walks of life. This is the best hiking trip I’ve ever done. Ladakh’s breathtaking landscapes and sacred Buddhist monasteries lived up to their fame and I pushed my hiking limits beyond altitude levels I had ever experienced (+4,700 m). Classes in ISB were of a very high academic level and I was very impressed with my classmates for their intelligence and warmth. The ISB campus community is beyond welcoming and there is always something happening on campus where one can network and meet with fellow classmates. I volunteered for Solstice, the grand ISB annual alumni event, with my fellow classmates. As a result, I even got to be backstage with Bollywood singer Armaan Malik. I am now a fan! I also was able to gain the professional experience in India I was looking for, working with AB InBev India’s Sustainability team, in a project on implementation strategies for their 2025 Sustainability Goal on circular packaging. I am ever grateful to ISB and its student community for all their support during my exchange.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Co-founding and co-directing the Ocean Filmmaking Camp at Duke University, a community program for high-achieving high school students from underrepresented minorities in North Carolina. I built the program from scratch, from idea to completion, and with the help of a team of more than 20 volunteers. I designed the program’s syllabus, co-taught the program, and raised and managed program funds. The program was very well-received by the community and it featured in the local newspaper and the Duke Environment Magazine. Furthermore, two years after we completed the program one of our students was admitted in Duke University to complete her undergraduate in engineering!

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is Professor Gaizka Ormazabal, who taught Managerial Accounting in the second semester of Year 1. He is one of the brightest and most intelligent professors I have ever met. Furthermore, his enthusiasm and passion for the subject matter and teaching is contagious. He always manages to turn the class around, even on a cold January morning class starting at 8:3 am. Also, he always makes time to help students with business projects and career advising.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Definitely CoW or Comment of the Week. Every week in Year 1, we vote for the most outrageous comment from a student in the class. It is a great way to laugh off one’s mistakes and to encourage us all to not take ourselves too seriously in our daily case discussions. The winner gets to carry a stuffed cow toy around the school for a whole week.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose IESE because of its purpose-driven mission, which I found to be perfectly aligned with my career goals because it is consistently highly-ranked among the world’s best schools. Also, I thought of the MBA as a two-year crash course in business, and IESE, known for its academic rigor, was the best fit for me.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Choose IESE if you are ready to engage in a truly global class and adopt a people-centered vision to a whole new level. Think about how you will contribute to the school’s mission to “develop leaders who strive to have a deep, positive and lasting impact on people, companies, and society through professional excellence, integrity and spirit of service.” Every student in the class contributes something unique. Find what it will be for you!

What is the biggest myth about your school? We are reading cases all the time according to myth. We work hard but also work smart. The IESE MBA is a challenging and rigorous exercise of self-discovery but it’s also fun!

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would try to allocate more time to club activities beyond those that were relevant for my summer internship recruiting process. The MBA is the opportunity to expand your social network outside self-selecting professional circles. Now, I realize how club activities are also designed for this purpose.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Daniela Bocco, President of the Women in Business Club. She is a great leader and role model for women in business, always challenging herself, determined, and available to help whenever asked. I especially admire the determination she showed when pursuing her summer internship in social business in West Africa. It is not easy to find a company in West Africa that will take in a summer intern, but she had set that goal for herself and she overcame all the obstacles on her way. Later in January, as part of our IESE international module on Doing Business in Africa, we went to Kenya and Daniela was an invaluable asset to have with us. She was the best guide to the area that we could have ever asked for.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My father. He is my role model because of his work ethic and passion for what he does. He is always a critical thinker, and constantly strives to push the boundaries of what is possible or has ever been imagined.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I would really like to live and work in South America and/or be part of a team project on impact investing.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Mission-driven, hard-working, and eager to help when asked.

Hobbies? Sailing in the Mediterranean, hiking around the world, playing any team sport but especially basketball and volleyball, and most recently I picked up boxing!

What made Maria such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Clear goals, an inquiring mind always in search of new limits and challenges, I would say impossible is nothing for Maria. Always active and caring, and with strong personal values, she has been a driving force of the Class of 2020. She was an active member of the Responsible Business Club, the field that she will build her career upon graduation. During her first year in the MBA, she volunteered in the organization of the Doing Good Doing Well Conference and Spring Games, two IESE student-led initiatives for CSR and for sports respectively. As a 2nd year student, she’s also devoting time to different school initiatives to support the career development and program teams.

She is really making the most of every minute of her MBA journey: from her active contributions and participation in class, to the tenacious pursuit of her career goals or to her internship experience in Morocco, to mention a few. María is a great example of all the IESE values and I am proud and sure that she will continue to be a key asset in her future endeavors.”

Marta Escardo
Executive Director, MBA Program
IESE Business School