2020 MBAs To Watch: Michelle Rojo, ESADE

Michelle Rojo

ESADE Business School

“A pure-blooded Ilongga who wraps her resilience and grit in a soft-spoken and genteel hijab.”

Hometown: Iloilo City, Philippines

Fun fact about yourself: I started my first entrepreneurial activity when I was six years old, peddling freshly-baked hot pan de leche from my parents’ bakery. I was nine when the owner of a halo-halo shop told me that my sago’t gulaman was negatively impacting her sales – my first taste of competition, differentiation, and positioning.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of the Philippines in the Visayas, B.S. in Accountancy

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Hewlett-Packard Enterprise/DXC Technology, IT Business Analyst

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Spartan Capital Intelligence, Barcelona

Where will you be working after graduation? I am currently working with a fellow ESADEan to launch a fintech startup.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Awardee: McKinsey Next Generation Women Leaders Award
  • Forté Fellow: The Forté Foundation Scholarship for Women
  • ESADE Women of the World Scholarship
  • Marketing Guru-Asia: ESADE fellowship that gave life to the Invisible but Essential Project that showcases ESADE’s diversity
  • Best Food: ESADE Gastrofest 2018
  • Finalist: USC Marshall Everyone’s Business Global Case Competition
  • Finalist: ESADE Creativity for Business Innovation (C4BI) Challenge Case Competition (FC Barcelona)
  • Finalist: Best Business Idea for Entrepreneurship Class
  • Participant: ESADE Accelerator Program
  • Participant: Challenge-Based Innovation (CBI) Program with CERN

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  I have met amazing classmates who have unique stories to tell that could inspire not only prospective applicants but also the rest of the world. That’s why, with the support of Mary Granger and inspired by Emile Kobiyama, we crafted the Invisible but Essential Project. I am proud of this achievement because it is a legacy that our class will leave to ESADE and future classes. It serves as a free forum for the student body to share stories of forgiveness, survival, success, travel, food, adventure, discipline, facing fears, finding oneself, forging new paths, and more. In less than five months since it was launched, the project has logged several thousand views from more than 70 countries and found a special home on the official ESADE website.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Circumstances have required me to make bold career shifts over the course of my professional journey. The kinds of shifts that would make my parents ask, “Do you know how to do your job?” My quick response was always a reassuring “It’s fine. I’ll figure it out!” So, I would jump into an uncharted area with the mindset of always finishing what I started. With this can-do attitude, I supervised the automation of the manual XBRL generation process to reduce manual efforts by 60% when I was helping a central bank implement an integrated statistical system. I then found myself producing insightful reports that helped an oil and gas client reduce software licensing costs for one of the big license publishers by 30% in 2016 and another 50% in 2017.

Beyond the numbers, this is the kind of achievement that I am most proud of. The act of reaching the finish line despite the unknown unknowns, sometimes with mild scratches, sometimes half-drowned, sometimes with no sleep, but most of the time with hugs and thanks – and, in some cases, even multiple farewell parties. I did my best to outdo myself every day just to deliver and exceed the goals I set for myself. And for me, that is what matters.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Gastrofest is an annual event at ESADE in which students from different countries team up to serve dishes or put on shows that are native to their respective countries. What I really like about the event is that students are given the freedom to do whatever they want: cook, dance, sing, or just eat and enjoy. This event not only reflects how the school values and celebrates diversity in a fun and tasty way but also signals the school’s sensitivity to the students’ varying goals and needs.

Whether we’re interested in cooking, singing, or dancing, creating something classical, innovative or disruptive, or simply enjoying the company of friends as we navigate global flavors and business trends, ESADE has provided us with a safe space to explore different possibilities. The students have also developed a heightened level of awareness of other students’ cultures – understanding that what works for one may not work for others. Overall, this turned us into mindful global citizens.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose ESADE because of its focus on women, entrepreneurship, and its people. Overall, the program has delivered beyond my expectations. Throughout the program, and coupled with the activities run by the Women in Business Club, I felt supported and connected to a strong network of women who empowered and inspired me to test my limits. The ESADE Entrepreneurship Institute also did a great job of enabling us to navigate the uncertainty of creating and running a startup with the help of the Accelerator Program. Lastly, the ESADE community was and always will be warm and welcoming, which made me feel at home throughout my MBA journey.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program?

First, show your uniqueness. ESADE is a safe place to express yourself and explore what you can become. It celebrates everyone’s uniqueness and would like to see this in each application. Second, network early. At the core of each ESADEan is a COLLABORATIVE SPIRIT that’s always willing to help. From application tips to giving you tours of the campus, they will always find time for you. And for sure, you will find a friend.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Creactivism is a popular ESADE tagline that I only fully grasped once I enrolled. It is associated with thinking critically, challenging the norm, and designing innovative solutions to achieve better, socially-relevant results. The main goal is to equip us with the right mindset as we navigate the volatile and complex business world. The Challenge-Based Innovation (CBI) course, for example, taught us how to make decisions despite doubts and not having all the information. It also opened our eyes to the idea that sometimes failing fast is a good approach when faced with uncertainty and ambiguity.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I consider my MBA journey special and would not want to change anything about it. Every moment was worthwhile and, even with hindsight, I would not want to change the setbacks I encountered. They were essential for my development and growth, as they provided insightful lessons, as well.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Megumi Takemoto is one of the many classmates I really admire and respect. She started her MBA journey with two kids (the youngest was around two years old). Her hands-on approach to taking care of her children did not stop her from pursuing her own development to the fullest. She participated in numerous case competitions, entrepreneurship-related programs and admissions-related activities, and even volunteered to host incoming students. On top of that, she is on her way to starting her own fintech company – juggling the legal, financial, and tech aspects of the business model. Whenever I feel tired, I think of her journey and start to feel inspired and energized.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I was always interested in an IT-related degree, but my grandfather ‘enticed’ me to study accounting instead. He wanted me to become a lawyer and thought that being an accountant would be the best route for me. His offer included a monthly allowance and the possibility of ‘selling’ my grades to him according to a pre-agreed scheme. So, I ended up selling my grades instead of sago’t gulaman – not a bad idea considering the rigor of the university where I enrolled.

He ended up paying more for my accounting and IT subjects than for my law subjects and quickly understood that law was not my ‘market’. Being an accountant led me to careers that opened my eyes to the complexity of the business world and made me realize that I needed further education (an MBA) to equip myself with the relevant knowledge to grow professionally. Now, he is happy that I am pursuing what I really want, knowing that I am capable of making the most out of every situation.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • To create or help create a socially relevant fintech startup that would enable those who do not have the means (access to financial information or enough funding) to invest their hard-earned money in appropriate opportunities that offer reasonable growth.
  • To publish my book (currently at 22,000 words) aimed at empowering women, especially, hijab-wearing ones.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A bold firefighter armed with an entrepreneurial mindset and grit.

Hobbies? Cooking – most of the time food, sometimes ideas, rarely assumption-based numbers, but never books.

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

“Having lived in two heavily-populated frontier markets (Philippines and Malaysia), Michelle knows first-hand the challenges of managing resources when dealing with large populations. She is convinced that she can help change the way you will live in the future.

The first stage of her life project was undertaken during her studies at ESADE, when she was selected to participate in the multi-disciplinary Challenge-Based Innovation (CBI) project, in conjunction with CERN (European Center for Nuclear Research) and engineering and design students. This gave Michelle, coming from a more analytical background (auditing and software analyst), the opportunity to look at the bigger picture and the long-term ramifications of decisions taken today.

In addition to ranking in the top 3 academically in her ESADE cohort, she also collaborated with ESADE Management to launch an innovative portal (invisiblebutessential.com) showcasing profiles of ESADE MBA students in their own words, giving them the opportunity to explain their unique characteristics.

After the MBA, she intends to partner with a classmate to create a real estate company, continuing to work on merging technology and real estate to achieve sustainable development and a better society.”

Professor Jan Hohberger
Associate Dean of the ESADE MBA and Associate Professor Strategy and General Management at ESADE Business School


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