Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Christian Castilla, Cornell University (Johnson)

Christian Castilla

Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University

“A loyal teammate that feeds off competition, a little risk, and a well-timed joke.”

Hometown: Dublin, OH

Fun Fact About Yourself: I’m a lifelong and often disappointed Browns fan, but there’s always next year!

Undergraduate School and Major: Miami University – Political Science

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: USMC, Infantry Officer

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? Johnson’s immersion programs and dedication to a current, agile curriculum stood out when comparing top schools’ programming.  The transition from military to private sector is significant, and “imposter syndrome” is a common symptom of that transition, even for the most qualified veterans with extensive experience. Johnson’s commitment to providing real and relevant experience within the curriculum prepares those of us making major industry changes to explode off the starting block.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Adaptable. The pandemic devastated traditional networking pathways and left a dark cloud over the social prospects for every incoming MBA student.  Before ever stepping on campus, my classmates have proven their mettle through self-propelled creativity and grit to meet and strengthen Johnson’s already high standards of camaraderie. Independent of the stellar programming of the staff and faculty, my classmates have leveraged available resources to set up virtual meet-and-greets, special interest groups, and support networks. My classmates have shown me that they have the mental flexibility and fortitude to thrive in uncertainty.

What club or activity excites you most at this school I am really looking forward to the Joint Ventures Club. Cornell Johnson was a family decision for me, my wife, and my infant son, and it was important for me to prioritize schools that recognized the importance of community,. Johnson “walks the talk” in delivering a connected and supportive community that extends beyond the student body.

What was your initial impression of Cornell Johnson? How did it evolve as the recruiting process continued?  I had heard anecdotally that Johnson students were a tightknit group from people I spoke to within or knowledgeable of the program. When I was researching programs, I reviewed their veterans clubs and could generally gauge whether the program had a “type”. Some programs’ clubs were relatively homogenous by service branch or military specialty.  I noticed that Johnson’s Association of Veterans was quite diverse. As I progressed along the recruiting process, I found diversity in experience to be a pillar of Johnson’s recruiting and curriculum as I met so many interesting people with unique stories. Even more appealing was the connection that these incredibly diverse, talented people had with each other and with the community.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Last month I had a reunion with the Marines I served with three years ago, and we had a blast together. In that moment, and in others like it, it was self-evident that my greatest professional accomplishment was the relationships I formed with the people I worked alongside. Relationships like those have life-long value personally and professionally, and they will outlast the more tangible accomplishments from my military career.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? After more than six years in the Marine Corps, I accomplished my military goals and was at the opportune time in my career to transition to the private sector. I was seeking a transformative experience that would stretch my leadership and operational strengths into new domains while advancing my analytical abilities and professional network. The MBA is the best platform for me to gain exposure to my fields of interest, confirm or deny my assumptions about those fields, refine my business acumen, and meet some incredible people along the way.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Duke Fuqua, HBS, Michigan Ross, MIT Sloan, Wharton, Yale SOM

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “Why did you choose to leave the military?” It’s a simple question with a complex answer. Because being in the military is a lifestyle and not just a profession, the choice to resign was influenced by a spectrum of considerations. I found it difficult to simplify such a major decision into a 2-3 minute response.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I tried not to overcomplicate the application and selection process. All the top programs focus on curricular excellence, boast strong alumni groups, and are ripe with amazing career opportunities. I wanted to choose a program that shared my personal values (community, teamwork, and competition) and professional interests (technology and sustainability). I funneled my research through each programs’ veteran organizations whose members either answered my queries directly or put me in contact with students and faculty that could provide the insight I sought.

I received support from the Association of Veterans at Johnson and nonaffiliated students that was unmatched by other programs, and Johnson’s investment in the Cornell Tech campus and Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise meant my professional interests would be satiated. They didn’t tell me, but they showed me that they shared my values.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school?  The Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course (IOC) was the most difficult and character-defining challenge of my life. I was stripped of comforts, information, and ego. For three months, my peers and I navigated this physically and spiritually demanding course while drinking in small-unit tactics from a firehose. I learned how to be comfortable being uncomfortable and how to make decisions in uncertainty. I learned the true value of teamwork and humility, and I saw firsthand what can be accomplished when no one is concerned with taking credit. It was an immersive experience that empowered me with leadership skills and life lessons that transcend the military and will be the foundation of my success in business school.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? Recently, I have been super impressed with Root Insurance Company (a little hometown bias here).  They quickly rose to unicorn status with an innovative and disruptive business model, and they show business students that speed kills when it comes to progressive policy by providing discounts to drivers using semi-autonomous vehicles.


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