Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Mary Benman, Cornell University (Johnson)

Mary Benman

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

“Always on a quest to learn new things and find the next challenge.”

Hometown: Utica, NY and Munster, IN

Fun Fact About Yourself: I worked as a makeup artist to put myself through college, and still love doing makeup as a side hustle!

Undergraduate School and Major: American University, (BA) Spanish & Latin American Studies; George Washington University, (MS) Accounting

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Conagra Brands, Senior Financial Analyst, Global Markets

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 leadership programs were a key factor in my decision. Leadership is the skill I want to work on most during my MBA. Through conversations with students about leadership opportunities and career center resources, I felt like I would have all the support I needed.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Supportive! I was blown away by how friendly and encouraging everyone was when I was on campus to interview and the support they offered while I was making my decision. Everyone has been so quick to put me in touch with students and alumni with similar career goals, and everyone is so receptive when I reach out to them.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? I’m really excited to get involved with the Emerging Markets Institute. I’ve volunteered and studied in several countries in Latin America and worked with a lot of emerging markets in my last role. However, there is so much more to learn to build my career in this space. I’m also really excited to participate in things like Johnson Outdoor Ventures. I’ve been living in cities since college, so it’s really exciting to get to explore this new environment.

What was your initial impression of Cornell Johnson? How did it evolve as the recruiting process continued? At first, I was hesitant about Johnson because I thought I would want to continue living in a big city. When I went to campus to interview, I understood why alumni spoke so highly of the school, and the tight-knit community that everyone always talks about came to life for me. I was so impressed with everyone that I met on campus, and I saw the advantages of being in a smaller community and a different environment than I was accustomed to.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: A huge accomplishment for me was pivoting from a niche consulting role to corporate finance. It was a bigger pivot than I expected, and I had to learn a whole new set of skills on top of moving from DC to Chicago. Getting out of my comfort zone and having to learn quickly gave me a sense of confidence in trying new things and going after new challenges.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? It was hearing about the MBA experiences of coworkers and friends and the opportunities it opened up for them convinced me to take the same path. I worked full-time during college, so I didn’t exactly take the time to pause, step back, and think about my goals. I saw the MBA as a way to dedicate myself to school full time, and spend the time exploring not just what I want to do, but how I want to get there. After working for five years, I felt that I had built a good base of knowledge from different roles and sectors, so that I would be able to contribute that knowledge to my class, but still have plenty left to learn.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? INSEAD, Yale SOM, Columbia, Wharton

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? I always found it challenging to answer what I would contribute to the class at a given school. I had a little bit of imposter syndrome and would question if I had anything unique to contribute. As I went through the admissions process and met interviewers and students, they actually helped me realize that certain career experiences – and even personality traits such as my positive attitude – would be meaningful contributions to my class.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? The main criteria I used was determining whether there were alumni working at the firms I was interested in, in the geographic locations I wanted to live, both in the US and internationally. I used the schools’ employment reports and LinkedIn searches for schools and different firms. After narrowing down my list, admissions events and campus visits helped me get a sense of the environment and the makeup of my class. I was drawn to the schools where I had interesting conversations with students and alumni, and felt like I could fit in with the culture.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? The experience that stands out is working in the Global Markets division of Conagra Brands. This role gave me the opportunity to combine my passion for all things international with finance, and confirmed that I wanted to build my career around those interests. It prepared me for business school by showing me all the challenges and opportunities with working in international business, so I can share that knowledge with classmates and better prepare for my post-MBA career.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? Fenway Sports Group because of the way they transformed Liverpool FC. Business students could learn how important it is to rely on data, and that the best business decisions aren’t always popular at the time.


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