Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Camilla Mia R. Carag, Harvard Business School

Camilla Mia R. Carag

Harvard Business School

“Relentless learner and builder driven to narrow inequities with technology.”

Hometown: Quezon City, Metro Manila

Fun Fact About Yourself: I once starred in a TV series about marine conservation in the Philippines.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of the Philippines, Industrial Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Growsari, Chief of Staff

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? Learning through the case method is great because it puts you in the shoes of real-life protagonists (Harvard even brings the protagonist to class sometimes!). In a way, you get to experience wearing many different hats, some you wouldn’t have the chance to otherwise. Because it’s both immersive and low-risk, the case method is extremely effective in ingraining students with the business concepts, synthesis, and wisdom needed to navigate problems in any industry.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Intellectually curious and humble. When I first found out that I got into HBS, I struggled with impostor syndrome. I felt intimidated by the accomplishments of my peers, especially as someone from a non-traditional background. However, as I got to know my classmates better, I realized that what makes the HBS community special is that it brings together individuals who, beyond their stellar resumes, have an earnest desire to learn more about themselves, their peers, and the kind of impact they could make in the world. It’s been energizing to be surrounded by people who have such sincere growth mindsets.

Aside from the case method and 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? I was inspired by Harvard’s MS/MBA Engineering Sciences joint degree program. I know that I want to stay in product management or potentially launch a technology venture after my MBA, so I looked for a program that would build not just my business acumen but also my technical depth. Harvard’s MS/MBA delivers on that and more. The curriculum itself is a great mix of engineering, business, and design, More than that, Harvard has an incredible community I can learn from. The cohort is a tight-knit group of builders and technologists with very supportive faculty from both HBS and SEAS.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? I’m most excited for the programs offered by the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab) and Rock Center for Entrepreneurship. I’ve worked at startups for most of my career, but I’ve never pursued one of my own. By participating in activities like the i-lab Venture Program or Rock Center Summer Fellows, I hope to figure out whether entrepreneurship is right for me, and build something I care about along the way.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: In the Philippines, the small, family-run convenience outlets locally known as sari-sari stores are the bedrock of our economy – and yet they’re also the most underserved. They have little negotiating power and lose margins from a fragmented value chain with many middle-men. As a pioneering product lead at Growsari, I combined my exposure to data analytics tools at Uber with my industry knowledge from P&G sales to develop a platform that would empower traditional FMCG companies with the ability to funnel their trade spend directly on sari-sari stores and not the middle-man.

More than launching the product, it was very meaningful for me to see how my efforts influenced the lives of people I had collaborated with across the industry. I witnessed leaders at FMCGs reimagine their route to market and restructure their teams. I saw field sales teams finally have access to the conveniences of real-time data and targeted promotions. Most importantly, I saw elated sari-sari store owners bring themselves and their families up as they got the best prices and deals instead of being squeezed by the middle-man for every peso.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Having spent the last 4 years working at startups, I learned a lot about what it takes to get companies from zero to one. At this stage of my career, I’m looking to learn the other half of that equation, which is one to a hundred. How do you scale companies for long-term sustainability and greatness? I felt that pursuing an MBA would be the perfect way to get that kind of business knowledge in an accelerated timeframe.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Stanford, Kellogg (MMM), MIT, Berkeley (MBA/MEng)

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? My interviewer asked me, “How do you convince a sari-sari store owner to use the platform [instead of the traditional way of doing business]?” I found that to be a superb question because it tested many things all at one time: my understanding of the customer, the product’s proposition, and our go-to-market strategy.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I came up with my initial shortlist by doing a search for programs that either offered dual degrees, or were part of broader campuses that were known to have strong technical expertise. When it finally came down to choosing between schools, I considered the strength of the alumni network and sought feedback from alumni themselves. Hearing great reviews from members of the graduating MS/MBA cohort at the time definitely affirmed that Harvard was the right school for me.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school?  My defining moment was an encounter during my first job as a sales management trainee for Procter & Gamble. I worked as a field sales agent in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods of Metro Manila, peddling soap and shampoo and detergent to sari-sari stores.

It was after a particularly long, tiring day when the salesman that I had been shadowing asked me a simple, unassuming question that has stayed with me ever since: “Ma’am, magkano ba kinikita niyo? [Ma’am, how much do you earn?].” I knew that I was earning at least five times his salary. I knew that in a few years, if I stayed on that path, I’d be making even more in a cushy corporate office while he would probably still be making long truck drives at a fraction of my salary. He got the short end of the stick simply because he wasn’t lucky enough to be born into a family that could afford a college education.

The experience ultimately shaped my career. It led me to work with organizations that use technology to empower individuals and democratize opportunity. Today, I continue to be energized by that same mission. They say one of the most important things to do before going into business school is to define your priorities so you don’t get overwhelmed by the firehose of resources and opportunities. That moment helped define my “why” and I look forward to building a business school experience around it.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? A couple of years back, a former manager recommended that I read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com. That book was an eye-opening read on the importance of company culture and customer service in the success of any business. Since then, I’ve aspired to emulate Zappos in the workplaces I’m part of – most recently in shaping the culture and people development programs at Growsari. If employees feel connected, live the core values, and share a common purpose – great customer service and profits will follow.

What is the most important attribute that you are seeking in an MBA employer? My ideal employer is one that can offer interesting and impactful work. I’ve always felt at my best, in both a professional and personal sense, when I was immersed in challenging projects that revolved around missions I believed in. I’m keen on doing the same, but at an even larger scale after my MBA.

DON’T MISS: MEET HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL’S MBA CLASS OF 2022

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