Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Toyin Shodiya, Harvard Business School

Toyin Shodiya

Harvard Business School

“Aerospace engineering yogi excited about the intersection of AI and robotics while keeping humans at heart.”

Hometown: Upper Marlboro, MD

Fun Fact About Yourself: I am a certified yoga instructor and teach a “Deep Space” vinyasa flow class for corporate engineers that is set to a soundtrack of space sounds produced by NASA’s EMFISIS instrument aboard the Van Allen Probes

Undergraduate School and Major: Georgia Tech, BS Aerospace Engineering,

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: The Boeing Company, Chief Project Engineer

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? Sitting in on my first HBS class and seeing the students weigh in on how legacy retailers should innovate to stay competitive with emerging tech ventures was such an exciting experience. As the class eagerly raised their hands, I realized that, in order to thrive in the case method, you have to (1) be an active listener, (2) think quickly on your feet, (3) succinctly summarize large amounts of data, and (4) be willing to have your perspective challenged. These are all qualities and skills that every manager should embody and be able to effectively deploy.

The case method takes problem-solving to the next level while keeping you on your toes – I highly recommend sitting in on the experience if you can!

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Ground-breaking. The pandemic has kicked our desire to connect into overdrive and every conversation I have had so far with my classmates has shown me how truly inventive the HBS community is. It feels like everyone has something they are deeply passionate about and the abundance of resources here makes it completely possible to bring those ideas to life. On any given day, I can leave a conversation with insights on new tech in the food and beverage industry, investments being made in Latin American ventures, or accessible healthcare delivery solutions. The ideas being developed here at HBS are truly endless.

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? One of the major distinguishing factors for why I chose HBS was the opportunity to receive an MBA and Engineering Master’s through the MS/MBA joint degree program. I was drawn to the MS/MBA program because it provides the hand-in-hand education of engineering and business needed to effectively lead the vision of a technology venture. With my experience mainly being in highly-regulated government environments, I’m excited for the opportunity to work collaboratively with Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) on human-centered designs through experiences like Tech Venture Immersion.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? I am really excited to explore and grow from the thought diversity within the HBS community. Through a new initiative called the RC Advisory program, first-year students meet in small interest groups led by a Faculty Advisor with an aligning passion for a particular topic. With group topics ranging from new business models for space tech to exploring why startups fail, there is never a dull moment or conversation within this community.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Recently, I led a program as the chief engineer for a new product offering for airline containerized cargo to disrupt the farm-to-table market. This leadership role required me to create the initial 3D design, lead engineering teams through the prototype build, and develop an accelerated technology development roadmap to mature the concept into an externally saleable product for Boeing. In a matter of only 10 months, I led my team through the construction and flight test of a fully-functional prototype, which is now under consideration for mass production and sale.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career?  After five years of working in the aerospace industry, I had gained a deeper understanding of how the technology works and developed the strategic problem-solving skills to drive products from the idea phase to production. My interest in an MBA, as well as my empathy for the “founder journey,” was sparked during my experience working with an early-stage drone startup. After countless pitches to venture capitalists, I wanted to demystify the venture funding process and understand the financial implications of each decision made during product development. This is what drew me to Harvard’s MS/MBA engineering joint degree program. The MS/MBA program will allow me to hone my ability to lead scrappy teams in translating business needs into engineering-design criteria to bring novel products to market.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I also applied to MIT Sloan’s joint degree Leaders for Global Operations program (LGO). The LGO program is another amazing dual degree program that brings together engineering and business for an invaluable experience.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? During my interview, I was asked about Boeing’s market performance and the return to service of the 737MAX. This question challenged me to think objectively and critique the industry response to the tragic crashes that took place in 2019. Our discussion of this topic gave the admissions committee insight into my leadership style, my understanding of the commercial aviation industry, and my ability to gauge where the industry is heading.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Determining school fit was a very personal journey for me. It started with understanding what my “why” for business school was and culminated with my one-on-one interactions with current students. Once my picture of “why an MBA” and “why now” came to full form, I looked for a community that not only accepted this vision but uplifted it. As I visited schools, I set up coffee chats with currents students to get a feel of the school beyond what you can find on a website or hear during a panel discussion.

Being interested in the MS/MBA program specifically, it was important for me to understand the dynamic of this cohort of roughly 30 students within the larger MBA class. Taking a more intentional approach during the process to build these personal connections allowed me to get to the core of not only the HBS culture, but also the culture of the joint degree community.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? The majority of my family lives in developing regions of Nigeria and Ghana. This was my catalyst for creating an independent research topic in the Aeroelasticity Lab, as an undergrad at Georgia Tech, focused on developing a new wind turbine design that could power regions of West Africa. I created a 3D wind turbine model and used performance software to predict energy output.

Unfortunately, with low wind speeds in those regions, I could not create a design that would generate enough energy to be effective. Undeterred, I submitted my research topic for a research abroad program that selected thirty students across the United States annually to develop their renewable energy ideas at the University of Reykjavik in Iceland. This trip was my introduction to the creative design solutions that are distilled from diverse teams. This experience sparked my passion to build the next generation of leaders who leverage their diverse backgrounds to question industry standards. I’m excited to get involved with HBS’ African Business Club and continue discussions about ingenious solutions to improve the pace of innovation in regions of Africa.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? One company I admire and feel that business students can learn a lot from is Dorm Room Fund – A venture fund that is backed by First Round and operated by full-time undergraduate and graduate students. It is no secret that there is a homogenous culture in venture capital, which lends itself to selection bias during evaluations. To combat this diversity issue, Dorm Room Fund created the Blueprint Investor Track to support the next generation of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous venture investors. I had the opportunity to participate in their inaugural Blueprint Investor Track program, which not only connected me to diverse investors, but also created a safe space to grow as an investor myself.

What is the most important attribute that you are seeking in an MBA employer? As a first-generation West African-American woman developing products in the aerospace industry, I have experienced the effect a lack of diversity has on innovation. The climate of our country surrounding acts of injustice make it imperative for employers to move beyond the standard diversity, equity, and inclusion playbook. For me, this means not only having a leadership team that reflects the diversity of our society, but also a culture that actively promotes and uplifts diverse voices at every level of an organization.


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