Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Harshita Pilla, University of Michigan (Ross)

Harshita Pilla

University of Michigan,  Ross School of Business

“Amateur beer brewer and aspiring affordable housing developer.”

Hometown: Dallas, Texas

Fun Fact About Yourself: I’ve taken cooking classes in eight countries and my last lesson in Spain taught me how to make a pretty delicious paella!

Undergraduate School and Major: University of California Berkeley – Civil Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Virtual Design & Construction Lead, WeWork

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? It’s probably no surprise that I’ll mention a stellar action-based learning curriculum, and specifically MAP, as one of the key factors that led to my decision in choosing Ross. I learn best through practice, and there is no shortage of opportunities at Ross to gain real-world experience. Furthermore, as a dual-degree student, it was critical for me to choose a business school that not only valued, but prioritized an interdisciplinary approach to learning. I met the highest number of dual-degree MBA students while visiting Ross, and hearing their experiences of feeling genuinely supported by the business program as well as by the greater University ultimately solidified my decision.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? Professionally, I’m interested in combining my interests in urban studies and business by joining the Detroit Revitalization and Business Initiative as well as the Smart Cities club. On a personal note, I’m excited to join Maize & Brew and meet fellow beer enthusiasts!

What makes you most excited about getting your MBA at Ross? What makes you most nervous about starting business school? Even before starting business school, I’ve had the opportunity to tap into the amazing community at Ross. In response to the recent and tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, I helped spearhead a fundraiser alongside current and incoming MBA students across the country for Color of Change (and raised over $68K!). It was during this process where I saw first-hand how quickly my peers at Ross mobilized in order to achieve a greater goal. I’m really looking forward to tackling these big problems alongside the greater Ross community.

I’m most nervous about time management when it comes to starting business school – it doesn’t seem like there’s enough time in the day for all the things I’d like to get involved in!

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: On one of the projects I was working on during my time with Skanska (a large General Contractor), my direct manager was suddenly called in to be deployed by the Air Force. Within a matter of weeks, I temporarily assumed her role and led a team of 40 for the next five months. I was the only woman on the team and 23 years-old at the time. While that was a few years back, I’m still extremely proud of how I handled that situation by quickly taking responsibility and keeping the project on track despite my limited construction management experience. As a (rather rare) young woman of color in construction, earning the respect from my established male colleagues for my leadership was an accomplishment as well.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? During my career, I’ve had the unique opportunity to work as and alongside engineers, contractors, and designers, allowing me to gain valuable insight into the mechanics of bringing development projects to life. In combination with my Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning, I am now looking to pursue an MBA to expand upon areas that I am less familiar with such as real estate financing, corporate strategy, and product management. My long term goal is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the development life-cycle and strategy behind innovating solutions to the affordable housing deficit we have in this country.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Wharton, MIT Sloan, UCLA Anderson, UNC Kenan-Flagler

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? My interviewer asked me to tell him about a time where I failed, and how that failure explicitly led to a later success in my life. I had never heard this question be structured that way. While it caught me off guard at the time, I appreciate how the question clearly connected success to failure.

What have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school? With COVID-19 halting travel plans, I’ve been spending some much-needed time with my family in Texas after being away in the Bay Area for eight years. Soaking up this downtime, along with auditing a few courses online, has given me the breather I needed before jumping head first into the hectic schedule of a first year MBA student. I feel very grateful to be with my family and in good health during this time before school!

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? My first role out of college was consulting for a large California developer on a $9B mixed-use project aimed at revitalizing historically low-income neighborhoods in San Francisco. During a particularly heated community meeting, I witnessed first-hand the shortcuts taken by developers (my client) in pursuit of revenue – all under the guise of “urban renewal.” Hearing community members share their fears of skyrocketing rent and community exclusion due to our redevelopment plans made me realize that I was sitting on the wrong side of the table. I recognized that I ultimately needed to transition into a more community-centered role in order to have a voice in these crucial early conversations. This moment ultimately sparked my interest in pursuing business school and prepared me for tackling tough conversations in the future.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? While no company is perfect, I’ve been a pretty big fan of Nike over the past few years. I greatly admire Nike’s utilization of its platform to take a stance on important social issues. Not only does it show the company’s conviction during controversy (e.g. Colin Kaepernick), but helps create a strong brand that people are proud to support. However, with less than 15% of diversity on the board of directors, it’s clear that there is still work to be done.