2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Juanita Pardo Varela, Georgetown University (McDonough)

Juanita Pardo Varela

Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business

“I am excited about life, reliable and relationship-driven, committed to self-improvement, and proud Colombian.”

Hometown: Bogotá, Colombia

Fun fact about yourself: I have a collection of more than 200 teas from around the world. South African Rooibos is my favorite variety to date.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Universidad de Los Andes, Bachelor of Science in Economics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Diageo, Strategy & Innovation Senior Analyst

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? McKinsey & Company, Summer Associate

Where will you be working after graduation? McKinsey & Company, Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Vice President of International Students, MBA Student Government Association
  • Vice President of Admissions, Latin American Business Association (LABA)
  • Graduate Assistant Consulting Peer Advisor, McDonough Career Center

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am very proud of fostering an international community and especially putting my Latin American heritage in the spotlight at Georgetown. As Vice President of International Students for the McDonough School of Business, I have had many opportunities to express the importance of an international perspective and have worked on different initiatives to enrich the student experience in understanding more about cultures, traditions, and leadership styles around the world.

One example comes from the opportunity I had last year to co-moderate a conversation with Carlos Brito (current CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev) about the Latin American footprint and outlook in business, corporate values of global enterprises, and how to create common ambitions in businesses even when cultural differences exist. I also had the opportunity to host a session with the founder of Foodhini, a social enterprise that offers economic prosperity for refugee communities by allowing emerging chefs to offer their dishes through an online platform. We tackled issues related to migration, informality, and cultural shocks, and the conversation allowed students to understand the reality many people face and the difficulties of international mobility.

Lastly, to foster our international community and take advantage of the at-home-cooking trend given COVID-19 restrictions, I created the MBA program’s first international recipe book with more than 30 recipes from different students and countries. The book included personal anecdotes of the student’s connection with the recipe they shared and allowed the MBA community to understand traditions through food while getting to know some classmates on a more personal level. For me, pursuing my MBA abroad meant having the chance to view life through different lenses and with an international perspective. It was also the chance to teach my classmates more about my roots and traditions as a Latin American student. Having more than 50 people travel home to Colombia with me during an immersion trip before the pandemic started was a dream come true, as I was fortunate enough to show them how beautiful my country and its colors and culture are.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Before attending business school, as Strategy and Innovation Senior Analyst at Diageo, I coordinated, aligned, and modeled the strategic plan to significantly increase the company’s business presence in Colombia. This project represented the biggest professional development opportunity in my career before starting my MBA. First, it exposed me to the company’s regional headquarters and encouraged me to think from a CEO’s perspective. Second, it was a pivot from my previous career in finance to portfolio management, category growth, revenue management, supply chain, and innovation, so it was my first experience with a holistic approach to business. And third, I learned how to work with uncertainty under an entrepreneurial mindset and how to manage the expectations of diverse audiences.

My proposed plan was approved by headquarters, and the company continues to see great results. Given my exposure to senior leadership teams in this project, I was invited to join the company’s extended leadership team and was nominated for the company’s global finance excellence award for “creating a brighter future.” This achievement motivated me to pursue a career in strategy, and I am eager to pursue more projects like this one at McKinsey.

Why did you choose this business school? Georgetown University caught my attention after I learned about its Business for Impact Initiative. I sought a business program that offered the option to deeply understand the intersection of private, public, and nonprofit sectors, and the Business for Impact Leadership Program allows selected students to tackle real-life problems that require innovative business solutions. Since pursuing my undergraduate degree in economics, I have been interested in international development, so Georgetown’s access to Washington, DC, the hub of government, multilateral organizations, embassies, and NGOs, offered the best place for me to learn how to combine business innovation with socially driven endeavors. I felt I fit in best with the Georgetown culture when I met some Georgetown students who came to Colombia for an international community service experience. The energy with which they encouraged me to apply and the sense of collaboration and community I sensed in my conversations with some of the students made me feel that I truly belonged.

What is the biggest myth about your school? One myth I had about Georgetown, which even factored into my decision to attend, was that Georgetown’s program was tailor-made only for people who want to work in the public social sector, social issues, federal advisory, or anything related to politics. Although being in Washington, DC does allow for closer proximity to connections in these realms, the school does not only focus on these; I would say that most students do not pursue a career in these spaces, despite the university’s expertise in the social and political fields. Being in Washington, DC is a competitive advantage, regardless of the type of career a student wants to pursue. The city offers global exposure, an international agenda, and connections with the government and multilateral organizations, which all offer MBA students opportunities to broaden the managerial decision-making process to consider important stakeholders and consider non-business-related points of view.

What surprised you the most about business school? What surprises me most about business school is how, when I look back – even if I am the same person, in essence – my perspective on life has drastically shifted. I grew up in an emerging country where issues such as gender inequality and racism are not acknowledged as explicitly as they are here in the United States. My experience in my MBA, particularly over the summer and this past semester, have made it apparent to me how little I knew about such important issues and how intentionally I should work in recognizing and acting on situations in which I have felt unsafe or have witnessed unfairness.

Being in business school and understanding the perspective of people from different nationalities and with different backgrounds has made me realize how important it is to understand the context and how valuable it is to react to things that do not seem right. Being able to discuss such issues in class through business cases, in discussion panels with leaders from start-ups and big organizations, and with friends in informal gatherings has opened my mind. Attending a program that has pushed my self-awareness and has encouraged me to become a more socially conscious person has made pursuing an MBA worth it, in addition to the excellent business education.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Georgetown requires a video essay in the application process, and I put a lot of effort into showing my personality and my true character in it. While interacting with current students and staff during an information session, I saw that my driven personality was a good fit for the school. So, I knew that I simply needed to be my authentic self when introducing myself in my video essay. I decided to highlight my family influence, my passion for social endeavors, the experiences that have shaped me, and my desire to make long-lasting connections with my classmates.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Leena Jube (FT MBA 2021) deserves a huge shout-out for all the diversity & inclusion efforts she led during her time at Georgetown. As Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the Student Government Association, Leena went above and beyond to spread messages about the importance of inclusive environments in the context of intense social upheaval and a strong willingness across sectors of society to support diversity and inclusion matters. Engaging with members of the Georgetown faculty, she helped to create a business course called “Innovation through Inclusion.” This leads students through different workplace roles from different perspectives to come up with concrete steps to foster inclusion in business. She also has advocated for more staff at McDonough dedicated to diversity and inclusion.

Leena also hosted several panels with business leaders across industries for us to understand how D&I issues are addressed in different organizations. And finally, I greatly appreciated her efforts to include biases and stereotypes from places outside the United States as a crucial – but often overlooked –

matter in D&I. Leena, along with a D&I board that included Full-time MBA students from first and second year, as well as from the Flex MBA, (a board that she also proposed and created) hosted a conversation with international students about fighting against cultural stereotypes. In the process, they managed to create a space for empathy and understanding among students from different backgrounds. On top of her commitment to strengthening diverse voices in business, Leena has fantastic energy and brings love and joy to the community. I am glad to call her my friend.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? The initial shift to virtual classes ran smoothly and I was highly impressed with the university’s capacity and proactive efforts to embrace the change and support students, professors, and community members from day one. Personally, it was particularly disruptive and difficult for me to let go of the idea of “normality.” We had to move forward with the understanding that not all MBA experiences, especially community-building initiatives, can be translated to a virtual format.

Take the McDonough Cup, a sports event in which different cohorts from the program compete (friendly) against each other in different activities such as football, volleyball, or dancing. This is an experience that cannot be replicated easily in a virtual format, especially with the little information we had early last year about the pandemic. But as soon as I decided to embrace that the world had changed (for worse in some, but not all cases), I was able to tailor my experience and enjoy the experience as fully as I could, given the situation. I joined virtual cooking classes hosted by some of my classmates, participated in online yoga sessions organized by students, and had the opportunity to learn how to run and lead a virtual event myself. It is interesting how most of the accomplishments I am proud of came after COVID hit and were (maybe?) possible because of an online setting.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My parents always inspired me to be academically ambitious because they pursued graduate programs and specializations in their respective careers (although not in business). As a result, going to grad school was a goal for me since I can remember. At Diageo, I had the opportunity to work closely with the CEO and the regional strategy director, both of whom did their MBA in the United States when they were about my age. I was always impressed with how on point their input was regardless of the topic under discussion and how accurately they could sense check and test whether a business proposal was going to be successful or not. I greatly admired how quickly they used numbers and quantifiable measures while at the same time bringing an insightful qualitative perspective to defend their arguments, and how good they were in influencing audiences when they spoke in public. They were role models for me and inspired me to pursue an MBA degree.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

– To be an advisor and part of the board of directors of a social impact start-up.

– To follow my father’s legacy and become a university professor in the area of expertise I develop after my MBA.

What made Juanita such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

Juanita is a motivated, compassionate leader who has thrived despite the unexpected challenges of the virtual environment. She cares deeply for her community and this is evident through her work in clubs and student government. In her Student Government Association role as Vice President of International Students, Juanita assisted in onboarding all incoming international students at their own orientation. She ensured our over 60 international students felt welcomed and engaged despite their locations around the globe. The political climate and pandemic impacted the international student experience in ways we could not foresee, and Juanita chose to take charge and begin engaging regularly with program leadership. This was well beyond the typical role of VP of International and the role she was elected to. She became a constant advocate and voice of our international students; creating an International Student Town Hall, and increasing transparency and communication between the University and the international student population.

Juanita was not just an advocate, but also helped create a  community that so many of our students were missing. She created the first McDonough Recipes Around the World Cookbook, which highlighted over 100 members of our community, their heritage, and favorite family dishes. Typically, the VP of International hosts a hallmark event called international Fest, which is a massive undertaking, especially in a virtual space. This event is a celebration and exploration of the different cultures that make up our community with tastings, talent shows, and performances. With a restriction on all in-person events, Juanita’s innovative spirit reimagined International Fest and created a series of virtual classes and speakers that uplifted voices not often heard. Juanita’s events engaged the largest number of students we have seen in virtual events throughout the pandemic, with over 90 attendees. This speaks volumes of her ability to innovate, create, and push through adversity.

Juanita plays an active and selfless role in our club community as well. As a member of the Georgetown Consulting Club, one of the largest and most active industry clubs in our program, Juanita serves as a Peer Advisor. Juanita is one of the most popular peer advisors, meeting with over 100 students since September and is most often sought after for consulting interview prep by students preparing to interview with the top consulting firms. Her professional and personable demeanor empowers students to be authentic leaders that make big decisions. She is encouraging and brings positivity to every situation.

It is with great honor that I nominate Juanita Pardo Varela as Poets & Quants Best and Brightest. I have worked with her as her advisor in her time at McDonough and I look forward to the amazing things she will accomplish both personally and professionally.”

Alicia Thomas
Assistant Director, MBA Program Office
Georgetown McDonough



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