2021 MBAs To Watch: Letty Perez, Columbia Business School

Letty Perez

Columbia Business School

I’m free, but I’m focused
I’m green, but I’m wise
I’m hard, but I’m friendly, baby

I didn’t know what to write here so this is an Alanis Morrissette song. I can re-do if needed  

Hometown: Monterrey, Mexico & Houston, Texas

Fun fact about yourself: When I was young, I got a chain email stating that it was humanly impossible to lick your own elbow, so naturally I tried it. Fun fact: I can actually do it.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Northwestern University, Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies, Minor in Literature & Musical Theatre

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? KIPP Bay Area Public Schools (now KIPP Northern California Public Schools)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Deloitte Human Capital, New York City

Where will you be working after graduation? Deloitte Human Capital, New York City

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Honors & Scholarships: CBS Fellow, Forté Fellow, LunaCap Foundation Scholar
  • Leadership: Student Government Executive Board (VP of DEI), Hispanic Business Association (VP Membership), Deloitte Human Capital Case Competition (CBS Selected Team), Peer Advisor Program (Cluster X’22 Cluster Lead)
  • Academic Recognition: Dean’s Summer Fellows: Course Development Track (Economics of Organizational Strategy), Teaching Assistant: Organizational Change; Education Leadership; Economics of Organizational Strategy

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My favorite and proudest extracurricular achievement during my time at CBS was being a Peer Advisor (PA) during orientation for ~70 incoming students in the class of 2022. Even with orientation moving to a Zoom format, it was still one of the most fun experiences, and by far the most rewarding. The opportunity to create a team vision and culture alongside the other 2nd year PA’s on my team (most of them strangers before this process), then executing on that during orientation when we were waking up at 6am and running on very little sleep was one of the most invaluable leadership experiences I’ve had. I emerged from the experience with 8 new best friends. Especially on the heels of such a hard year, it was a huge privilege and responsibility to play such a direct role in shaping the culture of cluster X’22 (the eXXXtraterrestrials). I loved that we were able to provide guidance on topics ranging from recruiting to academics to community so that they could be set up for success during their two years here. Since orientation, I’ve seen cluster X’22 evolve into one of the most fun, inclusive, and cohesive clusters. Me and my fellow PA’s still lurk on their WhatsApp group discussions like nosy parents and comment on how proud we are of them!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? After my Teach For America commitment, I joined the Talent Team at KIPP, a nonprofit that operates free college-prep schools in low income communities. While there, I worked alongside 4 inspiring school principals to recruit and staff their founding teams for the new schools they were opening. One of those principals once told me that a school is “not a building”, but the “people inside making things happen every day for kids”. It was basically my job to find those people, which was both motivating and very challenging. We were in the middle of a national teacher shortage and had to work through the challenge of convincing teachers to uproot their lives to join a school that didn’t exist yet (no building or anything). I’m incredibly proud that we not only fully staffed the schools with great educators, but also that ~60% of them identified as people of color or specifically reflected the identity of the students in the communities we were serving. Those schools are now fully grown and providing an excellent education to students in communities like East Palo Alto and West Oakland. To have been a part of those schools’ founding stories has been a great privilege in my professional career.

Why did you choose this business school? One of my biggest priorities in choosing a business school was getting out of my comfort zone and exposing myself to a diverse group of people with different life and professional experiences as mine. In the end, I was considering CBS alongside schools in the same city I had already been living in for 7 years or the city where I went to undergrad. In the end, CBS emerged as the “least comfortable” but most exciting option where I’d likely be most challenged. I also liked the idea of building a network in a new part of the country, and I’ve always been a huge theatre-kid, so living in NYC had always been a dream of mine.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I’m the self-proclaimed president of the Todd Jick fan club! In the spring of my first year, I took his class (Organizational Change) and it quickly became my favorite class. This past fall, I also took his course titled “Bridging the American Divides”, which gives students the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the causes and consequences of American divides (like educational, urban/rural, and political divides) —and what we might do as future business leaders to help bridge them. It was especially iconic to be taking this class over the November election, as we were collectively experiencing and processing one of the most politically and racially-charged years in many of our lives. Also this past fall, I had the privilege of serving as Professor Jick’s TA for Org Change, which provided a front row seat to the above-and-beyond commitment he shows to students. I watched him innovate to the new Zoom format, putting in countless hours so as to still deliver a rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning experience for students, all while seeing him bring humor and optimism onto an otherwise challenging year.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Definitely Follies, which is an SNL-esque roast of the MBA/CBS experience completely written and put on by students. I think it reflects what I’ve noticed about CBS students, who generally are people who take work and academics seriously, but don’t tend to take themselves too seriously. Follies has the unique ability to bring the entire CBS community together, and I was incredibly in awe of Follies co-presidents Olivia Mell and Chanel Washington, who had to completely re-design the format to fit Covid-19 health restrictions. If you want a laugh, go check out the OnlyFans CBS Follies skit on Youtube as well as the Broadway Medley from this year’s Fall Virtual Show. Genius.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I have yet to do my CBS Matters, which is a CBS tradition where you give a TED-style talk about your life, experiences, and what matters to you. I’ve been so moved by the ones I’ve attended – it’s amazing to get to learn more about your classmates in this way and I think it takes a lot of courage to stand up there and share in that way. I’m really scared of 1) public speaking and 2) vulnerability. As a result, giving a CBS Matters is really my worst nightmare. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m also really committed to out-of-comfort zone experiences, so if I know if I graduate and don’t give one, I’ll regret it. I have a few months left to work up the courage!

What is the biggest myth about your school? Every single prospective student I talk to asks whether CBS has a sense of community, since I guess its NYC location gives rise to the myth that it’s a commuter school. I actually think the CBS community is incredibly strong. Yes, people have friends in NYC from before, but most people approach their two years like I did, which was to tell my other friends to pretend I don’t live here but that I’ll show up to big life events like birthdays. Most people I know at CBS are really committed to making the most out of their two years here!

The other myth that comes up is that the culture is cutthroat and competitive, which couldn’t be farther from the truth in my experience. There’s a huge “pay it forward” and collaborative culture at CBS, which certainly got me through recruiting season (and accounting class.)

What surprised you the most about business school? I’ve been surprised about the authentic and meaningful access to professors that I’ve gotten at CBS. This wasn’t at all part of my undergrad experience, where it was more common to be one of 100 students in a lecture class and professors seemed more out of reach. Being a TA and getting to learn from and collaborate with professors unlocked a part of the MBA experience I didn’t even plan on taking advantage of. I’m really grateful to be walking away with some incredible mentors.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I tried to talk to current students or alumni of programs I was really interested in, but my approach was quality over quantity. I really tried to find people who had a meaningful shared experience, whether it be professional (i.e also a TFA alumn or coming from education) or personal/identity-based connection. This allowed me to have more authentic conversations that I believe allowed me to understand the schools I was applying to on a deeper level so as to assess fit.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Mehul Choudhary! Mehul and I met during Hamptons Week (a longstanding student organized pre-orientation CBS tradition) and then I ended up getting assigned to the same learning team as him. On paper, we could not be more different – I’m from Mexico and a former Kindergarten teacher and he’s from India and a former Investment Banker and CPA. Yet, we discovered a shared passion for topics around diversity and inclusion and ended up serving together as Co-VPs of DEI on the Student Government Executive Board. Mehul is one of the most brilliant people at CBS, but I most admire him for his deep commitment to friendship and his selflessness. He could have exempted Accounting in the CORE, yet he decided to take it so he could tutor and help the rest of our cluster, earning the nickname Professor Mehul. I came to business school with the hopes of meeting people who would push me both academically and personally, people who’ve had vastly different life experiences as me. No one exemplifies that more than Mehul, someone who I likely would not have crossed paths with if it wasn’t for this experience. He has quickly earned the status of becoming my “professional soulmate”.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? I think CBS was very prepared to make switch to hybrid learning. At the beginning, I was definitely getting Zoom fatigue and I definitely panic-bought a few pairs of blue light glasses, but I found the learning delivery was still strong. What I missed were the random encounters with people and friends that happen as you’re walking to and from class. COVID was much more disruptive to the social aspect of school than the academic one, but we found creative ways to maintain a sense of connection and engagement.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My dad – my earliest memories are from the time we moved from Monterrey, Mexico to Palo Alto, where he attended Stanford GSB. I was about 2 or 3 years old and he told me I used to fall asleep on his lap as he completed readings for class. As the father of three girls, he’s always supported and encouraged our educational above anything else, and I feel so lucky to be following in his footsteps by pursuing an MBA.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I want to help reduce barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals seeking to reenter the workforce.

I want to continue to participate in nonprofit board service around the issues I’m most passionate about – educational equity and music/access to the arts.

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

“Letty has made a significant impact on the CBS community, focusing her energies on important School-wide strategic initiatives: continued academic excellence and inclusion. In addition to her intense summer internship with Deloitte Consulting, Letty was designated as a Dean’s Summer Fellow focused on the Course Development Track. In that role, Letty worked closely in partnership with award winning Professor Anne Bartel to enhance the Economics of Organizational Strategy content and cases, making a lasting impact for future generations of CBS learners.

CBS recently introduced a new role within the student government executive board: VP of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. As the Co-VP, Letty led all of the cluster-level DEI chairs in the various DEI initiatives going on at the school. Additionally, Letty served as a Peer Advisor, where she drew upon her experience in Talent at the KIPP Bay Area Public Schools, helping to welcome, nurture, and inspire the newest members of the CBS and ensure their engagement and sense of community. Letty’s great strength in building trusting relationships with others has continued to serve both her and the CBS student body exceptionally well.”

Amanda Carlson
Assistant Dean
Office of Admissions