Meet the MBA Class of 2023: José Mario Peña, University of Washington (Foster)

José Mario Peña

University of Washington, Foster School of Business

“Tech lover, business enthusiast, straight-forward, wonderer, wanderer, tinkerer.”

Hometown: San Salvador, El Salvador

Fun Fact About Yourself: I want to see all the Wonders of the World; I’m still missing two.

Undergraduate School and Major:

Escuela Superior de Economía y Negocios, El Salvador. Bachelor’s in Economics and Business

Hochschule Furtwangen University, Germany. Bachelor’s in International Business Management

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Tigo – Offer Design and Base Management Manager

What makes Seattle such a great place to earn an MBA? With the company headquarters of Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Costco and others, Seattle is a big business and technology hub. Studying on a campus that’s completely immersed in the city is an opportunity to develop your network while still at school and to access world-class industry-leading professionals as teachers and mentors.

Seattle also boasts a great standard of living and a diverse vibrant community. Home of the modern coffee revolution, birthplace of era-defining music genres, and location of beautiful natural landmarks, the city will always have something to offer in terms of activities and culture while studying your masters. This will be the perfect inspiration to power through your MBA journey whether while optimizing your resume, studying for a final or preparing for an internship interview.

Aside from your location and classmates, what was the key part of Washington Foster’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? As an industry changer, a very important part of an MBA for me is developing a network in my target industry. Foster has a very acclaimed Mentoring Program that pairs full-time working professionals with students who want to enter their industry. This structured approach to professional one-on-one development and networking is a great asset when familiarizing yourself with the industry inner workings and when applying to internships and full-time positions.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Washington Foster? I’m super excited about joining Foster Technology Club. Pursuing an MBA in the middle of a tech hub is an excellent opportunity to grow roots into the industry and to prepare for my transition into it. The Foster Technology Club is in touch with the local tech community and provides members with educational, networking and growth opportunities like workshops, company visits, alumni introductions, and hackathons.

Washington Foster operates off a philosophy of We>Me. Give us an example of how you’ve incorporated that approach in your career? The era of big solo inventors that change the world is over. The big things that were achievable by one person in a lab or workshop have been done. This century’s problems are so vast and complex that they require a big group of collaborators, each contributing with their specialty, to arrive at a solution or invention that has world-reach. In this context is that “We>Me” becomes ever more relevant.

I have incorporated this philosophy by always leading with a vision that takes the whole team into account when making a decision. How can we break this project into parts that can later be assigned to the right person so they can shine? What are our gaps and how can we bridge them? Do we have enough resources to succeed? How do we fit as a team and how can we improve? All these are questions that when asked in the right environment lead to better outcomes for all team members and give us the opportunity to achieve something great.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Some years ago, I was part of the team that led, after an acquisition, the synergies and efficiencies efforts. This type of task is always a challenge as it involves not only capital and business re-structuring, but also an organizational one. I’m very proud of how we handled the project. In the end, we were able to achieve all the financial objectives while also implementing change management that minimized disruptions to the people involved as they were able to transition into the new intended roles.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? The pandemic has been a once-in-a-lifetime event with many repercussions on all fronts. For me specifically, it has shined light into the great role that technology can play in keeping us safe and the immense potential it has for mobility of human capital. Knowing for a fact that the future of work is more mobile and independent has opened up many possibilities in terms of career paths and personal decisions.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? I have loved technology since the first time I held an electronic device. For me, an MBA is the bridge that will allow me to cross into this industry and make a career in the field I’m passionate for. My post-MBA goals are to become a Product Manager in the technology sector.

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Washington Foster’s MBA program? Do your research! You have to have crystal clear why you’re doing an MBA and why Foster is the right place for you. Don’t merely apply based on rankings. Ask yourself “is this the right program for me? Why? What’s special here?” Just answering those questions is half the job for both making the right decision and getting in.


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