Meet the MBA Class of 2023: Joe Castro, University of Washington (Foster)

Joe Castro

University of Washington, Foster School of Business

“History buff with a passion for soccer and outdoor activities.”

Hometown: Tampa, FL

Fun Fact About Yourself: I can navigate a ship around the world using only the sun and the stars.

Undergraduate School and Major: U.S. Merchant Marine Academy – Supply Chain Management

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: U.S. Coast Guard, Lieutenant

What makes Seattle such a great place to earn an MBA? There are three main reasons. First, we enjoy home field advantage for recruiting and real-time projects with the world’s leading companies and nonprofits. This advantage is further amplified by the fact that Foster competes with no other top-20 MBA program in Seattle, which is unusual for most major cities. Second, we enjoy a door-to-trailhead time under 1 hour, have the best coffee shops on earth, and are home to a panoply of craft breweries and wineries. Third, the UW campus is objectively stunning, creating an excellent learning environment. Combined, this offers the perfect blend of experiential, lifestyle, and academic experiences that make an MBA so transformative.

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? Values and mentorship. Elite MBA programs are fast-paced environments that focus largely on the “what,” which can overshadow the “why.” Not at Foster. They engineer the entire MBA experience to get us all closer to our “why.” I think we all reach a point in life where we prefer quality over quantity in our relationships. Foster’s smaller class size guarantees these special relationships with both mentors and classmates.

On the values side, I wanted to be inculcated in an environment that was committed to asking better questions and learning from those who experienced life in a different way. Dean Frank Hodge has electrified the program with a growth mindset that proactively challenges the status quo with diversity and new ideas. During core term, the energy and unique lens with which Thomas Gilbert teaches finance reflects the challenge-your-assumptions tone set by Dean Hodge and the entire UW community. On the mentorship side, for a career changer like me, access to the C-Suite through local industry executives made the executive mentorship program stand out in stark contrast with other elite MBA programs. Having their insight provides much needed clarity as we navigate this nebulous transition.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Washington Foster? Challenge For Charity (C4C). It combines my passions for community service, competition, and school spirit. C4C offers a wonderful outlet to leverage our Type-A personalities for good. For the past three years, Foster has won the golden briefcase over the other West Coast MBAs, so I intend to go down to Palo Alto and secure our fourth!

Washington Foster operates off a philosophy of We>Me. Give us an example of how you’ve incorporated that approach in your career? I take UW’s mantra of “lift others as we climb” very seriously. That’s what leadership is: creating other leaders, not other followers. For me, that means creating new opportunities for others to excel, especially for the historically underserved.

For example, my own career began with an opportunity – a soccer scholarship at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. When I returned to my alma mater as a faculty member in 2016, there was no women’s NCAA soccer program, despite being the #1 popular sport for women in America. So, in my spare time, I convinced others to help me build a program out of thin air. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Transportation rewarded our efforts with an official NCAA designation, creating over $3M in annual scholarships. In other words, we recreated the very opportunity that spawned my own career. For those young women who blazed that trail with me, they now have operational experience with we>me which can help them with future initiatives. They also learned that by taking this approach in the workplace, high-growth and high-impact opportunities will magically reveal themselves more often. It’s a win-win for everybody.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: While successfully completing the missions expected of me by the taxpayers, I was privileged to work alongside so many selfless, intelligent, and dutiful servant leaders in the U.S. Coast Guard. So, my biggest accomplishment was building a PRODEV club and global internship program, which produced 88 of these leaders before I left office (and another 5 after I left). Throughout my career, I had the privilege of leading outstanding team-oriented successes during external operations like Hurricane Sandy in NYC. However, nothing compared to the impact and satisfaction I felt by molding, mentoring, and passing the baton to the capable hands of America’s next generation of leaders. Seeing them succeed means everything to me. They are always in my thoughts.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? For many years, I mistakenly believed that I had to fit the archetype of what success looked like in order to be successful; I had to put my head down and “play the game” because “that’s the way the world works.” COVID-19 made it clear that life is all about decisions, and most importantly, the underlying values that inform those decisions. It also taught me that institutions get the behaviors that they reward. By 2018, I was already questioning a lot of my own assumptions. I was living in NYC, jaded by a culture that valued the superficial far too much and seemed content to turn a blind eye to the plight of everyday people. This did not compute with a 1st generation American who grew up with food and housing insecurity.

COVID-19 gave me the space I needed to decisively abandon that limiting mindset in order to pursue what was most important to me. After the racial reckoning that followed the murder of George Floyd, I drew a line in the sand. Cutting ties with people and activities that did not contribute to a growth mindset freed up a lot of time to become more intentional and strategic about my life – why was I getting an MBA in the first place? To what end? Equally, I reflected on how much of my success, dating back to childhood, was attributed to resilience. Mistakes were my tuition – a learning requirement – on how to do things right. In cultures where a fear of failure presides, innovation and personal growth are impaired because everyone is afraid to make a mistake. This drew me to the West Coast business culture, and naturally to Foster. I joined the military in the first place because I wanted to push myself to a higher standard and lead a life of impact. I can confidently say that my life is continuing in that direction thanks to the opportunities afforded to me by a Consortium Fellowship through the Foster School of Business.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? My ambition to get an MBA mirrors the same motivations that drew me to the military: a passion for community, lightening the burden of others, and solving big problems. For years, I wrestled with the decision to leave such a benevolent organization. With the hindsight of a decade’s experience in the military — and the satisfaction of the impact I delivered — I ultimately decided that an MBA was the right move for me. The inspiration I drew came from studying the work of famous athletes, business titans, and ex-presidents. They all share a common thread: all of them took the road less traveled and all are “knowledge pigs.” When Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, Tom Brady, Barack Obama, or Ray Dalio takes interest in a subject, they go down the rabbit hole – and I cannot emphasize this enough – they do so with an open mind. This mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE) approach is a natural inclination for me too. To extend my MBA education and feed that curiosity, I hope to work as a strategy consultant or as a PM at a big tech or biotech firm. Strategy consultants and biotech companies are solving the world’s biggest challenges, so that’s where I want to earn my stripes post-MBA.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Michigan Ross, Dartmouth Tuck, Carnegie Mellon Tepper, UVA Darden

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Washington Foster’s MBA program? Be relentless about networking with the Foster community, with admissions, current students, and alumni working at the companies that interest you most. Also, be yourself. Be authentic. Foster is a small cohort, so each student constitutes a larger overall percentage of the class mosaic compared to other programs. You want your uniqueness to shine through during the application. Doing so gives admissions more to work with when they assess how you will impact the overall composition of the class. Just go for it!


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