2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Harshita Pilla, University of Michigan (Ross)

Harshita Pilla

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

“A serial hobbyist striving to build and uplift diverse communities.”

Hometown: Dallas, TX

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve been an at-home beer brewer for over 6 years!

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of California, Berkeley – B.S. in Civil Engineering

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Construction Technology Lead, WeWork

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Starbucks Coffee Company in Seattle, WA. I interned with Starbucks on their Global Strategy team for both of my graduate summer internships, as a dual MBA/MUrP degree student.

Where will you be working after graduation? Starbucks Coffee Company as an Associate Strategy Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: 

  • Section 2 President for the Class of 2022
  • Director of Culture & Recruitment, Ross Social Venture Fund
  • Business + Impact Nonprofit Senior Fellow
  • Business + Impact Nonprofit Board Fellow, Difficult Dialogues National Resource Center
  • VP of Student Life, DEI Committee
  • VP of Alumni Engagement, Entrepreneurship and Venture Club
  • Member, the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management (CGSM)
  • Skip and Carrie Gordon Impact Scholar
  • Student Ambassador

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Prior to starting my dual degree program in Fall of 2020, I tapped into the greater MBA community as I launched “MBA Students Care,” a fundraising campaign in response to the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. I led a campaign and experienced the collective power of our MBA community first-hand as we surpassed our initial fundraising goal of $20,000 and raised over $68,000 in a few short weeks. I was proud to represent Ross and the greater University of Michigan community through our contribution to Color of Change, an organization helping to amplify Black voices and fight injustice in our country. It was my first big leadership move as I transitioned into school and set the tone for the type of impact I wanted to make during the next 3 years.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I came to WeWork looking for an opportunity to reimagine the antiquated methods predominantly used in the construction industry. Despite having little background in Building Information Modeling (BIM) prior to the job. Still, I learned quickly and supported the rollout of this technology to nearly 30+ projects across the U.S. during my first year, which resulted in driving significant efficiency for WeWork. My proudest accomplishment came in the development and launch of WeWork’s first comprehensive coordination workflow – which I helped standardize into WeWork’s ‘Project Execution Plan’ and is now in use globally by global development teams. These projects inspired my return to school, as they motivated me to continue my goal of pushing for change and innovation in the construction industry.

Why did you choose this business school? Applying as a dual degree MBA and Urban Planning master’s student, I was particularly interested in MBA programs that offered interdisciplinary opportunities to grow as an impact-driver leader. The Business + Impact Institute at Ross offers unparalleled access to community-oriented programs. They include the first student-led impact investing fund in the country, along with an array of other extremely well-run initiatives for students to broaden their understanding of impact-oriented business.

Engaging with the impact curriculum at Ross led me to join a community with other like-minded students and gain exposure into careers ranging from Venture Capital to Nonprofit to Corporate Strategy. As a 2023 recipient of the Skip and Carrie Gordon Impact scholarship, I was also fortunate enough to receive financial support for my education through the institute as well.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Dr. Andy Hoffman fundamentally changed the way I thought about the intersection of impact, sustainability, and business. His background, as a general contractor and former engineer, resonated with my own experiences, and his focus on purposeful management was inspiring as I navigated a pivot out of my former industry. Beyond classwork, I had also the pleasure of working with Professor Hoffman on publishing a case study on sustainable innovation in residential construction. It was an incredible opportunity to merge my academic interests and professional experiences to produce academic content for future business school classrooms.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Dr. Chris Rider’s Equity Analytics. Professor Rider leverages his background in strategy and data analytics to help students tackle the most difficult cases of inequality. This course struck a balance between equipping students with the right language to discuss issues of equity while also teaching data extraction and interpretation methods to back up their argument. If I could take this class again, I would without hesitation.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? If there’s one thing that Ross is known for, it’s The Bus. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. The Ross Bus is a big yellow school bus that’s parked on a lot during the University of Michigan Football season and serves as the icon of the most outrageous tailgate experience I’ve ever seen. Ross is known to be a big community-oriented school where people equally prioritize working hard and playing hard. This sentiment and sense of community is exemplified during a football Saturday, where our community comes together (regardless of interest in American football) and connects over unwavering school spirit.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Despite starting during the middle of a global pandemic – taking on one too many leadership roles, and completing a dual degree at the same time – I genuinely would not have changed anything about my MBA experience. I’m leaving the MBA with a renewed perspective on business, a new career path, heightened self-confidence, and life-long friends.

What is the biggest myth about your school? People at Ross frequently use the phrase, “Go Blue, Go Anywhere” to describe the support offered by the Michigan Network in finding professional opportunities and building community. This phrase has proven to be true time-and-time again. Michigan alums bend over backwards to uplift each other, and I experienced this support first-hand as I navigated my own career journey from recruiting to my current role at Starbucks. The phrase really is everywhere too: I have yet to wear Michigan gear and not get a “Go Blue” from at least one passerby. It’s a huge testament to our culture and something I’m really proud to be a part of it.

What surprised you the most about business school? Business school attracts a much wider range of students than I originally had thought it would. The wealth of knowledge and experience encapsulated in the classrooms at Ross was unbelievable. While I fully anticipated learning from the coursework and the world-renowned professors at Ross, I was surprised to see how much I had learned from my peers. From students who possessed decades of teaching experience to those who were instrumental in executing some of the biggest financial deals of our time, there were incredible case studies and personal anecdotes that organically arose in conversation and greatly enriched the overall learning environment.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose?  From the very beginning, I was extremely focused on a select set of schools that offered the dual MBA/Master of Urban Planning program. I networked with many dual degree current students and alumni to better understand how to uniquely position myself within the broader applicant pool. Ultimately, I believe that being able to articulate not only how the MBA would help me in business, but also how my time at Ross could support my education and career goals in community development greatly influenced my admission decision.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Mia Farnham is one of the most determined, witty, intelligent, and caring people I have ever met. Not only is she one of my closest friends, she is a force of nature and was a key voice in the Venture Capital & Entrepreneurship community at Ross. Mia somehow worked multiple VC and Startup internships while going to school and serving as a mentor to students aspiring to break into the industry. Despite being exceptionally busy, I never saw her once hesitate to provide support, advice, and time to anyone who asked. She wholeheartedly embodies the Ross culture and I have absolutely no doubt that her intelligence, drive, and attitude will catapult her into incredible success.

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

1. Achieve pay equity and provide salary transparency on the teams I build and manage.

2. Actively help our cities become more accessible, climate resilient, and community-oriented.

What made Harshita such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Harshita has been an incredible addition to the Ross community. She brings a strong and diverse background in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries, where she was exposed to the systemic injustice that disadvantaged communities face and the ways in which the built environment intensifies such conditions. As a member of the class of 2023, Harshita has been a fierce advocate for business as a tool for making a positive difference in the world. Her diverse background experiences, multidisciplinary dual graduate degree, and passion for building inclusive communities make Harshita an incredible classmate and student. She is popular among her peers as a friend, confident, and champion for progress. I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with Harshita on countless events, programs, and courses during her tenure in the MBA program. We are so proud to have her as a future leader and alumna of Ross.”

Haley Phillips
Student Program Manager, Business+Impact Initiative


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