2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Kevin Tareq Ortiz Perez, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Kevin Tareq Ortiz Perez

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

“Enthusiastic first-generation college student aspiring to be a positive force in the lives of others.”

Hometown: Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, México and Orlando, Florida

Fun fact about yourself: In 2022, I visited the White House and the United Nations HQ for the first time. Also, I can cook an amazing Mexican Mole – you must try it!

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Central Florida, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, finance major and Latin American Studies minor

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school?  Truist Leadership Institute, Senior Leadership Development Instructor

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Prudential Financial, Newark, New Jersey

Where will you be working after graduation? Bank of America, Global HR Development Program, New York, New York

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • President, Latin American Business Association
  • Co-creator and facilitator, LIDER: Carolina Leadership Institute
  • Board President, Hispanic – 501(c)(3)
  • Facilitator, LOFT Leadership Institute Hispanic Heritage Foundation
  • Student Ambassador, MBA Admissions
  • Legacy Rep, Full-Time MBA Program

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? In July 2022, we launched LIDER: Carolina Leadership Institute, a partnership between the Carolina Latinx Center and UNC Kenan-Flagler’s DEI office. Its purpose is to inspire and build the next generation of Latino leaders in North Carolina. Throughout of the 2022-2023 academic year,16 LIDER Fellows participated in four sessions focused on fellowship building, leadership development, and community engagement. The students come from UNC Chapel-Hill, NC State, UNC-Greensboro, and Wake Tech. The curriculum blends principles of conscious leadership while driving home the power of the Latino identity in leadership roles.

Back in 2018, I was selected to be part of the Dream Lead Institute, a year-long leadership developing fellowship from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation and Trinity University. The experience as a Dream Lead fellow was life-changing. While it was world-class, the cohort of 30 young DACA professionals made the most impact in my leadership, my career, and my life. Coming to Carolina, I dreamed of creating a similar experience for Latinx undergraduate students and UNC Kenan-Flagler allowed me to develop the right partnerships to make the dream a reality.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Honestly, getting accepted to UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School as a Vettor Dean’s Fellow was my proudest professional achievement! More than being accepted, I am proud my bias towards action was clear in my application which led to my admission.

I am the first in my family to graduate from college and I am a Dreamer protected under the DACA program. When I moved to Greensboro to start my career at Truist, I didn’t have any family, friends or colleagues who I could lean on. Almost three years later, I was recognized by the Triad Business Journal 20 in their 20s. No one earns this recognition alone. This is why I am proud of the network of friends, mentors and leaders I built and have been able to call on at any point for support.

In November 2020, I shared the 20 in their 20s announcement with my mother. She said, “I guess it was worth it.” Confused, I ask her, “What was worth it”? She said, “It was worth it coming to the United States.” That’s when I knew that no achievement could ever top my mother’s validation of our family’s journey. At that moment, the need for achievements as a way of validating my family’s journey was met. I was set free from an accomplishment-focused mindset. I now aspire to be a purpose-driven leader hoping to be a positive force in the lives of others.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Carolina because of two things: The Carolina Latinx Center and UNC Kenan-Flagler’s commitment to inclusion. While working at Truist Leadership Institute, I developed a philanthropic partnership with the Carolina Latinx Center. To me, the Latinx Center is a little “casita” where Latinx students can feel at home and free to be themselves. Knowing that Carolina was the only institution in the state with a space like this for Latinx students, I elevated it to my top choice for an MBA.

Beyond the Latinx Center, a few of my coworkers at Truist earned their MBA from UNC Kenan-Flagler and they encouraged me to consider the school. At the time, UNC Kenan-Flagler was developing more meaningful inclusion initiatives and this work continues today. I saw this as an opportunity to be part of the program’s change and support future Hispanic and Latino leaders in the state. I saw the opportunity for LIDER to be created. There is more work to be done and the road ahead is challenging, but together we can achieve more. I look forward to serving more inclusion initiatives at UNC as an alumnus.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Judy Tisdale is the best in-class instructor and facilitator at UNC Kenan-Flagler. Given my previous background facilitating leadership development programs in classrooms across the U.S., I was immediately impressed by Judy’s ability to understand and command the MBA classroom. I’ve taken her Management Communications Skills class as well as her Communications for Developing Leaders class. During and after each class, I learned a new communication skill that I could immediately use in my facilitation of board meetings and one-on-one conversations.

During her Communications for Developing Leaders class, we simulated a board meeting with the entire class. At the time, I was serving as the board chair of the Hispanic League. More than once, I would leave her class and jump into a committee meeting or board meeting where I would practice something I learned in class that morning. Judy practices what she teaches, provides constant feedback, and shows unique care for her students.

Because of this, I invited Judy to engage with the LIDER Fellows in January 2023. The fellows practiced their communication by recording themselves with their phones and then observing themselves before giving it another recording a go. The immediate improvement was evident, and the fellows shared that the session was one of their favorites. UNC Kenan-Flagler is lucky to have Judy within our ranks.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school?  To commemorate the start of Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM), the Latin American Business Association hosted the opening ceremony of Hispanic Heritage Month. Knowing that this was the first time that the business school hosted an opening ceremony for HHM, it needed to symbolize a moment of unity for UNC Kenan-Flagler. In the spirit of inclusion, I advocated for all UNC Kenan-Flagler students to be invited to the celebration. This included undergraduate business students as well as students from Master of Accounting Program, PhD program and other MBA programs. I was inspired seeing see the “papel picado” all around the McColl courtyard while a mariachi band serenaded the attendees. It felt like a true “Carnaval del Barrio.” The full-time MBA office and the Latinx Center were present and shared a few words about the importance of celebrating the heritage of our Hispanic and Latino members of the greater UNC Kenan-Flagler community.

The event was a success because of partnerships developed to ensure its execution. The Investment Banking Club reached out and covered the cost of the mariachi band. Arts Everywhere, a local non-profit in the Chapel-Hill area, donated canvases, pots and paint for students to decorate them. The MBA Student Association and LATAM catered “pupusas” from an El Salvadorian restaurant. We also brought in “agua fresca” from another Hispanic-owned restaurant. There was a small dance competition, and the winners were awarded gift cards for the school store. This is a tradition that I hope continues every year moving forward.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? The one thing I would have done differently is to spend a semester abroad. Part of the reason I wanted to do an MBA was to travel for academic purposes. I tried to study abroad when I was completing my undergraduate degree at UCF, but my plans were canceled mostly because of the uncertain environment around DACA in 2017. While at UNC, I did take advantage of UNC Kenan-Flagler global programs in Iceland and Rwanda and spent seven days traveling with my cohorts. However, spending two or three months studying in Europe or Latin America would have made my MBA experience truly unforgettable.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Less than a myth, it’s a tradition. At the beginning of each school year, students at UNC are encouraged to “drink from the Old Well” to receive good luck for the new year. The “Old Well” is the most iconic place at the university. You can see it all over the school’s marketing and logos.

However, I have yet to drink from the well. From the beginning, I have struggled to identify as a Tar Heel. I am not superstitious, but I acknowledge the history of Carolina, the oldest public university in the United States. The university has not always been representative of the Hispanic and Black student experience. I knew that I wanted to be part of the shift in the school’s culture. Therefore, I avoided taking part in the tradition.

If I were ever to drink from the Old Well, it would be in celebration of the legacy of those who came to UNC to build a bigger and more inclusive space for everyone at the university. I do plan to drink from it on April 1, 2023. This will mark the graduation event for the LIDER Fellows. I envision my first time drinking from the Old Well to be symbolic of a new identity and legacy at UNC.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? One of my favorite things about the Research Triangle area is the social dancing scene. There are various places where I can spend the evening dancing salsa, bachata, and merengue. As an Orlando resident, moving to North Carolina was a big change. I didn’t have a community in the area. Thankfully, the salsa social dancing scene in Greensboro allowed me to make friends that I now consider my family. When I moved to Chapel Hill to attend UNC Kenan-Flagler, I was quick to start my search for the social dancing scene. I am extremely happy to have found a place for dancing in Chapel Hill. Going dancing once a month became one of my favorite things to do. To entice my classmates to join me, I started teaching basic salsa classes at the business school. Then, I would make sure I’d dance with my classmates to give them practice. If one day I write my leadership book, it will be about the connection between social dancing and leadership. In both cases, the leader is constantly sending signals that communicate the follower where to go next.

What surprised you the most about business school? I’m most surprised about the intentional focus on Sustainable enterprise and responsible leadership. During my first year at Carolina, I attended the Careers with Impact Forum organized by the Net Impact Club. The conference allowed me to see the critical role enterprises in environmental and societal good. It also inspired me to add the sustainable enterprise concentration to my MBA experience. During my Strategy and Sustainability class, concepts such as ESG, net-zero and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals clicked for me. I learned about the SDGs a few years back thanks to my connections with the We Are All Human Foundation and the Hispanic Promise. I was part of the Truist team that influenced Truist to sign the Hispanic Promise in 2021. As a result, my personal story and work within the Hispanic community was featured in the foundation’s “Hispanic Stars Rising Volume II: The New Face of Power.” I’ll always remember Professor Olga Hawn told me “You already have a good sense for the “S” in ESG. If you work on the E, you’ll be a well-rounded ESG business professional.” Topics in organizational behavior and leadership have always inspired me. Now I live at the intersection between leadership and sustainability.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I had a vision for what my impact at UNC would be. While I was excited for the academics and the career opportunities that would appear, my purpose at Carolina was to create an environment that represented, prepared and celebrate the Hispanic and Latin American students.

I was honest and straightforward about my interest during the recruiting process. At first, I only applied to UNC, praying for a full scholarship. As a first-generation student, the son of immigrants and a DACA recipient, paying the out-of-state tuition fee at Carolina sounded ludicrous. It was bittersweet getting the acceptance letter. I was stoked to have “made it.” Yet, I was worried about how I was going to pay for it. The financial support promised was not what I was expecting. I considered the Evening Executive MBA Program to help offset the cost by continuing earn a living. To expand my options, I applied and was accepted to Emory’s evening MBA program. UNC graciously accepted me into their Evening MBA program as well. However, if I chose the Full-Time MBA program, they’d offer me a full-tuition as well as the Vetter Dean’s Fellowship. It was hard to say no.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? 

One of the most impressive MBA classmates is Claire Barnett (MBA ’23). From the moment I met Claire during our Inclusive Leadership class, I knew she was a powerhouse advocate and ally for diversity and inclusion. She started the Carolina Disability Alliance, a new diversity club at UNC Kenan-Flagler advocating for the inclusion and awareness of disability issues. Throughout the past two years, the CDA has hosted multiple events such as “The Amazing Accessible Race,” American Sign Language classes and “Dinner in the Dark” events to develop perspective about the issues faced by the blind. The club’s biggest accomplishment is the Empwr Disability Recruiting Conference in North Carolina in November of 2022. Claire worked relentlessly to secure multiple funding sources to make this conference a true success – the first of its kind.

In addition to her incredible leadership work, she was my project lead during the STAR program, our student consulting experience for MBA and undergraduate students. I continue to be impressed by her energetic, enthusiastic, and relentless drive. When I’m not sure where to go next, sometimes I ask myself, what would Claire do right now? Boston Consulting Group is getting a great one

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

  • To be on a paid corporate board focused on environmental and social initiatives.
  • To work in Europe or Latin America. I consider myself a global citizen. To see the world is my new dream, and the dream is now.

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

“Kevin Ortiz is an exemplary student leader in our Class of 2023. In fact, Kevin stands out as the greatest leader and change agent that I have met in my 13 years as a professor at UNC Kenan-Flagler. There are many reasons why Kevin is deserving of this award, but I can sum it up with the concept of legacy. Kevin has changed UNC Kenan-Flagler for the better and his efforts have become a part of our culture and trajectory. He is a change agent who has a proactive approach to his environment and pushes on systems that can be improved, while also pulling those who want to help in the right direction. When he sees a problem, he fixes it. When he finds an opportunity to contribute to creating a culture of inclusion and belonging that students can thrive in, he takes it. Kevin has had impact. This is one of the promising signs of great leadership potential. Kevin has a bias to action and UNC Kenan-Flagler is better for it.

My interactions with Kevin have been in the context of his role and mine. I am the Director of Academic Leadership, as well as the Area Chair of Organizational Behavior. In my role, I teach MBA students like Kevin, and I also advocate for Leadership Development. This is what Kevin and I have found synergy on. To be clear: Kevin does not have a formal obligation to help Kenan-Flagler with leadership development, but he does so because he sees the value of this for others. He is a person who cares very deeply about his context and wants to lift all boats for the student body for whom he generously takes responsibility. I have never met an MBA student as proactive or effective as Kevin has been in his drive to enhance the culture of leadership, inclusion, belonging, and integrity in our school.

The list of discretionary proactive activities that Kevin has engaged in is incredible. He developed a partnership with Truist Leadership Institute, the KFBS organizational behavior department, and the applied leader’s class to certify students with the Truist Emerging Leaders Certification. He organized two events for leadership and identity to educate the KFBS community on Latinx issues and leadership perspectives. Throughout the school year, hosted and taught various social dancing classes at McColl. He is the president of Latin American Business Association and organized two events during Cinco de Mayo. He served as a Legacy Rep with the Full-Time MBA Program office. He co-created Lider: Carolina Leadership Institute in partnership with the UNC Kenan-Flagler DEI Office and the Latinx Center. He received the first-year Core Value Award for Impact at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Though this list is impressive objectively, the impact of Kevin’s hard work and leadership is intangible. He has worked with his fellow students to drive towards a vision, and he has brought me along for the ride. He and I have met several times about leadership development and he is willing to help, he offers suggestions, and he negotiates with me on behalf of the overarching goal of improving student outcomes and culture. This has proved effective. He has put together events that I have approved for funding because I believe in him. He has earned my trust. I truly believe that our culture is changing – becoming more inclusive, more friendly, more supportive of differences, and thus becoming more resilient as a result of Kevin’s leadership.

In sum, Kevin Ortiz is a difference maker. His enthusiasm and passion for leadership development and generating a culture of belonging and inclusion, and school cultural improvement is paired with a belief that he has the ability to change his environment for the better. He sets goals and accomplishes them. He pushes the system for change and gets results. My job, our culture, our school are all better because of Kevin. Any organization that Kevin is a part of will flourish and thrive to the extent that they give him responsibility. He will lift others up wherever his career takes him, and I appreciate that he has done so here at UNC Kenan-Flagler. Kevin is a role model and someone who I proudly claim as a representative of UNC Kenan-Flagler.”

Mike Christian
Professor of Organizational Behavior, Bell Distinguished Scholar and Area Chair of Organizational Behavior

“The impact Kevin has had on the school as a whole has been tremendous. I’ve watched the changes over the last two years and it is remarkable. When Kevin decided to join our program, he committed to making a difference and giving back. He has done that in ways that no other student I have worked with has been able to do.

Visibility and excitement for the Latin American Business Student Association under Kevin has been fantastic. I have spoken to several prospective students who are considering Carolina because of Kevin.

He has built partnerships across campus. His connection to the Carolina LatinX Center and joining forces has been notable. It provides resources, partnership and visibility.

His transparency is notable. His story is compelling and his willingness to share draws people in and makes them feel welcome too, regardless of their backgrounds.

People want to help Kevin. He is persistent, but also professional and has clear goals. He makes things happen. Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month was a perfect example this year. He said it would happen and it did.

Kevin’s leadership style is effective. He understands the nuances and the challenges and works within the system, which is not easy to do. He doesn’t get frustrated (well, maybe he does, but he doesn’t show it) but rather continues to build relationships and prove his commitment. Finally, he secures the legacy and passes the torch so the work continues. There is no ego. I cannot stress enough how effective this is in this setting.”

Sarah Perez
Associate Dean of MBA Programs and Executive Director of Admissions and Student Recruitment​


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