2023 MBA To Watch: José Mario Peña, University of Washington (Foster)

José Mario Peña

University of Washington, Foster School of Business

“Business enthusiast, tech lover, straight-forward, wonderer, wanderer, tinkerer.”

Hometown: San Salvador, El Salvador

Fun fact about yourself: I love Pixar movies and my favorite is Wall-E. I love that the first 30 minutes have no dialogue and yet are top-tier storytelling.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

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

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

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school?

Tigo (NASDAQ:TIGO): Offer Design and Base Management Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? McKinsey & Company, Seattle

Where will you be working after graduation? McKinsey & Company, Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Community Work:

  • VP of University Relations, Prospanica Seattle Chapter

Business School Leadership Roles/Awards:

  • VP of International Affairs, MBA Association
  • VP of Professional Development, Global Business Association
  • Services & Activities Fee Committee Representative, Graduate & Professional Student Senate
  • Dean’s Merit Fellowship | Robert and Kathy Trimble Scholarship
  • Dean’s List

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m extremely proud of the work I have done as a VP of International Affairs for the MBA Association. We believe that a lot of the strength of our student community comes from our diversity. In this role, I have helped to provide spaces in which we can celebrate varied cultures. We celebrate many international events and holidays such as Diwali, Lunar New Year, and the Latin Carnival. The objective is to facilitate cultural exchange among the many represented cultures in our cohort and to have fun while at it.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Early in my career, I was working for a company that got acquired and I was part of the team that lead the synergies and efficiencies implementation within the commercial team. Working on post-merger synergies is disruptive by nature, as it involves re-thinking capital allocation and processes. Most importantly, it normally involves organizational re-structuring.

I’m proud of how we balanced the project requirements for my team in terms of efficiency and cost reductions while also being empathetic to the people involved. In the end, we were able to achieve all financial objectives while also implementing some change management that minimized disruptions to the people involved as they were able to transition into new roles within the firm.

Why did you choose this business school? Foster’s reputation for a very close-knit community.

Foster’s MBA is deliberately small at 100-120 students per year. This means that, by the end of your first quarter, you know everyone’s name and something about their life. With just two sections that re-shuffle every quarter and assignment groups that are hand-made by faculty, you’re bound to have many opportunities to get to know your cohort and learn from their diverse set of experiences.

I knew I wanted to have a deep connection with my classmates since I wasn’t just looking for a professional network, I was looking to develop authentic friendships for life. This class size and format allowed for what I was looking to get out of my MBA experience.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Simha Mummalaneni.

While we have many faculty members that are incredible and great experts in their fields, I must say that Professor Mummalaneni is an especially good professor. His data science class in “Customer Analytics” deals with customer lifecycle management in a very engaging and hands-on way. The techniques learned are the gold standard in all the tech companies right in our backyard in Seattle. Plus, all his examples and cases are based on real-world scenarios so the applicability of what you learn is evident. Not to mention his style, which I would describe as geek-suave, keeps you interested and engaged even in the densest of topics.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Foster has a reputation for being a “Tech School”, meaning a business school for people wanting to go into the tech industry. And while it is true that the school places a high percentage of students in the tech field (this is Seattle after all), the education we receive is a general MBA that you can make your own and use to get into many different industries. Consulting and finance are great options with 33% and 15% percent of last year’s class going into those industries respectively.

What surprised you the most about business school? How in control you are of your own experience.

This is a “make it your own” adventure. While there is a core set of subjects that everyone must take, most of the program is elective or project-based. I was able to explore my interest in analytics and data science through various specialized electives, dabble in finance subjects, work with companies like Microsoft on projects, and make my own Independent Study time alongside a faculty advisor. On top of this, I was able to engage with the local startup scene and network within target industries.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I would advise any student applying to Foster to apply with intent. That is, do real research on what sets Foster apart and if you like what you see, then apply. Having a very clear vision of what I wanted to do with my degree and how Foster would help me get there was, I think, something that came through on my application and interview. This helped me convey my message to the admission committee and probably helped with a favorable decision.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Cynthia Vargas for her incredible energy and leadership as president of the Global Business Association, always looking to build connections between the world and Foster. She’s such a great community leader that has spearheaded initiatives to make Foster a truly inclusive place for all students and a fun and cultural experience for all. Always with a positive attitude and a smile on her face, she’s someone you always want to hang out with.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Professionally I’m interested in creating, building, and growing. Therefore, I’m naturally attracted to entrepreneurship, so one thing that is top of the list would be to start a company and grow it internationally.

The second item would be to lead a buy-side M&A effort. I think that the M&A space is incredibly interesting and that there are several companies that could work better together under one roof. Having experienced being on a sell-side transaction as a general manager, I think I can bring perspective to the table and help make transitions better.

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

“Jose Mario has been an amazing contributor to the Foster community and beyond since he arrived in Seattle to start his MBA. His entry as an International student from El Salvador and deep interest in other cultures moved him to serve as Vice President of International Affairs to support other International students in their acculturation to the US. His role has been instrumental in increasing cultural awareness and integration in our program.

The cultural events he has spearheaded in his VP role have been a highlight of the student experience this year, with the usual TG gatherings focused now on Diwali, Lunar New Year, Holi, Carnival, etc. – each bringing informational programming, food, dance, performances and good cheer.

His work with the professionally oriented student club, the Global Business Association, created speaker panel events and a more informal Spanish language practice group ranging from beginner to advanced for 30-40 of his peers on any occasion.

As a warm and engaged student, his contribution to the education of others is manifest in his classroom discussions, his engaging conversations on topics of international business, and is evidenced in his regular result on the Dean’s List for top grades. Drawing on his work in InBev and a telecom company in El Salvador prior to his MBA, and experiential learning projects with Microsoft and Talking Rain during the program, he now plans to join McKinsey this summer.

On the London study tour I led, I had the benefit of getting to know Jose Mario as a deeply insightful person with a fresh curiosity and an informed perspective beyond his years. As the only Full-time MBA student on the tour, he easily developed friendships with the Evening MBA students and served as an ambassador of the value of study tours to the Full-time MBA program – our offerings this year ran waitlist due to his promotion of these experiences.

Jose Mario’s contributions were not just to the student experience and academics at Foster, he has made an impact at the University and in the local community. As a Graduate and Professional Student Senate member – serving in the role of Student Representative, he works with a committee for 2 hours each Friday to manage a multi-million-dollar student-fee generated budget that funds 13 facilities supporting students, and hears proposals from the student body requesting funds for their initiatives. Additionally, he serves as a Board Member of Prospanica, leading the Seattle Chapter of this Global Hispanic MBA association. This groups hosts social and professional development events each month to support Hispanic MBA students.

Beyond his many contributions, Jose Mario is a fun, empathetic connector – he makes people feel at ease and helps them feel a sense of belonging in a group. I have no doubt he will achieve great things by bringing people together from different backgrounds and drawing them into conversations and projects that create deep insights and lasting value for organizations and communities.”

Wendy Guild, Ph.D.
Assistant Dean of MBA Programs
Adjunct Management Faculty


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