Poets & Quants | Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Harshita Pilla, University of Michigan (Ross)

“Amateur brewer and aspiring developer of affordable housing.”

residence: Dallas, Texas

Fun fact about yourself: I have taken cooking classes in eight countries and my last class in Spain taught me how to make a delicious paella!

Undergraduate School and Major: University of California Berkeley – Civil Engineering

Most recent employer and job title: Virtual Design & Construction Lead, WeWork

Apart from your classmates, what was the most important part of the school’s MBA programming that made you choose this business school and why was it so important to you? It’s probably no surprise that I will list a fantastic action-oriented learning curriculum, and MAP in particular, as one of the main factors that led to my decision to choose Ross. I learn best through practice, and there is no shortage of opportunities at Ross to gain practical experience. In addition, as a dual-degree student, it was critical for me to choose a business school that not only valued, but also prioritized an interdisciplinary approach to learning. I met the greatest number of dual degree MBA students on a visit to Ross, and hearing their experiences of feeling genuine support from both the business program and the larger university ultimately confirmed my decision.

What club or activity do you like best at this school? Professionally, I am interested in combining my interests in urban studies and business by joining the Detroit Revitalization and Business Initiative and the Smart Cities club. Personally, I am delighted to join Maize & Brew and meet other beer enthusiasts!

What makes you most excited about getting your MBA at Ross? What makes you most nervous about starting a business school? Even before I started business school, I had the opportunity to tap into Ross’s wonderful community. In response to the recent and tragic deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, I helped lead a fundraiser for Color of Change (and raised over $ 68,000!) With current and incoming MBA students across the country. During this process, I saw firsthand how quickly my colleagues at Ross are mobilizing to achieve a greater goal. I’m really looking forward to tackling these big issues together with the greater Ross community.

I’m the most nervous about time management when it comes to starting a business school – it seems there isn’t enough time in the day for all the things I’d like to be involved in!

Describe your greatest achievement in your career to date: In one of the projects I worked on during my time at Skanska (a large general contractor), my direct manager was suddenly called in to be deployed by the Air Force. Within a few weeks, I temporarily assumed her role, leading a team of 40 for the next five months. I was the only woman on the team and then 23 years old. Although that was a few years ago, I am still extremely proud of how I handled that situation by quickly taking responsibility and keeping the project on track despite my limited construction management experience. As a (fairly rare) young woman of color in construction it was also an achievement to earn the respect of my established male colleagues for my leadership.

What prompted you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? During my career, I have had the unique opportunity to work as and alongside engineers, contractors and designers, gaining valuable insight into the mechanics of bringing development projects to life. In conjunction with my master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning, I am now looking for an MBA to expand in areas that I am less familiar with, such as real estate finance, business strategy and product management. My long-term goal is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the development cycle and strategy behind innovative solutions to the affordable housing shortage that we have in this country.

What other MBA programs have you enrolled in? Wharton, MIT Sloan, UCLA Anderson, UNC Kenan-Flagler

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admission process? My interviewer asked me to tell him about a time when I failed, and how that failure explicitly led to success later in my life. I had never heard this question be so structured. While it took me by surprise at the time, I appreciate how the question clearly links success and failure.

What did you do to prepare for business school? With COVID-19 shutting down travel plans, I’ve spent some much-needed time with my family in Texas, after being in the Bay Area for eight years. Soaking up this downtime, along with checking out a few courses online, has given me the respite I needed before jumping into a freshman MBA student’s hectic schedule for the first time. I am very grateful to be with my family for school during this time and in good health!

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? My first role outside of college was to advise a major California developer on a $ 9 billion mixed-use project aimed at revitalizing San Francisco’s historically low-income neighborhoods. At a particularly heated community gathering, I witnessed firsthand the shortcuts that developers (my client) were taking to pursue revenue – all under the guise of “urban renewal”. Hearing community members shared their fear of skyrocketing rent and community exclusion as a result of our redevelopment plans made me realize I was on the wrong side of the table. I realized that eventually I needed to transition to a more community-based role to have a voice in these crucial early conversations. This moment eventually sparked my interest in attending business school and prepared me to face difficult conversations in the future.

What is your favorite company and what can business students learn from it? While no company is perfect, I’ve been a pretty big fan of Nike over the years. I really admire Nike’s use of its platform to take a stand on important social issues. It not only demonstrates the company’s conviction during controversies (eg Colin Kaepernick), but also helps create a strong brand that people are proud to support. However, with less than 15% diversity on the board, it is clear that there is still work to be done.


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