2019 Best EMBAs: Erica Iannotti, Cornell University (Johnson)

Erica Iannotti

Cornell University, Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

“Entrepreneur, investor, and engineer with a passion for helping founders scale up.”

Age: 37

Hometown: Naples, NY

Family Members: Joe (husband), Matt (son, age 13), Kate (daughter, age 8)

Fun fact about yourself: I skydive, whitewater raft, bungee jump, and travel the world. I guess I’m a bit of a thrill seeker!

Undergraduate School and Degree: SUNY Empire State, Technical Leadership

Where are you currently working? New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) as Technology-to-Market Project Manager

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • First place, Cornell Case Competition and Hackathon 2018
  • First place, Shark Tank Startup Competition, 2019
  • Women Entrepreneurs at Cornell, Board of Directors
  • Cornell Big Idea Business Plan Competition Judge
  • Former Board Chair, Tech Valley Center of Gravity (makerspace and business incubator in NY)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Winning the Shark Tank startup competition this year was a huge highlight of my MBA experience. I mentor startup founders and the Shark Tank experience was a great opportunity to get back to basics with customer discovery to uncover a truly great idea. We built an intentionally diverse team in terms of professional background, life experience, and management style, as well as gender and cultural diversity. That diversity made all the difference when it came to truly understanding the problem we undertook, thinking creatively, and driving toward a solution with high-growth potential. Major bragging rights and a shark fin trophy felt great too!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Leaving my stable job at General Electric in 2012 to start my own company was the single biggest risk I’ve taken. I’ve grown so much from that initial leap. No regrets!

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Risa Mish (and several-time winner of P&Q’s Favorite Professors). We’ve had some absolutely mind-blowing professors at Johnson, but Risa fundamentally changed the way I think and how I approach problems. I secretly wish I could hire her to whiteboard problems with me every day at work.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? I have several favorites, but one that I’ve found extremely useful was the Data Analytics course. The main takeaway from class was to consider what resolution of data is needed to make decisions. As business leaders, making decisions is really what we get paid to do. Sometimes the information provided is incomplete and it’s important to consider all the facets before making a decision. Professor Bill Schmidt is a data expert and savvy in business. He is a skilled professor and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from him.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? Cornell’s Ivy League reputation and large alumni network was certainly a factor. More importantly, I wanted a fully in-person, collaborative, team-based program. Cornell Johnson truly nails the aspect of teamwork. I’m a better teammate and boss because of the focus on how to build and cultivate high-performance teams. The Executive MBA program is cohort-based and it truly feels like a family. I believe nearly every Cornell Johnson student would agree. We’re more than high-performance teams, we’re a family.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? After spending more than a decade in industry, it was great to be back to college. The fun, lifelong friendships, growth, and intellectual discourse are the keys to a quality college experience. I have nothing, but great memories!

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? I can’t even count the times that I pushed through a mind-blowing schedule to handle everything on my plate. Just yesterday, I returned from our Global Trek in Israel, hopping off a red-eye to take my two children to doctor’s appointments and my daughter to lacrosse practice, while I multitasked to catch up on work email. Once home, I revised two pitch decks for the office the next morning, made dinner, helped the kids with homework, tucked them in for bedtime, read a case for our next class, caught up with my husband, and crashed. There are times of the year which are insanely busy and periods when you can settle in with a routine. The professors and administrators at Johnson provide a great support system and they understand the fact that we each have a lot to juggle. You learn how to trust your team. For someone who was less than perfect at delegating before business school, I’m much closer to mastering that skill at home, at work, and definitely in school.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? The diversity and career progression of your classmates diverge when every person in your class has 10+ years of industry experience. My Executive MBA classmates were incredibly impressive. You learn just as much from each other as you do from your professors – an Executive MBA program truly delivers on that dimension. You have so much more context and insight from that extra experience than you do as a 20-something MBA, which makes for engaging case discussions. Because you’re working full-time during your EMBA program, you get to apply what you’re learning real-time which provides your employer with immediate ROI.   

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? That everything else in your life takes a backseat to business school. That’s just not true. You learn to work efficiently, to leverage your team’s assets, and to prioritize. Superior time management might be the single most important takeaway from an Executive MBA program.  

What was your biggest regret in business school? Honestly, no regrets. I worked hard. I put myself out there. I grew immensely personally and professionally. I had exactly the experience I’d hoped for.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire my cohort, across the board. One woman in my program is raising four kids and has a C-suite job. There are a few people in my program who travel from several states across the US to be at every class weekend. There have been engagements, weddings, babies, serious family illnesses, promotions, job changes, and even layoffs. Through all of these ups and downs, our cohort has leaned on each other and supported each other. Each person is intelligent, hardworking, and inspires me every day personally and professionally.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized not all lessons have to be learned the hard way. Running a company is hard, but business school gave me a secret playbook – between the classes and the network, I have everything I need to take on my next challenge!”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To launch and scale a high growth startup that makes a positive impact on the world.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Smart, hardworking, and always willing to invest in the development of others. I hope I’ve lived up to those ideals.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Become fluent in another language and to someday write a book.

What made Erica such an invaluable addition to the class of 2019?

“Erica’s drive, enthusiasm, and passion are infectious. She is an ambitious and committed student who left no stone unturned during her time in Cornell’s Executive MBA Metro NY Program. She met every course, every team project, every extra-curricular activity with genuine and deep interest and an abundance of energy. It has been an absolute privilege to work with Erica.”

Joy Dellapina
Executive Director, Cornell Executive MBA Metro NY

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE BEST & BRIGHTEST EXECUTIVE MBAs OF 2019 or RANKING THE BEST EMBA PROGRAMS IN THE U.S.