For the first half of his finance career, Luis Hernán Hormazábal of Peru worked his way up to an associate director at the largest investment bank in Latin America. He was 28, had about eight years of experience under his belt, and faced a decision: Take the logical next step and enroll in a residential full-time MBA program or focus on his own fledgling company.
“My entrepreneurial side won out,” says Hormazábal, CEO of Lambda Capital Advisors which he founded in 2016.
“At that moment, it felt like a very difficult decision. I always wanted that full-time experience, but in the end, I don’t regret it because it allowed me to enjoy the EMBA more.”
AN EMBA FOR ENTREPRENEURS
Six years after founding and growing Lambda – a financial boutique helping mid-market Peruvian companies reach financial markets, bring in new shareholders, and more – he was ready to expand across Latin America. He joined the Executive MBA program at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management largely for what he describes as the school’s entrepreneurial mindset. (Kellogg was ranked the No. 1 EMBA program in the U.S. in Poets&Quants’ most recent ranking.)
He is part of a Class of 2023 EMBA cohort that is 20% international, including 11% from Latin and South America. While much of his class come from more traditional executive MBA backgrounds like marketing and sales, general management, and finance, Hormazábal is among the 3% that identify as entrepreneurs. He and his classmates are constantly brainstorming new business ideas and commiserating what each could bring to a possible venture, he tells Poets&Quants.
While more and more MBA programs are establishing STEM designations, they are rarer for executive MBAs. Kellogg’s announced this fall that its EMBA was STEM designated for the 2022-2023 academic year, a move that Hormazábal pushed for quite vocally. (Kellogg first established a STEM Management Science major in 2019 and approved eligibility for its full-time program during the pandemic.)
Hormazábal recently began his second year in Kellogg’s EMBA. Oh, and he’s also a new father. His daughter was born just a few months after launch week.
In the interview below, Hormazábal tells us how the Kellogg executive MBA can help entrepreneurs further accelerate their ventures, why the STEM designation is so important for international candidates, and how he is managing to balance it all. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about your professional background?
I did all my undergrad in Peru. I got an economics bachelor's with a concentration in finance at the Universidad del Pacífico. That was my starting point to my finance career.
I worked most my life in investment banking for a large Latin American bank, BTG Pactual. After that, in 2016, I started my own company. It was very small at the beginning; I basically approached two former clients to work on some small valuations or corporate restructuring — you know, baby steps. And all of the sudden, I started doing some larger deals with different clients. The word of mouth started growing as I tend to be very close to my clients and form very familiar relationships.
That's basically the way I am in all my life, even with my peers or with the people that work for me. You are here to compliment a team, you're not here to respond to a boss. That's my way of working with my team, and that's been very helpful.
Why did you eventually decide to get an EMBA, rather than a part-time or other type of program?
I chose an EMBA basically to share a classroom with peers rather than students. And that is very powerful. I have been in classes where there is an expert in operations that basically refuted what the professors say. That is actually not normal. I have classes with doctors who can say, "No, this is not how clinics are working, they are working this way and that way."
That is much more powerful than basically sitting in a class where you are taking information and just processing it. At least in my cohort, we're surrounded by CEOs, CFOs, and owners, so it's a different approach. And for me, at this stage of my life, I needed that kind of network rather than the other.
Why did you choose Kellogg?
Kellogg was the one and only university I had in mind for two powerful reasons. The first is, of course, the people. I did some research interviews with top Ivy League universities that were super impressive, but comparing apples to apples, all of them have similar curriculums and academic backgrounds. I was looking for something that was more than just a school. And with my interviews in Kellogg, I felt like the people were more important than the numbers. For me, people are more important than a deal, and when I asked former alumni of Kellogg, they told me that people of Kellogg have become even more close to them than their previous school buddies, or whomever. That was a selling point for me.
The second reason I chose Kellogg was its entrepreneurial mindset. I've been in classes where people in my cohort came to me or I went to them to say, "Do you think this is a good idea to make a business out of it? Do you think we can do something like this?"
That kind of spirit of always thinking about how to make another business is super enrichful. I have been very exposed to that, talking with my classmates about starting different businesses. For example, my classmates have talked about potential financing to Latin Americans who are coming to the U.S. to finance cars. They are like, "I have a background in how to make apps for financing, you have the approach to Latin America. We can band together." While you're having lunch, you're also discussing a potential deal or potential business.
You wrote in a recent LinkedIn post that electives are the way to shape your EMBA experience. What kind of electives are you looking for to shape your entrepreneurial journey?
Actually, that was one of the points that I mentioned in my interview. There are three or four courses that were key, and super particular to me. Of course, you have the core curriculum in the first year to give you the full brush of every color for a business background. And then, through the electives, you can say, "Ok. This is me. This is my Kellogg experience. How do I shape it in order to get the most out of it?"
I'm now being exposed to electives with two amazing professors that have basically turned around the way I see marketing and economics. For me, economics has always been boring and super numeric. And this guy, Professor Sergio Rebelo, has me like, "Economics? Fun." Professor Alexander Chernev in marketing made me understand why brands do what they do.
Of course, now I am focusing more on the entrepreneurial side, and I am always working in investment banking. I am taking a course called GCR (Global Corporate Restructuring) with professor Jose Maria Liberti. For me, he's like, legend. Normally in finance courses , you see the very specific types of companies. But Jose takes it to the next level, and talks about company customs from different countries. For example, if you are talking to a family company in Latin America that is very closely held, very private, what do you do in that case? If you have two or three brothers that are fighting for their succession, what do you do? I'm living that day to day.
I am a finance guy, but there are doctors who are taking GCR and people with totally different backgrounds. It's enriching because you are sharing experiences that you already know with people that also add value with their points of view.
Coming up in Peru and Latin America, what was your exposure to Kellogg before the EMBA?
The Kellogg exposure in Peru is super robust. They had events where alumni would come and speak about their experience. You go to any company, and there is a Kellogg alumni. Just to give you a number, in my cohort, there are four Peruvians. In the previous cohort, there were three. It's a very important footprint.
That network is very important. I live through the network, and clients come to me through the network – not just from Peru but from Latin America as well. It will me to grow my business across Latin America.
My idea in the next two to three to five years is basically to expand my business throughout Latin America. I know people in Chile, now I know people in Honduras, I know people in Guatemala, in Mexico, Colombia, etc. They know how I work, and they can refer me to other clients. This is what I needed. I didn't need a close Chicago or Boston network.
I also understand that you were very vocal in getting the STEM designation for the Kellogg EMBA, which was achieved for the current academic year. Tell me about that.
I think STEM is basically a game changer for Latin American students. At first, Francesca (Cornelli) the dean of Kellogg, told me, "You guys from EMBA, you already have jobs. Why do you want to come work in the U.S.?" My answer was, "We don't at first, but if we had a three year window, maybe we would. We don't want to close that option." If there's only one year, maybe I don't want to jeopardize my secure career in my country to go to the U.S. Who knows. One year is too short, but three years is totally different.
A few of us from my cohort had been discussing this, and we knew that Francesca was going to Miami to open the program, so I just went there. I approached her, and I basically gave her the elevator pitch: Kellogg already has a strong presence in Latin America, other programs are incorporated into STEM. You need to do this for the EMBA.
Her response was basically, "Okay, I'll look into it." I thought it would get swept under the rug. I did my best.
Three or four weeks later, I received an email from her saying, "I'm working on this." And then like three or four months after that, I received an email basically saying that it was happening. I thought it was amazing. We were shooting for the moon, and the moon came.
You mentioned working to expand your business in Latin America, do you see yourself working in the U.S. too?
I think I need to have the network I had in Peru in the U.S. If you asked me the typical interview question – "Where do you see yourself in five years?” – I think it is having the same businesses I have in Peru, but based in the U.S. To do that, I need to have the right connections in terms of who is lending money: Who is lending to Honduras? Who is lending to Guatemala? Then I need to know who in Latin America is interested in getting to the U.S. to form new companies, who is interested in getting financing etc. I need to know the right people. I think that to get that knowledge, I first need to grow that network by working here.
How are you able to balance school, work, and family in a rigorous EMBA program like Kellogg's?
The short answer is it's not easy. I would say the academics is one part, but the personnel part is the most important for me. I started the program in launch week with a pregnant wife who was due in three months. So every interview I had with classmates before that, I'd say I was going to be a father in four months. When we met in school, I was the guy that was having a daughter. Every person who had families would tell me the type of baby bottles to buy, the best white noise machines. It's that kind of family at Kellogg. Of course, they always ask how my daughter is. I always ask them how their families are doing? It's a very, very close relationship.
In terms of the academic work, I would say if you make yourself an organized schedule, things are going to be fine. I am not going to lie there, there have been a lot of sacrifices as a family. There are a lot of weekends basically staying at home reading while my wife takes care of my daughter. But I think that, in the end, it's been a very interesting year, a lot of ups and downs, and learning to live with a baby. I would never change the experience for any other.
Are you confident that what you've learned in the experience so far will help in the next phase of your entrepreneurial career?
In terms of skill fit, yes. I don't want to be overly confident, but I think I will have the skill set. Now I need to build the network in order to make this pie larger. I already have that in Peru, but I need to go to the next level.
There are many people in my cohort who I would love to work with. There are people that are similar to me, but in a very different way. People who are super creative, people with ideas, people with friends who can offer this or that. We're like building Legos on each other's ideas. So in that respect, I think that this program will definitely give me a hand up.
Speaking to other entrepreneurs considering an MBA, why should they consider the Kellogg executive MBA?
If you're comparing Kellogg to Kellogg, I think the entrepreneurial part can be absorbed in many different programs. The only difference from an EMBA and an MBA is that entrepreneurial lens you're going to get in the classroom. Your classmates in an EMBA have already approached many different and amazing problems in their life, and they have overcome that.
If you ask a 25-year-old which problems they have had in their entrepreneurial journey -- and maybe they have some very important ones -- they don't have as much experience. Having a 35- to 40-year-old cohort, you have more problems that have been solved. You're being exposed to senior backgrounds.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I think that an important part of an EMBA is getting to know the right people. I know many people would say the EMBA will always get you a strong network, but in my personal experience, the Kellogg network is amazing. Basically, you ask someone and these people answer. Even when they don't have a good answer, they will connect you with someone who does. And that is that it is a super power.
Yes. I saw that you used the hashtag #HighImpactLowEgo. Is that a Kellogg motto?
That is not official, but it's basically a mantra inside Kellogg. Here's an example: In Peru, there's a very large mining company, and one of the general managers is from Kellogg. I needed a pitch opportunity with him and to his company. So I said, why not? I sent him a LinkedIn message, and I told him that I am from Kellogg and that I needed to meet with him. He answered in one hour saying I had a meeting for Monday. These kinds of experiences are amazing.
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