2016 Best EMBAs: Mayra A. Rocha, University of Virginia (Darden)

Mayra Rocha Virginia

Mayra A. Rocha

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business           

“Mayra is a joy to have as a student, she is a great inspiration for our other students and teachers — she is successful, compassionate, and brings out the best in everyone she encounters.”

Age: 37

Location: Miami, FL

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Miami, B.S. communications and international studies

Where are you currently working? Univision Networks, TV producer

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles: Member of PTA North Beach Elementary; recipient of Batten Media Fellowship, awarded to candidates engaged in careers at news gathering organizations who demonstrate high potential for achievement in leadership and possess a strong interest in creating and/or leading media organizations after receiving an MBA.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my venture project that I formulated during my time at Darden. I proposed a business called JobDreamIN. This is an online video content library and app of careers where teenagers, pre-college students, international graduates or anyone looking for inspiration and guidance on a certain career, can chose from a variety of creative, relevant and up-to-date video interviews of individuals who work in that field. Through an algorithm and integrated engagement, students can find interesting careers that suit them for their future.

Throughout my career, I had the luck to go into many homes for interviews, some of them from very low-income neighborhoods. I was always intrigued by the fact that some kids saw me and said “I want to do what you are doing when I am older.” Although it was wonderful to hear of someone who wanted to follow my footsteps, I always wondered if these kids had access to more professionals like myself, whether their education could take a different focus. What if they could meet Biologist and see what he does? What if they could meet the creator of a Broadway show? In general, kids resort to careers they are familiar with, to those of whom people they are in contact with. For many kids, this is not an option. They don’t have the luck of having role models in their surroundings. With this venture, I am hoping to inspire children to find their passion and increase college attendance.

In our San Francisco residency, my class will have the chance to pitch four projects to Venture Capitalists. The class also got to choose the ones that would be pitched. JobDreamIn got chosen and I am now going to have the opportunity to pitch to investors. I am excited about the possibility of making this venture a reality. I may be an idealist, but I sincerely believe that I have been very lucky in my career. And I hope that through my next venture that I can give back to the community and influence in a positive way the lives of many.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The proudest moment during business school was receiving a National Emmy for breaking news story. This award embodied all the hard work that I had done as a journalist for the past 13 years as it also embodied leadership strengths I had acquired during my time at Darden.

The story we won it for, was about 43 missing students in Mexico. Students who had been protesting and had suddenly vanished as accusations of their death were directed at the government. When I was told I needed to cover that story, it was during my first set of finals at Darden. It was also a dangerous assignment, the town where this had happened was ridden with Mexican drug mafia. For the first time in my life, I was scared. We had to mark our cars with the words “International Media,” assuming it would help protect us.

Each day our team was on the ground covering this subject. As international media, we exercised pressure on the Mexican government on the whereabouts of the students. Stories like this were the reason I studied journalism, to fight for justice where there was none. This was a time, to put aside my fears and give a voice to those who no longer had it. Through our story, we recount similar disappearance cases, we speak to citizens fed up with corruption and who wanted answers.

Darden’s leadership skills came into practice many times. The on-the-field coverage was hard. There were sleepless nights and I had to keep a team together and focused. I knew the danger we were in and I had to organize myself and my team very carefully. There was a clear strategy to stay safe and an operational plan that was carefully done prior to leaving the hotel.

I came back to the U.S. only a couple days before the exam period was over. This was never my plan, but in good MBA learning, I had to adapt to the circumstances. I had three days to take four exams. It would be excruciating, but it had to be done.

I managed to pass all exams with a 3.0. Sometimes we don’t realize how much we are capable of. This moment proved to me that I was stronger than I thought I was. I was able keep my commitment to my work and to my school. When I think back on this period, I wonder how I was able to do this. In retrospect, it was pure leadership skills that I had acquired that got me through it. There was a priority list, and I just went through it step by step. I had no time to lose control or be overwhelmed, and had to carefully and intelligently keep my composure to achieve my goal to come back safe and finish and pass my exams.

Favorite MBA Courses? My favorite course was Leading Organizations. This was taught by Lynn Isabella, who is a brilliant professor. I am not exaggerating that this had the biggest impact in me as a global business leader. Each case related a story about adapting to cultures, letting go of our “tools,” growing as a manager, and making decisions that have a long-term impact. Each class was mind-blowing. As I understand, one can be the best and smartest business person, but without the leadership aspect, the path will never be clear. For companies to be successful, there needs to be clear and positive leadership. This is what we learned in her class: Leaders are not born overnight and one has to work on qualities and values that lead to success.

Because our MBA is focused on global business, we got to study cases and situations from different countries. I remember particularly well a course that we had in Paris about the Four Seasons management and service style. This a particularly unique class as it was mixed with Darden alumni. In that class, there were international business moguls and alumni from various countries in Europe. I remember looking around and seeing the engagement of everyone as she taught this class. At that moment, I realized I was very lucky to be able learn from her all semester.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose this MBA for the global aspect and the management focus. I wanted a program that would expand my current thinking and my cultural intelligence. I wanted to understand how the world is interconnected through business. Darden also offered a generic management MBA where one learned different aspects of business, finance, marketing, ethics, and operations. I did not want to focus on just subject, rather I wanted to learn business as a whole. Darden did just that. I was able to visit five countries and in each one, I was able to see their cultures and the way business is run.

This Darden Global MBA was truly everything I had dreamed of. Its focus on leadership, ethics and business was the perfect combination I was looking for in order to grow into a global business leader. I chose the executive program because it gave me the opportunity to continue working to support my family. As a single mom, a full-time MBA would otherwise have been nearly impossible for me to achieve.

What did you enjoy most about business school? I was very lucky in that I traveled to Brazil, India, China, Germany, France, and San Francisco as part of my studies. I would have to say that traveling and learning about business in each country or city would be my favorite thing. I would also say that I really enjoyed learning from experts about the way companies operate and how they were formed. I always found impressive the amount of access we had as students to be told of company’s strategies or financials. Lastly, I loved what business school did to my brain, where I now see a process for everything. I automatically build an A-Z plan for everything in my life.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? I would say it is that we must constantly and continuously be learning and innovating. Time and again, we studied companies that failed to innovate, failed to change, and thus had to close down or be acquired by someone else. There has to be a constant growth element in business, as in ourselves. One can’t stagnate in his/her career.

There is a term in operations called Lean Management, which is an approach to running an organization that supports continuous improvement with small, incremental changes in processes to improve efficiency and quality. I don’t mean to say that innovation relates exclusively to technology, but to the mere fact of making things better, be it employee management process, expansions, and financial lean systems. The same concept applies to me personally: I must always and continuously strive to learn the best possible way for me to be successful, understanding and relevant in whatever career path I chose.

What is your best advice for juggling work, family and education? My advice is to tough it out and know that it will be over in two years. Time is your biggest commodity and one must be clear on the priorities. There is no such thing as balance. Family, work, and education all require your time and it is impossible to give it all 100%. There will be less sleeping time, less time to exercise, to see friends, and to attend family events.

I made a priority list and it looked like this: school, family, and work. It doesn’t mean I stopped being a caring mother or stopped caring about my work, but I had to make my MBA a priority in order to be able to complete the demanding work. I spoke to my family and to my son and explained to him that this was for my/his future and for the next two years I would not have as much time as I used to with him. It was important for me that he see me take on this big endeavor and how much work it involved. I am a month away from finishing and I can’t think of a better way to give my son an example that when one puts their mind to hard work hard to something, it is all achievable. I want my son to go after his dreams, just like I did with pursuing this MBA.

I also promised my kid two things: That once the MBA was done he would get a puppy, and that we could travel to whatever location in the world he wanted to go to. This kept him excited about me finishing the MBA. If there was ever a time to bribe him, this seemed like the one time it was worth it to do it.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school …” Since forever. Since I saw my parents run their small business and work seven days a week. I knew that there had to be a better way or process to do business than for them to work this grueling schedule.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be …” Feeling stuck. I needed to have options to grow in my career.

What are your long-term professional goals? I am still debating my future. I would like to focus on my Edutech venture of JobDreamIN. I am also considering going into the business aspect of media in order to put into effect everything that I have learned in my MBA. As for my journalistic career, I would love to report on business with a focus on Latin America. They are three very different routes, but I would be happy to continue with either one, it truly is a win-win-win situation.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I would like to thank my son for having survived this time without the complete attention he deserved. I know I will make up for these two years, but I know my time away from him and the late nights which translated to a very tired mother, had an effect on him. At 9 years old, he was able to understand and (mostly) always support me.

This was a team effort, I could not have done it by myself. My child’s father took over my son while I traveled and I could leave knowing that my kid was well taken care of. My mother would also fly in in my absence, to help my child’s dad. My bosses at work were supportive of my MBA and adapted many times to my MBA schedule. My friends gave me an encouraging push to help continue when I was overwhelmed with all the responsibilities.

Fun fact about yourself: I was a competitive gymnast my whole life. I was 11th on Mexico’s national team and was continuously a balance beam winner in USA Nationals

Favorite book: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin

Favorite movie: Miss Congeniality

Favorite musical performer: Adele in English, Rosanna in Spanish

Favorite television show: “Modern Family”

Favorite vacation spot: Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Hobbies? Running, cycling, kayaking

What made Mayra such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

“I would like to offer my most enthusiastic recommendation for Mayra A. Rocha. I first met Mayra last year when he was admitted to Darden’s Global Executive MBA program. Within the first two weeks of the program, Mayra was able to distinguish herself as a strategic thinker with a good grasp of the global business issues. Several of my colleagues and her fellow students felt that Mayra added a unique and important perspective to the classroom discussions. These qualities were also reflected in her excellent performance in her coursework. Her analysis of Univision’s marketing strategy and outlook for the future has already won her very positive feedback from the company.

“Mayra is passionate about providing a better future for the youth. Her contribution toward this purpose is through combining education and technology to provide better resources for the youth. As part of her venture project, Mayra is developing, JobDreamIn.com, an online video content library of careers where teenagers, pre-college and college students can look for inspiration and guidance in one place. Through a webpage, different online entities, a future app, and an algorithm, it would host creative, relevant and up-to-date video interviews of individuals who share their professional knowledge of their respective fields. Mayra feels strongly about this project and hopes to pursue this venture subsequent to her graduation. Jobdreamin.com is an embodiment of Mayra’s belief that she has the responsibility and need to give back to the world the knowledge she has gained from her experiences and her education at Darden.

“Through her Darden MBA, Mayra worked full-time in a very demanding job while being a parent to her son. During her first set of finals at Darden, Mayra was traveling in a remote area of Mexico covering 43 missing Mexican students. This story eventually won an Emmy award. Even though it was the most challenging time for Mayra — balancing a strong story, taking care of her family, and concentrating on her Darden finals — she strived through all of this with a smile on her face. In this regard, she represents the challenges of successful women in today’s workplace. At the same time, she also clearly shows the tremendous value the world gains from their involvement in the workforce.

“For all the reasons listed above, I believe that Mayra embodies Darden’s mission to be a leader in the world of practical affairs — she is pursuing her passion for producing thought provoking and relevant news content and is developing new resources to build a better future for the youth. Mayra is a joy to have as a student, she is a great inspiration for our other students and teachers — she is successful, compassionate, and brings out the best in everyone she encounters.”

Rajkumar Venkatesan

Bank of America Research Professor of Business Administration

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business


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