2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Maria Villaquiran, Columbia Business School

Maria Villaquiran

Columbia Business School

Age: 31

“Passionate Latina in Tech fighting financial crimes and helping solve the toughest business problems.”

Hometown: New York City, New York

Family Members: Parents – Ana Carmina and Pedro Felipe, Brother – Manuel Guillermo

Fun fact about yourself: I have traveled to over 40 countries and lived in 6!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • The George Washington University, BBA, International Business and a Minor, Economics 2012
  • Cornell University Certificate in Project Leadership 2014
  • Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist 2016

Where are you currently working? Senior Manager, Financial Services Risk Technology (FSRT) – Financial Crimes Practice, EY (formerly known as Ernst & Young, LLP)

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

* Designated as a LatinX to Watch by NextGen Collective of Hispanic Executive, which spotlights most influential Latinos in business (2021)

* Awarded placement in the Hispanic IT Executive Council Emerging Executive Program Class of 2022 – a year-long, cohort-based program that develops emerging and high-potential Hispanic technology leaders looking to become tomorrow’s high-level corporate executives (2022)

* Awarded Columbia Business School’s EMBA Distinguished Service Award in recognition of contributions to class experience and spirit (2022)

* Member of the Columbia Women in Business, Hispanic Business Association, Latin America Business Association, and Wine Society

* Lead the Financial Crimes People Functional at EY to support performance improvement and D&I efforts for 180+ professionals

* Spearhead LatinX DEI and Women initiatives for EY’s FSRT Practice to facilitate performance improvement, hiring, and retention efforts for 300+ professionals

* Advisory Member for Mindot, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization advocating for youth by providing content, programs, and a community to build powerful young leaders bridging the gap between education in the classroom and real-world opportunities.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Our class started the program in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, and I knew it would be a challenge for our class to connect, which led me to promote initiatives inside and outside the classroom throughout the past two years. I truly believe there is power in making sure everyone feels heard, appreciated, and part of a community. As such, I am most proud of my contributions in creating an inclusive community that feels like family looking to make an impact in this world. Being able to organize activities safely and engagement opportunities led my classmates to award me the Columbia Business School’s EMBA Distinguished Service Award in recognition of contributions to class experience and spirit. There was always joy and pride in making sure our class experienced as much as possible during these difficult pandemic times.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In the summer of 2020 during the pandemic, I was promoted, making me the only Latina Senior Manager in Financial Crimes. I am honored and grateful for the opportunity to step into a larger leadership role, but more importantly, I have opened the door to others like me to believe in themselves and make room for the future generations to join these ranks. I’m incredibly proud of my journey at EY. This led EY to nominate me to the Hispanic IT Executive Council Emerging Executive Program, a year-long, cohort-based program that develops emerging and high-potential Hispanic technology leaders looking to become tomorrow’s high-level corporate executives.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I mainly selected Columbia Business School for two main reasons: 1) Dynamic academic experience and 2) Entrepreneurial mindset. I wanted to develop strategic business management and growth skills that can anticipate change and opportunities in the market, deepen leadership and business skills through program curriculum and experiences, and cultivate relationships that can expose new ideas, challenge thinking, and increase network footprint. Moreover, as a consultant, I knew I had to figure out a way to develop an entrepreneurial mindset to create and capture market opportunities with speed and accuracy; learn about disruptive perspectives, approaches, and solutions to face this competitive environment; and acquire skills to create new business models that leverage business strategy and economic aspects to ensure our existing success continues. CBS offered everything I was looking for when compared to the other executive MBAs in the northeastern US.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The biggest lesson I learned was the importance of time management and productivity. We win some, we lose some, but most importantly, we need to empower ourselves to reach our goals. Both inside and outside the classroom, I must make choices on how much time I would spend on a given task and prioritize the relevance of them. I worked full-time in consulting, went to school part-time, started a new relationship, and began to travel again. With so many commitments, I had to quickly learn to prioritize and become efficient in my personal, professional, and academic life to manage demands from all angles.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? Juggling work, family, and education is not an easy task – we all struggle with this; however, an EMBA challenges you like no other and will change your life and understanding of the world. I remember there was one given week where I had to present a client deliverable on a Thursday morning, fly to Miami for a family commitment on Friday, and make sure to study for a final test on a Saturday morning. Everything was overwhelming. Because I knew that this was going to happen, I had to plan accordingly a week ahead and manage my time, used plane time to prep for the test, and be energetic enough for my family. You must make sure you are planning and organizing yourself as it is hard but doable.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Make sure to visit/engage with current students and try to audit a class. I remember I was trying to choose between different MBA options and what ultimately made me select Columbia Business School was that I was able to audit a class and engage with students. I felt like the individuals taking the class could all be my best friends and the professor was very engaging making the class discussion very impressive and interactive.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth is how an MBA is all about quantitative courses. Yes, it is part of it, but everyone can get up to speed and engage in thoughtful discussions. Columbia Business School also has tutors for everyone during the Core Curriculum, so this helps a lot of people to have the extra time and effort in getting engaged in these courses. The curriculum is so full of exciting electives that really bring home the basics of the Core Curriculum and how they are applied in multiple cases. More importantly, the experience is full of incredible driven people looking to impact the world coming from different backgrounds making the experience rich and full of diversity beyond the classroom.

What was your biggest regret in business school? The pandemic made it difficult for our EMBA experience to live and breathe the usual campus life full of in person events and social gatherings. I regret that I was not able to engage more in person with classmates through clubs or other extracurricular activities on campus. However, we were able to overcome part of this through a lot of events coordinated by amazing classmates – Estefania Garcia-Correa, Ben Wirtshafter, Kate Goerke, Kelly Murphy, Lina Renzina, Andrew Lu, Brianna Day, Robyn Guzman, James Hartigan, Helaina Roman, Juliana Rodriguez Anis, Nick Capogna, Stephen Spallino, Donald Bradford, Daniela Quintanilla, Lee Nuley, Caitlin Thompson, Ali Bono, Yifan Yang, Morgan Fletcher, Gaurav Deora, Dave Bendes, amongst many more!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Sewit Teckie is the classmate I admire the most and our nominated class speaker! The whole class feels the same way I do. Her passion for life and relentless desire to give back to her field as an Oncology doctor and an Associate Professor at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine. She recently joined the largest public health system in the country, NYC H+H, touching millions of New Yorkers, as the System Chief of Radiation Oncology. She is a wife, mother of two, and an outstanding person overall. She is a high performer, brings others together, and is constantly striving for more. Sewit is an inspiration to all of us!

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I always knew I wanted to have an MBA; however, it never seemed like the perfect time for me. By the time I decided to go for an MBA, I was already at a middle level executive level. I wanted the best of both worlds – a traditional experience of receiving an MBA from an Ivy League and continuous growth and momentum in my career. Therefore, the only option was to look at EMBA programs in the northeastern US. An online alternative was not the right choice for me based on the above and then a part-time MBA seemed like I would not be able to fully engage in a class/cohort experience that I was seeking.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term dream job is to become a transformational change agent for top companies in the world. I have managed change across my industry, and I recognize that there are huge shifting forces in the regulatory compliance space, forcing organizations to quickly adapt and manage cutting-edge technology. I want to be a leader that can quickly draw from academic and professional experiences to come up with new solutions and look at changes in the market as an opportunity for growth. More importantly, I want to make companies challenge their operating models and see how they can leverage technology to become proactive, versus reactive, to today’s complex business environment. To do this, I will be leveraging my MBA degree to clearly understand how companies operate and leverage my peers’ expertise and their experiences to enhance my design thinking skills.

What made Maria such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“Maria’s ability to unite and warm, encouraging demeanor set her apart as a leader and make her an invaluable part of the Columbia Business community. Maria has worked tirelessly to connect students with creative virtual and socially distanced activities during the turbulent times of the pandemic, fostering inclusivity and engagement. She is passionate about the CBS community and making time for others. Her commitment to CBS and the EMBA program can be seen through her collaborative leadership style and strong values.

Maria’s classmates describe her as instrumental in keeping their class connected, genuine, positive, passionate, warm-hearted, and caring. Through her humility and leadership, Maria exemplifies the Columbia Business School spirit and for this reason she has also been selected to receive the Distinguished Service Award for the EMBA-NY Friday/Saturday Class of 2022.”

Susan West
Senior Associate Director, Student Affairs
Executive MBA Programs


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