Laura Simion is a strategic leader who is passionate about architecting innovative transformations and executing end-to-end mega programmes. She is a native Romanian who lived in New York City for nearly two decades. She graduated from Cornell MBA in 2016 and then pursued a career in management consulting.
Today, in these unprecedented turbulent times, what is the added value of your MBA studies?
First of all, there is the MBA network - it is unparalleled. Second, I’d cite the values that I took away with me, and third - the actual coursework and acquired knowledge that have positioned me where I am today in my career. When it comes to the network, I’m still extremely connected with my peers. People from the Cornell network became my go-to mentors and they are also people whose company I enjoy greatly.
The economic situation in the US was a little more stable when I decided to get an MBA than when I finished my undergraduate program right in the middle of the recession in 2009. As I began my post-undergraduate career, I realised the need to develop a multidisciplinary skill set to pivot my growth as needed. It became evident that the MBA was the natural next step in my career progression.
When I speak to students who are currently exploring the idea of going to business school and wanting to learn more about MBA or about Cornell, I emphasise the fact that the MBA will provide them with an unparalleled network as well as the ability to progress, as they desire.
Personally, and professionally, what impact has the MBA experience at Cornell had on you?
It has enabled me to develop as a leader. I was admitted as a Consortium Fellow and I was also a Johnson Leadership Fellow - I was grateful for the opportunity to mentor and coach members of the subsequent generations. Giving back is a really big value within Cornell.
I went to business school in the first place because I wanted to be able to have a bigger seat at the table and influence business decision making. At Cornell, I had the opportunity to gain core consulting skills before going into my consulting internship by executing consulting projects through the Sustainable Global Enterprise Immersion and the Big Red Venture Fund. These opportunities served as a launchpad for my successful internship and career in consulting.
Furthermore, the ability to take classes outside the MBA programme and connect with the broader base of Cornell’s students and faculty was another key feature of the programme. The classes I took at the Dyson School helped me to propel my skills towards innovation and product management.
What made you feel at home at Cornell?
I really did my due diligence when I explored business schools and I attended a number of the women’s weekends that were offered to prospective students. After I went to Cornell, I truly felt at home. I had students offer to help coach me through the interview and application process. Faculty who I met at receptions in New York City, and also on campus, followed up with me and were truly excited and energised by my presence, which made me feel like I was heard. I felt it could be a program where I could contribute and learn. At that point, I knew I wanted to go to Cornell.
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In upstate New York, how diverse is the world of Cornell and how has this environment enriched you?
Cornell offers a plethora of experiences from a cultural standpoint, ranging from festivals to exhibits and restaurants, which the students, faculty, staff, and Ithaca locals embraced.
To me, it was a true benefit to be able to go to a smaller MBA programme within a large Ivy League institution that is close enough to Manhattan but not in New York City.
The makeup of the student body was fairly international. A number of our international students organised trips that provided their classmates with an immersion into their culture and home country.
In what ways did the business school challenge and support you in your self-discovery and growth?
I had five years of professional experience under my belt so I didn’t go to Cornell straight after my undergraduate studies. But the level at which I had to perform which sometimes involved having to juggle different tasks, definitely posed a challenge and stretched me in many ways.
I come from a liberal arts background, and the rigour of the financial classes was much greater in MBA than in undergraduate school.
Moreover, having to juggle many competing priorities set me up well for going into consulting. Overall, I had the right support system at Cornell to enable me to succeed.
How have the values shared by the Cornell community affected your career progression?
There is friendly competition but people are always willing to help each other. Everyone was trying to stimulate each other; we all embraced the same values and we all rooted Big Red and wanted success for all of us.
In the internship programme, we were all united as a Cornell cohort; we would help each other out as needed in order to make sure we succeed.
What shapes the unique school culture at Cornell Johnson?
First and foremost, it is the people. It’s a very self-selecting programme and it takes a certain kind of person to want to be immersed in the full-time upstate New York environment. It’s also the faculty and the staff – those who are there year in and year out and that are able to carry on the values, along with the alumni that are willing to come back and share their experiences with future classes.
The other thing that really shapes it, is the school’s flexibility and willingness to change and introduce new programmes, based on the student's voice.
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Looking back, how did Cornell exceed your expectations, and would you approach your MBA experience differently?
My expectations were surpassed on many levels. To name but a few, one is the strength and depth of the Cornell network, ranging from friendships to professional connections. Another is the unique travel experiences facilitated by the programme which gave me exposure to how business is conducted around the world. Moreover, the programme gave me the ability to take on leadership roles and seize the initiative to launch new projects.
If I were to start my MBA today, I probably would take more weekend classes, ranging from coding to skiing lessons.
If you were to select a business school today, what factors would you consider?
I would really look at where alumni have gone and their willingness to connect. I would also have a close look at the current students and if I could see myself grow to my fullest potential in the programme’s environment. At the end of the day, it’s all about what your network is enabling you to do. So that probably would be my biggest consideration.
Another consideration would be understanding the focus of the professors and how involved they are in the students’ professional development.