“Now I look at the way companies run and how they are aligned with my values.”

With back-to-back degrees in engineering, it’s no surprise that Erika Sanchez was attracted to Boeing. “I presented technical solutions to management teams that had the authority to allocate funds,” Erika says. “I quickly learned that to get funding, I’d have to understand the business side of things. I needed skills outside of engineering – such as persuasive communications – in order to be effective.” As an example of her determination, Erika also tackled what had been one of her biggest fears: making presentations. She founded the Boeing Hispanic Employees Network where she “had to make presentations all the time. Eventually, I became very comfortable with it.”

After two and a half years on the technical side of things, Erika made a switch. “I became interested in the decision-making process, in applying analytical skills to business,” she says. Her subsequent participation in Boeing’s Enterprise Auditor Program “gave me broad exposure to different functions, from finance and program management to quality control and investor relations.”

“A whole new level you can’t even imagine.”

At Boeing, a mentor encouraged Erika to pursue an MBA sooner rather than later. “He had participated in the Executive Education program and felt that HBS was the only place worth taking two years for, because of the case method.” Another Boeing executive with an HBS MBA, Roger Krone, spent “over an hour with me discussing the school and why he thought it was invaluable. He said it was a truly transformation experience and would move me to ‘a whole new level you can’t even imagine.’”

Inspired, Erika visited the HBS campus. “When I came, I noticed that everyone I met had a spark. I felt that these were the type of people I wanted to surround myself with.” After almost a year at HBS, Erika believes her mentors were right. “You can learn concepts from textbooks,” she says, “but case conversations give you an internal understanding beyond theory. You hear other points of view, and see reactions to various ideas and how those reactions change as new information is shared and absorbed.” The key to the discussions, Erika insists, is “real diversity in everything: backgrounds, careers, cultures.”

Changing visions

“Discussions in Leadership and Corporate Accountability (LCA) have really hit home for me,” says Erika. “Before, I thought about finding companies based on their products or the kinds of opportunities they offer. Now I look at the way companies run and how they are aligned with my values.”

For her summer internship, Erika will be working in Business Strategy for Danaher in Portland, Oregon. After graduation, Erika says she wants something “in corporate strategy and business development or strategy consulting. Within ten years, I’d like to open my own restaurant and grow it into a chain of high-end establishments.”