Amy Hernandez Turcios (MBA 2020) had five years of experience on Wall Street at Bank of America before enrolling as an MBA student at Harvard Business School. She shares the same kind of early career experience as top Fortune 500 CEOs and business leaders.
Yet Amy is the first person in her family to go to college. She's the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants to the US, and was raised in a low-income neighborhood in Los Angeles.
Now, about to embark on a career in consulting at Boston Consulting Group, Amy hopes to use her confidence and leadership skills from her MBA to continue her career-long mission to advocate for and elevate Latinx leaders in the US.
Building diversity on Wall Street
Growing up in a rough neighbourhood in LA, the odds of Amy attending a top university were stacked against her. “People from my community usually don't even get to go to college, let alone a college that's on the other side of the country.”
But she was determined from a young age, even organizing her own switch to go to a different high school so that she'd have better opportunities afterwards. This paid off, taking her to study finance at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating, Amy launched straight into investment banking at Bank of America on Wall Street.
The hours and level of work were difficult: but even more challenging was the environment she found there. “I found myself often being the only woman, often the only person of colour, and often the only Latinx person, and often the only person from a lower-income background.”
She felt compelled to tackle this problem, setting up an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for the division she was in, aiming to promote diversity and inclusion, specifically in a drive to get more Latinx people on Wall Street. She even won a global diversity and inclusion award for her part in setting up the ERG.
So what drove her to switch Wall Street for an MBA?
“For me it was about self-development, self-awareness, and identifying things that made me uncomfortable.”
Despite her professional experience, and her role in advocating for diversity, she still identified two key fears which were holding her back.
One, a fear of raising her hand in meetings. “I didn't volunteer to say something unless I was sure what I was saying was right.” Secondly, a fear of disagreeing with people. “I didn't want to go against the grain and rock the boat.”
To achieve her aspirations of being a c-suite level leader, and to continue her mission for diversity and inclusion, she knew she had to combat these fears. At Harvard Business School, she found a supportive community and a dynamic teaching method that could help develop her as a leader.
Applying for the Harvard MBA
All in all, from considering an MBA to applying to HBS, Amy’s application took her the best part of two years. This involved a good deal of ‘soul-searching’, identifying her ambitions, and communicating what she’d bring to the class.
Joining the Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) program was a big asset. MLT is a US non-profit that aims to empower individuals from underrepresented minority backgrounds, with specific programs aimed at applying to business school and career advice.
“From a tactical perspective, it helped me figure out my story—the ‘why’ behind business school—as well as an amazing community of people to go through the application process with.”
Building confidence with a Harvard MBA
HBS was a huge asset in helping Amy achieve her primary goal of self-development.
From the beginning, she found Harvard’s dynamic case study method to instantly help with her two main fears going into business school.
“In that classroom environment, you needed to speak up a lot of the time, which addressed my first discomfort around raising my hand. It’s actually something you are graded on,” Amy says.
“I also realized that you make the conversation more interesting by sharing a different perspective, which often means disagreeing with people. This addressed the second discomfort around disagreement.”
A big part of finding her voice and confidence as a leader was about embracing her own background and narrative, something she never felt she was entirely able to do in her previous career.
The ‘MyTake’ series at HBS offered her just that. Students stand up in front of their whole class, and sometimes the whole HBS community, to deliver a 25 minute ‘TED talk-style’ presentation on their own background. Amy signed up to do one in her second year, in front of an audience of over 100 people.”
“This was the first time I publicly shared my story. My life mission is to elevate Latinx leadership in the US, and I realized I needed to own my story and be proud of that in order to make that happen.”
Achieving her life-long mission
Around six months after graduating, Amy is set to join BCG as a consultant in January 2021. As she aims to build her career towards reaching the c-suite, and sitting on boards, it’s a great next step for her career.
She recognizes there is a strong trend in big organizations towards enhancing diversity and inclusion, and she hopes to be a part of this in the consulting world. Consulting, she feels, could also help her to achieve her life-long mission to elevate Latinx leadership in the US.
“I hope it will help me take this high level problem around the lack of Latinx representation in leadership positions, break it down, and figure out how to tackle it.”