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Interview with a Shark: Karla Berman

MBA ’07 and Shark Tank Mexico investor shares her experience as an HBS student and how this experience shaped her future.

Karla Berman is a trail blazer and someone to look up to. Prior to HBS, she became an Engineer with a degree from Universidad Iberoamericana (Mexico) and she was a consultant at McKinsey. After obtaining her MBA in 2007, Karla worked in a wide range of companies such as Grupo Expansión, Google, Yalo and Softbank. Now, Karla is a board member in several companies, including Endeavor Mexico to support entrepreneurs in Latin America, and a “shark” in Shark Tank Mexico. Nevertheless, in this interview Karla left aside her tough self and opened her heart to provide her best advice to HBS students. Getting to interview her is a privilege and an honor.

Why did you choose to pursue your MBA at HBS?

From a young age, I was captivated by HBS. Several of my family members pursued their MBA at this institution, and many films set in Harvard only intensified my admiration. This made attending HBS a lifelong aspiration for me. During my final year of undergrad, I had the opportunity to visit the campus, and I was instantly in love. It solidified my belief that this was where I belonged and strengthened my commitment to earn my place here. When I received my acceptance letter, there was no doubt about which school I would choose.

How was your application process?

The application process was a roller coaster of emotions! My husband and I applied together, with our top priority being to remain in the same city. Our first response came from MIT: one of us was accepted, while the other was waitlisted. This left us on edge for several anxious months. However, through determination and a touch of fortune, we both secured spots at HBS. Interestingly, it was the only school where both of us were accepted. It was a dream come true!

How were your first months at HBS?

The year leading up to my time at HBS was challenging beyond words. Just a year prior, I mourned the loss of my brother. A few months later, I got married. The subsequent months were a whirlwind: getting married, finalizing applications, navigating administrative processes, securing a visa, participating in the housing lottery, setting up our new home, and relocating to Boston. The sheer volume of these life changes, coupled with the emotional weight, left me drained.

By the time classes commenced in September, I felt like a fish out of water. Overwhelmed by self-doubt and impostor syndrome, I struggled to find my footing. By October, the emotional toll had intensified. I felt disconnected, perpetually fatigued, and noticed weight gain. Recognizing these signs, I sought help from SAS. Their prompt diagnosis of clinical depression was really unexpected. I am extremely grateful to them, as they diagnosed and treated me incredibly well. With their exceptional care and guidance, I began to recover. Physical exercise became my therapy. My daily visits to Shad, with my case studies in hand and the treadmill beneath my feet, were therapeutic. By Thanksgiving, I began to truly immerse myself in the HBS experience.

Another pivotal moment came when a fellow Mexican classmate offered her support. She inspired confidence in me, urging me to embrace my unique perspective and heritage. I began to wear my Latin accent with pride, sharing stories of Latin America with enthusiasm. I soon realized the richness of diversity, understanding that each individual brought their own story to the table. The tapestry of backgrounds at HBS is its strength. A reassuring word from a section mate stayed with me: "Never lose the accent, it makes you interesting." From that point on, I never looked back.

How did you overcome the stress of raising your hand and participating?

Embrace the challenge, or as we often say in Spanish, “Lanzarte al ruedo”. Many of you likely stood out in your undergraduate class or excelled in your job. Yet, at HBS, it is easy to feel like just another face in the crowd. My key insight was that the moment you acknowledge and embrace this perceived 'averageness', you are free to evolve into an even better version of yourself. I adopted the mantra, “I will excel in my own unique way”. The old adage, “fake it till you make it” rings true. It is a skill that requires practice.

By year's end, I participated in every single class. I employed various strategies to ensure my participation, like establishing personal KPIs, such as aiming to speak in at least 10 out of 15 classes. Such tactics made a world of difference. And as many can attest, upon graduation, it seems HBS alumni can hardly be silenced! Remember to maintain a sense of humor about yourself and not to take things too seriously.

What was your favorite class during RC?

I had an amazing professor (F. Warren Mcfarlan) who taught us FRC. I fell in love with Finance and Accounting thanks to this professor. Even to this day, I remember the name of cases such as Butler Lumber. I also loved BGIE as the professors were amazing.

How did you prioritize between academic, social and professional?

Social Life: While I might not be the most social person (I often joke about my introversion!), I've always preferred intimate 1:1 interactions over large parties. Instead of frequenting social events, I prioritized activities like working out to bolster my mental well-being.

Academics: It is essential to remember that it is Harvard Business SCHOOL. In hindsight, I feel I could have devoted more time to my studies. One particular regret I have is missing out on a class with Michael Porter. I overlooked the chance to apply, and now, I see it as a missed once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Professional Endeavors: I did not invest heavily in job searching during my time at HBS. Admittedly, I attended many Investment Banking talks, but often, it was the allure of a free lunch that drew me in! While many of my peers gravitated towards investment banking, and hedge funds, I knew those paths weren't for me. Instead, I delved deep into career introspection with the guidance of Tim Butler. To this day, I cherish some of the documents I drafted during those sessions and the career team's experience. They serve as a source of inspiration, often guiding my career decisions.

What are some skills which you learned in HBS?

Becoming a quick learner. With just a glance at information, I can connect the dots, devise a framework, and tackle challenges. It is the antithesis of 'paralysis by analysis'. This ability has fostered my comfort with ambiguity. Prior to HBS, I was conditioned to believe in two outcomes: right or wrong. However, at HBS, I discovered that approaches can vary in effectiveness. Embracing a path with uncertainties mirrors real-life scenarios more closely.

Furthermore, I must emphasize the significant enhancement in my communication skills during my time at HBS. The environment demands that you analyze, distill, and convey information with clarity and precision. This skill will undoubtedly benefit you throughout your career.

What recommendations do you have for RC students? And for EC?

For RCs: Get to know your section and enjoy the section experience. I was section G and absolutely loved it! During this year it is very important to study. I would recommend paying attention to all your classes. All classes are extremely important even when they do not seem super relevant at first. The folks at HBS know what they are doing with the curriculum, trust me! And as mentioned early, I wished I paid more attention to them.

ECs: Take risks! No one cares what your grades are. No one has ever asked me about my grades during HBS and I literally have never sent my transcript to anyone. Take harder classes, cross-register! Sometimes people think going to the other side of the river is so exhausting but come on - It is the other side of the river! Another risk I wish I took was being a part of the HBS show. Although very cliché, it is true: you regret the things you do not do.

Any final thoughts or advice you would like to share?

You all come from a background where you have always stood out. But in HBS, sometimes, you find yourself amidst a sea of equals. However, you need to remember that in 18 months, you will return to a world where this experience will set you apart. There is a unique charm in being 'average'. Embrace it! It is cool to be average!

Regina Gomez (MBA ’25) was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico. She graduated from Tecnológico de Monterrey with a degree in Economics. Prior to HBS she worked at Mastercard and an early-stage fintech as a Global Strategy and Operations Manager specializing in the payments industry.

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