2021 Finest & Brightest MBAs: Bianca Joi Payton, College of Pittsburgh (Katz)

“Energetic, eager, strategic problem-solver connecting and building networks with a great smile.”

Hometown: Detroit, MI

Fun fact about yourself: I enjoyed becoming a basketball and soccer referee to earn some extra cash. But let’s just say I will not be quitting my daytime job.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Michigan Ann Arbor, BA in Sociology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Regus – Community Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Bristol Myers Squibb –Nassau Park, NJ

Where will you be working after graduation? Bristol Myers Squibb – Information Technology Rotational Development Program Associate

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • President-Student Executive Board
  • Vice President- Business Technology Club
  • Vice President Adam Smith Society
  • Wilma F. Tabisz Memorial Business Scholarship
  • Pittsburgh Black Alumni Network Scholarship
  • National Black MBA Association Scholarship
  • Haller Dean’s Chair Scholarship
  • BNY Mellon Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Fellow
  • Chancellor’s Public Safety Advisory Council (PSAC)
  • MBA Student Ambassador
  • Case Competition – Minority Key Bank Case Competition 2nd Place Winner

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? One of my foremost goals coming into business school was to become president of my class. I knew, should I get the position, that I would bring an innovative perspective spawned from the unique circumstance of being both Black and queer to bring about positive change – not only my current classmates but also future Katz students well.

Working tirelessly over the next year as a member of the Student Executive Board, I cultivated the skills and relationships necessary to achieve my goal. Upon hearing I got elected, I immediately realized that I had the opportunity to become the first president responsible for providing innovative, meaningful events in a completely online environment. Through diligent, inspired work, my team was able to accomplish a tremendous amount this year. One event that was particularly successful was the first Katz Walk-a-Thon. Through discussions with both first- and second-year students, we found that several of them noticed a distinct lack of physical activity throughout the semester, especially around finals. Particularly since COVID-19 had increased our screen time and perpetuated increasingly sedentary lifestyles, I knew that this event would be readily embraced by the student body. We had over ten teams join, which surprisingly included several members of the faculty. As a group, we walked a total of 9,329,610 steps. After the event, we received several glowing testimonials from both the faculty and students about how much they loved the competition and felt inspired to walk for hours each day.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Entering the MBA program as someone whose primary experience was within the operations and customer service industry, my goal of moving into the information technology industry was daunting, to say the least. It was nothing short of serendipitous that I became a part of the operational excellence team at Bristol Myers Squibb.

Admittedly, I was anxious to be starting the internship within a powerhouse company in an industry I am unfamiliar with, as many of my cohorts had trained their entire undergraduate and graduate lives to be in the field. However, throughout the internship, they provided me first-hand knowledge of the tremendous impact that information technology could have on a company and actually gave me the chance to make a meaningful impact. One of the projects I worked on that I was particularly proud of was helping recreate one of the sites off the main sites’ IT page. My work and research were pivotal in helping the organization align its strategy with its goals, thus providing a strong base for continued development. This internship blessed me with knowledge from some of the top minds in the IT world and gave me an intrinsic sense of pride in knowing that I was able to leave an indisputably positive impact.

Why did you choose this business school? Anytime someone asks me why I chose Katz, I must start with my career management counselor, Dana Romano. From the first interaction at our interview to our weekly meetings about planning school events, she has always made me feel like family. The “secret sauce” to Katz is how family-oriented the school is while providing an enriching experienced-based learning program. When I interviewed with Dana, she took the time to get to know me and made sure I understood what Katz would be able to provide for me. I was invited to participate in Admitted Students Weekend and, by the time I left campus, I had made up my mind to commit to Katz. Meeting all the outstanding faculty, staff, professors, and students (particularly one of my closest classmates, Dan King), made what should have been a challenging decision simple. At the end of the day, the biggest reason I decided to attend this wonderful program is that both Dana and Katz faculty/students made me feel wanted. Katz was the only school out of all my offers to make me truly feel this way and has continued to do so throughout my time here. There is no more incredible feeling when you are pursuing higher education and life goals, to meet a group of people who want nothing but the best for you and will actively work to facilitate the achievement of your goals.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Without a shred of doubt in my mind, I can confidently say that the best tradition at Katz is Friendsgiving. Being a part of the Student Executive Board, we pioneered this event with the express purpose of learning about each other’s culture. Katz is a melting pot, where we have students who come from places such as Mongolia, India, Pakistan, and Japan. This event was designed so that we could foster collaboration between all students and give everyone a chance to share their culture with their colleagues. This event served to expose people to foods and traditions from a wide variety of cultures and gave those international students who had traveled so far to be with us a little taste of home. In addition, the international students get a little taste of home and have a platform to share their cultures and delicacies, which demonstrates that Katz truly is a community.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Looking back on my MBA experience, I wish I had explored the city of Pittsburgh and the surrounding area more. I think it is essential to get to know the city you are living in. However, due to the arduous workload accompanying a new student in graduate school, I did not have the opportunity to explore the city my first semester. Obviously, the opportunity became harder once COVID-19 shut everything down. Pittsburgh is filled with many rich cultures, and I encourage all future Katz students to dedicate time to explore this city with a storied past and bright future.

What is the biggest myth about your school? My school’s biggest myth is that we have a small network and constrained learning experience because our school is small. However, what I found was that the smaller cohort facilitated the creation of indelible bonds with not only my classmates but faculty and professors as well. At Katz, you are not just a number

I am resolute in the belief that these strong, intimate relationships are going to serve me well throughout the rest of my time at Katz and beyond. Through the smaller class sizes, Katz has developed a strong and widespread network of alumni who are actively seeking to give students the tools and opportunities necessary for success. Simply put, the alumni love giving back, and anyone would be lucky to have the chance to work with them.

What surprised you the most about business school? The biggest surprise about business school for me was, undoubtedly, how critical your cohort is to your experience. As with nearly all my colleagues, I entered Katz, not knowing what to expect of my new classmates. In the end, though, they turned out to be some of the most memorable and talented individuals I have had the privilege of knowing. Before business school, I heard that an MBA program could be very competitive. I found that true at Katz in the best way. Katz fosters and environment that is both competitive but emphasizes teamwork over individualism. The Mariana Trench itself is not deep enough to hold the sheer amount of knowledge, wisdom, and kindness that I found within this truly spectacular student body. To say that my MBA experience was elevated because of my colleagues would be a gross understatement, as they have made these two years the greatest of my life. The fact is, I came into this program with 66 strangers but will be leaving with 66 family members.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I am a fighter. I fought hard throughout my life to develop the skills and experience necessary to achieve this dream, and that was made clear to all those who interviewed me. They saw immediately that I had the courage and mettle to confront all trials and tribulations that accompany an MBA program. While my passion and experience got me in the door, my drive and willingness to take on all challenges proved that I belonged.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The person I admire most in my program, though I do admire all of my colleagues, is my dear friend John Sopko. John is the epitome of a selfless individual with the kindest of hearts. I came to realize the quality of John’s character during our first semester. John and I were in the same financial management course, where I struggled to comprehend the difficult concepts and felt as if I was not capable of successfully getting through the class. John volunteered his time and wisdom to me with no expectation of receiving anything in return. Through his kindness and wisdom, I was able to persevere and find an interest in finance and even take the next level of financial management. Anytime I did not understand the material, John would go out of his way to ensure that I could comprehend the concepts and truly grasp the material.

Another reason I admire John came during our second semester. John took a fantastic co-op opportunity with IBM. While working hard at IBM, John still made it a priority to help Katz students from afar. Whether it was guidance on finance homework or a quick chat about life, you could always depend on John to impart advice with patience, understanding, and wisdom. After his work at IBM, he returned in the fall and took 21 credits and did it again the following semester to ensure that he would be able to graduate with the colleagues he had grown so close to. John’s dedication to the students earned him the position of Vice President of the Student Executive Board and he has been instrumental in our quest to provide the students at Katz the best experience possible. Without John’s hard work, Katz would not be where it would be today, and I will always admire him for that.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? To be honest, when I first learned that we would not be returning to in-person classes, I felt defeated. A foray into a solely online academic environment represented a tremendous deviation from the conventional educational models that nearly all students had become accustomed to working. As such, many were fearful as to whether or not such classes would provide a setting conducive to learning. However, thanks to the career management team, staff, and faculty, the transition went off without a hitch. The professors were able to move their courses into the online sphere without compromising upon quality. It is truly a testament to the Katz faculty that the professors were able to embrace such a radical shift in course structure whilst simultaneously providing an experience that did not hinder any student’s educational journey. A great example of this came during my SAP certification course with Professor James Kimpel, or we know him as “Prof K.” Having taught for decades, the move away from in-person classes was likely as fraught with ambiguity and anxiety for him as it was for us. However, Prof K adapted brilliantly and, as a direct result of his teachings, I am proud to say that I passed the certification with a global passing rate of just 65%. This would not have been possible without Prof K’s continuous hard work and dedication to providing students the tools and techniques necessary for success, regardless of the medium.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My grandfather, Ozzie B Payton, influenced my decision to pursue my MBA. If you ask any family friend what my grandfather’s hobby was, the answer is his grandkids. His dedication to my brothers and my success is something I will always cherish. He was always instilling pivotal lessons, and one was higher education. (Shout out to my younger brother for graduating Harvard Law School!) He understood the importance of higher education as he received his master’s from the University of Illinois and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He also was an educator his entire life as both a teacher and principal.

My grandfather worked his hardest to provide for our family, and he worked his whole life to be able to provide generational wealth to his family. My grandfather was instrumental in paving the way for me to get to where I am today. I learned from my grandfather that I could do whatever I put my mind to so long as I approached it with passion and a willingness to work hard. My grandfather would always joke that I would eventually be managing his funds one day, and he was right. Even though he is no longer with us, I will be managing his funds and building upon his work, setting up wealth for our family’s future generations.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. Become CEO of my own company and be a board member of a Fortune 100 company.
  2. Convince my company to give back to an organization that means the world to me. My mentor, Ms. Renee Fluker, created a Midnight Golf Program, giving Detroit youth a place to learn about the game of golf, etiquette, and life skills. I was a part of this high school program, and it made a meaningful impact on my life. I gained many life skills from this program and even got my own set of golf clubs (I still own to this day). I would love to get my company to sponsor this organization in a meaningful way.

What made Bianca such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Whether Bianca Payton is leading a Katz Student Executive Board meeting, planning a trivia night event in honor of Black History Month, or serving in one of her other numerous volunteer leadership roles on campus, her contagious enthusiasm, boundless energy and outgoing personality make her simply unforgettable. Bianca is a born leader that exemplifies the qualities of a strong female, proud black and queer MBA business leader. She lights up a room and is dedicated to helping others grow to their fullest potential by annihilating barriers and overcoming obstacles. She is powerful, relentless, and unstoppable.

Bianca’s wonderful personality and caring for others shines through in everything that she does. She serves as a Katz Ambassador to incoming students and mentors others through her work with the Business Technology Club, Roberto Clemente Association and Katz Alliance. Others look up to her because she can be the life of the party and the executive in the boardroom simultaneously. She makes everyone around her comfortable and confident enough to be their true selves. Bianca was the student at the National Black MBA conference helping her fellow classmates prepare for interviews while helping them release stress by dancing around and making them laugh. In between helping others she was also preparing for her own interviews, jamming to “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor through her ear buds as she researched. Her presence helped others be successful as well as turned into her own internship offer working in IT operational excellence with Bristol Myers Squibb. Her strong work ethic and drive propelled her throughout the summer and she will proudly be joining their Information Technology Rotational Development program full-time after graduation.

She was recently elected the President of her Experienced-Based Learning Management Simulation capstone course team. This course encapsulates everything that MBA students learn in our program by running a simulated retail company and is extremely challenging and stressful. Bianca’s ability to stay calm and cool in any situation is another unique characteristic that makes her exceptional. That, coupled with everything that makes Bianca so special, is the reason that she should be one of Poet & Quants Best and Brightest.”

Dana Romano
Senior Associate Director of Career Management
University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business

This is an early preview of our 100 Best & Brightest MBAs, which will be released on May 10th. 

DON’T MISS: 100 Best & Brightest MBAs: Class of 2020

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