Alumni Stories: Carlotta Siniscalco, the Italian Superwoman
Despite spending almost a third of her life – and virtually all of her adult life – in the US, there is no doubt when you meet Carlotta that she is Italian. Perhaps it is her poise, or maybe the fiery personality, that gives it away, only lightly supported by a refined Italian twang on that American accent. Perhaps it is also the mix of Italian exuberance (and passion?) with American work ethic and no-bullshit attitude which has enabled her to build a CV most people could only dream of by age 29. Ladies and gentlemen, let us introduce you to our latest international alumni profile: Miss Carlotta Siniscalco.
You were born, raised and graduated from high school all in Italy. What was it that initially sparked your interest to go abroad for university?
I went through a very traditional, “all Italian” primary and secondary education, but had always been curious about the world. For this reason, when I was 16 I applied to a foreign-exchange program that matched Italian high school students with American host families. I spent one year in a small township called Cranberry, in Pennsylvania. There, I attended the local high school and learned proper English. By the time I came back to Italy to finish my last year of high school, I had realized that there was a whole world out there waiting to be discovered. None of my friends or acquaintances had ever left Italy to go abroad, so I felt like a little “explorer”. I remember feeling both excited and terrified at the idea of doing something different and unproven. In the end, I decided I was feeling more excited than terrified, and that’s what convinced me to apply to Wharton.
Wharton is arguably the most competitive undergraduate business program in the world to get into. What resources did you use to navigate the application process, and what do you think it was, in the end, that made your application stand out among thousands of applicants?
American high school students (and their teachers, and parents) put an incredible amount of time, money and effort into their college applications. However, when I was applying to Wharton, I was completely unaware of this. I assumed that applying to a U.S. university was just as “time intensive” as applying to an Italian university (which was a very straight-forward process, where you essentially just “sign up” for whichever major you want).
As a result, I was massively underprepared to apply to Wharton. Not having anyone to guide me through the application process, I struggled to stay afloat and almost gave up. I had to spend countless hours navigating the Wharton website, and googling every single term I did not understand, in order to understand what needed to be done. I remember, for example, googling “What is the difference between graduate and undergraduate” – that is how little I knew about the process!
I had also signed up to every blog I could find, but ultimately decided against relying on them. I felt extremely overwhelmed and confused by the conflicting information they provided (How important is the SAT, really? When is the best time to apply? What to do about financial aid?).
The result was an application that showed my potential, but was extremely raw and unpolished. I still consider myself lucky to have made it through the cut. I also wish a site like CampusTales had existed back when I was applying!
In the end, my application stood out for two reasons: the first was my academic record (I had top grades in every subject, and a very high score on the math SAT); the second was the “uniqueness” of my story. I came from a non traditional path (Wharton hadn’t had an Italian student in years), and therefore I was more memorable.
What is your single dearest memory from UPenn?
My favorite memory was certainly graduation: seeing my parents sitting there, alongside my Indian, Ecuadorian, Russian and American classmates, I realized how much my time at UPenn contributed to my personal growth. When I arrived at Penn I was very narrow minded because of my conservative upbringing. But once th [REST OF PARAGRAPH MISSING]
After Wharton, Carlotta entered the world of finance, in one of the most coveted entry-level roles on Wall Street: as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs. Notoriously demanding, the role has been a training ground for many of today’s titans of finance, business and politics.
Tell us about your time as a young analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York. We have heard the hours are tough (or should we say insane?). We have also heard their culture is a bit aggressive. What was your experience like?
Investment banking is a demanding job regardless of where you are based or which bank you work for. The job of an investment banker is to provide financial advice to her clients: investment banks compete with one another to provide the best and promptest advice possible. Therefore, the nature of the investment banking job implies long hours and an aggressive culture.
Goldman Sachs was for me a great gym, in which I became a financial model “ninja” and where I learned the value of hard work. However, I often think back at my time there as some of the darkest years of my life: I barely saw my friends, rarely got more than 5 hours of sleep, and felt I had no control over my life. As a result of this intense culture, most people burned out after two or three years. By the time my two years there were over, I was ready to move onto a job that allowed for more personal time and flexibility.
Carlotta left Goldman to join a large private equity investment firm, with which she spent time working across the US and Europe. This role had her source and analyse new investment opportunities, work with the boards and management teams of companies in which the firm had already invested, and support internal work.
After 4 years at Wharton, 2 years at Goldman Sachs, and 3 years working in a global private equity firm, how much more could you possible learn about business?
My time at Wharton, Goldman and in private equity taught me just the “basics”. Yes, I learned a lot about financial statements and initial public offerings, but I knew nothing about how to be a great CEO, or how to manage a team in a fast-growing company. Once in the “finance bubble”, it’s easy to be complacent and think that you know it all. The truth is that many senior people in finance would not be good leaders of large companies, because their highly analytical skillset differs dramatically from the one needed to be an effective CEO.
This is why I applied to business school: after getting sufficient quantitative training, I decided it was time to sharpen my soft skills, so that I could one day become a great CEO.
This insightful recognition led Carlotta onto the path of taking a career break and going back to student life. With Wharton, Goldman and Private Equity on the CV – and again, a unique storyline and character, it is perhaps no surprise she was accepted to the holy grail of business education…Stanford!
In your mind, what is it about the Stanford MBA that, according to so many of its alumni, makes it such a formative experience?
I ended up working in finance almost by chance. When I applied to Wharton, I didn’t know what investment banking was. I applied because everyone else in my program was applying. Similarly, I ended up in private equity because all the best analysts from my Goldman class were applying to private equity jobs. I never really stopped to think about what I was doing. I just kept my head down and worked as hard as I could.
Therefore, when I decided to apply to MBA programs, it was important for me to find a school that gave me the space to think and to find inspiration. After doing my diligence, I decided to only apply to Stanford, as this was the only school in which personal growth mattered more than academics, and in which there was no trace of the “intense” culture I was trying to get away from.
The result is that I have grown more in these last 18 months at Stanford than in the previous 10 years of my life combined. It has been an absolutely humbling and formative experience that I recommend to anyone that aspires to be a manager.
The truth is that many senior people in finance would not be good leaders of large companies, because their highly analytical skillset differs dramatically from the one needed to be an effective CEO.
Carlotta, you have now been in the US for the most part of your twenties. Do you think you will ever further ‘globalize’ your career and go work in another part of the world, or have you naturalized and become American?
I would definitely want to live in other countries outside of the U.S. My soon to be husband Federico is also Italian and shares with me the desire to explore the world and follow opportunities, wherever they may take us. Today, that may mean San Francisco or New York. Tomorrow, who knows?
Final question: if your life was unconstrained, if you had no financial limitations and no immediate responsibilities, how would you choose spend your next year?
Without a doubt, I would spend it travelling the world with my family. Travelling is the secret weapon that allowed me to burst out of my “Italian bubble”, to develop an appreciation for everything that is different, and to continue to push my curiosity. Thanks to my travels I became a better person, and if I had unlimited resources and no responsibilities, I would want to continue to explore the world alongside the people I love the most.
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