Maria Cortijo (Spain) – IESE MIM


The curiosity that led to a degree in economics

“I would ask my parents: Why is there so much unemployment? Why are there so many companies going bankrupt? And they couldn’t answer,” Maria tells us. (00:27)

Spain was one of the hardest-hit countries in the 2008 financial crisis. With unemployment peaking at over 26%, a young Maria Cortijo started questioning why. Frustrated that the people in her circles couldn’t give her the answers she was looking for, she began to look outside of her bubble.

“I realized that there was a whole world outside of Pamplona,” she reflects. “I was living in a small town and there was so much going on…something happening in New York was getting people near me fired. That struck me.” (00:38)

Maria soon came to believe that economics is at the heart of everything we do. That curiosity led her to the University of Manchester, where she started to find the answers to her questions while pursuing an undergraduate degree in economics. 

She says, “At the end of the day, economics is a major factor in every human decision we make. Every time we have to make a choice we always go to that financial factor…I saw that as a way of starting to answer my questions.” (01:06)

From Manchester to a master’s at IESE

After graduating from the University of Manchester, Maria decided to dig even deeper into economics and all of its related disciplines. While contemplating her next step, she came across the Master’s in Management (MIM) program at IESE Business School:

“[I found] this master’s that was not just giving me deeper knowledge in economics but broadening my knowledge into other areas like operations, finance, marketing…so I went for it.” (05:10)

“Of course, [IESE] teaches you about finance, operations, everything – but what they want you to do is to have a different way of thinking,” she explains. (03:12)

Eventually, Maria’s IESE experience started to shift; it was a master’s in management, but it also opened her eyes to something else: the importance of people at the heart of business.

Why people matter

“One of IESE’s pillars is people, and that’s something I realized when I was doing my degree,” Maria says. “That’s an important factor that no one talks about. A company starts to go bankrupt when the people are not motivated. If you have your team motivated, if you understand the person, you will [do well].” (05:30)

Ultimately, the person that Maria learned most about was herself: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned at IESE, it’s that the only person you can change is yourself. And you can extrapolate that to all aspects of life.” (06:20)

How IESE changed Maria as a person

Reflecting on her time at IESE, Maria is unequivocal about the effect it has had on her. It has been so much more than a qualification.

“It has changed me, my relationship with other people, my relationship with my past self and with my future self. I embrace who I am right now, I love who I am and I love the potential I have,” she enthuses. (09:12)

Change can only happen when we open ourselves up to new people, new ideas, and new ways of thinking. And when our conventional way of thinking is challenged, it inevitably leads to miscommunication and mistakes. For Maria, one of the most important parts of her journey has been to accept that those mistakes are simply a part of the learning and development process.

“You have to embrace your mistakes – and that was my main mistake, actually, when I came to IESE for the first time. I was scared of participating because I’m such a perfectionist, everything has to be alright, my contributions have to be great…no! You’re here to make mistakes because if you don’t make mistakes here in IESE, you’re going to make them when you’re working.” (11:56) And embracing making mistakes is what will drive true lifelong learning.

She concludes, “You have to embrace mistakes. You have to embrace not being right.” (12:28)