Victor Padilla-Taylor ‘15 is the Director of Mentor, Advisor and Partner Networks at the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale (Tsai CITY). He is also a member of the Executive Advisory Board of the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Centers (GCEC), the Yale SOM Campaign Committee, and Director-at-Large of the SOM Alumni Advisory Board.
What’s a global trend you are following where you see an opportunity or bright spot in this challenging macro environment?
In a world marked by wars, political division, climate concerns, and soaring living costs, I still feel optimistic when I see how we bounced back after COVID-19 with a longing for physical interaction.
Let me explain: during our shared global struggle, we adopted a digital shift in our lives that made many pundits and experts announce the death of in-person education and the daily commute to work. We seemed to be heading to a ‘Zoom-ified’ world in life, school, and work.
But virtual interactions could not fully replace face-to-face encounters when searching for genuine human engagement. Post-quarantine, learners around the world, including our Yale students, expressed a strong preference for in-person engagements over hybrid or virtual alternatives. Employers too noticed challenges in maintaining company culture and effective communication in a remote setup.
I think that we’ve realized the irreplaceable value of physical presence and human connection, even if we keep some of the convenience gained through remote technologies. Thanks to online commerce and expanded service delivery, I don't find myself particularly nostalgic for my pre-pandemic supermarket routine. I truly appreciate, though, how these new automated aspects of my life have opened room and time to engage and indulge with others through partnerships, mentorships, creative pursuits, learning endeavors, meaningful conversations, and personal growth opportunities. This scenario highlights the irreplaceable value of genuine human engagement amidst the ever-expanding digital lives we have.
What’s an example of how SOM’s mission informed the way you build teams or drive strategies in your professional life?
I enjoy forming multi-stakeholder partnerships addressing complex challenges and combining seemingly incompatible goals. Currently, I support the development of startups, corporate, and social organizations connected to the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem at Yale. Priorly, I also led global actors from business and society to support humanitarian efforts to benefit ordinary people paying the unacceptable price of wars, displacement, famine, and natural disasters.
Over the years, I have seen the school do the same beyond the lecture halls. And that keeps me motivated and committed to the mission. For example, the Global Network for Advanced Management (GNAM), created in 2012 by a consortium of leading business schools, has had SOM as a pivotal partner since its conception. This consortium believes in the power of networked learning, networked inquiry, and networked education, to increase collective intelligence, shared resources, and bring individuals with diverse perspectives, experiences, and knowledge to amplify positive impacts. Another example is SOM’s Program of Entrepreneurship, launched the year I joined the SOM Community in 2014. The program has grown significantly since its establishment to currently provide twenty different elective courses to students who want to lead for-profit and not-for-profit ventures that capture the attention of consumers, users, and society in general. Case in point, the student startup Banofi Leather recently took home the Prestigious Hult Prize for Sustainability of $1 million for its plan to turn banana crop waste into a sustainable leather alternative that can help offset the fashion industry’s environmental footprint.
In a nutshell, SOM has not only equipped me and other leaders to serve business and society but has also demonstrated meaningful examples of how to bridge gaps, value diverse viewpoints, and excel across various disciplines.
What’s an SOM experience that helped shape the way you understand business and society?
During a long afternoon at Evans Hall in 2015, I remember doing ‘a Power Walk exercise’ as part of a class called ‘Interpersonal and Group Dynamics’. The goal of the exercise was to create ‘group socio-metrics’ using a series of questions to divide our class. Placed shoulder-to-shoulder, we were instructed to take a step if we agreed/identified with a statement, such as: you feel that you are a valued member of your community; you ate at least two full meals a day when you were a child; or, you have one parent who did not finish secondary school. After about 20 or 25 of these very personal questions, we all learned in silence to see how others had felt ‘power’ differently in their lives, whether they had or not the agency to make their own decisions about it. This exercise humanized us and opened our perspectives.
At present, I do something similar with my students at Yale using a “creative tensions exercise”, which I also use to help them consider ‘perspective-taking’ and ‘empathic design’ amongst their fellow students, some innovators, leaders, and pioneers, and others creators, activists, and entrepreneurs from all fields and disciplines on campus. This exercise helps me facilitate an empathic conversation by asking questions that split the group into subgroups at each side of an issue. In a playful way, I can demonstrate a much-needed skill for new ventures seeking to create innovative solutions for real-world problems. It is with perspective-taking that founders can really understand what their customers need and want, and how teams can become capable of changing quickly in fast-paced environments, while embracing the mix of human beings with different ideas and experiences to ours that is often needed to do great things.
As an international student, I remember how difficult it was for me to stay focused on my goal to expand my capacity to learn, live, and work outside of my home country. I needed help, and I quickly found it at SOM with a close-knit community of peers, faculty and staff members who were there for me and my challenges and taught me ‘perspective-taking’. With their support, I was able to understand how others may have a better view of challenges and opportunities. Since then, I have been able to not only adapt to new behaviors but also develop new attitudes and be more creative and less egocentric in my approach to work and relationships.
What’s a favorite SOM memory, faculty member, mentor or class?
I always share with incoming students at SOM that my favorite class during school was Interpersonal and Group Dynamics, taught by Heidi Brooks, Senior Lecturer in Organizational Behavior. As I mentioned earlier, for an international student and professional like myself, gaining the ability to 'learn through experience' marked a fundamental shift in my approach to life and personal development. The impact of this course in my life left me hungrier and led me to continue assisting Professor Brooks after graduation for five more years as a group facilitator. ‘What happened?’, ‘What was your response and reaction?’, ‘How do I make sense of the experience?’, and ‘What do I learn from this for next week?’ – I have repeatedly used all these questions and they have helped me move forward through this immense experiential lab we call ‘life’. If you want to learn more about how to cultivate the capacity to learn through experience, I recommend checking out Heidi Brooks’ new podcast here. I hope that you will love it as I do!
What are you excited about for the year ahead?
The SOMConnect Mentorship Program for students is launching in November 2023 and I’m excited about the impact this platform will have across the SOM community. The school is looking for SOM alumni to support it. To join the program, follow this link if you are already onboarded in SOMConnect, the school’s new digital alumni engagement platform. If you have not still joined, you can activate your account using this link.
Mentorships are a great way to gain mastery in the art of perspective-taking. Without the support of so many who mentored me while I was an SOM student, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve the goals, growth, and milestones that have marked my professional journey. Our mentorship support can create immeasurable value for young professionals preparing for the challenges of business and society. The gratitude you will receive from these emerging leaders will be a testament to your service. Let’s walk this path together! Be a mentor today!